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Short Stories
U.R. Anantha Murthy
       SHE had come there to throw herself into the tank but her mind kept wandering. What she had seen when the car slowed down kept recurring: A thatched hut, a box-shaped shop in front, a fat woman in it with a baby on her lap, two bunches of banana hanging and an old man lighting his beedi from the burning tip of a length of coconut fibre.
       The green-leafed plant spreading in the waters; the car with its headlights on coming down the hill on the right, now seen and then getting out of sight on the winding road; the bird under the moonlight with its shrill cry-what was its name? - and the cool breeze from the tank. If she stayed on, she would hear and see all those things and the sun would rise again. Not if she killed herself.
       There must be a shrub beyond this pungent-smelling one where someone was sitting, she thought. Must be a man who had come there earlier. Or a lady like herself, modern. Would have heard the footsteps had that someone come there after she did. There was the smell of cigarette smoke coming from that spot.
       She gathered the hair spread on her back and tied it into a loose knot. Her face would bloat if she died by drowning and the birthmark on her left cheek which everyone admired when she was still a girl would not be visible on the bloated face. Her body would float, face down, and her black hair would spread all over the water. A grazing cow would go on chewing, looking idly like all grazing cattle do. It would not be easy to say whether the body was of a man or a woman. She had, however put on two black panties, one over the other.
       She couldn't recall the precise moment when she had made up her mind. As if it was long long ago or as if it was a process which had gone on for long. Her husband's slap on her cheek wasn't a big thing-a man might hit a woman in love. Go and die, die, die, he had screamed in a bizarre voice. Wasn't it a scream that had sprung out of her own inner self? His eyes had the glazed stare of a man out to kill. He had collapsed on to the floor after slapping and his face had blanched as if he were dead. A noise had pounded in her ears. His moustache, arched but bushy eyebrows and thick hair had all seemed ridiculous and a silent sneer had risen and died in her. Their son? He was growing up in a boarding school in Ooty. The boy was fond of his father who was once a tennis champion. He would grow into a man somehow and everything would gradually fade away from his memory.
       What were the factors that led them to such an impasse? Who could say who was at fault? Hadn't he loved her earlier? He had married her against his own father's wishes, sold half his property, taken her to the States and enrolled her in a school for acting. Who took the first false step? They had fought over the question a hundred times. One mistake getting entwined with another-they had collaborated on the task for fifteen years. How he laughed uninhibitedly when she wasn't around! Strong and even teeth shining under his black moustache. The women among their acquaintances blamed her and she knew it.




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