The milk is spoilt again” Anu grimaced. Radhika looked at her, her face contorted in pain. “Are you hungry betu?” Anu nodded, ever so slightly. Atul was in the kitchen, the smell of fried eggs filled the room. He was humming a quiet tune. Radhika looked at the direction of the kitchen, anger bubbled inside her. Anu shivered in the November cold. Radhika looked at her, wistfully, her hair askance. The bookshelf, half bent with copious law books, peeped through her collar bones. Anu’s tiny tummy grumbled.
The fried eggs were not for her.
Devika walked into the sunlit room in her pink gown. The room was suddenly filled with tension.
“Where is my breakfast, darling?” Atul hurried inside, his brows dripping with sweat. She glanced at Anu then, her look somewhere between contempt and loath. “Why is the glass of milk not finished yet?” She barked. Atul stood at attention. His eyes, neutral. Anu spoke in a small voice, “The milk is spoilt, aunty”.
Devika, mimicked the child’s answer in her high pitched voice. “How does the milk get spoilt every day? You must have done something. Very well, go to school now. No breakfast for you today as punishment for lying.”
Atul looked a bit concerned now, but he didn’t show it. This was the seventh day that this show was going on. Every day, Anu was offered the same glass of milk. Spoilt. He was her father but he had other priorities. Anu stole a glance at him and then got up from her chair reluctantly as Devika munched the omelette and bread with relish.
Radhika held Anu’s tiny fingers tightly as they crossed the road. Anu didn’t feel like talking, she just held on. School was blurry too. At halftime when Anu found that her tiffin box wasn’t in her bag, the poor kid broke down. The other kids mostly avoided her. “Too lost” they would whisper about her. Radhika smoothed her hair and patted her. She was troubled too. In between her sobs, Anu looked up, “Why did you go?” Radhika looked at her helplessly, “I couldn’t help it, Anu. But I love you betu.” The banyan tree of the school playground, looked greener through her dress.
Devika just couldn’t fathom how was the girl still okay? For the past seven days she was being fed once in the entire day. Atul couldn’t do anything. She had that video. Ah! Memories of that night, strangely aroused her.
She hurriedly got up. Making sure her door was latched, she clicked her video on. There it was. If the police ever suspected her, she would thrust this video in their face. Atul would be behind bars for a long time. She suddenly realized that she didn’t feel the exotic attraction she felt for that guy anymore. It was getting very boring here. “I should actually end this and share the video”. Her cackles reverberated in the dark room for a long time.
Radhika held Anu’s tiny hands and took her to the kitchen. The cookie box sat on top of the fridge. Radhika took it down and Anu filled her tiny hands with as many cookies as they would hold. She stealthily went back to her room. Atul hadn’t come back yet from office and Devika would have made her go to bed empty stomach if she would have found. She munched them quietly in the darkness. Radhika held her hand protectively. Soon, she thought.
A noise woke up Devika. The room was completely dark although she remembered switching on the bedside lamp before sleeping. Atul had messaged he would be late, she had not bothered to reply or prepare food for anyone.
In the dark room, she could sense shadows. A strange fruity smell floated around. She knew that smell, just couldn’t place it. Panicked, she jumped forward to switch on the lights but couldn’t locate the switchboard. Her mobile! Where was it? Her hands touched the cold, clammy floor. She tried to stand up but her head hit the ceiling, loudly. Her cries dried up when she heard the familiar soft chuckle. Radhika. Fear. Bone deep and dark roiled her innards. She realized she was inside a dark place. Locked. Her shouts grew fainter with time. And then they stopped.
Atul knew a huge fight and empty kitchen awaited him at home. He filled his mouth with paneer kebabs from the roadside stall. The sharp spices made his eyes water. He tried to rub off his eyes with his hands and took a step back. Radhika. Her head bleeding. Scared, he spun around. A speeding car hit him, throwing him several feet away. Many passersby claimed they saw a woman there by the stall, who had pushed the man. Atul was declared dead on the spot.
Meena was getting breakfast ready for Anu, when she heard that shuffling noise. Radhika stood there quietly at the kitchen door. “Take care of Anu, Ma” she said and then disappeared. Meena froze. And then broke down and sobbed. The bitter cold floor sent sharp pangs through her.
The sound of her mobile broke her trance. A video had been received from Devika’s number. She was puzzled. Devika had been missing for the past few hours as the police had informed.
Anxiously, she clicked open the video. The content numbed her. It was grainy and six months old. Atul was putting the body of a woman inside a shallow grave. It was very dark and there were a lot of trees around. And yet, the voices were crystal clear. She even heard them share a joke. Then a sudden breeze blew, the white covering of the body, fell off. Radhika. Her head hung awkwardly. So much blood. Meena shrieked. Her daughter had come back from her grave to give custody of her daughter to her. Anu was already on her way to her with the police personnel.
Atul and Devika were found dead.
Photo Credits: Pixabay
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