Black and Pink
She was a woman like no other. Completely out of her mind. She always chose the riskier path. And she revelled in it! I haven’t met another person like her, who took joy in failing because, “It was just an experiment, after all.” A lunatic, I tell you.
But around me, she was totally opposite. Like flipping a coin. Fussy to the point of frustration (fussy is always frustrating, I know). She always looked at me with a suspicious eye, wondering whether I’d been up to any mischief. And as always, I’d disappoint her. But that didn’t deter her, oh no! She would be unhappy with me because I wouldn’t do anything wrong so that she could fly in as a messiah and set things right. I’d stopped messing things up a long time ago, and she hated me for it. I think she hasn’t forgiven me for that even now.
I was brought into tangible existence six years after her, and we two were the only ones with whom our parents were cursed. We were a study in contrast, the two of us. She was the maniac with passive OCD and I was the quiet one with a look of casual indifference forever stamped on my face. Mom and Dad were glad for the astonishing lack of similarities between their offspring.
Ashu Di was more than enough for them. Every day brought with it some new catastrophe that she’d invited into the house. Once, she shaved her cheek with Dad’s razor simply to have an experience. Obviously, she cut herself. And how! A razor cut is a small thing, one might think. But we’re talking about Ashu Di. A lot of hustle bustle followed, which eventually culminated in a scar on her left cheek. It was at a right angle to the jaw.
For me, Ashu Di was defined by that scar. It never stopped her from grinning ear-to-ear with eyes glinting and teeth flashing. The scar complimented the lone dimple that cut a path through the skin on the same cheek. It spoke of a girl who would walk along a path only if she had no idea where it would lead her. That girl didn’t give a damn about the consequences or the risks of her actions. A fool, yes, but she was born legs first, anyway.
Well, we grew up. Ashu Di was the same as ever. She was my second mother. No, she was my mother. Mom was there, of course, and I loved her, but whenever Maa had some work that needed tending to, she called upon Ashu Di, if she hadn’t already been there. Being raised by two women would result in me being a sissy, one could assume, someone who was shy and timid. But Ashu Di was a super-freak, and that’s the keyword: ‘super-freak’. I turned out OK, not a super-freak but a normal guy with a few quirks of his own. A typical teenager.
Ashu Di was curiosity incarnate. She poked and probed everywhere. As she grew older, her curiosity shifted to Malik, a guy in her college who was infamous for being extremely handsome, and a complete recluse. He was good in studies, had rich parents, and a toned body. A typical spoilt brat who went out with every girl who fell for his charms, right? No! He came to college alone, attended lectures alone on a far bench, ate alone, and went back to his home. All alone.
Naturally, Di was curious. And naturally, she had to find out. And since it’s Di we’re talking about, she did.
She married him.
Malik was a great guy. I’d never seen Ashu Di so content and so ecstatic with anybody, not even when I would mess something up, which happened once in a blue moon. Malik couldn’t have looked more happy himself. It was as if the two had entered into a competition for the widest smiles, which resulted in the worst wedding photos ever.
She didn’t cry when the car arrived. The look on everybody’s faces: priceless! She didn’t shed a single tear, even as Mom and Dad clung to her in an outburst of passion. Although, I did notice her shaking a bit when we hugged, or was it me? The wedding ended in euphoria for the couple as they drove off laughing. Even as the guests shook their heads in confusion and disappointment.
I got busy in studies and boredom, but never a day passed when I didn’t think of her. To write down the stuff that reminded me of her would be too cheesy, so it would be better if we avoid that. Suffice to say, I missed her badly.
The house became jubilant and chaotic whenever she came; you could almost taste the celebration on your tongue. I’d expected her to change a bit, be a little more subdued and less of the super-freak, but changing her surname hadn’t changed her attitude. Malik wasn’t the typical insecure husband, you see.
She came home to us as she pleased, but every time with a new tinge, like the same pot of tea served in different cups. Sometimes she would be angry at a neighbour who was proving quarrelsome, sometimes worried about the renovation work for the house. Most of the times it was Malik who occupied her world. Unlike me, he gave her plenty of reasons to be worried about him. And she loved it.
Distance can create intangible gaps between people, too, not just measurable ones. Even though Ashu Di and I didn’t share the old brother-sister relationship, we could still read each other’s faces like books. Up until I couldn’t read her face anymore.
