Ch1: 'No Sympathy For The Devil'
Kate couldn’t sleep that night. Sleep evaded her when she jumped into her bed at 12 am, and even after two hours, there was no trace of slumber. She lay comfortably on her bed in her favourite batman pyjamas and stared at the spot on the ceiling. Her room—oddly similar to the one she had growing up—was sparingly furnished with a single bed, a wooden wardrobe and a wobbly, old desk - furniture pieces that she had bought in a garage sale. If she had ever wished to replace these in the past, the thought was lost on her today. They were getting the job done, weren’t they? Except this bed - this was a waste. “I should have just bought the mattress,” she sighed into her not-so-fluffy and rather uncomfortable pillow. Shifting to the supine position with her hands folded under her chin, she looked through the window in exasperation and gazed into the cloudless sky.
It was her daily theatre—work for 10 hours every day (12, if lucky); cook, clean, and take care of odd chores around the house; and hit the bed at around 12 am, praying to God tiredness will wear off. Some days it did; most days it didn’t. Not before the wee hours of the morning anyway. During this limbo, she planned the next day, made lists of things to do in her head, even rehearsed what to say to people. This year it was Naman, who had sent her a text at around 12, asking if she was free for coffee on Tuesday, and she conveniently forgot. Relatively harmless, her 31-year-old colleague didn’t take no for an answer and asked her out every month. Even if he weren’t a potbellied annoying uncle, she still wouldn’t have said yes—he wasn’t right for any 21-year-old girl, let alone her. She would have to confront him one day and say it plainly!
Things I need to do today
She stopped mid-sentence in her head as her phone beeped. If ever she would have felt surprised to get a text at 2.15 in the night, tonight was not such an occasion. It had been half-anticipation, half-apprehension that kept her awake today. She closed her eyes for a second before retrieving her phone from the table on her left. In her efforts, she knocked off the dimly-lit lamp that was sitting complacently on the table with the back of her hand and didn’t even flinch when the cord came loose, and the room wallowed in darkness. She read the text in half a second, left the lamp lying on the side and pulled the covers on her.
She went into a deep slumber almost instantly and unsurprisingly, woke up in the middle of a nightmare - sweaty and weary.
It was the same dream she always had: her mother’s death two years ago. Her stepfather’s voice still echoed in her ears; she could still feel his hand grabbing her wrist and pulling her out of her room where she was getting ready to go out to look for, ironically, a house, to move out. It was a fine Sunday morning, in April—a fine day to start a new life indeed.
At six feet and with a medium built structure, Kate’s father, Francis, was an imposing man. Kate was his daughter by matrimony. Though Kate had her mother’s black hair, five-foot, six-inch height and heart-shaped face, she didn’t have her slender figure. She had always been on the heavier side, even when she was a child, but at 60 kilogram, she was still no match for her bulky and rather angry stepfather.
Clasping her ruthlessly, he dragged her from her room towards the front door. Kate didn’t protest. She knew it was going to happen soon now that her mother was gone. Nonetheless, the surprise still shook her and numbed her mind. She could have asked him to be gentle, could have told him that she was leaving soon anyway. She didn’t. It was a small house, and it didn’t even take him more than a minute to throw her out of her ear. She landed up on her arse on the front porch. Kate’s meagre belongings, dumped in a black suitcase, followed. Dishevelled, she looked up at him as he ordered one last time, “DON’T COME BACK!”
She pulled herself up, dusted herself off, grabbed her suitcase and walked away from the house that had been her personal hell for more than a decade and a half. She was five when her recently divorced mother married a widower, Francis. Her father, she was told, was a complete bastard who abused her mother. Francis was her new daddy, but she soon found out that he was no better. “Sshh… don’t say it,” her mother had told her one night when Kate begged her to leave him. “We have nowhere to go. Do as he says.” So she did, for years. She stayed out of his sight, left to school before he woke up, came back home and locked herself in her room (or in their neighbour’s house), and didn’t step out even when asked by her half-brother and half-sister. Now her mother was gone, her siblings were away, and she was homeless.
She took solace in the fact that at least Francis was not abusive. He didn’t ever touch her but then again, it was never needed. He was cold and ruthless—his shrill voice still rang in her ears; reminded her of the time he caught her sneaking out of her room at night when she was 14, to watch TV in the hall with her mother and brother. Her stepfather, she knew, would be in his room, working or sleeping. Perfect opportunity to spend some time with her family, she thought, as she tiptoed out of her room and gaily walked to the living room, passing the kitchen. Before she could enter the hall, her father’s voice stopped her short, and she turned around to face him. Wearing a grey night suit, he still looked as fierce as he did in a three-piece—his eyes black as the night and cold as a winter morning. Years later, she watched Stepfather and couldn’t get the thought of Francis killing her that night out of her head. She had these nightmares almost every day.
“What are you doing out of your room?” he yelled with no concern about anyone hearing him. They lived in the four-bedroom apartment alone. He had no family. His wife, Kate’s mom, would never dare to interfere. By now, it was as true as her existence that she was on her own.
“I wanted to watch TV with Mom and kids,” she managed to squeak.
“Go to your room and don’t forget your place. GO!” He screamed.
Disobeying him meant no coming out of the room for a week and an unhappy mother. He would go to her and scream at her for bringing Kate in to his house, even though he knew what he was marrying into. Nonetheless, Kate wasn’t his and he made sure everyone remembered that. She wasn’t allowed to go out with her family when they were invited to social gatherings or marriages, she wasn’t allowed to attend her brother’s birthday parties, and she wasn’t allowed to breathe the air her mother and siblings breathed in. Even dinners were done separately, with Kate in her room and rest of them outside, giggling in the dining room. She wasn’t a part of any of it, so she made herself scarce. This little act of rebellion could cost her TV time or, God forbid, her phone. With unshed tears of separation, she marched to her room and switched on her own TV. It wasn’t a bad way to live—she had everything she needed and things that she didn’t, including her own TV, a laptop, a smartphone, a study table, and even a double bed. Not her family though; that she had to adjust without. She mindlessly flipped through the channels and fell asleep with the TV still on. Her mother, as was her habit, came to check on her later at night, after Francis had fallen asleep, and turned it off. Kate always knew when she entered like a thief, trying to be as hushed as possible, not for her sleeping daughter’s benefit but for the fear of waking up her husband in the next room. Why she didn’t leave him, Kate didn’t know. It wasn’t like he loved her mother or cared about his children.
But now Francis was dead, she thought as she walked to the kitchen and gulped down a glass of water. She saw her face in the mirror on the hall while turning back to the room. Her face wasn’t the same—she had lost 18 kilogram in a year and a half after she moved out, partly due to melancholy and partly due to starvation. Her hollow cheeks were not as pronounced to someone looking at her for the first time, but almost everyone had that repulsive reaction to the pimple breakouts on her face, which eventually faded with time.
Now, she had a job; not a good one, but one that kept her warm at night and a roof over her head. Living in her own studio apartment, which may be shabby compared to her previous home, but it was hers, nonetheless. She bought it with the money her grandparents had left her secretly; for, they knew this might happen one day. She was alive, she was well-fed, and she had a place to call her home.
Everything changed again tonight. Francis was dead; the text from her brother confirmed it, and she would be able to leave it all behind. Closure finally, she thought as she sighed in relief, and sauntered towards her bedroom for a good life’s rest and a good life’s beginning.