The red spread quickly through the saree. Urja could feel the warm, sticky progress of the blood on her thighs. A lump formed in her throat. Ajji would be livid. This was after all, her favourite saree. Urja scrambled through to the bathroom, tears now forming in her large brown eyes. She hurriedly began scrubbing the stain, just as her grandmother walked in.
That is how Irawati had found Urja in the bathroom that afternoon. Slouched over the sink, unclothed, and terrified, desperately scrubbing away at the saree.
Summers with ajji were always tedious. The house always smelled of mothballs. The winds in the garden were always biting. And now, years later, as Urja took her grandmother’s saree out of the cupboard, the memories came flooding, one after the other. Urja sighed and laid the saree out on the bed. She longed for the days when a stained saree was the biggest of her troubles.
It was early morning. The rest of the house was yet to awaken. Urja went into the bathroom and ran the water. She quietly began planning her day as she undressed. The puja, the lunch, the guests, Vishwas would be returning home in the evening…Urja shuddered as her mind trailed off. Maybe it was the cold water, she told herself. Determined to keep her spirits up, she pushed the thoughts out her mind and stepped out of the bathroom. She walked in front of the mirror. Her eyes followed the naked curve of her body as she stood there, drying herself. Urja held a hand to her navel. She had lost some weight after her marriage to Vishwas. She lightly caressed her breast, trying to remember its former plump self. Her fingers moved downward and she gingerly touched the bruise that hadn’t budged in weeks. She shuddered again as she remembered the evening three weeks ago. Vishwas had thrown her against the bedpost in a fit of rage. In three years of marriage, Urja had gotten used to his temper, and an expert at avoiding it altogether. But there were still bruises that refused to go away. He is just short-tempered, everyone would say. He had a good heart, they’d argue. Even as she miscarried a year after the wedding, ‘you should not have angered him’, her mother-in-law had lamented.
Urja carefully draped the saree around her waist. The turquoise silk gleamed in the morning sun. She pleated her hair and wore the gold jhumka earrings before she made her way downstairs. As she scurried around the kitchen, getting the naivedya ready for the puja, she heard a familiar whir of an autorickshaw as it came to a stop outside the gate. Irawati briskly made her way through the front door and plopped herself on the sofa. A quick tea, and some arraigning about Urja’s cooking, and Irawati had taken over the kitchen.
By midday the house was bursting with people. The smoke from the havan had filled the entire house. Urja ran around serving lunch, as Vishwas’s parents sat beside the havan-kund, diligently doing the pandit’s biding. Afternoon turned into evening, lunch turned into tea and as the last of the guests left, Urja turned around to clean up and start the dinner. Urja hummed quietly as she began rolling chapatis. Irawati decided her old bones needed a nap and decided the sofa was as best a place as any. Shadows slowly crept across the floor.
A loud crash at the door startled the two of them. Irawati jolted out of her sleep to see Vishwas storm into the kitchen. She could hear him angrily whisper something to Urja. Moments later, she heard the loud bang of a steel glass thrown on the floor. Just as Irawati made her way to the kitchen, Vishwas struck Urja hard across her face. “Vishwas!”, cried Irawati. “Don’t interfere”, he glared back. He turned towards Urja again. “I’m asking you one last time, why did you go to market yesterday? Who did you meet?”
Irawati saw Urja’s flushed face. She was struggling to hold back tears. “No one. I told you. I needed the supplies for the puja. Your mother was with me. That is all”. “Lies!”, Vishwas screamed and lunged at her. Urja staggered backwards as Vishwas slapped her again. Her grandmother followed, trying to pull him away. Vishwas shoved her and while Irawati tried to regain her balance, wrapped his hands around Urja’s neck.
Urja felt his grip tighten around her throat. She pushed back but Vishwas was a big man. She could hear the blood rushing to her ears. Irawati pulled herself up and ran to Vishwas, pleading with him to let go as she tried to pry his fingers open. Vishwas pushed her away. Urja coughed violently as Vishwas began choking her again. Irawati, now sobbing, ran outside, crying for help. She called out to the neighbours, the rickshawalas on the street. As a couple of rickshawalas, and the neighbour’s girl started towards the house, she ran back inside.
Urja was now on the floor. Vishwas towered over her, choking her with all his strength. He gritted his teeth, breathing heavily, making spit fly from his mouth like a rabid dog. Irawati punched him in the back but her old fists were too frail to matter. Irawati saw Urja’s eyes turning white. In desperation, she grabbed at things to strike him with. Her hands closed on a smooth wooden handle. Just as the rickshawala ran up to the door, Irawati drove the knife into Vishwas’s back. Vishwas cried out in pain and turned around. Irawati wept as she pulled the knife out. Urja lay on the floor, coughing, barely conscious. Without wasting another second, Irawati hit Vishwas again. She wailed as the cold blade made its way to his heart. The neighbour girl shrieked. The rickshawala ran out screaming for help. Vishwas slumped on the kitchen floor. The blood pooled around them. Irawati, now howling in pain and grief, held Urja.
The red spread quickly through her saree.