Translated from the Malayalam by Ministhy S.
Angela was murdered in front of her children. It was her husband who killed her. He plunged the knife into her creamy, voluptuous stomach. When it was buried to the hilt, he pulled it out and drove it in again. She writhed like a serpent as the blood hissed and spurted. She was drenched in sweat and her hair stood on end. A groan emerged from her and the gleam in her eyes dwindled. Angela became silent and still; and slipped into an eternal sleep.
When the killer was sure that she was dead, he turned to face the children. They had glued onto each other in terror. He stared at the younger child with visceral hatred. She was not of his bloodline. He looked compassionately at the older one. She was of his blood. Sighing once, he moved away with determined steps.
Outside, the desolate day wrapped the transparent wedding gown of the rain – stained with Angela’s blood – around itself. The room filled with the unnerving smell of blood. Like a black raincloud, fear spread darkness and iciness. When the children realized that they were completely alone and that their mother would never wake again, they screamed loudly. They were the orphans left behind by their murdered mother. They embraced her crimson body and shuddered in horror as the droplets of red glued onto them.
The elder child, eight-year-old Ann, was the one who informed Narendran. He was breaking into a cold sweat as his advocate elaborated on the punishment for being a loan defaulter and highlighted the thin possibility of an appeal. When Narendran heard the heart-rending cry, “Uncle, my Papa killed Amma!” he disbelieved his ears. It appeared to have emerged from a tunnel forcibly shut at both ends. Narendran felt dizzy.
“What is the matter, Narendran?” the advocate enquired.
Narendran swallowed with difficulty. In a tremulous voice he said that an erstwhile lady subordinate of his was no more. The advocate murmured his sympathy. Narendran walked out – his feet seemingly stepping on blood and getting glued on the floor. Jaya Mohan, the copywriter of his failed advertising firm, and a few other workers were waiting for him. Narendran leaned onto Jaya Mohan’s shoulder.
Jaya Mohan recoiled in shock and stood dumbstruck for a while. Then he sighed deeply and told the others.
That day, the sky had resembled a hired killer disguised in black oil, waiting in ambush.
Angela left the office at twelve thirty, after applying for half-day leave. Reaching the school in her Kinetic Honda, she sought the principal’s permission to take her children away. Their eyes sparkling in joy, the children had raced across the verandah. They were dressed in the Friday uniform of pristine white. The younger one, with the mushroom haircut and a star-like mole to the right of her nose, had let go of her sister’s hand. Her schoolbag on her shoulder chimed like a bell as she skipped towards her mother. Her elder sister had a blue, raindrop-shaped mole on her left cheek. The children had glued themselves like two white wings on either side of Angela. She had smiled radiantly while hugging her wings close.
Mother and daughters flew past the school gate, laughing and rejoicing. There was a cold breeze. The older child, Ann, rode pillion, and sat with her arms around Angela. The younger one Irene stood in the front, clutching at the wind shield. “Chechy”, Ann, teased about how “Vava”, Irene, had unwittingly joined in her own happy birthday song along with the rest, during the morning assembly. Vava, who was enjoying the slightly moist breeze, admitted with an endearing embarrassment, “Mommy, I was not aware at all…”
Angela burst out laughing. Unable to restrain her bubbling affection, she dropped a kiss on Irene’s head. She made both of them laugh by narrating about a School Day function of hers: when she was busy chatting with another, unaware of the curtain having risen. A pretty lightning waved a magic wand in the black sky. Mother and daughters sped away to the town’s Biriyani House, dropping pearls of laughter before those who stood waiting for the town bus, and those who stood near the shop fronts.
The air-conditioned hall lit up with Angela’s aura as she stepped in, following the children. The magical body, all of thirty years: with the searing brown eyes, the high and sharp nose and lips that bared themselves as she laughed. The men inside found their eyes glued onto her, as if hypnotized.
It was then that Narendran’s phone call arrived. His voice was fraught with tension.
