It all began when Mark mistook a raisin for a pest problem. I still remember the day quite vividly. We were cleaning our balcony. I was sweeping near the balustrade and he, with a broom in hand, swept away at the veranda, without care. It had been some time since either of us had thought of cleaning the balcony, but, as we succumbed to procrastination, the porch became harder and harder to look at. One morning, I asked him whether we should clean the balcony. He said he was thinking the same thing.
And, so, we decided that we would do it that evening after arriving home from our respective jobs. So, that evening, we talked about our jobs, cursed our bosses, and went off to complete the work we had both agreed upon in the morning. It was then, while sweeping, that he stopped, stood still, and asked,
'Jenny, what is that?'
'What is what?' I asked, without turning.
I turned and looked to where he was pointing. It was a dried-up raisin. We had had a packet full of them, and I assumed that one had just gotten away somehow. 'It's a raisin', I said. He stood silent for a while. He was - and I derive no pleasure in saying this - hard to look at. He had boyish features - soft hands, flimsy skin and absolutely no hair anywhere on his body. He even dressed childishly - a tet-shirt and baggy pants, which shared the same colour - and had a shock of frizzled hair.
'No, that isn't a raisin, Jenny. Look closer.'
I bent and looked closer. 'What is it then?'
'Well, it seems like rat turd.'
'A rat turd', he repeated. 'I think we may have a pest problem.'
'I haven't seen any rats around. I'm sure I'd have noticed.'
'Huh', he mumbled. 'I'm sure that is a rat turd. Even if it isn't, there's no harm in taking precautions.'
'We have rat poison, right?'
I nodded again, and continued sweeping. He did too, and, after we had exhausted ourselves, we decided what we needed was some sound sleep. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, the bedroom boxed in from all sides with thick, white compact walls, making it seem like an asylum. Since childhood, I've suffered from acute claustrophobia. Moving into this apartment - especially the bedroom - was nothing short of a Herculean task. The only relief is the bedroom window and the sliding glass door, beyond which lies our balcony. As we were getting ready to tuck ourselves in, Mark asked me to close the door and the window.
'Why?' I asked.
'Because we don't know whether the rodent has gotten in. All we can do is speculate. What if he is still lurking out there somewhere and decides to jump in through the window?'
It was a possibility, had there been such a rodent. Nevertheless, I played along. 'Well, you know that I'm claustrophobic, don't you?'
'Yes, I know that Jenny. But that is a risk we'll have to take.'
Would you have said the same thing had you suffered from it? I thought. But I kept quiet. 'Well, what if I feel boxed in?'
He sighed that petulant sigh of his. 'Can't you pull through tonight?'
I stared at him. This was not new, I told myself.
The next morning, I found myself bathed in sweat. The sheets, too, were drenched in cold sweat.
Overnight, they had developed an obnoxious, almost pungent smell. I got up, washed my face, brushed my teeth and woke him up. After that, we bathed, dressed, shared a kiss goodbye and went off to work.
'Jenny', Mark called, ready to leave.
'I just wanted you to know that I'll be home early.'
He began again, 'You closed the doors and windows, right?'
'Yes', I said.
'Bye.' I said, and left.
When I came home late in the evening, I found Mark sitting on the couch, watching television. I made a little conversation, changed and then headed toward the kitchen.
'Don't go in.' Mark called out.
'I sprayed rat poison all over there.' he said.
'In the kitchen?' I cried.
That's where we keep our food! How am I supposed to make dinner!?' I screamed.
'We'll order takeout.'
This was it. The last straw. 'You ruined the entire stock, you moron!'
'No need to scream! Better to throw away the rat-infected food than eat it!'
'There is no rat!'
'Yes, there is.'
'Oh yeah? Where is it? We have not seen any such rat!'
'Yet', he broke in.
I slumped down onto the floor, my hands curtaining my teary eyes, 'Why did I marry you?' I screamed at myself. 'There was no rat! There is no rat, Mark! There isn't one!' I rambled on hysterically. He fell silent. After a brief pause, he came near and held me in his arms. 'Ok fine. Maybe I was imagining it.'
I looked up. All this seemed like some bizarre dream. 'Can you please let go of this? Please?' my voice was broken.
Later, getting ready to sleep, we kept the door and the window open. He kissed me and told me he loved me, to which I said nothing. This has happened before, I reminded myself. It was about two-o-clock in the morning when my slumber broke. All I could hear was a strange sound coming from the hallway. I rose, and to my surprise found the window and the door closed. Unaware, I slid out of the bed and crept toward the living room. The room was draped in complete darkness. The only light- was the flashlight, clasped in the hands of my husband, who was crouching low - trying to find something that wasn't there.
Kanjam Bhat Lidhoo is an undergraduate Computer Science student in Bangalore Institute of Technology, Bengaluru, India. Alongside his fervent passion for computers, he also enjoys writing- mostly short stories and poetry. An avid reader- he loves to read psychological literature- his favourite author: Dostoevsky. Previously, his poems have been published in the bimonthly journal of the magazine: 'Indian Literature'. He is also keen about learning different languages, and has developed a fluency in the following four: English, Hindi, Kashmiri, Urdu. Kanjam enjoys a good Netflix binge once in a while, and also can be found doing Yoga on sunny mornings. You can follow him on twitter: @KanjamB