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~ short fiction

There was no saying what would set my father off at any particular time. He blamed me for everything that went wrong in our lives and also those that never did. You see, my arrival in this world coincided with the departure of my mother and he held that against me. There was no greater crime I could have committed than being the reason his beloved wife was no longer with us. Apparently, dropping his bottle of whiskey by accident and breaking it came a close second in his list. Clumsy oaf! He screamed and lunged for me. Instinctively I stepped back as anyone would who has known the strength of those fists. The verbal assault that followed was loud enough to be heard at my friend Ben’s house, the very last one on the lane, Ben would tell me later on that day. But right then that was the least of my worries. Father had pulled out his belt.

I flinched as the first blow fell and heard myself cry out as more followed one after the other. Well, at least it seemed like my voice. But by then I was somewhere far away, in a beautiful beach, listening to the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore. That’s where I sent myself away whenever my father was in one of his rages. The imaginary place I could escape to mitigate the pain, both physical and mental, that he inflicted upon me. The picture in my mind was of endless blue water moving rhythmically and the golden sand on which I was spread out soaking it all in. It soothed me like nothing else as my body and soul went through sheer agony. Some day, some day, I’d live by the sea and I’d let it wash my pain away.

There was the present though to deal with. I needed to get the dustpan and broom to sweep up the glass pieces. Father’s rage seemed to have subsided for the moment. I turned and so didn’t notice father raise his hand again. This time it was the other end of the belt that hit me, the buckle opening up by right cheek in a gash up to my chin. I felt warm blood trickling down my neck on to the black tee I wore.  A red hot flame blazed into fire inside me. I stretched my left hand and caught the belt before the next blow fell. In my other hand was the knife I had grabbed off the kitchen counter.

Ben was at the gate to his house. He had that worried look on his face like always when he hears my father scream. It instantly turned to relief on seeing me walking towards him.  He grabbed my hand and quickly pulled me inside. His mother who is a nurse at the government hospital patched me up as best as she could, as she has done multiple times before. No questions were asked. Everyone knew what went on in my house. Usually I’d stay awhile with them and then slink back to the house while father slept. This time I got up to leave immediately much to Ben’s surprise.

I am not going back to that house, Ben’, I told him.  And then I told him what had happened, how I had plunged the knife in anger, how I had watched my father stumble and fall, blood gurgling out of his mouth. Ben stood frozen with shock. Finally he gathered enough courage to ask, ‘Where will you go? What will you do?’ I had no answers. Anywhere, somewhere. But was there such a place for me, now? Wait, he said and went out of the room. He was back with some money he had stolen from his mother’s handbag. I could hear her humming in the kitchen while she cooked dinner for us. Would my mother have hummed too while cooking dinner like Ben’s mother? I was never meant to know the answer.

Ben came with me up till the bus stand. I had no plans, I just wanted to get out of this place. I took the first bus that was about to leave and bought a ticket to the furthest point it was going. A six hour drive. When the bus started moving, I heaved a sigh of relief. The bearded man in the next seat smiled. I turned my face to the window suddenly wary.  I don’t know when I finally fell asleep staring at the darkness outside. Perhaps the bearded man snoring beside me had lulled me to sleep too. When the bus pulled in at its destination, it was still dark. But even in the dark I recognized the men in uniform standing beside the pillar of the bus stop, as if waiting for my bus to pull up. The police jeep stood not far off, the driver in his peaked cap leaning against it, idly tapping on its door. The inspector walked unhurriedly to the door waiting for me to alight. At last I was sure, I had finally lived up to the name my father had called me by all these fourteen years. Murderer.

© Shail Mohan 2019