It wasn’t yet dawn when I woke up. I raised my gaze to the darkened sky – an angry mess of swirling clouds, smeared with streaks of golden to the east. A cold wind gushed in my ear, whipping strands of stray black hair across my forehead.
I got up, ignoring the waves of fatigue racking my body. A quick look around told me I was on a huge boulder perched precariously atop a hill. I had little memory of how I got there, but that didn’t matter. I could work things out as I moved.
I took a step forward, but the pain in my chest made me bend over, panting. With my left hand on my knee, I wiped the sweat from my brow and looked up. There was a pink fringe above the distant hills that announced the arrival of a new day. I trudged down the hill slope, one painful step at a time. A straggling band of pine trees gave me company along the way, thinning out as I descended.
Like a drowning voice deep within my mind, the memory of her face came unbidden to me.
Elena – so young, so beautiful, so innocent. Ever since I first saw her thirteen years ago, I could not tear my eyes away from her countenance. I knew I was smitten even before we said our first ‘Hi’. With apprehension, I had gone up to talk to her; she was flustered that her employer wished to speak to her just on the day she had joined. When her lips parted to speak, her voice was soft, the cadence so melodious that I was mesmerized.
There had been no looking back since.
That was how our story began, it was beautiful beyond words – wild, passionate, and full of so much love that it left me breathless every time I met her.
Daylight was advancing with haste. The wind had grown to a gale so strong that it made the pines in the forest sway, and my long overcoat flap loudly behind me as I trundled on. The birds screeched and wailed above, seeking shelter from the approaching storm.
The trail beneath me had gotten wider, now covered with a thick green carpet of dew-laden moss. I walked on, my moccasins a whisper on the cobblestones. I heard a bell chiming in the distance, heralding the arrival of a new day.
The sight of the blue-tiled roof in the distance filled me with a familiar twinge of excitement. In a few minutes, I would be home! I imagined the first rays of the sun caressing her cheeks as Elena lay on the bed, smiling softly in her sleep. I could almost see her stirring, stifling a yawn, tying the strings of her night gown tighter around her waist as she got out of bed and walked down the stairs, the kitchen below demanding her attention. In my mind’s eye, she was beautiful beyond compare. Even after ten years of marriage, she was still young; still so achingly beautiful that a single look at her was bound to make my heart flutter.
I closed the remaining distance between me and my love. The familiar wooden double doors were locked. I didn’t pause to knock. Taking a deep breath, I entered my own house.
The sound of pots and pans clanging together greeted me as I walked in. Just as I had hoped, Elena was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I walked up towards the door and stood in the shadows cast by the curtain fluttering in the wind. I looked at my wife working in the kitchen, unaware of the surprise visit I had planned.
Her thick black hair was tied in a messy bun behind her head and a starched apron with red geometrical shapes printed on it covered most of her body. Her silk gown clung to her soft curves, accentuating her slender figure. Her lips were pursed together, whistling softly. With a pang, I realized it was the tune of the song that had played on the day of our wedding. The familiar notes of music made me fall into a trance so deep that I had to make considerable effort to bring myself back to reality. I cleared my throat.
Elena turned violently in the direction of the noise, sending flecks of sweat flying in the air. Her eyes met mine. They registered confusion at first, to be slowly replaced by shock, and a moment later – pure terror. She dropped the coffee mug she was holding in her hand, sending it crashing to the floor, shattering into a million shards. Her mouth was wide open. She gasped for air, unable to speak a word.
“Hello dear wife,” I said with a smile. She did not greet me, only mumbled a single sentence. The warm kitchen suddenly grew noticeably cold.
She held her hands to her head and swooned, falling to the floor with a soft flump. I stepped out of my hiding place. Away across the kitchen, my wife had been winded; she lay there, writhing in helplessness.
I passed the kitchen table, my foot glancing against a shard of glass from the broken mug, which made a small cut on my flesh. I paid no heed; my eyes were fixed upon Elena, who struggled now to raise her head a little, saw my slow approach.
She made one desperate effort, weak and winded as she was. A shaking hand raised in front of her face. She looked up at me. “Thomas-”
“That is my name, Elena” I said. “Now are you going to get up, or do I have to come to you?”
The answer she made was incoherent. With a deep sigh, I walked right up to where she had fallen. I bared my teeth and fell upon my beautiful wife, and any further sounds she made were swiftly subdued.
