The Images

It had always been really easy for me to scare little children. I was one of the elder ones in the group in our neighborhood and I had an inherent knack for picking out the naive ones and playing with their emotions. Some said I always possessed a special power. Perhaps I did. Or perhaps, I was just really good at fooling people. I remember scaring a little girl into such a frenzy that she was found lying unconscious in the stairway. It had something to do with how I had explained the process of dismembering little children by the djinn that lived in the building. I really did have a special power: overpowering the supernatural spirit into doing my bidding. All I told the little girl was how she had dis-pleased me during our game of role play, as she had taken the role of the lady of the house, which is the one I wanted to take. Especially since the man of the house was that boy from across our building. The one with the hazel eyes. Eyes that always smiled. But I made sure I got my revenge. I told little Tanya that as she would start climbing her stairs, my prayers would take action and all the doors on every floor would remain shut. Even if she called out to anyone, there would be no answer. Then as she ascended unto the third floor, one short of her own apartment, the main door of the building would close and a strong wind would blow and the djinn whom I controlled, would appear and grab her by the hand. She was not to resist as I had already incanted the prayer for him to take her so any resistance would lead to her getting hurt. But unfortunately, the girl fainted on the second floor and later when my parents tried to accost me for my actions, I had to pretend as if I had no idea what they were saying.  But then I was also very good at pretending.

As I grew up, I honed my controlling skills to perfection. I was never interested in studying or taking up a hobby; there was so much to gain by controlling people into doing things for you, why bother! By the time I was about 20, my parents decided to marry me off so they started looking for a suitable boy. The whole event is carried out with the “boy’s” family arriving with some presents and the prospective couple meet each other. However, the day Irfan and his family came to see me, the djinn returned. He had a habit of arriving when I most needed him. People said the djinn was in love with me and was very possessive of me. Often times, our neighbors are said to have noticed a very long leg across our boundary wall. Like a huge giant was sleeping there. I just always wondered why no one had noticed the large bough of a tree that extended up to out boundary wall and in the early morning sunlight, it would easily pass off as a large, dismembered limb…

I had a penchant for shiny things and fancy clothes. It turns out, every time I went to a shop and saw something I liked, the djinn would make sure I had it. I would return home and find the dress hanging in my wardrobe. Shoes would appear placed in the hallway with the rest of everyone else’s, as if they had been bought. I only faintly remember picking up the shoes before we left the shop and stuffing them into my bag. Or trying on the clothes in the trial room then pulling on my own clothes on top before leaving quietly. I would never go back to those shops. I liked the idea that people thought my djinn was responsible for my actions. But I wasn’t stupid you know!

However, the day Irfan and his family came to ask for my hand in marriage, they bought a lot of gifts. Along with the usual piles of sweets and cake, a set of perfumes, shoes with sequins on them, a sari and a very thin gold chain. All for me. My mother had spent the entire day making beef kababs. Boiled beef was mixed with lentils and fried. Then we had semolina pudding or suji kheer with pistachios and almonds. Tea was served after the guests had eaten and just as the conversation was turning towards how the families would like to organize the wedding, my mother lifted the lid of the sugar pot and dropped it instantly with a loud clatter. The pot was full of sand. The tea pot had sand, the cups were over turned on the saucers, they all had sand.  The guests soon left after this. But then the wailing began; my mother cried her eyes out at her daughter’s cursed luck and how they would find a boy for me, a girl stricken under the shadow of a djinn in love with her! The rumors about the djinn striking again were the hot topic of the ensuing week. I just had to make sure I cleaned the soles of my shoes, which were full of the sand, from the time I had earlier sneaked out of the house to bring back a bag full of the grainy stuff from a neighboring construction site. The next day to make sure things were further in control I arranged for a new, expensive dress to be found hanging in my wardrobe. A dress more expensive than the sari Irfan’s mother had given me. The shop keeper never knew how I had stashed it under the magazine I was carrying with me. 

People stopped talking as I passed them. Sometimes if I ever made eye contact, they would instantly look away or shuffle around in embarrassment. It was funny for me though because I enjoyed being left alone. I had my work force doing odd jobs for me. I had moved on from scaring little girls trying to return home and moved on to controlling the girls in my neighbourhood into doing things for me, unless they wanted my djinn to deal with them. My family had taken to being very wary of me. They started taking my permission for everything. Even mundane things like what I wanted to eat for dinner or whether I was ok to go to a family picnic. Sometimes I just wanted the house to myself so I could watch movies, without having to censor  the intimate scenes every time my father or my niece walked in. So I would grow all quiet  and say I don’t think I can go to the family outing; an unknown force was trying to stop me from enjoying myself. The only down side was that my mother would leave someone behind to keep an eye on me.  But I always had a sleeping pill in handy, and after a cup of over sweetened tea, that too was taken care of and I could watch my movies in peace.

