I am but a vessel!
Leaveth or Taketh from me, as you please. The choice is yours.
Don’t believe me? Read for yourself.
New York, 2000
Tired – that is what she was, truly and utterly. All she wanted was to go home and sleep for days. The moment she saw her suitcases, she grabbed them and made a beeline for the exit. As a cab pulled up and the driver got out to stow her baggage in the trunk, she called her husband to let him know she was on the way home.
Ugh! Another hour and a half at this time of the evening.
The moment she reached home, her husband and daughters crowded around her.
‘Mommy! Look what I made.’
‘No, look at my doll’s new clothes mommy.’
‘Girls, let mom settle down and then she will look at your things,’ her husband said, shooing the girls away.
He noticed her give a quick look-over to the living and dining area. Of course, the first thing she notices is the toys and books strewn around, not our efforts. ‘Just freshen up and leave the suitcases for tomorrow. Dinner’s ready.’
But she couldn’t, could she? Those things would niggle at the back of her mind and not let her relax.
Fresh after her bath, she stepped into their bedroom and opened the smaller of the two roll-on suitcases.
‘What the hell!’ she exclaimed and jerked back.
Shit! This isn’t mine. So where’s my suitcase? And all my stuff.
She stepped up to her bed again, where the suitcase lay open. On the top-shell was a brass plaque.
And what’s this?
Engraved with the words – ‘List’, under that was ‘Leaveth or Taketh’ and below it was written –
- One gold ring – He was married to his worries and stress.
She looked at the bottom-shell and sure enough she could spy it in a transparent ring box. It was almost buried under what looked like a man’s overcoat.
- One overcoat – He wore his dissatisfaction around him like a cloak.
- One platinum money clip – He always wanted it full and then some.
She gingerly lifted the coat, holding it between her thumb and forefinger and dropped it on the floor. Sure enough under it was the money clip. There were other things too. She looked at the list again.
- One smiling mask – She wore it even when she was hurting inside.
- One vial of anger – He had bottled up his anger till he learnt to syphon it off.
Oh God! Am I hallucinating? Must be. My brain is too fuddled. But…
She bent forward and cautiously touched the plaque with the tip of her forefinger. It felt smooth and cool. And very real.
Leaveth or Taketh? What if?
As she straightened, she recalled the times her husband had accused her of being obsessive about cleanliness. A ‘neat-freak’ is what he called her.
NO! I’m not obsessive. What’s wrong with wanting things to be neat and clean?
But, he had said, it wasn’t normal and so burdensome.
Could she ‘Leaveth’ it. But how? Isn’t it a brain thing? She thought about it for a minute and then strode into her kid’s room.
She rummaged around her daughter’s drawer till she found what she was looking for.
Will this work? Huh! No harm in trying.
Back in her room, with her heart thudding, she muttered into her hands that held the object, ‘I hereby renounce my compulsive obsessiveness!’
She then threw the object into the suitcase before she could change her mind. As she bent to lift the top-shell to close it, she saw a new entry at the bottom of the ‘List’.
- One small greyish foam-rubber brain – She transferred the obsessiveness from her brain to this.
She laughed. This was silly. How could this be? But she felt light, lighter than she had in years. She zipped up the suitcase and rolled it out the main door again.
‘Where are you going?’ enquired her husband.
He couldn’t help but notice her brilliant smile and uncombed hair.
Jeez! When was the last time she left the house without combing her hair?
‘Oh! I got the wrong suitcase; I’ll return it and register a complaint for mine,’ she smiled and said, ‘don’t worry, everything is fine.’
She put the suitcase in the backseat of her car and drove away.
‘Ok! So, how do I return you?’ she asked herself. ‘Arrivals, I was standing near exit gate 5. Let’s see, what happens?’
She drove up to the point where she had been standing a few hours ago and got down. Amidst all the comings and goings and the hassled and harried, no one saw a woman leave a suitcase near a large group of tourists waiting for their bus.
As she walked to the ‘Lost and Found’ she looked back once. She was positive, the suitcase was not there anymore.