My wife’s blood ran down my neck and torso in small rivulets as I stepped out of the house. I wiped a sweaty cuff across to hide the stains from the city folk bustling about the streets. Elena had been loving, she had been beautiful and compassionate. And now Elena was dead.
Breathing in a huge lungful of the morning air, I ambled on.
I had no clear destination in mind, but to my surprise, I realized that my feet were leading me back up the hill, from where I had only just descended. ‘It makes sense,’ I thought, ‘to end my journey where it had begun.’
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and walked up the terrain, ignoring the protests of my aching body. ‘I would rest at the top of the boulder again,’ I kept repeating to myself, to egg my drained self on.
I pictured Elena’s bleeding face, and the thought gave me strength to keep walking.
The past thirteen years of my life that I had spent with my wife had been perfect. She was an understanding partner, a passionate lover and she never gave me any reason to complain. She had coloured up my world like no other woman had even come close to. Life was a song for me…
…Until it had all come crashing down last night.
I was away on an official trip to inspect possible locations to set up future restaurants in. My trip was cut short due to a storm in Taiwan; I had to return home two days earlier than either of us had expected. Ecstatic that I would get to see my wife so soon, I flew back, lavishing on chocolates and flowers to bring home to my beautiful wife.
When the cab from the airport dropped me home, it was half-past seven. I imagined Elena to be in the kitchen, preparing dinner for herself. I was about to ring the doorbell when I realized that the front door was slightly ajar. Rubbing my chin in puzzlement, I mused that it was quite unlike her to be so careless. Was it possible that she was expecting someone then?
I walked right in, locking the door behind me. There was no bustle inside, only a stony silence from the blank walls. Puzzled, I wandered on. That was when I heard Elena’s tinkling laughter from upstairs. The bedroom! Surely something was amiss.
I dashed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. I stopped in front of the bedroom door locked from inside and listened in. A man’s voice was speaking – “Oh sweet Elena, you’re lovely as always. How often do I need to tell you to divorce the old fogey you’re living with? We don’t need the money, we love each other and that’s enough.”
I froze. I knew that voice. It belonged to my best friend Rupert. His derision stoked my fury.
Elena tittered again and said, “I know honey. But I have lived with Thomas for so many years that I have gotten used to such a lavish lifestyle as this. My tastes are expensive. Do you want me to live without my pearls and my fur for the rest of my life?”
Out alone in the dark, I pictured my wife making a mock sad face, and the other man caressing her face with his rough fingers. Anger sloshed like acid in my belly.
An appeasing tone had crept into Rupert’s voice as he continued – “How can I ever ask that of you, my dear? But killing him off, as you suggest, is too risky. What if something goes wrong and we are caught? I wouldn’t want such a beauty as you wasting herself away in dark dingy prison cells either.”
I recalled all the smiles and blandishments my wife had lavished in the past, and a mad rage overcame me. I heard her plotting my murder inside those closed doors – “You shall see honey. I have the perfect plan for this. The will he keeps locked up in his closet declares me to be the sole inheritor in case of his ‘accidental death.’ I have read all the clauses and I know what exactly ‘accidental’ means in this context. The wait won’t be long. We will be rich and happily married in another month or so.”
The atrocity of her words shook me. A tirade of angry voices was going on inside my head, and suddenly I found myself awash in a lake of sound that beat against my temples like a tide; I slumped onto the floor, weighed down by leaden despair. I must have made some noise, because the voices from within ceased suddenly. I heard soft footsteps of stockinged feet getting down from the bed and walking across the floor.
The door in front of me opened. I stared up at the faces of the two strangers. Rupert had an expression of abject horror and denial on his stupid face, but I ignored him. It was Elena that my eyes sought. Discomfort flickered across her beautiful, livid face. Her right hand was behind her back all this while, and she brought it out in a swift, fluid motion.
I caught a glint of the sharp metal for an instant, and my world was engulfed in pain and darkness.
I was almost at the top of the mountain now; the huge boulder slowly came into view. I reached the place where I had woken up a few hours ago and lay down, not knowing what else to do.
Glimpses of my life so far flashed in front my eyes. Elena – her innocent beauty, her tinkling laugh, her reassuring love and her unforgivable betrayal. As my vision blackened, the last sentence she had uttered before she died came to my mind – “But I had killed you,” she’d said.
Dying had been easy; staying dead not so much.