PUNISHMENT FOLLOWS EVERY SIN, I think, relishing the way Gopalan wobbles out of his hut’s door, his lean figure an apparition dissolving into a semi-dark night. The arrack I poured so lavishly into his glass, while I savored my double shot of single malt, serves the intended purpose of making him lose control of his body and senses. I know the moonlight can’t help drive away the dark shadow of guilt that follows him. The hut reeks of his vomit. A watery film from his puke slowly spreads along the floor, moving away from the tidbits of half-digested pork and rice, clustered with tomato peels. By dawn, his bile’s acidic stings will leave indelible marks on the floor’s cement skin, like the pale patch of vitiligo that Gopalan can never hope to erase from his wife’s dusky buttocks. Despite the pale blemish on her skin, and the hatred I harbor against her husband, I like Malathi.
On the bed, she snakes onto my chest. The stink of arrack from her husband’s vomit blends with the scent of her sweat. I bask in the warm feeling of vengeance achieved; wife pursuing the path of sin, husband seeking escape from past sins… She runs her fingers over the creases on my forehead. “You should’ve waited till I cleaned up the mess,” she says.
“It’s not a problem. I rather like to smell the remorse in his guts.” I run a hand through her lustrous hair.
“Why do you speak in riddles?” Her head moves down my chest. Fingers slither through the profuseness of hairs on my belly. “Shall I close the door?”
Crickets chirp in the thickets. I don’t want to see patches on her skin glow in the moonlight that seeps through open windows. I peer outside. Gopalan lies supine, on the veranda’s floor, limbs restless, as if swimming in a dream across the tides of remorse.
A bat quits a cluster of banana plants and flutters towards the full moon. I visualize a maze of veins beneath its semi-transparent, brownish skin, a veil that conceals mysteries within its folds.
“Your husband’s passed out.” I tease Malathi.
“When isn’t he?” she replies, moving back to my chest like a tidal wave. Her silk petticoat rustles in the fluid movement of her thighs.
“Yes, when isn’t he? I like it.” I wrap my legs around her thigh. “The ritual of vomiting is his revolt. The slumber his surrender, his inability to react… I wait for him to raise his voice.” “More riddles,” she whispers. “I think his silence serves us better.” She looks into my eyes, her thigh thrusting between my legs. “Stop supplying him liquor if you need a different revolt.”
I return her gaze and pull at the hem of her petticoat. “I need this too; the way you crave for me…”
Your participation in avenging your husband’s sins…
Her arms snake around me, her hunger lashing like wild fires over my rigid muscles. Still, I grope through intricacies of the past to fulfill my present quest for vengeance...
IMPRINTS IN THE HEART didn’t fade away with time. I blabbered… she laughed. The music in her laughter rippled along the pond’s surface. “My round-eyed wonder boy,” she said, breaking into another bout of laughter. Her tresses, curly like spring coils cascading down her shoulders, encased the swell of her breasts. Fresh after bath, her hair smelled of herbs heated in coconut oil. She giggled a lot, sounding like pearls clattering on mosaic floors. Distinct, like the sparkle of her white teeth; the warmth of her bosom… I clung to her neck. “Feeling sleepy?” she asked. “No, aunty, lift me up to the sky, will you? I wanna touch mom,” I whispered in her ears. Pearls became silent. A pale hue shadowed aunt’s wine-red lips. Her arms tightened around me. The soft garment of her sari flapped against my feet. I shifted my leg and felt the smoothness of her belly that had begun to swell. I glided my leg further down and my toe lodged in her navel, causing her to giggle again. “See, I can make you laugh,” I said. She kissed my forehead. “That’s naughty. Let’s get back home.” I look towards the pond. Lotus flowers swayed, bidding us adieu.