“Amma and children must be having a total bash, right?”
“Yes, we are at the Biriyani House. Are you coming over?” Angela’s eyes were half-closed as she smiled.
“Not now… In the evening, I shall be there for the cake-cutting. Where is my birthday girl?”
Angela handed over the phone to Irene.
‘Okay, Uncle. Yes, Chechy is here,” Irene lisped sweetly.
Angela gazed at her and Ann, totally enraptured.
“What did Uncle say?” she asked lovingly, when she took the phone back.
“To tell Amma to get a fairy-queen ice cream for me… Will you?”
Touching the mole on the right side of Irene’s nose, Angela made an affectionate sound in agreement. “Mmm…”
Then she looked at Ann. “What about you, Molu?”
“Strawberry milk shake…”
“Oh, Chechy’s stupid shake!”
“Vava’s stupid fairy queen!”
While enjoying their food, Ann revealed that Irene had given only one sweet to Joseph, since he was not her friend.
“Is that so?” Angela asked in mock-anger.
“I won’t do it again,” Irene said meekly.
“That was not a proper thing to do.”
“I want to give everyone a milky bar on my next happy birthday…”
“Jesus! If I buy a milky bar for everyone, what will be left of my salary?”
“Uncle has promised, Mommy…”
“Then you get it from Uncle.”
“On my next happy birthday, Amma, you should buy me a satin frock with red frill…”
“Red ribbon, too.”
“Where will you tie that?” Anna teased.
Irene’s little face became vexed.
“Mommy, you should not cut my hair any more…”
Angela laughed. “We will grow it after some time…”
“Hmm… When you are in third standard.”
“Mommy, you should not go back on your word…”
As they waited for the bill, Irene snuggled against her Mommy like a puppy. Angela held her close. Irene glued herself onto her Mommy’s soft breasts.
It was then that a middle-aged man approached them.
“Hi, hope you remember me?”
His eyes had the brass-like gleam of a tomcat in the dark.
“Are you not Alexander’s wife?”
“I am wife to many like that.”
The man was rattled.
“I heard that you are separated.”
He flicked his tongue out and moistened his lips.
“These kids… Who are they?”
Angela paused before replying. “They are mine.”
He sniggered, looking at Irene’s rosy face.
“Been four or five years since you left Alexander, right?”
“Then this child…?”
“It is not just Alexander who has reproductive ability, is it?”
Angela’s lips bared themselves as she smiled. The man flinched, recoiling like a snake that had been hit. He glared at her vengefully.
“Alexander has got out… Did you know?”
She smiled again.
That had been the lone hint that Angela received about her impending death. Angela had gazed at Ann’s face – with its blue, raindrop-like mole on the left cheek. A few hours later, just before her murder, Angela would be staring at Alexander’s face and thinking of Ann’s mole.
The had waiter brought the bill by then.
“Let me pay…!”
The middle-aged man tried to pick up the bill.
Angela stopped him contemptuously. “No, thanks, I have enough means for paying it…”
Then they started for home. He might have stood there, gazing after her rhythmic walk. She had not looked back.
As Angela rode her scooter through the town, the lightning sharpened its knife edge amidst the rain clouds. They reached the bakery to buy the preordered pink cake with “Happy Birthday, Irene” written in white icing.
They were staying in the upper storey of a house in Vyttila. On reaching home, Angela put the cake packet on the table. She was putting the school bags in the children’s study room, when Narendran called again.
“Angela, I might be late. There are some issues…”
“Are they serious?”
“To an extent… The judgment of the case might come tomorrow.”
Her face lost its sheen. “Do not worry… Everything will turn out alright.”
“Forget that. Is the cake ready?”
“The cake is ready, the knife is ready. The person to get the first piece is yet to arrive.”
Both of them laughed.
“If I am not dead, I will be there. What if I am unable to come next time, eh?”
Narendran had uttered these words because he had been sure that the judgment would go against him. But when Angela was killed, his words had proven sinisterly prophetic. She had died before he had reached to cut the cake. The knife meant for the cake had been used to kill her.
