Bird set Free

By Mitcheal Pereira, BBA, Batch of 2025, NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai.

The weight of her body sank into the soft bed, her head lay on the pillow, begging for sleep. Time seemed to slip through her fingers. Her eyes focused on the warm yellow of her ceiling, her ears an unwilling witness to the dialogue in the kitchen. Turning over, she buried her face, inhaling the wonderful odour of her sheets and praying the noise away. She focused on the soft creaking of the fan. The not-so-distant voices were getting closer. Clenching her jaw, she shut her eyes and prayed harder. His heavy footsteps moved away from the door. A breath of relief followed by a wince as she heard the softer steps that dragged behind. Seems like they were moving the “argument” to the living room. No sleep tonight.

The sun poked through the curtains. She lay drowning in exhaustion, with a spot of gratefulness for not being summoned and guilt for not helping her mother. Amma walked into the room, Sakhi turned away. She didn’t want to look at her face. She knew how the conversation would go, she knew already where the bruises on her face would sit. The new ones would seat themselves right over the faded ones, never quite healing. It was their routine.

“I’m so tired of this, nowhere to go, and absolutely nothing I can do about it.”

Sakhi hated the casual tone, the indifference. It was insufferably simple to her. “Just leave Him, Amma? I don’t understand why this can’t just be over? Let’s just run away.”

The sigh of ‘you-wouldn’t-understand’ came next. “Sakhi, you know we can’t just leave.”

“But why not? What are we staying for? To take turns being his punching bag?”

Another sigh. “Go where? How will we live? Whose house? And who will feed either of us?” Amma’s curls were already a flattened mess, not that they ever were neat. In fact, Sakhi couldn’t remember the last time any of them had fixed up their hair. She was thankful for the pandemic in that aspect, it took off the burden of having to keep up appearances.

“I don’t know Amma, we’ll figure it out!? Is this the alternative? I can’t. I can’t keep doing this. And you take the brunt of it, how do you want to stay?”

“You know I don’t want to but we don’t have a choice!”, Amma’s voice got jumpier and her face began to flush. Her light skin had been one of two reasons Sakhi’s grandmother approved of their marriage. That and the dowry.

“He keeps taking your money, I get it, start a secret account? Even if we aren’t leaving now, what about later? Are we going to live like this forever? Don’t tell me that’s your plan.” Here come her own tears, she hates this part. Early morning crying gives day-long headaches.

“There is no plan- I don’t know Sakhi, I really don’t!”

There came Amma’s tears, just beginning to drop, her face beet-red. How Sakhi wished she could bring a stop to all of this. What she wouldn’t do for them not to have to cry another day. She held up her hand to wipe Amma’s tear. Sakhi and her mother were distinct in many ways — her lanky and angular face, brown skin, straight hair, hot-headedness and lack of patience all differed from Amma’s lovely round face paired with equally round, gentle eyes, ever calm and abundant reserves of patience. Sakhi evidently took after her father.

“Vaishhhh! Vaishali! Come quickly my shoulder hurts”, Amma’s eyes shut in apprehension, Sakhi’s stomach lurched.

“Coming! Time for you to get up as well”, she directed to Sakhi. It was almost fascinating to see her mother switch roles like that, one second she was the distressed wife who wanted to leave her husband and the next she was a wonderfully subservient, perfect wife. Her eyes eerily calm as she walked to go rub his stupid back.

“Well about time I get up too”, she thought. She was going to bury herself in work and forget about her house. Online college was disappointing, she wasn’t going to be moving away anytime soon. The thought was immediately washed over by guilt, she hated that she was running away; she didn’t want to leave her mother alone in his grasp, but she also couldn’t take it anymore. The acrylic white floor was a crisp cold, her leg hairs tingling. She turned left past the door frame. She made sure to avoid brushing past the splintered wood around the handle, its woody brown expanse interrupted by peeling paint, baring its pale underneath. She turned left towards her bathroom and was greeted by the astounding stench of His room. She couldn’t even pretend to call it their room. The stale alcohol combined with his terrible breath was disgusting to behold. It was a stench that greeted her most days, she never could get used to it, she felt the burning bile rise in her throat.

