Episode 1: The Shriek
October this year was particularly unbearable. Gautami’s dad was pushing her to upgrade to one of those new car models out in the market. Gautami, however, could not get herself to part with her Zen. She never told anyone, but something about it helped reassure her of her identity and individuality; something she could not part by.
The sudden off-season rain of the previous night brought the entire stretch to a halt. She could not be late this time. After her breakdown last year Gautami could never re-claim the position she once enjoyed at work. It was not because she did not try enough. But deep down something was holding her back. The relegation was gradual and by the time she realised, she possessed neither the strength nor the will to fight back.
She knew she had to finish this job, irrespective of how much she hated it. This is what her life had come down to — covering a minister’s son’s birthday party. She took a detour at Agara. The road was patchy and google maps could not always be relied on these roads. She had been through this path once before and what worse could have happened to her than the traffic she was leaving behind. She checked her bag and reassured herself that things would be fine.
Long drives tend to give an ample time to reminisce. It all began so perfectly. Gautami could not have found a better partner than Suhas. The bonding, the drinks, the talks, the trips and the letters — especially those letters. She still retained a copy of those letters. A tear trickled down her eyes. She was not sure if she was smiling or crying. She turned on the radio and tried to forget herself listening to Rafi. She was jolted back to the present by what she thought was a huge shriek. She felt as if she ran over someone. She hoped it was an animal and not some human. She slowed down her Zen, unsure if she should stop. She looked through all the mirrors and could not see anyone. She heaved a sigh of relief. She got down and inspected the worn out tires and could not find any stain. Maybe it was just a hallucination. She drove on and dismissed the thoughts.
A little further and Gautami heard it again. She definitely was not hallucinating. She slowed down. She heard it again. It was happening all over again. Her palms became sweaty. She could hear her palpitating heart. She wanted to run away. She was gasping for breath. She turned down the radio. She felt suffocated but could not bring herself to open the window. A couple drove past her on a bike oblivious to everything. She knew she was applying the brakes, but could not feel the car slowing down. The Zen hit a speed breaker, drifted to the side, scratched past a tree and finally came to a screeching halt.
Snowy was licking her, trying to wake her up. He wanted to play now. It was not like there had ever been a time when snowy would have preferred not to play. Gautami tried to pull back the quilt. There was no way Snowy would let her nap, definitely not today. She smiled and tried to open her eyes. She could see a light smoke and was feeling the heat. She tried turning her head to look for Snowy, but found it difficult to turn her head. She could not feel her left hand. It took a while before she came back to her senses. Snowy was no where around. He had not been around for the past three years now.
Gautami let go of her seat belt and struggled her way out. The engine was still running, but the Zen’s headlight had popped out. And just like the headlight all her memories started coming back. Ma, Snowy, Suhas. Gautami never missed Ma much. Gautami was only twelve when Tuberculosis took Ma. There were occasional moments when Gautami missed her, but Dad was always there. Dad got her a pup two months after Ma passed away and Gautami became Ma for both Snowy and Dad. They were the perfect family. Snowy was an indie but would have given a German Shepherd or a Doberman a run for their money in a street fight. And he did pick up quite a few. Snowy aged gracefully and completed her fourteen years before she bid goodbye.
Gautami was always sure that Snowy would get a befitting burial. She got a plaque designed to rest atop Snowy’s tomb. At the burial was when she met Suhas for the first time. Suhas was leading a team of volunteers who were painting the footpaths near the grounds. He was tall, well built, and had a way around people. Gautami looked at Snowy and felt it was a sign. No one remembers how the conversation began but both promised each other to meet up the following weekend. And they did meet and kept meeting for several weekends.
It was within six months after they first met that their parents met. Both parents wanted a quick marriage. Gautami and Suhas soon realized that they were not ready for marriage, but things happened at a pace they could not control and within the next couple of months they were married. Both were just beginning to taste success in their careers when they got married. Recognition at work did not match the respect they were getting at home. Gautami had to move to Delhi for a couple of months for an assignment. The distance did take a toll on them and further stretched the narrow bind they had. Long Skype calls quickly turned to just good night wishes. When she came back there was a visible tension, something which could not be brushed down the carpet. Talks started becoming shouting contests and discussions started to rub on each others egos.
