Eviscerate. Eviscerate. Eviscerate. I repeat to myself sitting in the car speeding towards the airport.
It’s a damn clean job, I can tell dispassionately. Even objectively.
He bangs his hand on the wheel when he realises that I am still weeping. “Baby, don’t. Don’t go. I told you not to cancel, not to go. We can still go home. Don’t cry.”
I am ice beneath the tears. When I answer my voice is steely. “I need to go. I can’t deal with this. I should not have to deal with this.” With this, my tears stop. But I clutch the stomach to stymie the bleeding.
I feel like halal meat. Let it bleed. The worst parts removed. All the rest is now clean, edible. You can almost taste the goodness and wholesomeness of this choice.
The butcher gets all the credit. Take out what you don’t need anymore. Nothing haram in this life anymore. No unnamed desires or designs to stem. It’s all flowing, easy, under control.
Meat is to be frowned upon.
Meat is inconvenient now.
I bleed and press against the skin trying to come to terms with your decisions that seal my fate. I remember how you once sucked meat from marrow, from bones. Time was you relished it. But now it’s all an inconvenience.
So you turn vegan because it suits you, and eat an avocado for breakfast with a sprinkle of salt, and drizzled mildly with pepper. No indulgence. Only wholesome goodness.
You make gaucomole as I grow green with envy; bile rising over my bitterness of seeing you in love, of watching you unsee me. You pay more attention to your furniture, your ash tray, your organic waste.
I google what happens when you are knifed in your gut by someone. The responses are as expected. It’s strangely reassuring. There’s a feeling of absolute tranquillity, an icy aura that clings to you. Your eyes overflow with tears. You might lose bladder and bowel control. You feel lightheaded and at the same time foggy. Then the hot blood pounds against you, and if you lose a lot of it, you bleed, lose consciousness, and if left untreated, you die.
“Can we share a smoke before you drop me off?” I cry.
Silently, he lights two cigarettes and puts one in my mouth.
He is shaking. “See, baby? I am stinking”, he says painfully, coming closer. The blood roaring is so hot and noisy that I can’t smell him. I can barely taste the tobacco. It’s already the 42nd one in four hours. If my lungs weren’t in shock, I would be dry heaving onto the pavement.
With shaking hands I light another cigarette and with wobbly lips I kiss his cheek and say goodbye. He gives me a tissue packet, pulling a fresh one out to wipe my tears. He is tender when he does this. He is so young. A child almost. The tears swell in my eyes. “Look after him” I whisper.
I can’t believe I say that. But I can’t say anything else. There’s nothing else to say.
His lips brush my trembling ones. “Go. Go back home and feel better. It will be better soon.”
It won’t. Where does he get this wisdom from? I suddenly see him as an old man. He has lived many lives, known much pain. I want to pull him to me and protect him. But I also wonder if he is shrewd, manipulative, the hand that twisted that knife in my gut which is why I am bleeding all over the airport.
“Baby, don’t blame me.” He reads my thoughts.”I love you.” He presses my palm.”But if you do blame me, it’s OK too. He will do the same thing to me someday.”
I nod mutely. I don’t agree with him but at that moment, I am grateful for him. I kiss him goodbye and kiss goodbye to all the life I have ever known, all the love I have given.
I stumble inside the airport blinded by tears and blood.
“Madam”, he holds my hand as I am about to pass out. “Come, let me help you.”
“Yes,” I sob. “Please help me. I have been knifed. I don’t know what to do. There’s so much blood all over.”
“Madam, please calm down. Let’s weigh your luggage. You know Hindi? Aap ro kyun rahi hain? Why are you crying?”
“Ghar. Mera Ghar…” I can’t bring myself to say that I lost my home, the only one that really felt like home. And that defeated, bleeding, I am returning to my roots. Roots aren’t the same as home. I will never again know another home. I don’t know that then.
“Pardesi story, Madam. Hum sab ki yahin story. We all outsiders have this same story. That’s what we do. This is our life. It will be OK.”
Why is everyone obsessed with being OK? I know it won’t be. Nothing will ever be OK. He doesn’t understand that this is my home. He can’t see my knife wound. He doesn’t feel the blood even when he holds my arm to steady me. The airport swims. Liquid pools of people shimmer around me.
“I am Khaled.” he says. “I will help you get your boarding pass.” He takes my phone, I unlock it for him and he looks for the Lufthansa app, and scans the QR code on it. He hoists my luggage and puts it on the scale. I am dying and still my luggage is overweight. I suppress hysterical laughter. Khaled holds my arm tighter and steadies me.