That night and from the nights then on, her family was surprised to see her relax, smile and ignore the strewn toys and books.
The moment he opened the suitcase he knew it was not his.
It had taken him two days to get around to unpacking the suitcases. So much had happened in those two days. He had flown back from Tokyo, for an urgent HNI meeting and he had lost his mother.
He peered at the contents. On the top-shell, on a brass plaque was engraved ‘List’.
Leaveth or Taketh! What gibberish!
He read the list, there were some curious items –
- A pair of sloth-pants – Thrown in by the owner’s frustrated wife.
- One ceramic chef’s knife – Honed into a precision weapon, to slice through all distractions.
And stopped when he came to –
- One windchime – He forsook peace and contentment the day his wife was diagnosed with ALS.
Peace and contentment – the words reminded him of his mother’s letter. A letter she had written a few hours before her death, waiting for her only son to show up at the hospital. A pall of gloom engulfed him.
What the hell was I doing? I should have been there!
He picked up the letter and read through it again for the umpteenth time.
My Dear Musuko*,
The nurse has been kind enough to write this.
Do you remember, as a child, the boat rides we took down the Hozugawa river? Oh! The burst of those autumnal colors, the chirping birds, wasn’t that just breathtaking? I long for those simple, unhurried days. Weren’t they the best days of our lives? I know you disagree for we had little money, but I had you. Perhaps it’s the frugality that drove you. Unfortunately, now there is all this money, but I don’t have you. I know you are busy but a mother’s heart yearns for her child. I have lived a good and full life son and now it’s your turn. Stop… breathe… rest a moment, watch the sunrise or admire a pretty girl. You work too hard, as you say ‘always on the clock’. Take time to make memories. Life will go by in a blink. What will you have to tide you over when your children are busy?
I hope you find peace and contentment. Be happy my musuko.
Tears welled up in his eyes again. Love and guilt warred. Guilt won. He sat down on the bed next to the open suitcase and put his head in his hands. He let them flow – the tears he had been holding back for the past twenty-four hours.
‘You are married to that time-piece, musuko,’ his mother had said on many occasions. Oh! She had laughed when she said it. But in hindsight he could see there had been pain in her eyes. But the one true time she had been hurt was when he had shifted her to assisted-living for the elderly. He travelled a lot for work and couldn’t make time for her.
He lifted his head and turned over his wrist to look at the time-piece she had referred to. His first true indulgence.
‘Rat-race! That’s what you have gotten into,’ she had chided once when he had been late for their weekly dinner.
Which had become fortnightly and then monthly. Agghhh! Forgive me mother!
He looked at the suitcase again.
Peace and contentment.
He could hear his mother’s words float around him.
Leaveth or taketh? Can I…?
Impulsively, before he could change his mind, he dropped his time-piece into the suitcase and took out the windchime.
He saw the list change. The windchime was deleted and in its place appeared –
- One Seiko presage watch – He clocked out of the rat-race.
He quickly zipped up the suitcase and went to the airport. There he made his way to the ‘Lost and Found Office’. He put down the suitcase next to him as he stood at the counter to enquire about his. It took them sometime to locate it. Finally, he signed all the forms and collected his. But when he turned to pick up the other suitcase, it was gone.
That day and from days then on he made it a point to appreciate the sunrise at every opportunity. His mother wasn’t alive but her wish for peace and contentment for her son, did come true.
She waited for her prepaid taxi, at the airport. Once the driver pulled up, he put the suitcases in the dicky*.
As she settled in, all the feelings of despair and hopelessness she had been trying to hold at bay, came crashing down like a tsunami.
She closed her eyes. Their entreaties and unintended accusations had crushed her self-worth.
‘We have to live in this society bitiya*,’ her mother had said. ‘You have two younger sisters, think of them. Who will marry them if you leave your husband?’ she had begged. ‘You must go back home and adjust.’
But this is not adjustment Amma! This is oppression. No one should suffer like this.
As for home… the thought had her shuddering.
It’s not a home, it’s a house with walls of suffocation!! And I’m being coerced to go back to that despot.
Images came crashing fast and hard of unspeakable things he did, when drunk, every night…
– Get down on your knees.
