Kiran Manral’s Missing, Presumed Dead is a disturbing look into a broken marriage that has been torn apart by emotional distance and mental illness. A sneak peak into Aisha, the protagonist’s life:
It was a strange time for the doorbell to ring. Not quite time for the kids to be home. Not quite time for the husband to be home either. In fact, she was never sure when the husband would be home. The scraping of the key in the front door would announce his arrival, followed by the dull thump on the sofa, where he would throw his laptop. If it was still a while before their bedtime, the kids would squeal, as they ran to him so he could lift them up in his arms, his strong, real man arms, making a mockery of the fact that now, at ten and thirteen, they were both too heavy to carry. If they were awake, that is. And, if he seemed to be in a good mood. If he wasn’t, they stayed in their room, ensuring their steps were soft, and their voices hushed. And that their bedroom door was locked from within. Their father seemed to lose his temper very easily these days. But there it was again. The very definite insistent ring. Again. And then after a moment’s trembling uncertainty, yet again.
Without opening the door, she knew it was an unfamiliar person. There was no authority to the ring, no confidence that the door would be flung open unquestioningly.
Who could it be, at this hour? Located on the remote outskirts of a mountain town, this house was part of a retirement home complex that never really took off, and was eventually converted into vacation homes. It was a good couple of hours of an undulating drive from the main town. Folks from the city came here to get away from it all. They returned, lulled into somnambulism by the easy hill life, only to be startled back into the relentlessness of the city.
Folks from the city came here to get away from it all. They returned, lulled into somnambulism by the easy hill life, only to be startled back into the relentlessness of the city.
The sky was sullen and overcast. The rain came down like fine mist; at first tentative and uncertain, and then became droplets that made the gravelled little path from the gate to the porch of the house treacherously slippery.
The children would be home soon from school. ‘Hungry, Mamma, hungry,’ her son would yell as he stepped through the door, his growing frame needing constant replenishment. Her daughter, now conscious of the need to conserve her waistline at an acceptable circumference, would pick at her food. Sometimes she took her plate into her room and at precisely the count to ten, Aisha would hear the toilet flush, and swirling with the water would be the food on her daughter’s plate. Maya’s cheeks were getting hollow, her eyes sunken. She wore long sleeves to hide the cuts she inflicted on her arms. There was a descent into chaos that began at adolescence, and Maya was at the threshold of that treacherous stairway. The only way out of this personal hell was right through it, Aisha knew. She had travelled through it, as Maya would have to.
But now, at this moment, who could it be, she wondered? They rarely got any visitors, which was exactly how Prithvi wanted it. Prithvi was not a sociable person, never had been. Over the years, Aisha had slowly withdrawn into herself too. She had her reasons. It was just better that way. Staying in the hurly burly of a city, with neighbours peeking into one’s every day was terrifying. She liked it here, as alone as she wanted to be. There was the internet that kept her company through the long, lonely days, when it was just her and the house.
She got up and moved towards the door, catching a swift, automatic glance at her reflection, as she passed the mirror in the hallway. She was presentable, as always. Being presentable, she had learnt early, was the one thing that kept her sane. And as inscrutable too.
She was presentable, as always. Being presentable, she had learnt early, was the one thing that kept her sane. And as inscrutable too.
She looked through one of the translucent glass panes on either side of the door. A woman stood outside holding onto a duffel bag. She was young, probably in her mid-twenties, around the same height as she was. The woman was looking around, taking in the small patch of garden, the wrought iron chairs and the round table on the veranda. Her face was familiar, with the disturbing unfamiliarity of a stranger one has passed a million times before but with whom one never exchanged a smile or a salutation. Her familiarity was like a whisper of a memory, and for a tremulous moment, slick with the promise of revelation.
She opened the door a smidgeon, after slipping on the safety chain, ‘Yes?’
‘Aisha appa? I’m Heer,’ said the woman, a statement spoken with the certainty that the name would be recognised.
For a moment, the world went black before Aisha’s eyes.
She gripped the small table at the side of the door, with an uncontrollably shaking hand. Her knuckles turned white from the grip on the wood.
‘Why are you here?’ she asked, feeling an indeterminate dizziness that could only mean her blood pressure had skyrocketed.
It was like looking at herself through a time machine, seeing herself as she had been over a decade ago. She had seen those eyes before. She saw them every day in the mirror—wide, light brown, fringed with thick lashes that curled upwards. She had not been the only one to inherit her father’s eyes.
(Extracted with permission from Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral published by Amaryllis. Price Rs 350, Pages 268).
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