Your mouth, taped shut, silences internal screams. The wires cinching your wrists to the back of the chair leave grooves of oozing blood. When the tip of your braid catches fire, the smoke billows around your head like a halo. An angry flame desecrates the turquoise and green flowers of your sari’s pallu.
Suffocating on your own fear, you are like a sati widow from years ago who burned alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre. Except, your husband stands nearby, fully conscious, gripping a kerosene jug with white, angry knuckles to hasten your punishment for a shameful dowry, your family’s poverty.
He will tell police there was a kitchen fire – the oil from the sizzling skillet jumped to your sari, and within seconds, engulfed you in flames. Your husband’s family will fake-mourn, beat their fists against their chests, and throw their bodies on the floor before Shiva to pray for your soul. They will dutifully release your ashes into the Ganges River.
Three months later, they will arrange a more profitable marriage for your former husband.
As you inhale the sick odor of singed hair, gas, and your husband’s alcoholic breath, you think of all the hours your poor father labored to find you a good marriage. You wonder whether your mother will praise God that at least you died honorably, while cooking your husband’s favorite fish curry.
Shutting your eyes tight, the flames crackle against your ears. You pray for a quick death.
But fate intervenes. Just before incineration, you are soaked with water, then tackled with a heavy quilt. Your sister pulls at the ropes around your torso and drags you outside.
Through the window you watch your husband writhing on the ground, trying to dislodge the paring knife from his chest. Agony overtakes him when the flame ignites the soles of his feet.
You turn away, and pray for a quick death.
In the reflection of your sister’s eyes, you witness your one room marital home burn to the ground. You grab your savior’s face and kiss her thrice each side. Pulling you under a mango tree, she clutches your shivering body to her breast. Just like she did when you were a small child needing comfort for skinned knees.
The next morning, before the police come, you yank the knife from your husband’s charred remains. You rush to your trunk, salvage the gold and diamonds from your disappointing dowry, and deposit them into your sari blouse.
You will tell police there was a kitchen fire, and that your dear husband died while trying to rescue you.
Anjali Enjeti, a recovering attorney, is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Queens University in Charlotte. She writes for ArtsATL, the premiere arts criticism website in the Atlanta area. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and can be found on her website, anjalienjeti.com. She is the Vice President of Publicity and Marketing for the Atlanta Writers Club, a 100 year-old organization with over seven hundred members. She is also a member of the Georgia Romance Writers.
Lead image: “House on fire” (via Flickr user Robert Du Bois)