I don’t know what made him pick me.
No, I lie. I know exactly why he picked me. Because I’m a woman, daring to have a job and dream of a better life – like an actual person.
Also because I had once rejected him.
I was different then, full of the arrogance of youth and beauty. I’m not one for false modesty, I was—am still—beautiful. In my college days, I had been the College Queen; three years running. I had admirers following me around college, hanging on my every word, picking up handkerchiefs I had dropped and keeping it for themselves.
Can you blame me for becoming vain?
It was my beauty, after all, that helped me land a job as a flight attendant on Indigo airlines. For a B.Com graduate from small town India, there’s not much else to do if you’re a girl. My parents couldn’t afford to educate me further, not on a newspaper editor’s salary.
The first day I left for work was nothing compared to the day I brought home my first paycheque. It was a heady feeling to be able to contribute something to the family income. I bought us a washing machine with my first salary, and a Tata Nano with the next.
My parents were ecstatic. My younger brother, Arjun, frequently asked for loans to supplement his pocket money – ‘the college canteen has grown expensive since you left, didi!’ – and I enjoyed playing the indulgent older sister.
In a year’s time, my mother started talking about getting me married, saying that a working girl earning good money was sure to get wonderful matches. I put her off, and we argued about it. I wasn’t ready to settle down just yet.
I had plenty of non-traditional offers, too. Practically every flight I was on, someone propositioned me. As I had in college, I rejected every boy who approached me—including him—convinced that I was meant for something more than this small town life.
Maybe I would have made it. I’ll never know now, of course.
It’s been a year since I stopped going to work, twelve long months since the night that ended my life.
Some of my relatives have come to see me, while others stay away. The ones with daughters of a marriageable age are always conspicuously absent.
I was lurking just outside the entrance to the living room when I first heard my mother say it. My favourite aunt was sitting just inside, comforting my sobbing mother, and I was torn between the desire to enter—she was my very favourite aunt—and the desire to turn tail and run away. As I vacillated, my mother sobbed out, ‘I told Amba nothing good would come of that job, leaving the house in the middle of the night in those short skirts—if only I had done something about it! Who’s going to marry her now, Uma?’
I slunk back to my room, closing the door behind me as softly as I had entered. My hands were shaking, and I felt cold all over. I sat down at the nearest seat, which happened to be at my dressing table. Numbly, I looked into the mirror.
I didn’t look very different. All the scars had healed. It was just that I felt irrevocably dirty. Stained.
That was the night I decided to do something about it.
Featuring cross-dressing assassins, were-snakes, gods and goddesses, demonesses and asura kings, Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul retells age-old tales from Indian mythology—with a twist. Rearranging myth and legend to create new plots, these short stories will delight lovers of the unusual.
[music| Drunkards’ Damnation Jamboree: SWANK]