The Scavenger

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young, unnamed girl faces the emotional and physical cruelty of an arranged marriage into the Indian culture and must face these hardships constantly, and all alone, as her parents use her to achieve their own goals of status.The story reveals the small things she does to cope and finally get revenge on her abuser, yet still remain the innocent she is.

Submitted: November 08, 2016

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Submitted: November 08, 2016

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I stood, patient, still, in the midst of the dark, wet road.

Waiting.

Without warning, the moon rushed from its hiding place behind the clouds. The cold, pale light mingling with blinding headlights from the mud-streaked pickup truck, melted to starkness the last vestiges of shadow that enveloped me. And the crab, stunned and exposed too by the sudden wash of light, froze. It stood, watching me with tall, dirty-cotton-swab eyes, awaiting my next move. It watched me as intently as the glaring eyes from the pickup truck watched, stabbing into me, expecting me to slip up, waiting to crush me with giant upheld claws like boxer’s fists. Then the filthy scavenger turned to scurry away, a bloody, decayed morsel eluding its maw. But I pressed my foot onto its expansive back, pinning it.

Helpless.

The crab’s tall, dirty eyes swiveled back toward me and again two pairs of eyes bored into me, piercing me soul and body, one pleading for its life, the other demanding mine.

“Don’t you dare squeeze too hard and break that shell, girl! It will be the centerpiece for my next party.” The man who’d made himself my husband barked his instructions from behind the blinding headlights. “I can just taste Mamaji’s crab cakes now.”

I watched the crab bring its claws up. It twisted them to snap at my foot, beady, black eyes making their own challenge – as if to say I wouldn’t dare. As if I didn’t have the guts to take it.

“You have it. Now hurry! Pick it up, useless girl!”

I pressed down with my booted foot. The crab squirmed. It waved crooked claws wildly then stopped when it realized the futility. I stared at it, lying there trapped beneath my boot in the soft mud. Exactly where I wanted it. The hard, wide, crimson back lay perfectly exposed for my easy plucking.

But, I pressed down.

 Harder.

I continued squeezing until I heard it. Felt it. That singular snap! The crab’s stare froze on me and for a moment I hesitated, gazing sightless into the glare of headlights. Then I pressed down even harder, until nothing was left but splintered shell and gore beneath my foot.

 

My husband’s guests arrived at our house the following day, the extended members of his family in their shimmering Indian kurtas and shalwars, bracelets and chains tinkling with the constant gesticulations and head movements that accompanied each sentence. I wore a long shift that swallowed my young body like a muumuu, hiding every youthful, feminine facet.

“The crab shell was as big as a dinner plate, I tell you, Mamaji,” said my husband, “but the useless girl crushed it to a pulp. I wanted it for you, to put your crab cakes in.”

The woman’s coal-black eyes turned on me with barely masked scorn, her silver head nodding in my direction. She smiled and spoke in her native tongue. I did not understand the language of my mother-in-law, but I knew well the look in her eyes, and the turned heads with condescending stares that followed. And my husband’s disparaging sneer. I felt heat rise in my olive cheeks and inwardly I cursed myself. I cursed my husband. But, most of all I cursed my parents for turning me over to this life.

Though of Indian ancestry, I was not like my husband’s people; not one of those who’d come to my island directly from the East, and who thought to make me over in their image of perfection, who forced their strange beliefs and customs on me. In the beginning I had tried – I wore the dress, I ate the food, I behaved as was expected of the dutiful young bride of an eldest son. Once, he had professed love for me, had wooed me with song in his exotic tongue. And my childish heart was fooled by his cunning. But now, there was no longer need for pretense. He had what was valued most by his kind: citizenship outside his country; a wife nearly fifteen years his junior; a life-long, personal slave and baby factory; and the right to infiltrate my life and my island with every last one of his bangle-laden relatives.

I pulled the muumuu up to my knees for the heat and sat cross-ankled in a chair by the kitchen, awaiting his guests’ next requests. A cool breeze floated in from a nearby window and I threw my head back to catch it, closing my eyes for a moment. A sharp pain on my left calf brought me back to my senses. My eyes flew open in shocked surprise. Humiliation burned my ears.

“Cover yourself, girl! Have you no shame in front of my guests?” My husband’s granite eyes glittered their hatred and embarrassment from beneath slit hoods. He seethed through gritted teeth, “I will deal with you later. Go! Fetch the crab cakes in the kitchen.”

This incident passed, as many before, and the rains came again.

Sitting in the open back of the pickup truck, with the oily smell of exhaust and kerosene from bottle-torches filling my nostrils, I rubbed my bruised calf. This was the last of the mosaic of bruises from the night of my husband’s party. When I’d told my mother, there was a fleck of concern, but this quickly faded when she reminded me how she and my father looked forward to accompanying my husband and me to New York, and how kind it was of Sunil to take them to a city they had always longed to visit.