It was during one such day when I had put one of my elderly neighbors to a deep slumber and was watching 50 Shades of Grey in the freedom of the empty house that I had a sudden craving for an ice cream. As I was trying to mull over what I needed to do in order to satiate my craving I happened to notice a magazine with the picture of an ice cream on it. I just kept staring at it, The picture looked so real, I wasn’t sure if it really was an ice cream in reality!

The next day I saw the boy with the hazel eyes. The eyes that smiled. I had always had a huge crush on him and spent many sleepless nights dreaming about spending time with him. But coupled with the new found fear people had in me and an abject nonchalance the boy had for me, he never paid me any attention. I would visit the grocery shop he worked at and accidentally let my scarf or dupatta fall, showing a bit of my cleavage. But the only attention I ever got was the sleazy old accountant who would greedily stare back at me. One day he accosted me in the back alley and grabbed my wrists. I tried to break free but he pinned me to the wall and I could smell the stench of cigarettes and sugary tea from his breath. I pushed him with all my might and threatened him with dire consequences of which I could not be held responsible. It worked for a while but I was always wary of his gaze boring into me. But the hazel eyes never once glanced my way. Not even when I told him I could help him if he wanted. I had access to money I said. But he pretended as if I was invisible. Perhaps I was; to him. But the more he spurned me the more I wanted him. I left him new shoes outside his shop one day and took away his old ones. I later heard he had given them away to his cleaner’s son and bought new ones for himself. Something about not being the right size. I left him notes in his bag; but I never got an answer. I would dream about him every night. It was on one such night when I was dreaming about him and I heard a noise in my balcony. I got up to open my window and almost fell back in alarm. There he was, standing with that smile that emanated from his eyes. I leapt up in joy! My efforts had finally paid off. He had acknowledged me! I ran to pull him into my arms but I hit something rather hard and fell back with a slight bruise on my forehead. I looked up and the face still had that smile in the eyes. Everything looked perfect. Too perfect. It was a very lively painting of his on my verandah wall. I was so confused but I touched it again and there was no doubt that somehow, I could see a painting of him on the wall. I don’t think I slept that night but in the morning it was still there. I watched my maid come in to clean the room but as she always averted my gaze, I wasn’t sure if she had seen the painting. Then my mother came in and aired the room. She opened my windows, shook the curtains and dusted the window panes. But she never reacted. Either everyone was pretending to not see it. Or perhaps, only I could see it. The picture grew deeper in color. It rained after a few days but he continued to smile at me from across the window. Mocking me with his eyes. I heard he had left the shop and run off with a girl from his family. A distant cousin or something. I never saw him again in flesh, but his picture did not fade from my wall.

But this was only the beginning. The sleazy old accountant continued following me if he ever saw me alone and once I had taken a wrong turning and when I realized I was reaching a dead end, I turned around quickly to find a way out and saw a doorway. I made a rush for it as the old man quickened his pace to reach me. I lunged for the door handle but it gently swayed away from me. A canvas with the picture of a door was set against a wall, to cover up for the ugly construction work behind. The old man had reached me by now and grabbed me hungrily. He pressed me against his body and spoke in his rasping breath “why don’t you tell your djinn to join me. I am sure we can both make you a very satisfied woman!” I cant remember how I escaped that day. I just recall the smell of him on my skin! I think I threw up later but I was more shaken than I would have liked. I thought of complaining about this. I tried asking the other women in my neighborhood about him but by then no one wanted to speak to me about anything which seemed even slightly unconventional. It was always a courteous bow or asking after my parents. I tried inviting them over for a tea but everyone seemed to come up with an urgent errand at the last moment. I passed some of the girls sitting on the steps one day. I waved at them and they just stiffened and gave me a polite nod. I went up to them and tried saying something about the weather. But they just mumbled something indistinctly and instantly dispersed. Something about urgent errands. The next day I bumped into them outside the beauty parlor. They were all sitting under the guava tree on a mat and gossiping. They gave me a friendly wave as soon as they saw me and kept waving. I waved back and walked towards them. They kept waving. I stopped in front of them and said “you can stop waving now I am standing right in front of you”. But they kept waving. Their smiles looked friendly, but somewhat frozen. The wall behind the guava tree had always been bare. Now it showed a 3D painting of the girls sitting on a mat, waving at someone. Of course, no one else noticed the image. I only ever went to that beauty parlor because the owner never took money from me. It had something to do with a threat I had once given her daughter, about using my powers to ruin her life. But eventually I found another parlor. One that did not have any empty walls nearby.   