I still remember, eight months had passed since they’d gotten married. Ashu Di had gone back to her home the previous week. That morning, I opened the door to find a hooded figure shivering by the door. I almost kicked the person in horror. Then, she whispered my name. I stood there, transfixed, every hair on my arms and neck rising in terror. Ashu Di looked up at me, but she wasn’t my sister any longer. This woman’s eyes shone in a mess of black and pink. Nothing else was discernible. She opened her mouth and I recoiled, afraid. The teeth were no longer pearls. They reached out for freedom, clawing for the fresh, unspoilt air.
My name again. Mom was calling for me, shouting something. Then she was right beside me. A scream in my ears. They rang terribly. A buzzing sound. I staggered and turned around. Dad was there, his concerned face growing larger. A second scream. Mom leaning on Dad. And amidst it all, my name. My name pierced loud and clear through all the clamour, repeated in that hoarse, yet familiar voice…
Time behaved like an angst filled adolescent. It flew and it fell unconscious, and rebelled against any attempt at order. Relatives came, shouted, grew passionate, then left. Grown-ups surrounded us with their sombre expressions.
Counsels, counsels, counsels.
Police? File a complaint? No. Dishonour to the family name.
But the assault? The attack? Patience. Patience. Society. Status.
Justice? JUSTICE? It happens. She was always a bit too full of herself. Patience. Patience…
They offered us money, and we refused. Integrity? No. They offered us money to keep quiet. We simply showed courtesy, and did it for free. Malik didn’t go incognito. His business went on as usual.
My sister lay on the bed, a lump of flesh and trauma. Di didn’t speak nowadays. I couldn’t bear to look at her after the first few times whenever I accompanied Mom or Dad to her room. Mom turned out to be the strongest amongst us; she could be in there alone with Di, cajoling her to eat, and patiently feeding her even as the food dribbled out of her mouth. That was the only time when Di put aside her veil, even though it left the skin stained wherever it stuck.
Brothers are supposed to protect their sisters, no matter the age difference. They are supposed to be the shield, supposed to stand up for their sisters. All I did was stand. I stood by and tried to make sense of everything.
Not anymore, though.
A few days of observation and surveillance. Some planning. A break-in into an apartment. Hand over his mouth. My hands sticky with blood and sweat. A knife glinting in the dark. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
BACK! And FORTH!
Neat, all of it. Except for my clothes. They weren’t supposed to get this messy. I had to borrow a jacket in the end.
I came back to my house, and went straight up to Di’s room. She leapt up with surprising agility as I switched on the lights, but relaxed a bit when she saw it was only me. Me and him, but she didn’t seem to register his presence. We stood there for a moment, and she reached out for her veil when she noticed my present.
The plastic had glued itself with the blood, and I removed it with some difficulty. I threw it away and held the gift up for her, looking for some sign of emotion. It was hard to tell with the deformation.
She didn’t scream. She stepped closer dazedly, and looked at him full in the face. I looked away out of respect. It was a husband-wife matter, after all. She whispered a single word.
I smiled and looked at her. She was staring at me. My smile widened as she whispered again, “Monster.”
But that grin was wiped off as she looked at me with naked revulsion on her face and breathed, “You. Monster.”
I could tell it was revulsion. Now, after all that had passed, I could finally read her like a book once again.
I didn’t understand, though. I looked at the prize. His tongue dangled out as if in mockery.
I realized it then. She was revolted by me. Me! Not the one who did all of this to her, but me! I was the monster.
Why? She was being unfair. I thought she’d understand. She always did. Ashu Di knew me.
And then it hit me. She was not my sister. The creature who had now backed into a corner was not Ashu Di. It was an empty shell. Malik had tricked us all. He had killed my sibling and left this feeble, weak creature in her place as recompense. That was the actual offer. A hollow shell to mope over, because who doesn’t love to pity at their own misfortune?
I looked closely at her, closely without any disgust. The scar wasn’t there. That scar which defined her for me was nowhere to be seen. In its place was charred flesh.
The scar used to herald a curious goddess, and all I could see in front of me was a coward. Malik was mocking me still, his tongue hanging out in derision.
I lifted him and opened the stiff mouth with my fingers. The coward screamed as I pushed the jeering tongue back inside.
By Saad Ahmed Shaikh
Image Source: pixabay.com