It was early morning, in a quiet neighborhood. Most of the families had left for some holiday destination; the few who remained behind were still asleep. It was an affluent part of the town and people mostly kept to themselves. The lane was lined by red and white painted bungalows with large front lawns, which were all neatly kept. At the end of the lane however, was situated a French colonial bungalow, in yellow and red. It gave a creepy feeling to the passersby and was a sore in the eye of the Citizens Welfare Association of the area.
The building had an unkempt lawn with dried leaves piled up in heaps. The bungalow belonged to a divorced woman who had shifted there only recently with her year old son. The woman had inherited the bungalow and a decent amount of bank balance from an older relative. She was a good-looking woman, with a pretty face and well endowed figure. She liked to smoke and drink and flirted with the men rather openly. She caused much controversy, and it was not long before the women of the lane shunted her out. It did not deter her from her lifestyle, and she could be seen inviting random men to her house.
This morning her house lay eerily quiet. Even the birds in the yard had gone creepily silent. A motionless body of a woman lay spread, face down, in the back yard. It was not clear if she was unconscious or dead. Her dyed red hair was spread around her head, small twigs tangled in her otherwise silky hair. She was wearing a pale pink t-shirt and a dark maroon trousers. She was barefoot and her nails were soiled with fresh earth. A few ants strutted around her body, which had evidently halted their path. Suddenly her fingers twitched.
Julia opened her eyes. She felt tired, her body refused to move. She tried to lift her head and then gave up. Slowly she began to feel the ground beneath her and realised where she was. In a flip of a second the memories of the previous night came rushing to her. She jerked her head despite her cracked skull. Her body was again weighing her down but she knew there was too much to lose if she did not take immediate action. She forced herself off the ground and stood up, her whole body was shaking and she was breathing fast. The front of her t-shirt was soaked in blood.
She looked around; a rusted crowbar lay nearby on the grass. Her mind began to race. Her son was all alone inside. She remembered what Sunder had said last night – one of her spurned lovers – “You love this bastard, don’t you? I will kill him first.” He had grabbed Joy from the scruff of his neck and began to strangle him with both his hands. Julia flew at him in rage, Sunder was ready, he hit her hard in her face with a bronze statue on the mantle. She fell to the ground and Sunder hurried to another room with her son. Julia could feel the heat on her skin where Sunder had hit her. Her cheek had cut open with the impact.
“Why are you doing this?” cried Julia while banging the doors to the now bolted room.
“Because a bitch like you deserves this…” Sunder cried hysterically.
“Please leave him. Leave him out of this. What has he done to you?” Julia was crying and banging her head on the door. “Please open the god damn door.”
“Now you will feel the pain… How dare you leave me… Now you will know how much it hurts when someone you love leaves you…” came Sunder’s reply in a maniacal voice.
“Please…I will come back to you…please open the door….” Julia said sobbing; Joy had begun to cry.
“I don’t want a whore like you in my life… Your bastard cries too much…tell him to shut up or I will silence him myself…” There came the sound of a hard hand slapping the soft cheek of her son. Joy began to cry more loudly.
Julia felt a sharp razor go through her heart. She looked around; there was an antique round table nearby. Julia picked it up and threw it on the door. The door creaked under its weight but it did not open. Julia wildly looked around and picked up the bust of an old English lady from the mantle and began pounding the door with it. Joy was crying loudly inside.
“Open the door…I…I…I have called the police.”
“Oh really! And how did you make that call? Baby I cut your telephone connection before I entered your house. Humour me, go ahead make that call again.”
Joy was crying loudly now. Julia could not take it anymore. Suddenly it struck her and she ran to her backyard. There was a large window to the room where Sunder had locked himself and Joy. When Julia had moved in, she had tried to open the window but it was stuck. She never tried to get it repaired. She decided to try and open it, may be just this one time it might work. She looked around and to her relief found a crowbar lying under the window. She remembered when she had tried to open the window and then threw the crowbar in frustration when it won’t open. She never went back to pick it up.
Julia picked up the crow bar and latched it in the empty space between the window panel and its sill. She, then, began to apply pressure to the crowbar. She knew she was failing miserably. Her body had begun to crumble under the fatigue and emotional pressure. She pushed hard – the window must open, she must save her son. The cut on her cheek was now throbbing with pain.