It was their first year anniversary. Gautami could recollect it just as it happened yesterday. Still not on proper speaking terms, neither wished the other and they left for office. Gautami was awarded her first promotion, which came as a pleasant surprise and was asked to interview Irene Shaw as part of a new segment the channel launched. Not just meeting, but getting a chance to interview her childhood idol on live TV was more than she could have asked for. She called Suhas to tell him the good news. He did not pick her call. This was not the day to let egos come in the way. She called again. She called a couple times more. No reply. It sunk in. Maybe it was over. She switched off her phone. The interview went very well. The channel’s Director personally congratulated her and promised her that she would be the star of the channel in the next year. A party was planned for success for the new segment. Gautami was liking this. There was no reason for her to go home. She celebrated and celebrated long and loud.
It was morning by the time she reached. She was surprised when she opened the door. The house, their house, was completely lit up and decorated. It had their photos all over the walls. Festoons and jabots covered the ceiling. There was a cake lying open on the center table. There was a lump in Gautami’s mouth. She misunderstood him. Maybe it was not yet over. She called Suhas’ name. No one replied. She ran to the bedroom. Suhas was lying on the bed visibly upset, staggering in a state of drunken stupor. “Bitch! Where were you?” This tone was something she never heard in her life. It was the first time she got scared. What followed was an endless harangue and abuses. She tried to plea, but all was in vain. He pushed her out of the bedroom and slammed the door on her face.
Things were never the same again. Suhas spoke very little after that and only when needed to. He started leaving early to office and came back drunk daily. Any attempt at a discussion was met with silence. One day Gautami confronted him. Suhas lost his cool and slapped her. She slapped back. This was more than what he could take. He twisted her wrist and pushed her on the floor. Gautami raised back and started shouting. He slapped her again and stormed out of the house.
Suhas came back only after two days. There was no apology or discussion. They did not speak to each other for a week. Gautami called Suhas’ mother to their house for a couple of days. He started acting normally. Gautami’s hopes started to rise. When Suhas’ mother left, Gautami could never be prepared for what was coming. That night while Gautami was about to sleep, Suhas took his belt and slapped it hard on her face. She fell two feet away. He dragged her by her hair. She could sense a feeling of vindication in his eyes. She felt too powerless. He was calm, there was not a word he spoke, but the assault continued. She never realised when she collapsed. When she woke up, he was not there. She ran out of the house.
That was the last day she ever saw him. Her dad filed a police case, but she could never muster the courage to inquire what happened post that.
For almost a year Gautami could not sleep. The nightmares continued to haunt her. She could not concentrate on her work. She started becoming moody and kept only to herself. It started affecting her work. During a live interview she shouted at her guest. Her colleagues were sympathetic to her, but she started becoming a liability. She started counselling sessions with a psychiatrist, but it took time before she could finally put it behind her. It was six months since she had a nightmare. She was getting back on track, but she knew she was broken from within. She heard the scream again. She could not let anyone else go through it. She had promised herself that. She took her bag and started following the scream.
Gautami had not told anyone yet, not even her dad. She slipped her hand in her bag and the cold metal was in place. She would use it only if required. She continued to follow the scream. They grew louder and scarier. She could hear lashes being hurled. She was unsure what she was doing, but she kept going. And there it was right on the road. A hefty dark figure towered over something. She hid behind the bushes and moved closer. There was a small crowd gathered as if watching a show. Not one interfered. The cry for help started getting louder. This was not a time to think of the consequences. She pulled out the Beretta which she had concealed carefully in her bag, hid behind the bushes. Her hands trembled. There was another shriek. She could not look at the man. He held the woman, now lying on his feet raised her and lifted his hand to hit her. Gautami pulled the trigger. There was silence. Both outside and within her. The crowd began to run away. Gautami ran, took her Zen back home, closed her door and began crying.
Riyaz had turned on the camera and went down for a quick bite. He wanted to do a short film on depleting lakes for his final year submission. However, Madhav insisted that they should do a social experiment. Ridhima also voted for a social experiment. It required less effort, getting an audience is easy and they knew the chances of it going viral were higher. It was two against one. They decided not to do this in the main city to avoid trouble from the cops. Doing it in offbeat areas had its own downfall, hardly had people showed up. This was their third attempt at shooting it and Riyaz was bored and rued his choice of teammates. The weather also made it horrible to shoot. Ridhima practiced a lot the previous day to shout loudly. She placed a bet with Madhav that her shriek could reach half a mile. Ridhima was shouting very loudly. Though Riyaz did not admit even he got scared a couple of times. Riyaz heard some commotion and came back running, hoping there was some success of their social experiment.
The social experiment had passed. Unfortunately for Madhav, he was not in a position to witness it succeed.