10 - The girl who died next door

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Death. It comes in myriad ways but the one distinction between all these ways is the pace and it’s corollary - suffering. The nature of death is defined by whether it is gradual or sudden; whether it comes in bursts of suffering or one swift stroke. Death from burning – long and torturous; but death from a fatal bullet wound – instant and merciful. If I ever had to murder someone, I’d go the merciful way. To spare myself the torture of watching of course. Why should another person’s pain bother me if I can’t feel it? Compassion, most of the times, is feigned. Feigned until people are convinced they truly feel another’s feelings – an absolutely illogical and fanciful notion. Compassion traverses the blind area between imagination and reality.

Of course, all this conjecture about death applies only to the living. Suvarna’s death on Shayan’s canvas was another matter altogether.

I spent my days on tenterhooks ever since the day I’d seen Shayan in pieces over (dead) Suvarna’s aging. I kept waiting for the day when it would all be over and I was never certain if it was happiness I felt – or fear. Perhaps I’d always had an inkling that it wouldn’t be pretty when Suvarna’s spectre followed the footsteps of her physical self. I was driven crazier by the fact that I could confide in no one. I took to recording my exchanges with Shayan on a private blog I called ‘The girl who wouldn’t stay dead’. On days when I’d had too much wine, the title would crack me up and I’d giggle every now and then, while I typed macabre words.

Monsoon had made way for the suffocating warmth that was the city’s sorry excuse for autumn. I’d have to add that to my bucket list – experience autumn in its faded mahogany emptiness. While I was musing aimlessly thus, I heard a deafening crash from the house next door. It sounded like a cupboard, or something of that size and heaviness had toppled over. And then there was silence. Unadulterated silence. No screams of pain, no shouts for help. No excuses to offer for my immediate panic and compulsion to check on Shayan.

His apartment was filled with smoke and the acrid smell of it. The man had turned into a monstrous smoker. The haze made it difficult to see and for a few moments, I blundered forward blindly; my eyes watering. Then I saw him. Slumped on the floor, sobbing, while his beloved easel lay on the floor, the palettes of colour leaking into the tiled flooring.  I allowed myself to dwell over the strangely beautiful sight of different colours forging their individual paths and tributaries on that pale white expanse. Then I pulled myself back to the pitiful figure in front of me. What aspect of that was capable of charming a woman? Nothing at all. And yet there I was, a repulsive mass of unbidden concern. “You stink.” He looked up, tear-stained face and all. “It’s over,” he whispered, so low that I had to read his cracked lips. “Finally.” He didn’t seem to have heard me. “I have no reason to live any more. All I want is to die.” And he collapsed into wracking sobs on the last word. This was insane. With a sudden burst of righteous anger, I grabbed Shayan’s largest painting brush off the floor and tore through his last painting with its pointed end. Shayan may have screamed but I did not hear him. The torn canvas gave me the rush I imagined murderers felt when they severed veins. I drove the brush through every painting I could lay my eyes on. I hacked through her doe eyes, her luscious lips and her lustrous hair. I drove It through her very soul and I found mine rejoicing.

And then I felt, rather than heard him rise off the floor. With a flash of warning from my primitive sense of self-preservation, I spun around and caught his arm before he could bang my head with the heavy painting he held in his hands. “What have you done, you bitch?” he raged. “How could you kill her like that?” “I didn’t kill her!” I shouted back. “She was already dead! A simple fact you could never fathom!” and then I was rushing out of his apartment, away from him; away from his sapping insanity.

I moved out of my apartment that very night. Since several months, it had brought me no peace. And now I was in desperate need of some.

You might ask why I’d been so obsessed with Shayan that entire while. Why had I allowed his madness to impact my perfectly normal life? Why hadn’t I just let him die in that apartment, which I had anyway eventually done? I don’t have an answer to that question. Any more than I have an answer to why Suvarna insisted on extending her sorry life on paper. All I can say is – there are some impulses none of us are powerful enough to ignore; whatever may be the consequences. Or perhaps – because of the possible consequences. For every dark turn that my relationship with Shayan took, there has been an alternative turn glimmering in the corridors of hope. My subliminal hope.

(Concluded)