The birthday cake stayed on the dining table till Angela was buried the next day. When Narendran went to lock the house, he saw something sparkling like a black pearl on top of the words, in white, “Happy Birthday, Irene”. When he touched it, it stuck to his finger. It was Angela’s blood. And Irene was his blood. Her blood had glued itself to his skin like a black mole.
As he sat next to the sleeping children in Jaya Mohan’s house, Narendran wished to wipe off the endearing mole on the right of Irene’s nose tip.
“Will Mommy never come back, Chechy?” Irene asked, whimpering.
They were journeying to the cemetery, and the little girl was glued close to Ann in the backside of the car. Jaya Mohan, driving the car, tilted his head and looked at Narendran. Narendran’s heart skipped a beat.
“Hmm… Hmm…” Ann murmured softly.
“She won’t come even for my Happy Birthday?”
“So the cake will never be cut again.”
Ann’s little eyes, already swollen with crying, started flowing again. As she hugged her young sister close, Narendran’s heart throbbed with pain.
He remembered the first night when he had slept with Angela. That had been a burning desire of his, ever since she joined work at his place. They had met when she had come for the walk-in interview for a receptionist in his advertising firm. She had been twenty-five then. But her face had the unyielding look of forty-five. Hers had been a serpentine beauty that could mesmerize.
“We will assess you for three months. Then we will consider offering a permanent position.” He had been acting very dignified.
Angela stabbed his heart with her searing brown eyes.
“I need this job. Whatever the price happens to be…”
His breath went still.
She sat up straight.
“I am a woman who eloped to marry her lover of four years – only to be pimped by her husband to his friend. Don’t act naive before me.”
He swallowed hard. “I am married.” His voice was feeble.
Angela’s lips had bared themselves in a genuine smile.
She had been staying with a distant relative then. Narendran had offered Angela a job. He arranged rented accommodation, and school admission for Ann, who was four years old. He remembered the day when he had made love to Angela for the first time.
Lying to his wife Sunita that he was on tour, Narendran had reached Angela’s place. Clad in a pink nightie, she had been giving food to her child. Her silk-like hair had been gathered lazily into a knot. A few strands had fallen loose on her shoulders. After bathing and dressing Ann, Angela had carried her to the bedroom. Nestled close to her, Angela had read the story of “Beauty and the Beast” in a mellow voice. The child had laughed occasionally. Angela had laughed too. Their laughter had glued onto Narendran’s madly drumming heart.
Later, Angela served him chapatti and dal curry. Though Narendran hated chapatti, he found it delicious when Angela served it. She had done up the interior of that small house in a very pleasing way. Everything about her had been attractive. After cleaning the kitchen and taking a shower, she had come into the bedroom, wearing a sleeveless blue nightie. She had shifted the sleeping child to a mattress on the floor.
Narendran had put his trembling hands on her shoulders.
“This is my first time…” he stammered.
“This is not my first time.” Like a snake, she raised her hood.
Suddenly, he felt inadequate. “There are many men with more money and status than me in this town.”
“Just money will not suffice for me…” She held him close. “This body is a huge liability. It is difficult to live without a job, while possessing it. It is difficult to get a job too, while having it. I utterly detest the intrusively piercing stares of men. So in each place, I choose the most influential guy around…”
“Why do you need to change your job so often like that?”
“By that time, Alex would invariably find me out…”
“Can you not divorce him?”
She laughed. “You can divorce only after marrying, right?”
“I am a middle-class guy with much family burden,” Narendran said, feeling mediocre yet again.
“But no one else has this mole of yours… I want this to be mine.”
Stretching her arm, Angela touched the mole on the right side of Narendran’s nose. For the first time in his life, Narendran felt goosebumps at the touch of a woman.
Whenever he was with Sunita, Narendran had compared her with Angela. His wife’s hair that constantly emitted a rancid odour. Her obvious distaste when she came to bed, and the way she would freeze whenever he touched her.
