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"Saying the Name" by Sudha Subramanian

TW: Domestic Abuse

She dipped the plastic pot into the water trough and heaved it out, pouring it on herself. Soft ripples streamed down her agonizing body while her lips parted with the one name she wanted to mouth, "Lokesh."

She waited before saying his name in a hushed tone, like how she had chanted God's names in the prayer room. She counted on her toes as the name spilled out of her mouth, wincing every time the water tugged at the raw skin near her ankles. It was the ankles yesterday that the buckle of the belt scraped out the skin and tasted blood. It had been her arm last week when the firewood came thrashing at her skin, shedding it off the glow and softness and leaving it with ruptures, gashes, and bruises.

She counted twenty-five, waiting for the water to gurgle and drown her muffled voice and start again when the door thundered, "You donkey. Are you going to spend the whole day there?" Athe, her mother-in-law shrieked.

She didn't respond.

She hoped for the magic to work. She offered a silent prayer, and she also sought forgiveness before she stepped out.

Athe had told her on the wedding day, "You can't call your husband by name. Saying his name shortens his lifespan."

Athe had not given her an alternative. So, she never called Lokesh by his name.

A large bucket of dirty clothes beckoned her that noon. She hauled the bucket to the backyard, where the washing stone glistened in the afternoon sun.

Sarees, shirts, and dhotis had to be scrubbed, beaten on the stone, and rinsed.

She labored through the heap, one after the other, beads of sweat licking her cheeks and forehead. She wet her lips, but her throat groaned for water.

She dragged her feet to the clay pot at the end of the kitchen when she heard whispers. It was Athe's voice that roared over the other faint voices. She caught some words, gas, movie, lock, and laughter. She didn't want to interrupt them or attract any attention that came in dagger-like words and sharp objects. She tiptoed to the backyard to continue washing and say the name in sync with the scouring and swabbing.

"We are stepping out to watch a movie," Athe called out that evening.

She hurried out of the kitchen and saw her father-in-law, Athe, and her husband Lokesh dressed in sharp clothes.

"We will be late," her husband added.

"Let me get some water," Athe told no one in particular and scurried to the kitchen.

They always locked her inside when they went out. She was alone, and a sly grin escaped her lips.

"Lokesh," she said his name aloud.

The walls, the chairs, and the air could hear her voice and feel her heartbeats without care.

"Lokesh," her voice raised over her usual quiet tone. The name bounced off the walls. She opened her arms and twirled without care. "Lokesh, Lokesh, Lokesh…" she sniggered. "Lokesh," she attacked him, gritting her teeth.

"Lokesh," she spat with a devilish grin that soothed her sore body.

"I am going to say your name as many times as possible," her voice laced with anger, but laughter escaped the corners of her lips. It was her escape, her liberation, her freedom from pain, sorrow, and misery.

His name filled her mouth like rice cakes, and she chewed his name without a pause, her eyes glaring, mocking, and sneering at his large picture hanging over the wall.

She decided to celebrate her freedom by making a cup of coffee with three spoons of sugar, a luxury she never enjoyed.

She picked up the matchbox to light the stove when her eyes darted at the knobs. She was certain she had turned them off. A cold realization washed over her and her body shrunk. A slow stream of urine slid off her legs.

She pushed open the window and sank to the floor with her back to the wall. Her feet felt cold, and she hugged her knees, shedding quiet tears.

She must have slept in the growing darkness of the kitchen when she heard the banging on the door.

She staggered to her feet and pulled at the window.

"Who's that?" she called out.

They were from the neighborhood, and two policemen stood at the far end.

Some had their palm to their mouth.

"There has been an accident," an elderly man called out.

"It is bad," someone else said.

She didn't need to hear further.

She stared at her feet, relief washing over her.

The Universe worked in mysterious ways. It kept score and always set things right. But she didn't know that.

She finally smiled - of relief. Saying the name had saved her.


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