She walked through the forested area filled with lean eucalyptus trees. The grass was moist with dew and her flip-flops were becoming soggy. She gingerly avoided pieces of broken glass, empty alcohol cartons, wet waste, used toiletries, and discarded clothing. What should have been a soul awakening walk at this early hour was turning out to be more of an attempt at a very poorly arranged obstacle course, thought Smriti. Even the pristine forests adjoining the beaches of Gokarna were not impervious to human impact and garbage seemed to have spread like the silken webs of a hairy spider in a desolate house. She had set out on this walk to clear her head and navigating this minefield of garbage seemed to take her mind off the issue at hand in a very depressing way.
How had her life come to this, she pondered, as she avoided a broken beer bottle and walked on. A year ago she was the star of her own life. With a designated promotion and a new house under her belt, she felt like she was checking all the right boxes on her list for a well-lived life. And then, out of the blue, her husband returned. From the dead! After 4 and ½ years!! She felt a shiver travel up the length of her spine as her thoughts settled on the picture of him standing at the door, looking older, haggard, but resilient as ever. It had happened a week ago, on a Sunday afternoon when her whole family was over at her place for lunch. Smriti’s amma and appa were back after a month-long holiday in Australia and they had dropped in to check on Smriti and Samhita, their 7-year-old granddaughter. Even Smriti’s high flying, IT geek brother, Sanjay, was in town with his wife Geetha. So they had decided to make a day of it. Amma and appa were just pulling Smriti’s leg about her new fiancé Vedanta, having skipped the luncheon, when the bell rang. Amma even chuckled and said, “Maybe Vedu is missing you and has decided to drop by after all”.
Her mother had almost fainted at the sight of Pranav walking in. The rest of the family simply stood speechless for a long time until Pranav smiled and said, “Hey, I’m not a ghost, you know’. Smriti had burst into tears that afternoon. She had become uncontrollable in her sobbing that she had to be taken away to her bedroom and made to lie down. She had a severe case of stress-induced bronchitis. Geetha stayed with her as did Samhita, while the rest of the family had sat down and listened to Pranav as he recounted everything that happened to him. By the time Smriti felt better and made her way down, Pranav had left, promising to return the next day and take things forward with Smriti.
That didn’t happen. The very same evening, Smriti packed up her bags and made excuses about a work-related conference and made her way to Gokarna. Paradise beach, with limited cell connectivity, was her only out, for now. Sanjay, who had long been Smriti’s closest companion, comrade, and friend, had sensed her unease as she had packed. He promised that Samhita would be taken care of until Smriti’s return, and he begged Smriti to be careful and not do anything rash. Smriti had mutely nodded and walked away, her head was a haze of thoughts. She messaged Vedanta that she would be away for a few days and that she loved him!
She had finally reached the top of the small hill and she sat herself down on the precipice of a rock that was jutting out, creating a sort of platform. Smriti looked down at the sea. Below her, the coastline was rocky, and straight ahead, she could see the rocks had formed a semi-circular tide pool. The water collected in this crevice should have been clear, but the waves were crashing in, slapping the still waters up and disturbing the surface, only to recede and leaving it rippled and troubled. It seemed like the water was a reflection of her life right now. Turbulent and unsettled!
Smriti shuddered and pulled her knees close to her chest and held it there. The last 11 years of her life came rushing back to her like torrential rain, tearing trees from roots and gathering sludge as it ran its course on the ground. Pranav and Smriti had had a typical arranged marriage. They met under the watchful eyes of their parents, grandparents, and several other sundry relatives when he came to see her the first time. He had been polite, courteous, and open-minded. Smriti had been 24 years old and had been quite starry-eyed about getting married and living a fruitful and happy life, just like her parents. What started out as a normal marriage turned into nightmares of the waking hours within a year. Pranav was controlling, manipulative at best. So imagine his worst! He gas-lighted Smriti, made her feel stupid and worthless. He blamed her for all the smallest things. He hit her on more than one occasion. Smriti, who had been a strong and independent girl, was reduced to a lifeless, wisp of a woman. Pranav forced her physically too. He was a monster as anyone could have imagined. One time he had grabbed her by the throat from behind, pushed her against the window grills, and pressed her into it as he ravaged her from behind. She had tried to protest but he pressed her face further into the window grills, all the while chocking her neck. By the end of it she remembered that her lips were bleeding and her cheek was bruised, while her voice had become a raspy whisper. All this, while the window was wide open. Smriti had cried for weeks after that.
Smriti initially avoided sharing her woes with her family because she believed that she could change and please Pranav. She deluded herself for almost 3 years, believing that she was the flawed one. Every time something went wrong, Pranav would make it a point to tell Smriti how she could have done better. Smriti believed all of it. She even accepted that she was miserable due to her own shortcomings. Then one day she got pregnant. Suddenly Pranav became softer, kinder, and more tolerant. Smriti couldn’t believe it but was a happy girl once again. When Samhita was born, there was a change in Pranav’s behaviour again. He wasn’t as hurtful with his words but it was clear that he wasn’t elated about having a girl child. He started trying to have sex with Smriti as soon as the doctors permitted it. He wanted her to conceive again. Smriti didn’t protest because she felt Pranav had become more tolerable after the baby. But the next 3 years went by in trying and she never conceived. Things started to go back to the way they were before with Pranav being physically and mentally abusive. He began to blame Smriti for them not being able to have another child. All the while he refused to even get himself tested, though.
Finally, after 6 years of her sham marriage, Smriti broke down to her parents and brother after another physically abusive evening where Pranav had almost hurt Samhita too. Sanjay had boiled over with rage. He wanted to kill Pranav. He shouted at Smriti for having tolerated all of it in silence. Her parents, however, were calm and kind. They told Smriti to pack her things and come home. They said they would file for a divorce.
Pranav became a saint overnight. He pleaded with the lawyers that he would change and that all he wanted were for his wife and child to be with him. Smriti had been adamant about the separation. She had finally had enough. The family courts, because of Pranav’s pleading, directed the two of them to have a six month live together period, after which a divorce would be granted if Smriti still felt the same way.
Tragically, just before the 6 months were up, Pranav disappeared. The families hunted for him, filed missing complaints, and looked high and low. After months of no news, his car had been found crashed at a riverside up in north Karnataka. The case was closed and Pranav was presumed dead, his body never having been recovered. Smriti took it as a sign from God to begin her life anew and she slowly picked up the pieces of her life and put it together. She was finally happy now, with her job, her sweet daughter, and even the amazing Vedanta, who she had been dating for a year before the recent engagement.
Smriti closed her eyes and forced herself back to the present. What was she going to do now, she wondered. She could not give up her peace, happiness, and sanity to go back to Pranav. Why and how had he returned? Her head began to ache from thinking about how Pranav was alive, and if he had been alive all this while, why had he returned now? Where had he been for so long? What had brought him back to her doorstep after 4 long years? Also, what was she to do now? Give up her plans with Vedu? Legally she was still Pranav’s wife. But she didn’t feel like that. She hadn’t felt that way for a long time now. Slowly, Smriti got up, dusted her back, and began making her way back towards her cottage. There were a lot of things she had to do now. Her head was reeling from having thought so much, in such short time. But, she needed to get a move on if she had to bring back the order into her life. She had made up her mind. In a very resolute and remorseless manner, she thought, “I’ll have to kill him again! And this time, I’ve got to make sure that he is really and for sure, dead”!