DREAMS ALLOWED ME TO RETAIN MEMORIES in vivid details. I’d never thought of them as nightmares despite their being so. He arrived, clad in green pajamas and shirt. I recognized him by the scent of the cologne he wore… different from the musky variety that my father used. I felt him, hovering behind windowsills. Murkiness of his shadow crept into the room, and I cuddled closer to my aunt’s body. The moonlight rekindled her cheeks to a natural glow as the sound of his footsteps faded out. “Why does he always inspect us?” I asked her. Silence… She never responded to complexities, and left me to draw my own inferences. I got up and walked into the shadows, towards my father’s bedroom. I heard muffled voices. Why do they discuss things in the middle of night? “She’s carrying, can’t hide it for long.” Why should dad bother about someone carrying something? The man in green didn’t respond. “I’ve no alternative but to marry her,” Dad, said. Well, he’s planning a marriage? “So you break our pact…for a second time?” Voice of the man in green had turned grim. Her hands swept me up. She held me, pressed to her bosom, her swiftness choking me, and slunk into the shadows, my legs wrapped around her midriff. “You shouldn’t sneak into others’ privacy,” she said, putting me back to bed and tucking me under the comforter. “It’s bad manners.” “Then why does the man in green poke into ours?” “So defiant, eh…” She avoided another complexity with a pat on my cheeks as she slipped beneath the comforter. Her hair smelled of jasmine. I remembered dad smelled same when he kissed me on the morning of my seventh birthday a few months back. “How good you think I’m at the guess game?” I asked my aunt before drifting on the wings of dreams, before the green-clad man would peer at me again when he left.
SENSUAL MEMORIES RENDERED BEAUTY to my life; dreadful ones gave it a purpose. Things I did not know made me speculate. Hope, gleaned from the exquisiteness of dreams, encouraged me to survive the perils of death of most dear ones. The moon retreated into a refuge of dark rainclouds. Thunderbolts fell, splitting through the sky. Earth shivered and the house shook. In the blinding light, I saw the bodies. Darkness followed. I stood, gazing through the pitch-black night. Lightning flashed again and I recognized my aunt. And then… the stillborn… my aunt’s child… or my half-brother… half-brother-cum-cousin? In the murk, my father was digging a pit. I saw sweat running between his shoulder blades, when lightning flashed; listened to his rapid breaths when thunder stopped rumbling. His heaves sound the same like when he was bolted inside his bedroom with the green-clad man. My eyes behind the binoculars followed a thin red line that ran between my aunt’s legs. The line broadened into dark shades of scarlet on the pink sari around her midriff. I noticed the footprint. The heel mark of a sandal was imprinted on her garment. The toe mark traversed over her navel. I recoiled as another thunderbolt spiked through the sky. A cry gurgled inside my throat. Rain burst, hitting the gravel on the ground, drenching my aunt’s baby, washing the footprint on its mother’s belly. The imprint exploded inside my head and my eyes closed against the bright streaks of a thunderbolt.
I SEARCHED FOR THE TRUTH after almost a decade since the lies prevailed. Bits and pieces of memories, and shreds of images sifted from the threads of my dreams, guided me through the labyrinth of the past. The cellar door creaked as it opened inward and cobwebs, hanging across the doorframe, parted. Thick films of dust veiled the shelves and their contents… dreams corroded by the rust of dissipating illusions. I pulled out an album from one of the shelves. The suffocating pollen of an obscure past swept through my nostrils and choked my lungs as I turned the leaves. The set of photographs covered a national singles badminton championship. Dad’s black tracksuit, drenched in sweat, glistened like a cobra’s back in the stadium’s neon floodlight. I could almost smell the familiar scent of his aftershave waft from the blanched image. He was frozen in midair, his racquet poised to smash the shuttlecock in flight... I pulled out a pen from my pocket. Tidbits of stories I heard, coupled with my imagination, unfolded the event in vibrant blue jottings on the pages of a scrapbook. The racquet hit the cock. I heard the reverberation of the taut guts, and the thud when he landed back on the court’s wooden flooring. The cock slanted to a crashing drop, scraping the tip of the net. His opponent dove to reach it and returned with a crosscourt drop towards the net’s left corner. Dad leapt, and with a flick of his wrist sent the cock to back to the right corner. The cock rose to a loft in slow motion, hung on for a doubtful moment at the tip of the net, and dropped to the other side, sending the opponent sprawled, his racquet failing to make connection. The crowd, mostly dad’s fans, rose to their feet, applauding the winner. In the forefront, the man in a green tracksuit threw both hands up in ecstatic abandon. Dad shook hands with the loser and waved to the cheering crowd. He went to the man in green. They hugged. I put the album back into its dusty abode and picked up a diary. The moisture on my fingers left wet marks on its black cover. In the inside were words dad scribbled in bright blue...
