FICTION : The Breathing Corpse by Subhashini.R
Raghu gently knocked the tip of the hand sanitiser kept on the entrance gate table of the apartment where he lived in. The sanitiser was held in a pump-type container, so the breezy wind snapped the tiny drops of sky blue coloured sanitiser to sprinkle on the visitor's entry note lying next to it. Raghu's downturned eyes immediately searched for the watchman, Muthu. He could see that the ivory-coloured Nilkamal plastic chair, where Muthu usually sits, was empty. Raghu's anxious eyes were skimming the entire parking area to catch a glance of Muthu. He strolled in between the cars and bikes that were parked and suddenly sniffed the strong smell of diesel near the block - 6 parking allotted area. The smell was due to the leakage of diesel from the F9 tenant's black innova car. Raghu stood near the dusty car and peeked through the spilt diesel for a moment. His legs hastily took him near Muthu's small room that was diagonally opposite to the vehicle parking area.
Muthu was a middle-aged, stout man who had a plump, amply corpulent body. His dusky skin and honey brownish eyes that gleamed under the sun rays added an extra pleasing roundness to his physique. His broad forehead with the ashes and kumkum in it reinforced his typical south- Indian look .
Raghu knocked on the door of Muthu's 200 Square feet room recklessly. His hands were shaky and out of uneasiness, Raghu shouted, "Muthu…. Open the door man!” biting his teeth.
Hearing Raghu's wild voice, Muthu took the Tv remote and pressed the red coloured mute button impatiently. He was seriously watching " Puthiya Thalaimurai News channel" that flashed the news about covid affected people in India and Delhi's dark graveyards with countless corpses. He rushed near the door to unlock the latch that got jammed during rainy seasons. He pushed and pulled the lock in all directions with his tough hands. Lifting his right leg, with full force Muthu kicked the door.
Raghu was stunned by hearing those strange, screeching rumbles that came from the doors of Muthu's room. He stepped back and inquired, "Muthu!!! Is everything fine? What happened to you ?”
Muthu was still banging the door as the lock got released but the door got scraped on the cement floor.
"Am trying to open the door, Sir! Can you help me by striking the door from outside? Muthu pleaded.
Raghu sighed. Without even taking a step forward, he interrogated Muthu.” Have you bought cigars for me? It's been a day and I haven't puffed even a single cigarette. I tried calling you but your bloody phone is switched off!”
Muthu was still begging Raghu to smash the jammed door. Out of anger and outrage, Muthu punched the door. The smashed door opened and Raghu felt the air being pushed near his face. Muthu touched his rough hands and stretched his big fingers.
Tucking his maroon shirt inside his black jeans, Muthu took a green transparent polythene cover lying on the T.V stand. Muthu stepped out of his matchbox-like house, which had just a TV with a stand, orangish shaded plastic mat, dirty pillow without a cover and a bed sheet that had some holes in it. He didn't own many utensils other than an oval-shaped stainless steel plate and a bottom wrecked steel tumbler. He bought food from "Kamatchi fast foods' and tea from "Achan tea stall" before the lockdown. Now Chellamma akka, the apartment association secretary's wife, gives him food. In return, Muthu washes the kitchen vessels, sweeps and mops the floor and buys groceries for Chellamma.
Muthu met Raghu's eyes boldly. He gave him the polythene cover with white paper boxes in it. Muthu took out twenty rupees and handed it to Raghu.Raghu’s hands trembled at his excitement and enthusiasm of receiving his lovely devil in his hands.He made his way to the apartment lift with a wide grin. The moment the lift doors opened, he jumped inside and knocked on number four.
Muthu was staring at Raghu’s weird behaviour. He hit his forehead in dismay.
"Amudha madam's life is in the hands of such a jerk! Don't know who is going to save her from him!”
Raghu pressed the calling bell of his house. The chirping birds' tune of the calling bell made Amudha step out of the bedroom. She had just finished her zoom meeting with her project manager. Her work as a developer in an e-commerce startup was demanding and made her feel like a "machine working on a machine".
She took her pale yellow coloured shawl sitting on the living room couch and threw it around her neck. She fixed her broad, big and black-framed spectacles on her sharp nose. She stood near the entrance door and peeked through the peephole to check if some stranger was standing outside the door.
In that instance, she felt that her feelings were honest. Raghu is a stranger to her. Yes, a stranger who showed up in her life six years ago by sweeping her off her feet with the showers of love and affection that she longed for throughout her life. A stranger whom she married to though her conservative family didn't accept Raghu wholeheartedly. A stranger with whom she shared her happiness of bringing a new life into the world and named it Tara. A stranger who left only cigar scars on her.
