CURVACEOUS Nimra did not have bad looks. She had a BA in social sciences and had a refined taste. She read fantasy novels voraciously. She ordered fashion magazines and watched TV shows that offered beauty tips. Because she wanted to marry a civil officer, she waited and waited but her prince charming would not materialize. ‘The most potent weapon in a woman’s arsenal is her beauty and her youth and they don’t improve with age,’ her mother often said. Her friends and relations hassled her to get married soon.
It was a crisp December afternoon when a match arrived. Shahid was far below the bar Nimra had set but time was not on her side, since her looks had stopped improving. Like her, he taught at a private school and his pay packet was modest. Her mother and sisters showed her a photo of Shahid and, though no oil painting, in a well-cut suit he looked very charming. Nimra’s future in-laws resided in the same city but at a distance of two miles and her family did not give her enough time to glean any information about the collective family of her would-be spouse.
Shahid was a tall, brown man in his thirties. On their wedding day Shahid wore a well-cut dark suit while Nirma wore a flowing maroon dress with matching heels. She was brought to her new house in the festooned Honda Civic that belonged to one of the groom’s male friends.
Her new house was modest but gigantic. It had a covered area, a small overgrown lawn and a ramshackle shed for cows. Her sprightly father-in-law would look after the animals.
It was her seventh day in her new house and the winter was in full bloom. The call to morning prayer was echoing from the nearby mosque but the dark stayed put in the sky. Nimra was woken up by the horrible grunts of cows. At first she thought it was a figment of her imagination but in the background of these guttural noises she caught human voices. Her kohl-rimmed eyes glued with sleep, she groped for her bridegroom, but he was missing. The cows’ complaints had died out. She swished the curtain off the window, and peered through misted panes. In brilliant lights she saw three vague images. They held long knives that were dripping with blood and at their feet lay two cows, their feet struggling in one last-ditch effort to save dear life. The bloody knives shone with ghastly glint. Nimra’s dumpy mother-in-law wove her way through blood, carcasses and chopping blocks to help the slaughterers. She poured water over their blood-splattered hands from a spouted jug. Nimra stood aghast at this horrific scene. She could not believe it: she had been sleeping with a man who could take a living thing’s life with a smile.
The men had just skinned the carcasses when the old woman brought them a steaming teapot and they fell to drinking tea, the steam from the naked carcasses mingling with the steam of the tea. They were chatting and slurping, squatting right in the middle of mounds of beef. After finishing her tea, the old woman washed the jellied purple lumps off the flour with a chatty, bristly broom. Nimra felt that the old hag, at any moment, would mount the broom and take off, zoom over rooftops and vanish in a puff of smoke. The bloody sight made Nimra sick. She staggered back, tumbled into her bridal bed and struggled to focus away from the scene she had just witnessed.
A little later a clapped-out van rolled into their house, hunks of beef were shifted into it, Nimra’s bull-necked brother-in-law slumped down on the seat with the driver and the van rumbled away.
They had told her that her husband was a teacher but in reality, he was also a butcher. She lay dazed, haunted by the prospect of living with a man whose hands were painted with blood.
The butcher-teacher showered, changed and now—standing before a man-size mirror—was spritzing himself with tea rose. A hot bank of sharp scent slammed Nimra’s sensitive tiny nose. ‘Morning darling. Rise and shine! Duty calls. I am leaving.’ He gifted her with his signature smile. To Nimra he looked like a soldier of fortune who had widowed many women and orphaned many children. Shahid spooked her.
‘Well, Honey, I help my father and my brother with this business. My brother was not smart enough to get any education. No one watches me. We do the bloody work within the confines of the walls of our house. When I go out I am a clean guy.’ He turned on his toes like a little girl showing her new frock to her doting parents. He stamped a goodbye kiss on her cheek and exited. Nimra felt as if he were going to hawk meat.
The night was chilly when Shahid sneaked into her furry blanket and clinched her. He reeked of steaming blood. He pressed his lips against hers, and his mouth tasted of raw beef. He entered her and she felt as if she had been entered with a dagger. She imagined herself bleeding like a freshly-stabbed cow in the throes of death. Before her ravenous partner, Nimra lay like a hunted springbok. Soon it was over.
In no time her husband was snoring but she lay wide awake for a long time, before drifting into sleep. She dreamt that Shahid, after trussing her up, slaughtered her. Her mother-in-law swept her blood with a broom. Her father-in-law flayed her and her brother-in-law hung huge chunks of her flesh on hooks in his mucky shop. Nimra’s screams brought the entire house rushing to their room. She was shaking and her body was burning with a raging fever. Her mother-in-law took her to her room, patted and consoled her, until towards the dawn Nimra’s throbbing nerves calmed.
In the morning they took her to a medical specialist, who referred the patient to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist gave her antidepressants.
For a change they sent her to her mother’s house. The hyped-up mother invited Nimra’s old friends to give her daughter a quality time. Her friends told her old jokes and gave her books as gift. Each afternoon her family took her to the bank of the Indus where they would spend some time and have a cup of tea.
Nimra fully recovered. But whenever her mother mentioned the name of her new house, tears would roll down Nimra’s pale cheeks.
‘Mom their house pongs like an abattoir. They are a pack of dedicated carnivores. The old man loves boiled cow feet, my sister-in-law is crazy after barbequed cow liver, my husband cannot do without meatballs and the old woman finds beef stew irresistible. Every time I enter the kitchen some sort of meat is bubbling or frying or roasting. Every time I step into the kitchen a cloud of meaty steam pummels my nostrils.’
After one month, Nimra’s father-in-law came to take her back.
Nimra had just fallen asleep when a nightmare struck. She was reading a novel in her cow-themed room. Her sofas were made out of cow rumps, she had a fresh cow skin for a quilt, a villous cow stomach occupied the place of the towel, her vases were bleeding cow hearts that were holding wilted cow tails and from the wall in front of her double bed, a skinned horned cow’s head glared at her.
Then she was a tiny fish in a blood-filled aquarium. Other fishes chased her and poked fun at her. She felt suffocated. She mustered up all her energy and rammed her pointed head into the crystal aquarium wall. The glass shattered with a deafening noise, and then she wriggled in a pool of blood and glass debris. By flapping her tail she wiggled towards the toilet and tumbled into the commode. After decades she was flushed out into a slimy drain. She swam in the cocktail of shit, slime, urine and water. Singing in chorus, a wriggly sheet of tadpoles welcomed her into their oozy world. The tadpoles gangbanged her and she shot up a geyser of blood. Red fluid rained in buckets and the streets turned into streams of blood. On a stream of blood she was bobbing like a piece of packing foam, the stream emptied into the Indus and she found herself on a cool, clean sheet of water. She relaxed. She reached out to catch at driftwood. Desperately, she wrapped her arms around it and squeezed hard.
‘Not so hard, babe! You are smothering me,’ her husband whispered hoarsely. She was lying under him, her arms locked around his neck. She felt as if she were hugging the freshly-skinned carcass of a cow. She felt nauseated.