She stepped in and picked up her toothbrush. His bed creaked and she began brushing quickly, his feet dragged slowly, coming closer and closer. Her looming gloom was joined by dread and fear, He came up to her and held out His toothbrush. She promptly dumped some toothpaste, avoiding his keen gaze.

“Good Morning”, he smiled. “Morning”, she huffed back, this was what she hated the most, this unsettling friendliness, the pretence of how everything was perfectly fine. The facade would melt away the second she didn’t comply, it was best to… humor Him.

“Want to watch a movie? I’m making lunch today”, He sounded so excited. Once again she was struck by everyone’s ability to switch characters so quick. “No thanks, lots of work due this week, I best catch up”, in the most neutral tone she could muster, she could see him in her peripheral, the smell making her retch. She had to decide between gagging or brushing her teeth. Choosing the latter, she finished up and got out of there. Boy did she hate Sundays.

The rest of the day was spent cooped up in her room with her laptop, interrupted by the unfortunate event that is lunch, complete with awkward pauses, terrible jokes and all-rounded silence from the rest of the family. Sakhi kept her head bowed, trying to escape the room and into her head but always brought back by the clinking of ice. It irked her more than anything, it scared her more than anything. He was already passed out by four. The respite was short-lived.

Sakhi found herself awake yet again, the sheets less clean, the odour was barely there anymore. She’d have to find another distraction. His voice kept getting louder and hers pitifully tiny. It was going to be one of those days. The creaking fan wasn’t doing much, she needed more. She switched on her phone, flinching at the sudden illumination. The time flashed 2:30, she sighed and opened up the music app. Her fingers flew on their own, swiping to the playlist that always lulled her to bed. Her head flopped onto the pillow, ears focused on the music. The slow buzz in her head lulling her to sleep. Perhaps she would actually sleep tonight.

crash

Been a while since he’d broken a plate.

thump clatter

Been a while since… he dropped the knife stand? okay, that one was new. Odd.

THUMP

She scrambled out of bed, “Oh no, Maa’s fallen, Maa’s fallen, it’s finally happened, oh no, oh no.” She shivered outside her blanket, her lavender heart print shorts weren’t doing much.

She pulled at the door and was immediately blinded by the light. She walked toward the kitchen anyway, palm on eyes, too impatient to wait for her eyes to catch up. She slipped and fell quite abruptly in something warm and wet. Her shorts were now uncomfortable warm and clingy. Looking down, she sat in a pool of red and she reeled, struggling to stand. It clung to her thighs, a slow trickle making its way down.

Closing her eyes she wondered if she’d gone mad and it was a sensory illusion of some kind. She hoped it was. The alternative would be that Amma was hurt. Amma. Her eyes darted around to look for the source. He lay right there, prostrate, facing her, eyes shut. A trickle of blood from the wound on his head and a pool surrounding his middle.

The backdoor creaked open behind her and she almost fell a second time. She looked around as Amma walked in with her butcher’s knife. She stopped at the doorway, like a deer in headlights. Sakhi shivered at the draught brought in by the open door. The tap running in the distance. “Why did you wash the knife?”, Sakhi’s mouth moving of her own accord.

“What?”

“Why did you wash the knife? Why was that the first thing you did?”

“Oh no I just did? I’m not sure why. I wanted it clean before it kept it back, didn’t want it to stain my stand.” she said, as she slipped a smaller knife, that Sakhi hadn’t noticed, back into the stand.

“Wait so what’s the meat cleaver for?”

“…”

“Just tell me.”

“To cut up the body?”

“… why are you doing that?”

“I figured it’d be better to bury the pieces around with my plants.”

“No, let’s just burn it.”

“I thought about it, but that’d bring unwanted attention.”

“Fine, let’s cut it up and then burn it, one by one.”

The pair stayed up all night covering their tracks. That morning Sakhi woke up to the sound of her mother singing a hymn, she had a beautiful voice and she sang completely lost in the words of the prayer. The events of last night horrified Sakhi but it was the first time in weeks that she had slept so well. She peered out her window at the chirping birds. They had no idea what the future held for them. They’d figure something out.



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Kirit P. Mehta School of Law Publications