Opening the locked door . . .
It is raining. My black Mary Jane shoes—part of my uniform at Mater Dei School—are squelchy and wet from the puddles I found on the street. I ran blindly as thunder clapped and lightning rent the air, fleeing from monsters who lurk in hidden alleys —men of unsound mind who flash their private parts at innocent school girls. This is what Mamma cautions me about every night as she tucks me in, and I snuggle into the comfort of her smell—a mix of Himalayan sandalwood talc and sulphuric acid.
The looped braids on the side of my face swing as I insert the key, and turn the lock. It is the musty odor of mint chutney and curry that greets me—a smell that I will carry with me all my adult life as I look back at this moment. I shut the door behind me. It claps shut with a sound that is deafening in the dead quiet of the house.
I startle, my heart racing like a racehorse. I pinch tightly the delicate skin of my forearm to ground myself in the reality of now. I slip off my dripping wet shoes and leave them on the welcome mat beside the front door. Soundlessly, I chant a prayer as I walk into the house on my stockinged feet. “Ram, Ram, Ram,” I whisper, remembering to pull in a breath mindfully, just like Mrs. Mishra yells for us to do on Yoga Tuesdays.
“Meena,” I shout, my voice hoarse and throaty with apprehension. A cloud of moths rises from a shadowed, obscure corner as I shuffle with fear-laden feet to the kitchen. Mamma is at her job as Head Supervisor at Khanna tannery, but Meena, our maid-servant is supposed to be here to give me lunch, before she leaves to tend to her own household of husband and three girls. Today she’d promised to make me chicken curry, and halwa with ghee. I breathe in deeply and turn the knob on the swinging mesh kitchen door.
And, there is Meena hanging from a fan in the ceiling, her skin smooth as teak, her drool suspended in mid-air.
Later, much later, when my screams subside, when they cut down the bed sheet that became the noose around her neck, the women from the servant colony will huddle around her still-warm corpse. “Bechari, poor Meena,” they will whisper, pulling their sari pallav across their mouths. “Her husband beat her every night because she couldn’t give him a son.”
I want to howl and pound the floor with my balled fists. “What about the monsters you can see and touch, Mamma?” I demand.
“What about the men, the murderers who are backlit in the theater of my recollection?”