The Long NightShe woke up at 4am on the dot; her entire body drenched in sweat. Panting and flustered, she tried to wish away the dream she had just seen, but it clung on to her like the drenched pajamas she was wearing.
She woke up at 4am on the dot; her entire body drenched in sweat. Panting and flustered, she tried to wish away the dream she had just seen, but it clung on to her like the drenched pajamas she was wearing. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen this dream, yet every time she lived the horror anew. It always began pleasantly enough—at a park, in a meadow, by a stream—but like clockwork, dark clouds swarmed in from the horizon, bringing with it a menacing shadowy figure. She’d run, but always stumble, get up and run again, only to fall even harder. Then, just as the shadow stooped down to grab her, she woke up. Drenched. Panting. Shivering.
Who was this shadow that haunted her dream?
At her heart, she knew very well. But unwilling to acknowledge it, she lied back down, her face to the wall, fully aware that she would not be able to fall back asleep again that night.
Aayu was only four when her father first hit her. She’d always been a stubborn child and when she set her mind to something, even at that young age, it could not be changed. So one day, when she refused to change from the frilly dress she’d wore to a family gathering, her father snapped—smacking her so hard, her tiny body was flung across the room. That day, Aayu decided, her father wasn’t her favourite parent any more.
In the days that followed, she made a point to avoid him. If he came into a room she was already in, she’d slink away into a corner before tiptoeing out of the room altogether. In the evenings, when he returned home in a terrible mood, she would hide herself under a blanket, pretending to be sound asleep.
On one of these nights, by the time her father got home, Aayu was in bed with her sister Sumi. Five years older than her, the two sisters shared a bond that thrived on unconditional love. But little did either know that both their lives would be irrevocably altered that night.
By the time Aayu woke up to a shrill cry piercing through the house, she realised that Sumi wasn’t by her side anymore. By what little Aayu could make out, Sumi had gone downstairs, leaving the door ajar-open for the persistent cries to waft into her room like a winter storm. Taking in a deep breath, she slowly crawled out the door to find Sumi crouched in the hallway, crying, peering at what was going on downstairs.
When she too crouched beside her sister, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Downstairs, a menacing dark figure—a lecherous lizard king—was standing over a shell shocked white rabbit, unbuttoning its leather belt. The serpent was yelling in an unusual tongue, the words slurred by alcohol and rage, while the rabbit backed into a corner of the room, cowering for mercy. Then, he raised the belt high over his head and brought it crashing down like a thunderbolt. Aayu would never forget the sound the belt’s whiplash made—like the serpent king had conjured up some black magic and hurled it towards the defenseless creature.
There would be no respite that night. Again and again the belt reached for the ceiling and each time it came crashing back down, each time the rabbit’s cry echoed louder than before.
Frightened the two girls scampered back into their room and hid under the blanket, hoping that it would make everything else disappear. They were desperately waiting for light, but when the light did come, it wasn’t the warm sun but rather the Lizard King flicking on the switch and storming into the room, enraged.
“Where is that woman, where is your mother?” He boomed at the two crouched children.
“We don’t know,” Sumi stammered back, clutching onto Aayu.
“Tell me where she is, now!” He roared again, bringing down the belt on the both of them.
The two girls ran out of the room, howling in pain. He chased after them but as if stuck by a singular new thought, he rushed downstairs, grabbed the family sword that hung proudly in the living room and headed straight out the door—in his white vest and checkered boxer.
“How dare she?” The girls could hear him yelling into the night, “How dare she ask me for a divorce.”
All these years later, Aayu still had the word seared into her mind. Divorce, she thought to herself, as she turned to other side of the bed. It was empty. Wasn’t he just here? Where did he go? She thought to herself, before shaking her head for being foolish. Where did he always go?
Walking up to the window she watched his motorcycle slip out of the gate. It would be hours before he returned, and if he did, he’d return smelling of alcohol and cheap women’s perfume.
She turned back into the room. The nightmare she’d been awoken by was now receding like the dark night. Tomorrow would be a new day.
When he returned in the morning, she’d tell him what she had been meaning to for months. A word she hadn’t uttered for 27 years. Divorce.