“We’ve been on this island so long, Kamala,” she’d said, “now we will see the world. Is life so bad?”

I watched her now, in the cab of the pickup, chatting with her son-in-law. She seemed so slight beside him, no longer the stalwart woman of my childhood.

There was a sudden wrenching of brakes and I was flung against the cab’s rear window.

“That is the biggest crab I’ve seen this season. Don’t let it get away!” my husband stuck his head out the window, pointing and cursing.

“A few more like that and I can cook you your crab curry, Sunil,” my mother crooned.

I jumped from the pickup and hurried into the road where the crab stood, claws extended toward me. Its back was to the glare of the headlights, black eyes glittering in the flicker of my torch as it mapped my every move.

And the pickup crept toward the crab.

Sensing movement from behind, the crab scurried forward then stopped again, directly in front of me.

“Don’t stand there so useless, girl… get it!”

I moved toward the crab, raising my foot to bring it down on the back, but the crab was tricky and darted toward the darkness and safety of cane rows edging the road. A vehement curse punctuated the air followed by the grinding of gears. My mother uttered an audible cry and I dived out of the way of the oncoming pickup as it careened to one side, chasing after the crab in the cane field. The headlights picked up the crab once more. It was scurrying sideways, heading for a hole in the soft ground between the cane rows, several feet ahead. Myriad crabs milled about in the mud like red ants, but it was easy to spot the colossal creature my husband had set his sights on. I went after the pickup, running for the crab as it made a futile dash for the hole. The pickup’s tire jolted to a stop over the hole, barring the crab’s getaway, and for an instant the creature waited, undecided, in the shadows.

“Get it, now! Don’t mess this up, good-for-nothing girl… or you’ll stay here ‘till you catch that crab!”

I held my torch up and its light caught the crab just as it made to run again. More metallic grinding of gears ripped the night and the pickup lurched like a retching dog, chasing the crab further into the cane, crushing the slender stalks as it ploughed through the field like a deranged harvester. My mother screamed, now. I could see her through the cab’s rear window, clutching my husband, tugging at his shirt sleeve. But, the pickup ground on through the cane toward the edge of the field where big, sturdy cedar trees perfumed the air and grew up tall as windbreakers all around. My husband was in a rage. He would not stop until something was dead – the crab, or my self-worth – panic rose up like bile, as I watched the pickup gaining speed.

The crab was forgotten.

The vehicle swerved one-eighty degrees to head back in my direction, and stalled. A cab door sprang open to regurgitate my mother and I watched her rise up again to call after me with imploring arms.

The pickup crouched, idling menacingly.

I stood, a marble statue drenched in headlights, only my eyes moving, searching for the crab – the reason the pickup stood, pointed in my direction.

But, there was no crab. Anywhere.

The roar of the engine and my mother’s screams brought my head up. And in that instant, with headlights blazing, stunning, keeping me rooted, comprehension burst onto my frantic brain.

I was his crab!

And the circular orbs of his headlights grew bigger and brighter at a terrifying rate.

I ran for my life.

I could hear the pickup accelerating behind me and threw myself into a thick row of cane, razor-edged grasses slicing painfully into my face and arms. He was going to do it – he was going to kill me. My life would end before I’d ever lived. Panic gripped me and I gazed heavenward. And my salvation became apparent.

I tore through the cane, heedless of stinging welts of blood rising to the surface of my exposed skin, and headed for the far edge of the field. From somewhere in the darkness behind me, my mother’s cries pierced my consciousness – was she crying for me, or some lost future? The pickup lunged forward with a tremendous groan, the blooming circles of its headlights growing, gobbling me up. I ran faster, each breath shredding my throat, my lungs, but knowing I wouldn’t let him have what he wanted, just like I wouldn’t let him have what he and his family expected most of me.

Then in an instant they loomed up, rigid and tall like a battalion of giant soldiers before me. Standing to attention above the high tops of the cane stalks was the dense row of cedars protecting the very edge of the cane field, and me. I dived behind a massive trunk, just as I heard the pickup’s engine give one final, guttural spurt of speed.

And the roaring lion pounced!

I covered my ears from the deafening crash, but looked up to watch the crumpled vehicle buckle and fall on its side, headlights streaming blindly into nothingness. My hands fell away and I heard a gurgling sound.

One word came through the liquidity, almost a command, “Help…”

My husband lay pinned beneath his truck, crimson spilling from his mouth as he attempted to call for me. He raised crooked arms upward, menacingly, and fixed me with glazed, beady, black eyes that reminded me of why we were there: the crab.

I took a deep, long breath and moved toward him, a smile tugging at my lips– another filthy scavenger, exactly where I want him.

 


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