Narendran had been the most satisfied man in town, until Sunita discovered their affair. Soon, squabbles, outbursts and tears became a bitter daily routine. His sons looked at him with resentment. His relatives had started shelling out advice to him. When Narendran became frustrated, he had spoken to Angela.
“Shall I get a divorce?”
“I want only you.”
Angela had gazed at him for a few moments. “An ingenuous wife and two sons aged ten and twelve. No, that is not the right thing to do.”
“As far as I am concerned, you are the only right thing. It is you that my body and mind desire… It was you who made me realize what a woman is all about… That too, after having lived for thirteen years with another woman.”
“That is not Sunita’s fault. She has been taught that good women should not delight men.”
“What about you then?”
Angela laughed. Her lips were exposed. She embraced Narendran and pulled him to her breasts. “If all men loved their women like you love me – this world would be a better place.”
When they made love, Angela kissed the mole on the right side of his nose. “I want this mole. I am going to take it over.”
He had soon found out that she was pregnant, and was stunned.
“My Ann needs a companion. Even if I am no more, she needs a brother or a sister to love and to be loved in return. Besides that, I want that mole of yours too. But we are parting ways…”
“I cannot hurt another woman. Could this overburdened advertising guy bring up four children?”
Narendran had been distraught.
“Be a father to my children. Come to cut cake on their birthdays. When you meet them, give them a father’s kiss.”
On the day they parted, Narendran and Angela had gone to the Church at Edappally. They had lighted one hundred and one candles – those that look like solidified milk. They had burnt up together, melting like the rain. Angela had knelt down, and prayed for a long time. Narendran had seen her weeping for the first and last time. Tears had flowed from his eyes too.
Their separation had been a brutal stab in Narendran’s heart. He would be bearing that wound for the rest of his life. He, in turn, had stabbed Angela’s womb with his mole. Irene would be bearing that for the rest of her life.
When the knife plunged into her stomach, Angela tasted blood in her mouth. The blood reminded her of her children.
The sky had gone pale, bleeding away slowly. As the Father of the Diocese recited the prayers, the children – their voices weak from incessant crying – heaved with sobs and called out “Mommy, Mommy.” Their helpless cries pierced a hole in Narendran’s heart.
Angela slept in a coffin studded with ornate brass buds. Her face was angelic – the sadness and strain having flowed away with her blood. She seemed to be in a serene sleep after a very loving intercourse. Narendran felt like touching her.
He had last seen her on Ann’s birthday. That day too, he had wished to touch her. But Angela had become the receptionist of the town’s biggest jeweller by then. The inferiority of a debt-ridden businessman had prevented him from touching the rich and elegant Angela. When they had parted, she had smiled at him with moist eyes, holding his hand in hers. That time too, her face had turned angelic.
Narendran had remarked once, that only one in a thousand men would get a companion like her. She had burst out laughing. “Nonsense, you feel such interest only because I am not your wife.”
“There is not a single day, when I do not wish that you were mine…”
“If I were, you would have tired of me like Sunita…”
“Who can tire of a woman who is as passionate as you?”
“For a woman, love and lust are the same. For a man, they might be different.”
“Just listen to that! Women are selfish. Except for materialistic pleasures, they have neither love nor lust for anyone.”
“I spoke about myself.”
“Sunita was never passionate.”
“Poor thing… Maybe she is afraid. No woman can suffer the accusation of being lusty.”
“Not even you?”
She lay straight, and laughed.
“Not even me… It was because I could not contain my passionate love for Alex that I eloped with him. But he interpreted it as being sex-crazy. He murdered my love. My lust died along with it.”
Her smile dimmed suddenly. “We would fight daily. But still I pulled on. But that day when he threw me before his friend…”
Although she was smiling, tears streamed through the corners of her eyes.
“I wanted to stab myself to death that day…”
Narendran, becoming distressed, caressed her gently.