He shoved her down forcefully. Then slowly unbuckled his belt, all the while sneering at her cowering figure.
His pent-up libido demanded release, night after horrid night. Refusal was not an option. She had tried that initially but the slaps and kicks had made her head reel and her body ache. It was easier to comply. Her face awash with tears, she did as commanded. It did not matter to him if she gagged, or if her mouth hurt.
‘This isn’t a life worth living, it’s better to die.’
The taxi-driver turned fleetingly to give her a quizzical look. She didn’t realize she had spoken aloud.
– Bend over!
Please, no. It hurts too much! Not that… please!
He gut-punched her. She doubled over in pain and he shoved her face first onto the bed, pressing it down hard. She couldn’t breathe. May be, it was for the best. The searing pain, exacerbated by past wounds that hadn’t healed, was too much to bear. At some point she passed out.
When she came to, she was lying on the floor; like a discarded doll after play – cold, bruised and bloodied.
‘Madamji, you ok?’ asked the taxi-driver.
‘You are crying.’
She touched her cheek, realized he was right. She wiped her tears and took deep shuddering breaths to control herself. Krishna! Give me a sign.
Once home, she proceeded to open her suitcase. She flipped the top-shell and just stared. Her mind refused to take in what was in front of her. Yet a tiny part of her recognized that this was someone else’s and that hers was lost somewhere.
Why is this happening to me?
Reluctant yet curious she peered inside the suitcase.
There was a collection of some very strange objects. A glint caught her eye. What’s that? It was a brass plaque on the top-shell. She read through it.
- One bottle of antidepressants – He used to pop them like candies.
- One vial spunk – She was forever standing up and fighting for others at the cost of her family.
The vial had a midnight-blue sparkling liquid, like fireflies in a dark night. Next to it was another vial, labelled ‘Anger’. It contained an amber colored liquid, like the whiskey her husband favored.
Didn’t she need a bit of anger and spunk to fire her up? She looked at the plaque again, it said ‘Leaveth or Taketh’. For once I am going to take.
She felt hope stirring inside her. She closed her eyes and offered a prayer. Thank you Krishna for this gift.
Determined, she opened the vial with the amber liquid and even the tiny sip had warmth spreading through her body. The midnight-blue liquid tasted nice and citrusy. She took a few more sips and capped it.
She felt alive. Why should I die?
Later that night, when he beckoned from the bedroom, she drank the rest of the contents of both the vials.
Today you are not the only one drinking!
‘NO!’ she said defiantly.
He walked out of the bedroom livid.
‘What. Did. You. Say?’
‘You heard me.’ Her breathing rapid and her heart thumping, she stood her ground.
‘I’ll beat the shit out of you bitch,’ he raged. His face contorted in anger as he strode towards her.
‘Stay away from me,’ she screamed.
He pounced on her. She hit him and goaded him. In retaliation he kicked and punched her repeatedly. She let the blows fall. Today she was going to wear them as war wounds. Then he caught hold of her hair, twisted her arm behind her back and propelled her towards the bedroom.
Live or die trying!
Live or die trying!
LIVE OR DIE TRYING!
The moment they reached the bedroom, he pushed her towards the bed. He got busy unzipping his pants. She seized that opportunity and fled to the balcony. He hissed at her to come inside.
She didn’t budge.
Enraged, he lunged at her. At the last second, she stepped aside. As he fell against the steel railing, she had a split second to offer him a hand. She remained immobile.
Today is my day.
The sickening thud was music to her ears.
A couple of days later she went to the airport to return the suitcase. She wasn’t much interested in hers.
Good riddance to bad rubbish.
That morning and from mornings then on life began anew for her. She was finally free.
I am but a vessel!
Leaveth or Taketh from me, as you please. The choice is yours.
I will always find my way to the one who needs me.
Nantekotta – What the hell
Musuko – Son
Bitiya – Daughter
Dicky – Boot
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
Team: Chekhov Guns
Prompt: The MC comes home from the airport to realize that they picked up the wrong baggage. What follows this incident?
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By Peter H
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