By S. Anand
It must be the birds that woke me. The sunlight makes filigreed patterns on the bed and wall. I turn over and see that Latha has already left for work. She always leaves before I wake.
Outside it is drizzling. On the street below, bright colored umbrellas bob up and down as fresh-faced children head for school. Grumpy middle-aged men jostle with well-groomed college students at the bus stand. The sombre notes of All India Radio's morning news mingle with sinuous morning Ragas announcing the beginning of another day. I stare up at the ceiling fan, its blades creaking with age, sending swirls of dust around the room. I find the dust immensely fascinating. On quiet mornings like this I watch the particles moving slowly in the sunlight, heading in no particular direction, going round and round in irregular circles. Sometimes I try to follow an individual speck in its peregrinations, to observe it settle on a table, bed or windowsill. But its life seems circumscribed by the shaft of sunlight, its journey always ending at the boundary of light and darkness.
I drag myself out of bed and into the bathroom. I look at myself in the cracked mirror, a wedding present. I see a brown face mottled with the traces of childhood small pox, a stubble of graying hair on each cheek, a wrinkled forehead, small dull eyes, a nose with no particular shape, thick lips. I open my mouth and look at my yellowing teeth and tongue. I suddenly feel sick. I probably have an ulcer, to have a tongue this color. Or cancer. I try to remember how I looked five years ago when I married Latha. I cannot recall looking any better than this. I wonder why she agreed to marry me. To be sure, it was an arranged marriage and I had a good job at that time. But she could have said no. She was well-educated and beautiful. She could have found a thousand men more handsome than me. True, I'm more broad-minded than most husbands. I have let her pursue her own career and interests. I don't mind her mingling with male colleagues. And even after I lost my job I have been very gentle with her, not allowing my own inner turmoil to burden her.
I finish brushing my teeth and go to the kitchen to fix a cup of coffee. Then I step outside to pick up the newspaper the delivery boy has left. I pull my easy chair over to the window and start to sip my coffee. Outside, the rush-hour hubbub has subsided. The only footfalls are from the odd office worker hurrying late to work. I scan the classified section, looking for any suitable job. For the past two months I have not found a single listing I could apply for, and today is no exception. Hydraulics engineers are not a hot commodity in today's market. I move on to other sections of the newspaper and take in my fill of yesterday's killings, riots, accidents and bombings.
A loud car horn jolts me awake. For a few minutes I am not sure where I am. Outside, the sun is blazing furiously. I can hear children returning home from school for lunch. I walk over to the bedroom window and look out at the neighbor's house. I can see directly into their bedroom. Around this time of day the wife has her bath and dries herself near the window. But today I am not lucky. The shutters are tightly shut.
I think about Latha. When was the last time I saw her naked? It is more than two years since we made love. Even before that our sex life was sporadic. I had come to feel that she was no longer interested. We talked about it a couple of times, but our talks didn't seem to help. And then I must have begun to lose interest as well. I am not the type to force myself on a woman. When Latha comes home from work she's very tired. Then she has dinner to cook. By nine o'clock she is fast asleep.
The cold shower clears my head. I stand under it for a long time, until I start to feel dizzy. I carefully step out and towel myself dry. I feel fresh now and ready for the day. I go to the bedroom and put on clean clothes. Then I go to the kitchen and eat the rice and vegetables Latha has left for me. After lunch I go out for my customary walk. As I lock the door I start to think about my previous job and my prospects for finding another. I wonder what has happened to all the resumes I sent out. Of course, I could take a government job, but I don't want to vegetate for the rest of my life doing nothing of any consequence. There must be plenty of multinational companies in need of someone with my skills.
I feel better now that I am out of the house. This time of day there is hardly anyone on the street and a pleasant breeze is blowing. A few steps down the street I hear some yelps from behind a big garbage bin. I walk around it to see what's happening. I find two dogs there in the midst of a frenzied copulation. I have seen the bitch before, a flea- bitten mongrel, foraging for food near this same bin. The dog is a newcomer. Then I notice something strange. The dog has mounted the female and is trying hard to consummate the act, but he is not able to do so. I move around to get a better view of the situation and then, like a hard slap in my face, I see his limp organ hanging useless as he tries in vain to quench his desire. I see the misery in his eyes, and I am filled with disgust. I rush back to the house and vomit.
Something wakes me from a deep sleep. Latha is standing over me, looking worried. She must have smelled the vomit in the bathroom. I tell her I must be sick. I do have a splitting headache. She brings me a tablet and makes me swallow it. Then she covers me with a blanket, turns off the light and leaves. I hear noises from the kitchen as she prepares the evening meal. Soon I hear the television. I lie in bed staring into the darkness. I drift off to sleep again and see the bitch cowering behind the garbage bin, her eyes glinting in my flashlight. I move closer to her, but she makes no effort to get away. I run my flashbeam over her ugly brown coat, torn by numerous encounters with other dogs. She wags her short stump of a tail feebly. On her leg there is an open wound with flies all around it. She looks up at me meekly.
I grip the long knife that Latha and I received as a wedding gift. In one movement I grasp the bitch's head with my left hand and with the other slice open her neck. Beside the flashlight lying on the ground I see dark blood flowing into the dust.
The birds wake me yet again. This time it is crows making a racket just outside the window. Beside me Latha is still asleep. It must be Saturday. I get out of bed and go to the window. There is a light mist, but no rain. By the garbage bin I see dozens of crows feasting on something. Others are squatting on electric cables overhead. I turn back towards the bed. Latha is still sleeping. I go into the bathroom and look at myself in the cracked mirror. Today, I think, I will shave.
(Subra Anand <email@example.com> is a chip designer living in the Bay area of California. He grew up in India and came to the US for graduate studies in engineering. This is his first published story.)