One morning, I had woken up to the picture of the hazel eyed one, which never seemed to fade. I went to the have breakfast and found some neighbors sitting at the table. They stopped talking the moment I stepped in and started sipping their teas. My mother however looked at me and said something about wanting to talk to me. I was not sure what was happening but it turns out that the hazel eyed one had been found dead near his mosque. Some say it was his involvement with a militant group. But my neighbors instead went for the sleazy old accountant’s story about my djinn taking care of things. He let loose the secret of my feelings for the hazel eyed one and as I heard the news in shock, I tried to understand how the accountant was planning to benefit from all this. People started to whisper about my supreme powers even more, specially since the body found had died under mysterious circumstances.  An asphyxiation of some sort, but the evidence was not clear. My family had taken to either eating before or after me and even as I denied any involvement, there was a deep sense of apprehension in their eyes. I started spending more time in my room, with the window shut. I could not even bear to open my windows anymore. Soon, the walls of my room started filling themselves with images from the depths of my sub-conscious. The wall opposite my bed had a scene from a magazine cover I had seen of a Mediterranean house with white washed walls and a beach.  The wall behind my bed had a picture of myself with the rest of my family at a picnic. The kind of outings I had always tried to avoid.

But the day the incident happened, I had woken up to a new image. I was walking away from my home. Somewhere I could not distinguish. I left the house to run some errands. I had now resorted to begging my mother to give me an errand just so I had something to do. She gave me the simplest of jobs but today she asked me to pay a bill. I had never taken jobs with any responsibility as I was prone to losing things. Something about my djinn not wanting me to work hard… Now since I had never paid a bill I lost my way. It had been raining lately and a fresh downpour made me take shelter in an abandoned house. Infact it was being renovated, so there were pots and pans and left over odds and ends scattered all over. The house hardly had any windows which helped me stay dry. I heard a creak somewhere but I didn’t pay any attention as it was an old house. I was sitting all hunched up waiting for the rain to end but then I had the distinct feeling of someone watching me. I slowly turned around and my worst fears came true. The sleazy old accountant was standing behind me. He had a rope in one hand and he started unzipping his pants in a hurry. I had always enjoyed watching the terror in the eyes of people I liked to scare. The dilated pupils and the stiffness of the body always gave me an instant high! Today, I wondered if my pupils had dilated. I wondered if everyone had clammy palms like I did. I am not sure what happened next but he hurled me to the floor and as I crashed against some broken furniture and hit my head, he started tying my hands with the deftness of a shepherd, tying their sheep before the slaughter! I think he was struggling with the clasps at my waistband, to take my pants off when I kicked him and struggled to get up. I ran somewhere. I crashed into things in the dark. I saw a door and tried opening it with my half tied hands. He had bolted all the doors. The rain had stopped and a sudden stillness had settled outside. I was hiding behind something and all I could now hear was his raspy breath. “Come on. I promise I wont hurt you. I told your djinn to let me have you for today and I promised to return you in one piece. Now you don’t want me to break my promise do you…” I backed into something that had a very sharp edge. I had no idea what it was but I tried to cut my rope and somehow managed to break free. I was rubbing my wrists; a momentary lapse in judgement and he grabbed me from behind. His hands were everywhere. I flayed my arms around and after a few seconds my hand touched something sharp again. This time I just pulled at it and as he started getting even more excited at so much resistance. I struck him with whatever I had grabbed at. It was something sharp. A large knife I believe. He staggered back in shock and then he looked near his shoulder to where a small trickle of blood started to flow. He screamed and lunged at me with greater force and I struck again. This time I got him in the jugular. Blood started to spurt out and as he tried to ebb it, I was busy freeing myself. But now there was blood everywhere. I could feel it on my clothes, my hair, the floor, splattered on the broken furniture, my hands. He grabbed at my leg as I tried to run. I gavehim a final kick and turned a corner. 

The rain had stopped long ago but now it was totally dark. I tried to find the doors but instead I found a slit in the window. A slight glow was coming through from the lamp lights outside. I looked down at my clothes and saw the blood. My hands were totally red. I would be able to manage hiding the blood on my clothes till I got back but I needed to wash my hands. I looked for water. A tap. Anything to wash my hands with. I suddenly heard a gushing sound somewhere. I quickly turned around to find a leaky faucet perhaps, but the shard of light from the window had illuminated a white orb on the floor. I bent closer and realized it was a plate. A white plate. It had a very interesting pattern on it. I picked it up and just kept staring at it. The plate had the picture of a tap, which had been left open with water flowing from it onto the plate.