Angela held onto his palm. “Due to the stupidity of that tender age, I had felt all that passionate love. Now I know the truth. Man, woman, lust, and love – these are of no use at all. Life is not about that…”
“What do you mean?”
Angela had raised her sharp brown eyes to his. “I only know what it is not. I do not know what it is.”
Then she had sighed.
“Now, my children matter most to me. The love that a mother has for her child and the love a child has for her mother – that is the only everlasting love in this world.”
“Why did you choose to have this child then…?”
“I had no other way to express my love for you!”
“Love…! Is that why you left me and found a rich guy for yourself?” Narendran had pushed her away with intense jealousy.
Angela had looked at him seriously.
“I have to bring up my children … ensure their future … I need money for that. Once I have sufficient money, you just watch, I will become a nun. Women like me cannot do much else…”
His heart throbbed in pain, when he recollected her face. That face – which he would never see again. That voice – which he would never hear again.
They were lowering Angela into the grave. When the coffin vanished – the last few fistfuls of earth falling on it – the children fainted. He picked up Irene and carried her on his shoulder. Jaya Mohan’s wife held Ann close. The children’s lifeless sobs kept echoing in the cemetery. The wetness of their mother’s blood – as if still glued to their feet – remained with the children.
Lying on Narendran’s shoulder, Irene saw Alexander again; in her half-conscious state. She relived her mother’s death once again. That sight would be glued to her eyes forever.
On the day of Angela’s murder, mother and daughters had reached their little home full of laughter. The rain dropped all over like molten candle drops. It was then that Alexander had arrived. The door had not been shut.
Irene entered the room – in her underwear, after throwing off her uniform – holding a green-coloured birthday cap. She stood wondering, and had called out: “Mommy.” Becoming bashful about her nakedness, she had run inside.
Angela had been setting the cake on the table, the pallu of her sandalwood-coloured chiffon sari, studded with pearls and zari-work, tucked daintily into her waist. She sighted Alexander while tying a satin ribbon around the knife meant to cut the cake. A deep sigh had escaped her. They stood staring at each other for a few moments.
Alexander was a heavily built man, with no trace of compassion on his face. On his left cheek, the scar of a stab wound stood flagrantly visible. When Angela had been in love with him, Alexander had had a mole on that spot.
“Alex! How long since we have met! Where were you all the while? So, you have not forgotten me, have you?”
As she spoke, Angela opened the top cover of the cake box. “Today is the happy birthday of my Vava. Good that you came today, Alex!”
Alexander’s swarthy face puckered up. The muscles of his face throbbed with blood and turned red. He wiped the sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his soiled blue shirt. He stared at her wrathfully. His furious look pierced Angela’s luscious stomach which was revealed momentarily through her tucked in sari-pallu.
It was then that Ann had entered the room. Seeing him, Ann hugged Irene close. Ann remembered her Appa. Appa was an ineffable terror in her blood. Looking alternately at her sister’s face and her mother’s, Irene had started to sob.
“What did you have for lunch? How come you have lost so much weight? What are you doing now? Are you still onto redeeming loans by catching cc?” Angela enquired.
Without replying, Alexander had stepped closer. Her beautiful house. Her lovely children, and her lovely body. The light in her home, the fragrance all around. Above all, her laughter. His blood boiled. Stretching his hand, Alexander grabbed the knife and mockingly looked at the satin ribbon bow. Angela tried to say something, her lips exposed in a smile. By that time, the knife had sunk deep into her fleshy stomach.
The children had gaped all aghast: their eyes popping out.
“You sinful bitch, after betraying me you are having a great time whoring about, eh?” Gnashing his teeth and cursing fervently, Alexander pulled the knife out and stabbed Angela again. She shuddered in her deathly throes.
“Mommy, I need a gilt pencil … English Miss told us. I need a gilt pencil tomorrow.” Irene murmured from Narendran’s shoulder. “Chechy, don’t go … Chechy, stay with me. Let us have ice cream.”
