M. L. Krishnan
Take the kumkumam and smear it across your forehead. Let it fall over the bridge of your nose, like a sudden efflorescence. Run viscous beads of coconut oil through your hair. Braid it tightly, until you begin to see hot pinpricks of stars on the thin paper of your inner eyelids. Unravel it carefully, plait by plait.
Allow the malevolent spirit to course through your veins. Let it bind you.
Menstruate. Watch the blood stain your sari, blooming outwards in a defiant whorl. Grab your hair by the fistfuls and scream expletives until your lungs swell urgently against your ribcage. Demand cigarillos and arrack from your husband, from your neighbors, from the anxious twist of a woman that brings you packets of milk every morning. Give in to convulsions, every three minutes or so.
Do not blink.
Enjoy yourself until the mantravaadi arrives.
* * *
When Kanaka saw the dark, intense-eyed man crossing the threshold into the sour humidity of the Crores & Crores Fancy Shop, she knew that this was going to be her husband—her very own universe of membranous possibility, held by the glistening skein of a sudden premonition. He was tall and lean, a crane borne human flesh, with bright red capillaries that stood out against the enamel sheen of his eyes and a chest that heaved inward when he breathed, the anxious bird of his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he spoke, his breath smelling sweetly of petrol. Kanaka allowed him to take whatever he wanted through his weak protestations; she could not bring herself to charge money from the man who was to become her husband.
So he came, again and again.
First for free baubles and things that he did not need, and then for her.
* * *
Theirs was a simple wedding at the local Thandu Mariamman temple. Amidst giddy exchanges of cockscomb and night-blooming jasmine garlands, they uttered their vows in front of the fierce goddess—vermillion faced and luminescent, as the overpowering smell of burning camphor rent the air.
Soon afterward, the beatings began.
* * *
It was only a bruise or two on her arm, inky reminders of his inadequacies mapping themselves onto her broken skin that garnered retaliations in kind—his favorite fish stew simmered painstakingly with a livid paste of red chilies from Nandikonda, the crystalline purity of her anger forming gaping ulcers on the walls of his stomach. He would slap her, and she would slap him right back—kissing away the cracks on their faces as they spent themselves on each other, the urgent melding of mouths and sweaty body parts rippling and moving in tandem, until they both forgot where the pleasure ended and when the pain began, and whether it mattered if you felt everything all at once.
* * *
He threw her down the stairs.
* * *
The locus of his awareness in her frailty—unacknowledged and bereft as a middle child around which they danced the tandavam of avoidance and possession—and the vehemence of his reminder, exploded in a crumpled Kanaka-shaped heap as her pelvic girdle sank into the pleats of her musculature in all the wrong places.
* * *
The mantravaadi gently pins her elbows down with his large arm, smearing lines of sacred ash on her chest, face, hands. Her head lolls and the whites of her eyes become visible. He brandishes a broom and begins to beat the spirit out of her. The spirit runs around the perimeter of the house, ever defiant. Kanaka’s oily hair trails behind it like a dark smudge, the color of approaching dusk.
M. L. Krishnan is a graphic designer and illustrator originally hailing from the coastal shores of Tamil Nadu, India. She currently lives and works in the Midwest.
Illustrated by Caytlin Kuszewski.