NEON BULBS LIT the bar. Dad sat, eyeing the long fingers of the man in green wrapped around the slender wineglass. He picked up his glass, swallowed the drink in a single gulp and beckoned for the waiter. “One large,” Dad told the bearer. “Why don’t you have a whiskey?” he asked his companion. The man in green shook his head. “I must get to her fast,” he said. “Bring our bill also,” Dad told the departing bearer. His fingers tightened around the empty whiskey glass. “Didn’t I make things clear to you already? It’s either her or me. I don’t relish buddies stuck with girlfriends.” The man in green remained silent. The bearer brought the drink. Dad snatched it from his hand and downed it straight. “One more,” He ordered, placing the crystal glass on the oak table with a thud. Its echo left the bearer gaping. More entries in the diary; more glimpses into the past; more dust to make me choke. Hand in hand, they walked through the darkness that shrouded the pavement. “Let’s hire a cab,” the man in green said. “I wanted to walk. And talk. I thought you knew why I didn’t call my chauffer.” Dad stopped and looked into the eyes of the man in green. “People won’t relish the idea of their future Municipal Chairman walking the streets after midnight.” Dad continued to stroll down the pavement, in silence. “I think your brother still stands a pretty good chance,” the man in green spoke. “He’s been in the chair for a decade now and his clout’s strong.” “Not now when electricity and water supplies disrupt frequently. My boys are paid well to ensure that things remain awry.” Dad paused to light a cigarette. “He’s already begun to draw flaks for administrative failures.” “That’s a third rate politician talking,” the man in green says. “You don’t sound a bit like the ideal man I cared for.” Dad blew out smoke in slow rings. “I have a vision. I know I do have the support of the masses,” he said, stopping to scratch his right calf muscle with the toe of his left foot. “But winning elections and staying in power takes more than ideals.” “But you weren’t one who resorted to cheap tactics,” the man in green said. “Finally, it’s the welfare of people I want. I know I can deliver better governance than him. That justifies whatever means I adopt.” He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “And, to make winning a certainty, I’m roping in a new ally. I’ve decided to marry one of the opposition leader’s daughters.” The man in green stood gaping into dad’s eyes. “Priorities change over time, you know.” Dad took a deep drag on his cigarette and continued, “I know what you’re thinking. We made our pact of staying bachelors under different circumstances. Years back. You dumped your girlfriend to be with me. But we aren’t lads pursuing careers in sports any longer. This is my chance to get into the big game. Marrying her will remove some hurdles in the path. I need your support now more than ever. And, of course, you’ll be rewarded.” Dad’s hand pressed into his friend’s soft shoulder muscle before he drew him close to his chest. Dad felt the warmth of wetness on his collarbone and patted his friend’s back. “Now, people aren’t going to relish this either,” he said.
FINALLY, I CONFRONT GOPALAN to pronounce the verdict of his punishment. “A few jottings in diaries and random photographs in albums can’t help you learn the lived experiences of others,” Gopalan, sitting on his hut’s floor, says avoiding my eyes. I pull his head towards mine and stare into his eyes, relishing the primeval fear that dances in them. “I’m not bothered what kind of complexities ruled the lives of men like you and my dad. I’m only concerned about my aunt. I’ll avenge her death – her murder. No, I won’t kill you. I’ll let you live to feel the pain. Your wife’s moans, when she mates with me, leave gashes in your heart, right?” I push him away. Gopalan lands on his back, straightens himself up, on his hands and knees. A smirk creases his face. “She’s my wife not because I love her, but I needed someone to look after me. And at half my age, you don’t think I expect her to be loyal.” “That’s a blatant lie, you do feel hurt. The way you retch, it’s regret that you disgorge.” I yell at him. “You’re the one who lived through lies. You always judged me with scent of colognes and the prejudice you inherited from your mother because of her jealousy about my relationship with her husband.” Gopalan stood up, looking straight into my eyes, his fear dissipating. “What lies?” I ask. “You can’t see truths. You never look close enough.” Gopalan spits on the veranda, takes a deep breath and says, “Gimme another drink.” I pour him a large shot of