Suddenly something caught her attention. Joy had stopped crying. She stopped dead. Was he hurt? Why wasn’t he crying anymore? Her heart began to pound heavily, ready to explode out of her chest. She stretched towards the window and tried to listen. She could not hear any movement inside the room. Where was Sunder?
Fear began to envelope her heart. It can’t happen. Joy must be alive. In her panic she did not hear the squeaking of the wooden door which led to the backyard, nor did she notice the noise of footsteps falling on dried leaves. She suddenly felt someone breathe down her neck and turned around. It happened in the blink of an eye. Before her eyes could focus on Sunder’s face, she was hit on her head by a heavy metal object and she fell on the ground.
Her eyes became hazy, she could see the outline of the man who had threatened her and her son for their lives in the descending darkness. Her mind told her she was dying, but before she could reason everything went dark.
She was standing in the same backyard, where Sunder had hit her on her head. The window in front of her lay half open. She tried to move towards it and felt immense pain sear through her leg. It was difficult for her to move but she slowly dragged herself towards the window and pressed her ear to it. There was a stillness about the room. She slowly peek through the half opened window – the room was dark. Julia squinted her eyes to see beyond. The room was empty except for a few upturned chairs and broken picture frames. The rooms beyond were also silent. There was not a trace of any movement.
Fear gripped her heart. Was her son dead? She shrugged her head to keep the ominous thought away. It can’t be – not until she was alive. She slowly moved towards the front porch. It felt like a journey of ages. Her leg staggered under her weight but she stubbornly moved. The front door was locked from inside. Was Sunder still inside? It meant that Joy must be inside too.
Julia looked around and picked up a flower pot from the small stairs which led to the door. But before she could use the pot to break open the glass panel on the door something stopped her. A narrow stream of blood trickled from under the door. Her heart sank. She fell on the porch with a loud crash. Her mind began to play tricks, she felt a strange white light cover her body. It felt soothing and she slowly dozed off.
Somewhere in the distance a woman shrieked, her sharp voice rang through the air. Soon the tranquillity of the street was broken by sirens from police cars. Someone had finally called the police. When Julia woke up again she found that the doors of her house was open and a couple of policemen stood chatting in a corner. She slowly stood up, the pain in her leg had increased. No one looked at her. She didn’t care. She wanted to find her son. She slowly moved in, some more policemen stood in her drawing hall. They were talking.
“The man shot himself in the head. Died instantly. Bastard. Broke into the house.” Someone interrupted “What about the child?” “Arey Dubey! What about the child? I don’t know some couple came and took him. We don’t need him anyway. A one year old orphan can hardly give any statement.”
Julia stood transfixed. Orphan. How dare he call Joy an orphan and how could he let someone take him. She turned around and went outside. A couple of people from the street had gathered too. One of them was giving his statement to another policeman.
“Yes, sir. That man used to visit her about three months ago. Yes…yes…i think she knew him…”
“No sir…no…no…yes she had a child…son…about one year old…yeah that Gupta couple took him…No…no..they are elderly people…no..they didn’t know her personally….nobody knew her that well…”
The Guptas took her son. She felt relieved. They were an elderly couple who loved her son, even though they never talked to her properly. She turned around to go to the Gupta house and look for herself how Joy was. Even though he was with familiar people, Julia could not shrug a foreboding which had gripped her heart the moment she had woken up.
It was then she saw it. A body covered in white sheet was being carried on a stretcher towards an ambulance. Julia stopped. Was it Sunder? Ofcourse it was Sunder. Suddenly one of the men who were carrying the body, lost his balance and the face of the body was uncovered. Julia shrieked in horror but no one listened. Covered in white sheet, motionless, lifeless was her body.
The man covered the face again and carried the body to the ambulance. The policemen had taken the statements and were ready to go. Julia frozen on the spot, witnessed the policemen circle her house with red tape. After a few other formalities the policemen too left.
Julia stood alone. Her eyes shed tears but her skin no longer felt hot. She realised that she was very cold. She looked at her hands. They were pearly white, devoid of the rosy sheen. She looked up at the sky and felt a strange sensation. A prayer escaped her lips. She slowly moved towards the house at the start of the street. There in the garden sat an elderly lady with a one year old boy in her lap. The boy had scratches on his face but looked calm. The woman seemed to be telling him some story. Julia looked at her son and felt a contentment fill her heart. Suddenly she felt herself being engulfed in a familiar white dazzling light. It was soothing. She slowly lost herself in it and fell asleep again.