“Sweetie…” Narendran patted her shoulder with moist eyes.
“Mommy, don’t go today. Don’t go to the office or to the party. Sit by my side. I want to sleep on Mommy’s chest. It is so nice to sleep on Mommy’s chest…”
He could feel his heart getting torn into two. Someone sliced through his it like a cake, unhurriedly. The knife edge sank into the flesh. Blood spots appeared very, very slowly.
Blood! Blood that glued on when dry – transforming into moles.
Angela had laughed while dying. She had not felt the pain. Alexander had already murdered her, years before.
It had happened that day, when Alexander’s friend had grabbed her green nylex sari. She had begged with folded hands, “Please spare me!” She had screamed for help calling, “Alex, save me!” The friend had pounced on her, licking his chops. He had played around with her lifeless body like a cat teasing a mouse. Angela had seen little Ann’s wondering eyes, as she stood watching it all, at the door. Angela had been murdered that day.
Life betrayed Angela yet again by acting like a pimp. It lasciviously offered her to death. As the knife pierced into her, she saw her children: four eyes widened in horror. Angela was shattered. She flew forward to save them. She fell, her wings cut off. The knife was retrieved by the killer. It plunged in again.
Two stabs. Two wounds. Two big moles. Angela did not cry. The body could never make Angela cry. Life could never make her cry. Alex could never make her cry.
Whenever Ann closed her eyes, she saw her mommy’s shudder. Her mommy had felt pain when the knife pierced her. Mommy had convulsed. She had writhed in pain. But she had not cried. Mommy never cried. Mommy would convert tears into smiles with her magic wand. Mommy would never be afraid either.
Angela had fought with the owner of the jewellery shop, once. Ann had been witness to that too. Angela had made chapatti and chicken curry that night. Narrating the story of Cinderella, she had made Vava eat two chapattis. Sitting in her inner wear at the dining table, Irene had listened intently – forgetting to chew her food. Although she had heard the story before, Ann had listened too. It was then that the jewellery owner arrived. He had been heavily drunk. His pudgy body had rolled in, like a vat of tar. Angela’s face had darkened.
“It is not yet ten thirty, sir…” Angela said softly.
“Oh … baby … I can’t hold it…”
“The children have not slept…”
“They will sleep.”
When he had tried to pull Angela close, Ann had got up, confused.
“The children will see…!” Angela had become extremely perturbed.
“Let the girls learn by watching…” The owner had smirked.
Ann would never forget the face of her Mommy as she tightly slapped his face; her hand still moist with food.
“Get out now!” her mommy had shrieked.
“Angela…” The man had gaped at her, his hand covering his face.
“I have a kitchen knife… I will stick it inside you!”
The employer had stood staring at his employee for some time. Then he had left the house.
Mommy had turned to look at Ann and at Vava, who were both gaping. She had winked and smiled at them. “A silly joke … just like that… Did my little ones get scared?”
Angela had washed their faces and taken them to the bathroom. She had helped them into their nightdresses. Adjusting the fan suitably, and making them lie on either side of her, she had gently patted them on their shoulders.
“Why did he come so near you, Mommy?” Ann had asked in a feeble voice.
“Why did he come?” Angela had tried to laugh.
“To kill you?”
“Nah! No one will kill Mommy…” Angela had turned to hug her close. “Sleep now, sweetie … sleep…”
Angela had rung Narendran late in the night. Narendran remembered it well. Sunita had not slept as yet. Seeing the number, Narendran went into the bathroom.
“Hmm?” he had queried softly.
“Something happened … that owner came inside my home, stone drunk. I slapped him…”
“Good…” Narendran had laughed quietly. “I was just thinking that it was time for you to change this job too. You tire of men very fast, after all.”
Angela had laughed weakly. “But he will not let me go.”
“Why don’t you admit that you don’t want to let go of him?”
