Hey Guys! Below is a short story that was inspired by my Mother’s childhood experiences in India. “Keerthana” is inspired by one of my biggest role models, my grandmother. I’m contemplating doing a whole post on my grandmother, so tell me if you think that’s a good idea. If you have any pointers for me, please tell me that! The piece below is titled “How Scars Fade.”
Keerthana looked up, trying to decide whether to back away slowly or beg for mercy. Above her, towered a human that she should love: her husband. She looked up, and wondered why God Almighty gave her this drunk, wretched beast as a life partner. Her husband had come home drunk and was already “needing” more. The man reminded her of their six year old son when he had eaten too much candy; he had gotten a stomach ache and still wanted more. She had thought at the time that only children could do that. Her husband Kumar had seen what his alcohol had destroyed: his relationships, his dignity, and his family’s self confidence. Even so, he couldn’t stop.
His drunken face looked even uglier with scars he had gained from gang warfare in his younger days. He had been the terror of the streets then, but was now the terror of his family. He loved drinking, and hated working. He came home late at night, if at all, and his family’s initial relief to see him safe often turned to fear at the prospect of another brawl. When he was sober, he was a kind man, helpful and a good father. When he was drunk, though, he would want nothing other than more to drink, even if it meant stealing what little money his family had for groceries. He often beat up his wife. Their 11-year-old daughter, Sungeetha, and 6-year-old son, Anjay, preferred the rugged Indian streets to their own home.
A sharp pain on her wrist brought her back to reality. She looked up in shock, infuriated and angry. He had slashed her wrist with a knife. Blood immediately gushed forth. She cried out in pain. Anjay ran into the room.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Anjay was screaming.
“Anjay!” Kumar roared
“Anjay,” Keerthana began soothingly, “Go get Mommy a band-aid.”
“Yes, Mommy.” Anjay ran out as fast a he had come in.
Keerthana decide to do the same. She backed away, and Kumar seemed to accept this when she handed him the purse that held a day’s wage; she couldn’t help but hold it wistfully, thinking of all she could buy with it- meat, badly needed clothing, and maybe even a birthday present for their daughter. She knew that these were just fragments of her imagination, never to become reality. Often, she wondered whether or not she was a good mother. Shouldn’t she leave Kumar? But that was unthinkable. Break the rules of traditional Indian society? No, it was better to stay put. Maybe, one day, her husband would change. She looked away when Sungeethaa walked in, unable to see her sad face.
Anjay was suddenly in the room again. He had followed his sister, the girl that he looked up to.
“Mommy, I got you Band-Aid!” Shouted Anjay, excited to help.
“Mom, what happened?” Sungeetha’s mature, parental face hurt Keerthana. She was only a child, and yet was sometimes the only clear-thinker in the family.
“There was a little accident, honey. Now, be a good girl and help get Mommy some alcohol swabs.”
When she returned, Kumar had started snoring. The three-some simultaneously left the room. Keerthana cleaned and dressed the wound. As she swabbed it, the pain was almost too much to bear. “That’s going to leave a scar!” She muttered. She decided to go check on Kumar, who was, by now, almost awake.
All of a sudden, Kumar started to cough, awaking fully now. It seemed to happen a lot now-a-days. “Keerthy, Keerthy!” He said awaking and using an old nickname. “I don’t feel well.” He looked pale. “T-take me too the d-d-doctor! Quickly!”
Keerthana sensed the panic in his voice and decided to call doctor. When she did, she wished that she hadn’t. His news wasn’t good.
“You will have to bring him here right away. I think that his lungs are failing.”
“What?” Keerthana voice was panicked. She had dreamed of the day when she would be free of the tyrants ugly clench, but not this way!
“Come in, now.”
The doctor hung up then, but Keerthana was faster. As she dragged her husband along, she shouted an excuse, something about a special meeting that would take a few hours, to her kids and said goodbye. When she finally got to the clinic, she made sure the receptionist knew that she wanted to see the doctor right away. She looked at the scar from the knife. It wasn’t going to fade. The curious glances of the others in the waiting room made the pain worse, as her husband deliriously slurred something about being the president.
Finally it was Kumar’s turn, and the diagnosis wasn’t good. His lungs were failing, the years of drunkenness finally catching up with him. They were sent home after making an appointment for more tests. Keerthana tried to explain what was going on to her husband, but it was useless. He soon lapsed into alcohol induced sleep. She soon got home and spent the night on her knees and watching fearfully as Kumar coughed on and off. The week until the next appointment was torturous.
When she went to the doctor at last with Kumar, they had worse news. Kumar had to be admitted into the hospital. His organs were failing, He would probably die soon, so it would be better for him to die comfortably. Kumar finally understood. He had stayed sober for a week, and had hoped that it would be enough to heal him, but no. She looked at where her wrist had cut; the scar was still there. She thought of the many scars Kumar had left on her heart. They weren’t fading.
Then they had to break the news to their kids who were, not surprisingly, devastated. They both burst into tears at the thought of a fatherless life. They seemed to not remember the many nights he had come home drunk, only thinking of the ones that he had come home with gifts, mostly chocolate. Those were the times where he showed that he truly loved them. When Kumar left to go to the hospital, he cried. He loved his family and couldn’t believe that he had hurt them in any way.
When Keerthana and the kids came to visit, they found him deep in thought. A group of hymn-singers had come to the hospital. They had made him think about life after death. He had been thinking about “trying Jesus” as the people had said. He was confused. Was Jesus just like a medicine that you use only when you need it? The people had left him a Bible, saying that if he read it, it would help him.
Keerthana and her kids were Christian. They had gone to church every Sunday, leaving an often drunk Kumar behind. When he was first diagnosed, that had worried Keerthana. What if he died before salvation? She was elated that her husband was even thinking about Christianity.
The next day when Keerthana visited the hospital, she found him in tears. He had just talked to the hospital chaplain who led him to the Lord.
Keerthana was elated. She knelt beside him, and they talked. The couple sat there for a long, long time. Keerthana checked her wrist. The scar was fading. The scars on her heart were too. She was truly free of Kumar’s abuse. Not because Kumar was soon to be gone, but because he himself had changed.
When they where about to leave, Kumar held his wife’s hands a little longer. She looked at his face and before her loving eyes, he breathed in, and closed his eyes for the last time.