whiskey in a steel tumbler, and hand it over. “Have it and then show me your truths.” Gopalan gulps the drink and smacks his lips. “You never bothered to ask me. Why now?” “I never trusted you,” I say, watching tears form in his eyes. “I never considered you any better than a parasite that lives off crumbs thrown by my father.” Beneath the film of tears, his sadness silently implores me for more alcohol. “You said I never looked close enough, what do you mean? I’ve another scotch with me.” Gopalan places the steel tumbler before me. “I thought I’d never tell you. But since you’re hell-bent on vengeance, I’ll identify your target.” “My target is quite clear to me.” I pour his drink, this time filling more than half the tumbler and say, “You know, I never thought of you by your name until recently when I planned the revenge.” His fingers shiver as he picks up the tumbler and swallows the drink, throwing his head back. “The man in green… A funny way to give vent to fear of chameleons, I’ say! But the real reptile is at large. Do you think you’ll ever find him in the cliffs of Himalayas?” His words cut through my chest like a bolt of sudden chill. “How’d you know that I thought of you as the man in green? Aunt was the only one who knew.” “How good are you at the guess game?” Gopalan replaces the tumbler and lights a cigarette. His fingers cease shivering. The chill gnaws at my flesh, spikes through my veins. My body shakes. I pour a drink and take a sip. The tremors won’t subside. I drain the glass. “So, you’re the father of her son… but you never smelled of jasmines.” Gopalan nods, blowing out smoke in circles. He throws the cigarette away, snatches the bottle and makes my drink. “You never smelled me close enough. The man you call Dad, well...he’s not made for women.” “What do you mean?” I snatch my glass and swallow the drink. “Your dad is not your dad. It’s another lie you’ve lived through.” A look of dismay shadows his face. “No…” Gopalan ignores my shout. “He never allowed me to live my life. I had a fancy for him when I was young. He was my hero… You made a point: a parasite that lived off the crumbs he’d thrown.” Gopalan laughs. “But I’ve had to barter everything I held dear as the price.” He pauses to make his drink. “He was so possessive of me that he married the woman I loved, lest he lost me to her.” The image of the man in green dissipates into thinness, and an image of the man I’ve remembered as dad, clad in a black track suit, emerges. I empty my glass. “Brace up for the rest,” Gopalan says and gulps his drink. “Your whiskey is finished,” he says emptying the remainder of the whiskey into my glass. I down the scotch in one go and feel the inflammation inside my throat. Perspiration breaks on my forehead. “How did you both do away my aunt?” “She didn’t tell me she’s carrying. Told him instead; pleaded with him to arrange our marriage. Again, he denied me life by deciding to marry her. She’d never marry him out of her devotion to her sister. Suicide, possible; murder, likely.” The grit that the exquisite dreams have bestowed me with helps me contain my emotions. “Why didn’t you revolt?” “What good would it have done? I don’t know why, but he cared for you. And I thought it’s better to leave things as they were. You had a more secure life as his son... estates and cars to dabble with…” Tears stream down Gopalan’s eyes. “Where’s the next bottle?” he asks, standing up. The sin still remains; of discarding a child, just stealing a look at him, denying him the warmth of fatherly hugs... punishment follows. The bile churning inside my bowel gushes out in a spray of retch. I make an attempt to stand up, but slump into the pool of my vomit with a loud thud. “Dad, pull me out of this filth.” I stretch my arms towards him. The jingles of Malathi’s anklets stop as she, rushing out to check the commotion, stands frozen on her tracks. She turns her face as I look at her. My father pronounces the verdict, “What does life hold for the three of us now?”
Hareendran Kallinkeel lives in Kerala, India, after a stint of 15 years in a police organization and five years in Special Forces. Waking from a hiatus of nearly a decade, he has recently returned to fiction writing. Prior to the hiatus, he has been published in online and print magazines. The title story of his short fiction collection, “A Few Ugly Humans,” has earned a nomination for the Pushcart Prize in 2005. Recent publications include flash fiction pieces in Aphelion-Webzine in their September and October 2017 issues. His stories are forthcoming in November issue of Scarlet Leaf Review and December issue of Flash Fiction Magazine.