The Come Back – Chapter -3 – Ash (fiction)

by Anita Menon

The previous chapter

Ash was standing at the door of her tattoo parlour, early Sunday morning. She had woken up with a start and she had found her cell phone beeping. She always kept her cell phone on silent mode when she went to sleep. So what was it that made her wake up without warning? She imagined it to be Greg’s but then he hadn’t contacted in days now and she didn’t expect him to do so ever. So it couldn’t be him. She rubbed her face with the palms of her hands and picked up her cell phone to open the message. Her heart felt like it might just hammer itself out of her chest. She immediately made a call to number from where the text had been sent. She spoke in monosyllables and mostly listening to what the speaker at the other end had to say. With every passing minute her hands grew cold and every nerve in her body tingled. After the caller finished speaking, Ash said, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She lived in her tattoo parlour and called it her home. At the back of the parlour, she had a bed, a small desk, a chair and a wooden cupboard where she kept her meagre belongings,  few clothes, cash and stacks of paper. There was an attached toilet cum bath which was so small that despite being so little herself, she found it difficult to move around. But she loved her space and what she did for a living. It was during the night that her customers came to her to be tattooed upon. It felt like she was changing their personalities forever by tattooing those beautiful, exotic, dangerous creations on their bodies. She etched away on their bodies till wee hours of the morning, her back bent, her face, a picture of serenity and hands busy giving life to her imagination. Usually her first time customers told her what they wanted her to tattoo, what message to inscribe and what colour they preferred. She gave them a design book to refer to, before getting down to her job. When she finished her work, they were in for a surprise. She had the ability to capture the essence of their demands and turn it into something so beautiful that they would keep looking at her creations, on their bodies with awe. They kept going back to her for more but then they never gave her any instructions and never opened the tattoo design book to refer. It was as if she intuitively understood what would suit the person.

But this morning, as she locked the tattoo parlour, she cancelled all her impending appointments for her day and sent quick apology texts. She gathered her rucksack on her right shoulder and made her way to the nearest bus stop. She felt her face turning hot on a cold March morning. Hot tears started to stream down her face rapidly. She quickly attempted to rub them off her cheeks, in turn smudging her mascara. She lit a cigarette to compose herself but couldn’t smoke beyond a few puffs. The sight of the approaching bus made her quickly stub the cigarette out under her foot. She boarded the bus, showed her bus pass to the driver and made her way to the back of the bus. There weren’t many people on the bus, so early on a Sunday morning. The heating of the bus felt good and she felt warm. She started to play with the metal ball piercing on her tongue. It excited her in some way. It was as if it helped her cut off from everything painful. As a child, she recalled being mortally scared of hospital needles and surgical instruments. That thought made her smile a little. She had come a long way.

She remembered an incident when she had pee ‘d in her pants just before a blood test routine. She was only 5 or maybe 4. . She felt shame rise, making her face hot and then she started wailing. Then she heard a voice from behind her, a soothing voice, sound of bells, sound of.trinkets and then feeling comforted. The vision blurred before her eyes and she couldn’t see anymore. Everything turned into darkness, her eyes were closed, tears streaming and this time she let them flow.

Almost an hour later, she found herself at a posh looking neighbourhood. Beautiful houses, grand gardens, splashing fountains, joggers, people walking their dogs, some familiar faces that she chose to ignore.   Despair took over her and her limbs turned to lead. She despised the place that had so many painful memories, so many happy memories. How was that possible? How can a single point  be a source of happiness and sadness, both at the same time?She had done everything to get away. She mentally readied herself and pushed the mop of her hair away from her face, pulled her skirt down, so that it reached her knees atleast. After the preening process, she carefully pulled the cigarette pack from her skirt pocket and flicked it away to the nearest bin. She considered throwing the lighter away but realized it was a gift from Greg, so retained it.

Taking a deep breath, she rang the bell to the door and while doing so, quickly glanced at the garden. Everything was just the same. Nothing was moved, nothing changed. Even the small green garden gnome statue was just as it was, looking at her like it knew she would come. She gave it a smile and waited for somebody to open the door. She heard running feet on the other side of the door, un-latching sound and the door opened.

“Ash”, the girl spoke.

“Anna”, Ash spoke and the girl let her in. No hugs exchanged, no pleasantries spoken.

“Where’s Papa?”, enquired Ash.

Anna indicated Ash to follow her and led her to Prof. Reed’s room.