“Don’t be so jealous. I know that it is a sin to sell one’s body. But it is not my body that I am selling, it is my empathy. Poor thing, I have only pity for that jeweller. All his life, no one has ever loved him. They have only pretended to love him. For his money. He too knows that. He realizes that – but for his money, nobody can ever love him.”
She had laughed.
“So, feeling pity, you are simply giving him a little love…”
“Not exactly. I understand him. So, I can forgive him. Will I not forgive my little Ann? Will I not forgive my Vava?”
“Then you better forgive Alexander too.”
“Alex never deserved my love. He knew that truth of course, but it was unacceptable to him. Hence he pushed me into prostitution. He wanted to see me degraded, and then possess me. I understood all that, rather late. But I have already forgiven him.” Angela had sighed.
“Then why make a fool of me?”
Angela had burst out laughing. “I never loved you for money. I loved you in return for the love you always gave me; the love you still give me… Besides that, I also wanted that mole of yours.”
His voice became pleading: “Angela … I cannot live without you.”
Angela’s laughter echoed through the phone. Later, unexpectedly, she had spoken about the jewellery owner.
“He is a devil. Have you seen his teeth? Have you seen his smile when he senses pain? A real jackass. Come and see my body. Bite marks – clotted blood all through. Countless. A bite on my breast turned septic. For one week, I endured a death-like pain. I feel pity when I think about it. Men like him have never lain inside a decent womb.” She had said all of that jokingly. She had laughed. In between, her voice had trembled. Then she had laughed again.
On that night when Angela lay murdered, lying next to Sunita – who was dead asleep – Narendran wept without making a sound. Alexander was evil. He had not succeeded in killing Angela; instead he had killed Narendran . Alexander was also a crass fool. To kill Angela, he should not have stabbed her. He should have stabbed the children instead.
Ann concluded the same. Appa should have killed us too. What will one do, without Mommy? Where will they live now? In the morning, who will make dosa for them? Who will make chutney? Who will make toast for Vava? Who will help Ann with her homework? Who will carry Vava to the bathroom so that she did not pee in her sleep? Who will apply medicine, whenever they hurt their knees by falling down? Who will make them laugh, when they cried?
Where would they go now? Ann was apprehensive about that too. Her tiny heart – as small as a fistful of rice – was ill at ease . Who will give them food now? Who will give them the fees for their school van now? Who will sign their progress reports now?
When she remembered that she would never see her Mommy again, she was shattered.
A heavy silence glued itself to the house, while the two kids slept.
“What should we do now, Narendran, sir?” Jaya Mohan asked compassionately. “Where will we send these children?”
When Narendran went home to take a shower and change his dress, he spoke, as if to the air. “Angela died.”
Sunita’s face turned satanic. “Oh yes, sluts end up like that.”
“Do not denigrate the dead. Think of those poor kids!”
“Shut up!” Sunita shouted in frenzy. “She is the woman who wrecked my home. Whore! Vampire! She shoved me and my kids to the street. She deserved it. What happened to her was due to my tears – the curse of a chaste wife! Having seen it in front of your own eyes, you refuse to learn. Now you will suffer too. You will scream inside the jail. Just look at the way she died! Intestines spilled out by a knife! It had to happen that way, of course! It has not ended. My tears have not been fully accounted for even now. The children she had given birth should beg on the streets. I want to see them howl hungrily like a dog for the sake of a single meal!”
The scream for a meal in Ann’s tear-filled eyes appeared before Narendran.
Angela’s children. The moles on the face of earth.
Alexander’s sister and husband came searching for them one afternoon. The woman – a cheap cotton sari wrapped around her head – had the indifferent and hardened look of a butcher.
“We’ve come to take away our brother’s child,” the woman said, after a cursory greeting.
Narendran was shell-shocked.
“That is my brother’s instruction. He told us so, before he was taken to jail. At least the child should not go astray.”
“What about the younger child?” Jaya Mohan asked.
“Why should we bother about her? Let her father take care of her.” The woman gazed alternately at the moles on Irene’s and Narendran’s faces.
