The Cuckoo Clock
By Neel Anil Panicker
A splitting headache woke Shefali up. She lifted the sheets a little and popped her head out. She could not see a thing. Her eyes tried adjusting to the dark, but she could not see a thing. The room was pitch dark barring an orphaned beam of thin ray light that somehow seemed to have snaked its way in, piercing its way through the almost opaque-like fortress of curtains that clung on to the dark walls not quite unlike leeches attaching themselves to human blood.
Shefali propped herself up against the bedstand and squinted her eyes. Vision restored, she turned left and her shoulders shuddered. Her mouth contorted and a painful sigh escaped her lips. Her knuckles tried to find solace as they clung on to the frayed ends of the pillow. She could feel hot blood pumping into her chest as she heard her heartbeats shoot up alarmingly.
A spasmodic revolt ran through her entire body.
She moved her eyes away.
This is what it had come to. Five years and two months and three days into their marriage, Shefali had reached a stage when the mere sight of her husband brought in seismic convulsions of fear that jostled for unholy matrimony with a sheer distaste that hovered on borderline hate.
She moved to the farthest corner of the bed, trying to distance herself as far away from Aman.
A while later, with the help of a couple of painkillers that seemed to have slowly worked their magic, she looked around the darkened room; her room, his room, or more specifically the room that could have been theirs.
Her eyes fell on the near bare walls that seemed to her as if they kept a watch on her at all times; she a prisoner or worse a potential prey, or even worse a prisoner on death row who needed a constant 24/7 hawk’s eye supervision.
A sort of suicide watch.
But for what? Shefali thought, her thoughts cutting through her semi-asleep brain cells.
Surely, what could be worse than the life she was leading now, she thought.
She bobbed her head away as if to brush away the unwelcome thoughts. Her eyes landed on the clock that hung from the wall opposite to her where she lay.
A torrent of memories flooded her mindscape.
She had loved it when she had first set eyes on it.
She remembered unwrapping the golden gift wrapped package with the infectious enthusiasm of a newlywed bride ready to embark on a new and beautiful journey. She had eagerly possessed with a childl’s unrestrained madness ripped apart the humungous assortment of gifts and goodies that had come her away alongwith a million well wishes and blessings.
‘May all your dreams come true’ read the beautiful embroidered lettering on the card on the outer box, and when she had extricated its contents and laid it on the table, there was another cute little red card emblazon with the words
HAVE A GREAT MARRIAGE.
Curiously, she had flicked it over to reveal the sende. A crayon lettering simply read: ‘From Pooja’.
It was then that her eyes fell on the gift. Much like an impressionable wonder struck child on her first summer holiday and upon serendipiditiously finding herself all alone at her grandmother’s forested backyard__, all eager to make good of the godsend opportunity__,Shefali had set out to explore the unknown.
Out popped a wall clock, and no ordinary one at that. In fact, a very antique quartz cuckoo clock.
Mesmeriesd, her eyes feasted on the exquisitely crafted piece of artefact and danced with abandon at what they saw.
She had it mounted on the wall in her room. And that is where it stood all these years, an apt chronicler of her marriage.
The entire first week post this ‘benevolence’, her eyes and ears rarely strayed away from her ‘cuckoo’, as she admired and gloated and watched over her gift__spending endless hours closeted in her room, just she and her cuckoo.
She noticed and appreciated small little things such as its conventionally designed wooden case with carvings of deer and one horned rhinoceros. She remembered wistfully how she would spring up with joy on watching the cuckoo peek out at the chime of each hour_ the sheer veins of pleasure that she experienced as the cute little automated bird made an appearance through a small trap door while the clock struck musical metronomic chimes, signalling the passing of yet another hour and the beginning of a new one.
She would watch with sheer fascination as the cuckoo emerged from its enclosure and would move up and down, flapping its wings and opening its beak to sing the famous two note cu-ckoo call.
In the very early days of her marriage (to be exact, for barely a week) her mind soared like a bird high up in the sky and her joy knew no bounds as she, seated in the comfort of her bed and sipping endless cups of piping hot Nilgiris tea, would watch with riveted attention and with an unfailing childlike enthusiasm as the cuckoo would step out not just to announce the hour of the day but also as if to mouth a personal ‘Hi’ to her, bobbing her cute little fluffy head from one end to the other, as if surveying the world around it; and, then when reassured that all was well in the world, gently excusing herself to her den, where she would be safely ensconced and probably asleep, only to wake up at the next hour to once again announce her timely presence to the world.
Shefali in the coming days had found certain interesting automata in her cuckoo clock and gone ahead to tweak these to her advantage.
For one, she had broken her day into eight hour cycles, and for the nights, she had ensured that the cuckoo would chime, albeit, silently.
She particularly liked the sound of a gurgling waterfall that followed, a fitting grand finale to the audio-visual fiesta that had unfolded and that she believed was hers for ever.
That was nearly five years ago and now, five years on, the cuckoo had stopped singing.
It had retreated into its shell. There was no cuckoo and its sounds and its dance. In place, just an empty shell.
Time, for both__ the cuckoo and just as well for Shefali, had stopped on its tracks.
It had come to a standstill.
Sleep deprived, and with eyes all puffy and a face bloated beyond recognition, and with the man with whom she was supposed to be happy and singing love songs along the highway of life lying beside her on the bedside__ useless and almost lifeless__, much like deadwood, Shefali stared into the wall, the wall onto which not too long ago she had tried to mount her life.
Her eyes couldn’t take the strain any longer. Disgusted, depressed and near deranged, Shefali looked horrified to the core, simply unable to fathom how, and more importantly, why she had allowed her life to take the course it had taken.
Unable to take the pain any longer, she turned her eyes away from the cuckoo.
Her eyes drifted towards the ceiling. The writing was on the wall.
Someone’s time was up. Someone had to die. And this time, for sure, she didn’t want that someone to be her.
(CHAPTER 15 OF CONTINUING SERIES “ A FAIR AFFAIR”)