That day too, Ashok had gone away after a quarrel. As he left, he kicked a stool out of his way. The stool that was thrown against the wall seemed to lend an emphasis to his protest. She was also not ready for a silent farewell. She was not ready to bear as usual the swear words that he was so fond of uttering until she reached the threshold.
She stood in front of the mirror in order to avoid the compulsion of putting all the things that he had strewn across the room back in their place. She had forgotten his warning that through the open door, robbers would come in and strangle her to death. As she looked at the reflection, she felt it was changing into that of someone else. The reflection, with its eyes that had lost its sparkle, the dry lips and the uncombed bronze hair, was lifeless like that of an artist’s painting. She drew lines on the mirror as if she hoped to animate the painting by touching the image. She traced the lines of the nose, the eyes and the brows of the image with her fingers. Finally she threw the kumkum that she used meticulously to please him at the image on the mirror. Creating new images on the mirror, it trickled down. After observing the darkness of the image before her for a long time, she turned away.
She left the door and the gate of the house unlocked as she walked out. His hawk like eyes filled her mind when she walked as in a dream along the tree lined road. She shook her head to clear her mind of the changes in the expression in his eyes that she saw in her mind’s eye — from red to dark and ending finally in a cruel and merciless stare.
As she tried to put a hood on her nightmarish thoughts, the picture that became clear was that of her father. Yet these images were those of him rushing about anxiously to make gold jewellery for her. Though the images were not soothing, yet it brought her a comfort that could not be put into words. She had never been fascinated by gold jewellery. She longed instead to walk around with unadorned ears and bare neck and with loose, mad clothes. She was an artist who could draw well. In the evenings she left her home with her box of colours and sheaf of paper. Sitting by the side of the vast green paddy field, she had captured on paper many a picture of small birds that flew with zest across the blue skies, the fading of the day and the onset of the dusk. Yet she was never gifted with a colour pencil or a box of colours. Even her brothers had gifted their little sister only gold jewellery.
She bore it all without a single word of protest, though inwardly she was like a fish out of water, only because she knew that her mother seemed to consider adorning her with gold, her way to salvation. That was also why her father put in the papers a notice inviting tenders for an auction of lakhs. She was at that time in her Psychology class at college in the quest to decipher the secrets of the unconscious. Ashok was the General Manager of a huge company. She had just finished an essay on the suicidal tendency latent in the human consciousness, when her father returned after clinching the deal with Ashok.
She failed as usual when she tried to raise objections and to protest. She realised why men fell in love with the idea of suicide when she saw, with wonder, the extent of gold jewellery that her parents had put together for her. She lamented the loss of her valuable Psychology classes, even as Ashok and his mother looked gratefully at her when they examined the huge cache of gold that she had in her packed cases.
Ashok was a man broad minded enough to love money and gold and naught else. She began talking to him in the language of hate. Even when they moved from the village to the city, her protests were ignored. Considering the bright future of their daughter, her parents always sent him cheques and drafts, whenever he asked.
She did not want to know of any transactions. As she walked about in comfort without donning either a chain or a bangle, Ashok slept in peace with her jewellery box locked safely under his bed. As he was not the kind of husband who liked to parade around a wife decked in jewellery, she did not lose the simple life that she was used to.
He put a ban on her from forming any friendly attachments, even ones based on free and innocent ideas. His love, or rather, his obsessive selfishness, seemed to her to be both cruel and idiotic.
At that moment, the blast of a loud horn broke the string of her thoughts. When she looked back she saw a long line of vehicles behind her. She considered it a joke that she was holding up the traffic. When she moved to the pavement, many people shouted abuses at her and ground their teeth in frustration.
She only wanted to walk along the streets of the city that she knew but little of. To use his words, this was the world of the barbaric. Because of their barbarism, they may tear her to pieces. Is there a need to fix a price on this body that could not be protected by ideals? Yet her feet stopped of their own volition before the public park.
When the day faded away and the night crept apace, she was alone in the park. Now where should she go? The electric lights became visible in the city. She saw lights approaching her when she was considering walking along the dim lit pavement like a nightwalker. She knew in her mind that it was Ashok. She watched silently as flowers bloomed in the light of his torch.
Ashok was familiar with this spot where he usually found her at the end of a frantic search. That was why he had checked this spot before embarking on a further hunt.
There was a newfound peace on his face that was not there earlier. He had never attempted to molest her at night as he did during the day. As she followed him, he said, “I rang your father up, the other day.” She expected to hear the usual refrain, “Tomorrow, your father will come. I will return all that he gave me. I cannot endure this burden anymore.”
He continued, “Your father has arrived. I have told him everything. So you can leave tomorrow. That is the only way that we can end our common head ache.” S
he raised her bowed head with a start. He was moving forward, like a defeated warrior. The distant home in the village and her precious Psychology classes flashed through her mind for a moment. The last image to flash across her mind was that of her father tensely rushing around to make more jewellery and to find another husband for her.
Even the thought of re-opening a text that had yielded such terrible knowledge was unbearable for her. So she stood still allowing him to move forward. As he walked forward wrapped in thought, thinking that she would follow him like a recalcitrant lamb, she dived into one of the lanes on the way, running first slowly and then as one possessed.
Translated from Malayalam by Hema Nair R.