Feeling drained, Narendran hugged Irene close.
“The elder one will stay with us in the estate. There are enough facilities. My two kids are there for company. There is a school nearby. We will send her there. Alexi will come as soon as his case gets over. Then he will take care of her. He wishes to make her a nun. As a penance for her mother’s sin.”
A knife pierced through Narendran’s heart.
“You want to separate the children?” Jaya Mohan was furious.
“Are they of the same father?”
“Don’t you have a heart? They have lost their mother. Is it not cruelty to make them part from each other?”
“We cannot carry the burden of her bastard child. You give us our child.”
The woman reached out to Ann who screamed and wriggled away. The little girl – crying and exhausted, her body still smelling of blood – rolled on the ground. Lifting her weary head from Narendran’s shoulder, Irene slithered down; then throwing herself on top of her sister, she burst into tears. The white frills of the frocks they both wore became stained with the crimson colour of red mud.
“I won’t come. I won’t come. I won’t come leaving my Vava!”Ann screamed loudly.
“Chechy … please don’t leave me,” Irene wept.
Someone waved a wand of tears over Angela’s children. They cried without stopping. Like cutting a cake into two, Alexander had split them too.
“Don’t take me away. Uncle, please don’t let me go.” Ann screamed, stretching her arms towards him.
“Please take me along. Please take me along with my Chechy.” Irene clung to her sister.
“I want to be with Vava. I want my Mommy…” Ann wailed desperately.
“Chechy … Vava will die … Chechy don’t go…” Irene pleaded.
Alexander’s sister took away Ann, who was crying for Vava, in their vehicle; forcibly shutting her mouth with her hand.
Narendran and the child of his blood were left behind. Crying relentlessly, Irene soon became feverish. Waiting for the fever to subside, he sat by her side.
“Now, what are we supposed to do, Narendran, sir?” Jaya Mohan’s voice was filled with regret.
“I do not have the means to bring her up. Or else I would have…” Narendran hugged Irene close. She opened her tired eyes. Two little eyes that were too weak to stay open.
“What will you do when the court order comes?” Jaya Mohan asked faintly.
Narendran had no reply to that.
“Now listen to what I say. We will take her to the orphanage – that is the only way out. I have spoken to the priest of the diocese and he has agreed.” Jaya Mohan spoke quietly.
Not having the strength to look at Irene’s face, Narendran shut his eyes tightly. “I cannot send her to an orphanage, Jaya Mohan.”
“What other way is there, sir?”
That whole night, Narendran lay glued to Irene. Irene laughed and cried in her sleep.
“Mommy, my tummy is full,” she cried out. “Chechy is teasing me,” she pouted. “Ayyo, please don’t take my Chechy away,” she screamed. “Mommy has been killed,” she complained, whimpering weakly.
Narendran hugged her close to himself. He felt deeply remorseful. He should have met Angela earlier. He should have loved her, married her, and should have become the father of her children. Then Angela would not have been killed. Both he and Alexander would have been spared from going to the jail.
In the morning, he woke Irene up early, and after consoling her with a kiss, spoke gently. “Baby, if Uncle tells you something, you should not cry.”
Irene opened her mouth to cry.
“You should not cry. Aren’t you Angela’s little girl? Don’t you know that your Mommy dislikes crying?”
Wiping her eyes, Irene swallowed her tears.
After a while he said: “Honey, you have to stay in the orphanage for a few days. By that time, Uncle will come to take you home. Then both of us will bring Chechy back, and then visit Biriyani House, Park, Cinema, Beach … have a great time like the old days…”
Irene gazed at him. She did not smile. Neither did she cry. She did not believe in what he had spoken either.
“When will you come, Uncle?” she asked in a lifeless voice.
“When should I come, honey?” he asked in a lifeless voice.
“On my Happy Birthday,” Irene murmured.
“On your Happy Birthday,” Narendran repeated after her.