“Your luggage is overweight. But I will handle it. You don’t take tension for this. ”
This is what I need to do all the time. Play the damsel in distress so everyone will always allow my overburdened luggage, and feel proud and chivalrous at having helped me. I have never asked for help. I have never let my guard down like that with anyone but you. But I can ask for help. I can be frail and fragile for everyone. I can be young and dainty. I can be a damsel. I learn this skill – being a damsel in distress – when I am dying. It serves no purpose anymore.
Khaled fishes a bottle of Evian from somewhere. “Please drink water. Shall I sit with you? My shift is over. Ghar jaane hi waala tha. Your flight leaves in four hours. You have a lot of time. Shall I buy you something?”
The tears roll down my cheeks. I feel like Blanche DuBois depending on the kindness of strangers.
“Thank you. No. Where are you from?” I whisper.
“Pakistan, Madam. Please calm yourself. Drink water. Come sit here.” We move into the airport.
He still doesn’t notice the blood that’s soaking my black clothes. Khaled deposits me on a pale pink couch. It’s absurd to be sitting on it. It’s absurd that it even exists. I sit obediently thinking why is it a stranger feels so much concern for me? Why am I not invisible to him? Does this mean other people can still see me? Does this mean that by not seeing me, you have not erased me entirely from existence? Do I even exist? Still? For days now, I have been entirely invisible. Only springing to focus when I was to be cut open, sliced, eviscerated.
“Why is the bathroom so wet?”
“Did you not cook today?”
“Have you only been sleeping?”
“Why are you having a panic attack?”
“How can you have a panic attack in front of him?”
“Did you take your meds?”
“Why are you only swallowing pills?”
“Why can’t you look after yourself better?”
Little by little, my existence dwindled. And the blood surges out fresh, hot, sticky at these remembered accusations.
My coat is stained red, the colour of my lips, my hair, and the blood that’s just overflowing from where you knifed me.
But the flight is in four hours and I press my bag on to my stomach to stem the flow. I am an escaped half-slaughtered lamb. I don’t know if escaping a prison when you jailed yourself there, is of any merit. I am no Papillon.
There’s just no escape, it would seem.
“Ma’am, you can go for a security check and towards the gate after an hour. Just sit and relax here for now. I will come right back.”
I sit and slowly let the blood soak everything. I see only red. The shop displays are botched red, as are all the people walking busily and gaily with open wounds, bleeding, soaking the floor in crimson, vermilion, scarlet, puce. They see me and quickly avert their eyes as if my wounds are contagious.
Khaled returns with a lunch box of diced musk melons and a coffee as black and opaque as your heart has now become towards me. “Here, eat this,” he says. He treats me like I am a child now as he pushes the fork into my hand and helps me to hold it. The tiny, Ikea fork pokes into the skin of the melon, impales it. I bring it to my mouth and the melon oblivious to the reality of the world, explodes wet and entirely too sweet in my mouth. Khaled looks pleased. “I grow them,” he says. I swallow the coffee coating my mouth with welcome bitterness. I scald my tongue. This new sensation of pain sharpens the wound in my gut.
I clutch my stomach, heave. I am going to die, I know that. This is what I did. I handed you the knife after blunting it. I thought that would help. I didn’t imagine, couldn’t have imagined, the fury with which you would plunge that knife into me. Blood coats my fingers thickly.
I will die. I am determined to. I just didn’t want to die near you. Or for you. I had to leave, scurrying away like a poisoned rat, to die elsewhere. But I am dying, that I am certain of. I gave up too much of myself for you. There’s nothing left now. I will crawl back to my roots and cradled in that comfort, I will bleed out one pale drop at a time. I am full of such grand, but anemic plans.
Khaled produces the Evian again. “Drink this.”
I gulp the water down. I have no life, no home, no control over the hiccups as they take over, like I let you take over my life. I am entirely culpable. I let my guard down. I let myself dream. I let myself love someone more than I loved my own self. I had no control. I should have stayed. I should stay back. I don’t need to get on the flight back to India, to the roots. I can stay right here and…
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. My heart pumps out negation in rapid bursts.
I sputter water. My hiccups turn to cough and then to shaking and silent sobs. The blood soaks the pink sofa that’s turned a dirty rust.
People are watching. Maybe finally everyone can see the blood for what it really is. Maybe everyone always saw the knife wound and I didn’t recognise it. Maybe now finally, even you will accept it for what it is. Evisceration. I stare back sightless.
And Khaled says, “You have a long flight. You have to control yourself.”
As his words penetrate the fog in my brain, something shifts. Khaled from Pakistan has shared something profound without realising it. But I catch it. Breathe into it.
In that instance, I learn how to control.