The Come Back – Chapter 23
by Anita Menon
Lying in the bathtub with the warm water nuzzling her neck, Ash looked hard at her arms and legs. They seemed to appear whiter from under the water and the dark tattoos on them glowed with a sheen so bright that they seemed to lift themselves out of her skin. She felt a tingling sensation in her limbs as the ink work spread slightly in the bath water. The lukewarm water started to turn icy cold in a matter of seconds. Slowly and effortlessly, the ink that had spread started to gather into the design that it was before.With assistance from the bubbles, the Asian tiger, the Chinese dragon and the poison ivy made their way on the surface of the water. Shimmering and wet, they freed themselves and floated up. She was aghast by the scene in front of her and sheer possibility of this happenstance froze her brain. The dragon swishing it’s fiery tail, the snarling tiger treading softly and the creepers crawling steadily towards her. Transfixed, she made no attempt to move but felt her reflexes acting up. She looked back at her arms and legs and they were clean like they had never been tattooed. In a quick movement, she huddled herself up, gathering her legs under her and tried to stand up in the slippery, freezing bath. In that attempt, she knocked down all the bottles of body washes and oils into the water. Dripping and tense, she found herself staring into nothingness; just the white tiles on the walls of the bathroom, wet from all the splashing. She looked down and found all her tattoos intact and embedded into her shriveled skin. The dragon wasn’t swishing it’s tail, the tiger was motionless and the poison ivy didn’t seem menacing anymore.
Feeling foolish, she leaned to get the bath robe and wrapped her dripping self with it. The water was surprisingly freezing and that made her hurry out of the tub and on to the warm comfort of the bath rug. The rug felt cozy under her cold feet and she rubbed them hard till she felt her feet were adequately dry. Tip toeing, she entered her room and opened the window to feel the cold air against her skin. The nightmarish experience had left her shaking, she observed. She craved a cigarette instantly and rummaged her bag for a packet. As a principle, she never smoked inside the house but today she had to make an exception. She lit up and inhaled deeply, letting the nicotine kick in and do its work. Soothed now, she stubbed it out on a piece of paper that singed. Quickly, she sprayed the room with her perfume and got out of her bathrobe, which fell with a light thud on the floor. Then she did something that she would have normally not done. Having Jai in her life had changed her a little. She felt like she needed to make sure he was happy with her. She moved herself to face her reflection in the long mirror. She observed her pale body ablaze with a dozen tattoos and her raven hair that had fallen limply around her shoulders. Her tattoos that began from her ankles made their way to her thighs and then began from the end of her spine to her neck. Those were made by other artists and she wasn’t entirely happy with them now. Then she trailed her eyes over her flat belly that sported a ring piercing. She was overcome with a familiar disgust and quickly ran to her wardrobe to put on the first thing that she could lay her hands on.
Pulling her black t-shirt down, she had nothing much to do, she realized, finally. That was something she had started to fear. Up until now, she was pretty content being by herself but now she felt monsters lurked around in every corner. She felt afraid and wanting company all the time.
“Maya is coming home.’
“Maya is coming home’ , she heard herself mutter.
She felt a restless energy urging her to do something drastic, like she did so many years ago at Anna’s party. She cringed at the thought and immediately felt guilty, an emotion unknown to her before. After mending ties with Anna she felt responsible for her in so many ways. She wanted to protect her like she used to when Anna was a little child crawling all over the house. She remembered running ahead of Anna and pushing all the doors open so that Anna could crawl without being hurt or upset. She remembered all of that so clearly but she was sure, Anna would have no recollection of it. She remembered another shadow, a dark one, lurking around them, laughing boisterously one moment and then going completely silent, the other. It was Maya watching the two sisters playing and frolicking about. Then at the very same moment, she would observe Maya away in a world where she would not let anybody in. She understood that about Maya because Ash had a world of her own, where she wouldn’t let anybody enter. Maya and Ash understood each other without having to converse and it was their little secret.
The day Maya left, Ash tried reading the note that Maya had left for her. Letters smeared themselves all over the white lined sheet because tears clouded her eyes. It was one of those rare occasions when tears got in the way. She tried to compose herself but she was only 5. Through the corner of her eye, she saw the year-old Anna crawling towards the patio where both Ash and their father stood like statues. Tears, salty and raw tickled her cheeks and she kept wiping them away with the back of her hand.
“A letter!! She left us letters? Where did she go? What did we do wrong? What did I do wrong?” , she bellowed in her loudest voice. Her father took her in his arms and then bent to pick Anna up who seemed curious about the commotion around her.
” It cannot be me, Papa. It has to be Anna. She cries a lot at night, not letting Mamma sleep.” She accused the golden baby and pushed herself away from Anna.
” I hate Anna and I want Mamma back! Bring her back!!!” She had pleaded to Papa.
Papa seemed like he was breathless and dazed. He had brought both Ash and Anna inside the house and locked it from inside. Then he made a couple of phone calls to people and then took both of them to bed.
Ash snapped out of that bitter moment which she had relived in her head countless times. She remembered how much hate she harbored for tiny Anna for no reason, for a long time. But as a child she had to have a reason that she could go to every time, to seek explanation about why Maya had left. The letter was taken away by Papa and stored away or probably torn into bits in his bid to wipe out any trace of Maya from their lives. Ash felt regretful about not having read the letter entirely. The first two lines stated that Mamma was going away and she may not be coming back at all. She had entrusted Ash with the job of looking after Anna and Papa. Those two sentences drilled their way away into her heart and her memory and possessed the power to bring back that familiar pain in an instant, without provocation. She didn’t dare read the rest of letter, lest her heart broke into pieces and flowed in the rain that pelted away on the road outside. That sensation of the drill pricking her very being remained with her for the rest of her life. That feeling prompted her to become a tattoo artist that she was today.
She felt a chill in the room and turned around to close the window. Through the glass of window she saw a mother and daughter walking hand in hand, braving their way against the chill. They looked happy from a distance. She turned away from the scene, fearful. Then she held herself in an embrace and cried softly into the night.
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