She stood by the stove, watching the milk come to a boil, her eyes welling up with tears. She bit her lip to hold back her tears. Her lips hurt too. She traced her finger over her lower lip and found that the cut had deepened. She switched off the gas, walked to the spice shelf, took a teaspoon of turmeric in a bowl and mixed it with a bit of water to make a paste. She applied it on the cut on her lip, the scratches on her hand and the bruises on her arm, hoping and praying that they would heal and not leave a mark. After all, she had a visit due to her parent’s home next week. She took the tomatoes and chillies out of the fridge and placed them on the chopping board. She recollected and followed her mother’s advice, “Cut them fine and curl your fingers to avoid getting a cut.” “Remember to always season with less salt, you can adjust it later if you want.” “Fry the groundnuts till they turn dark brown to render them crunchy.” Mother was never wrong; she always had the right advice.
“It must have been your fault,” her mother chided her when she complained that her husband beat her up. “Why will he hit you otherwise? After all, he is your husband. It’s been just 2 months since you got married and instead of adjusting, you complain?”
“All men who hit are not bad. Haven't you seen your father? He also hits me. Does this mean he is bad? Hasn't he given you a good life? It’s been just a year, try adjusting and doing things right and eventually it may stop.”
“It’s not even been 2 years since you got married and you want to leave him? Don’t come back to our home if you do. The doors of this house are closed for you; that house is the only place that you have. What will people say if you come back? We have spent so much money on your wedding that your father is still paying off those debts. You have a comfortable life, you don't have to work, you just need to take care of the house and watch TV.” She washed the puffed rice under the running water, and recalled her conversations with her mother.
“Dress up well, don’t be slack because you have been married for long. We are awaiting the time when we can play with our grandkids. If you have a child, maybe, his temper also will cool off and you can finally settle down. Don’t forget to buy rat poison; it’s monsoon time and the last thing that you want is for the pests to ruin your life. Kill them before they cause trouble”. She tempered the oil in the utensil, sautéed the tomatoes and chillies in it, put the spices in carefully and added the puffed rice. “Don’t forget to add a bit of sugar to make the perfect poha.” She smiled as she could almost hear her mother admonish her. She emptied the contents of the utensil into a plate, placed a spoon next to it and walked out of the kitchen. She placed the plate on the coffee table while her husband read the newspaper. As soon as she turned to walk back, he held her arm tight and gave her a sound slap. She felt she went deaf for a minute and winced in pain. “Where is my tea?” he demanded. He jerked her hand and pushed her away. She wanted to reply, to tell him that she didn’t get it out of the fear that it may turn cold, since he would eat the poha first. She cried and walked into the kitchen silently, fearing that any response from her would be rewarded with another slap. She made the tea as quickly as possible, cursing her fate, cursing that she was a woman, cursing that she had no power in her hands, but was still mindful of the 1.5 teaspoons of sugar that was a must in his tea. She walked out of the kitchen, placed the cup of tea on the table and stood next to the kitchen door. He drank his tea, sipping it slowly, engrossed in the newspaper and taking bites of the poha as well. She knew it would happen any time now. She continued to stare at him. Suddenly, he clenched his throat and glanced at her, signaling her to get water. She didn’t budge. His eyes popped, turned red with rage. He was now holding his chest and was trying to reach for something, anything, to throw at her. She looked at his helplessness and stood transfixed. He fell on his knees and called for help like a man drowning at sea. He struggled for a few more minutes and finally, his heart gave up. He fell on the floor with a thud and the foam from the corner of his mouth spread on the floor. All this while, she clasped the empty bottle of rat poison in her hands. Now you know what it feels like, she thought.
“Don’t let the pests ruin your life, kill them before they cause trouble,” her mother’s voice echoed through the silence.