Amudha unlocked the door and saw Raghu with her tired, wide eyes. She tied her messy hair into a bun and stared at Raghu's hands.
"Shhh! Don't make a noise with these cheap polythene covers! Tara is sleeping in my bedroom", muttered Amudha.
" Okay! I won't! My Drama Queen!” said Raghu with a wicked smile on his face. He strolled through the kitchen and reached the bedroom in which Tara was napping after an hour of crying. She was a 7¹/2 months old kid and sleeping throughout the daytime was all that she could do for her work from home mom who rejoined one month ago. Raghu looked at Tara intensely. He walked inside the room and slowly moved towards the balcony.
Raghu moved the sliding doors of the balcony that made a creaking sound. Tara's little legs were moving after sensing the sounds. She was still sleeping despite the noise though. Raghu entered the balcony and took the cigar boxes out of the polythene cover. He carefully took one box and inserted it inside his jockey track pants. The pink lighter torched in and lit the white cigars positioned in between his index and middle finger.
He puffed the first stroke of smoke and inhaled it gradually. The balcony had some empty plant pots with mud and a few clothes of Tara dangling on the clothesline. The swirling smoke touched Tara's hanging clothes and moved upwards, downwards and drifted away.
The breezy air turned into the toxic air of Raghu. The twirling smoke that exits out of Raghu's broad nostrils moved in an upward direction as he was tilting up his peach shaped head. Slowly, unhurriedly she was in the air. The smoke was in the air that others breathe. Raghu's balcony was next to Chellamma akka's kitchen. She smelt the strong waves of cigar smoke in her kitchen.
Chellamma took her smartphone and sent a message in the Apartment WhatsApp group, "Flat No. 401, Raghu please stop smoking on your balcony! My kitchen is filled with your stinking smoke!”
Amudha noticed her mobile beep and she picked it up. She saw the message in the group and hurriedly rushed to the balcony.
She saw Raghu as the cigarettes and smoke surrounded him. Slowly the smoke drifted in the air and entered Tara's bed. She saw Tara squirming in the bed as the smoky air fluttered and arrived near her. The fumes that stink entered Amudha's nostrils and gave her a haunting memory of her father who smoked endlessly. The moments with her colleague Samuel who smoked after lunch and chewed cheap chewing gums to hide the stench. The instance when she advised him to quit smoking but later saw him in a coffin as cancer ate his breathing lungs.
Amudha carried Tara in her hands gently and moved to the living room. She sat on the couch seating Tara in her wide lap. Raghu casually entered the living room while meddling with his phone. He read the message of Chellamma that popped in the WhatsApp group aloud, "Flat No. 401, Raghu please stop smoking in your balcony!... Ha Ha Ha!! My smoking smell stinks! Mad morons! They can't smell and inhale the air that I feel. They can't sniff the devil that I love. They can't puff the way I do!” uttered Raghu proudly.
Amudha saw Tara being woken up by the sullen voice of Raghu. She felt her heart being ripped apart by Raghu’s obnoxious words.
She cried out, "Raghu! Well said. Yes! They are morons, mad morons who can't smell the air you breathe in. They can't sense the pleasure that a smokey cigar gives you. They can't see how much you pollute the air with your twirling rings of smoke. The breezy winds of our balcony know how much pain you bestowed on her. The four walls of our toilet know how you surreptitiously smoke during midnight and leave the place after pumping the air full of air freshener. You are a Breathing Corpse Raghu!’, moaned Amudha with her trembling voice and Tara by her side holding her fingers tight.
Raghu staggered in the plastic chair beneath the ceiling fan with his sweaty face. Raghu raised his chin and saw the ceiling fan and its blurred blades. The spinning fan that blew wind didn’t make Raghu’s agitated, sweaty face feel respite. The sweat was still drifting down from his head to face and made him sense the heat.
Amudha stared from a distance, a breathing corpse sitting in the chair that inhales and exhales the toxic air of cigars without any guilt and regrets.
About the writer:
Subhashini is a Research scholar in Human Resources Management and a Research Volunteer in Prajnya Trust, a Chennai based NGO. She is also a mom of twins, a lazy doodler, DIY enthusiast and storyteller. She loves to read books and scribble doodles. She usually pens down thoughts and enduring nights. She loves to write about human their emotions and their various facets through fictional characters.