Breaking Water

Breaking Water by Indrapramit Das Read Free Book Online

Book: Breaking Water by Indrapramit Das Read Free Book Online
Authors: Indrapramit Das
1. Breaking Water
    At first, Krishna thought the corpse was Ma Durga herself. A face beneath sun-speckled ripples—to his eyes a drowned idol, paint flaking away and clay flesh dissolving. But it was nothing so sacred as a discarded goddess. The surface broke to reveal skin that was not painted on, long soggy hair that had caught the detritus of the river like a fisherman’s net. Krishna had seen his mother’s dead body and his father’s, but this one still startled him.
    Krishna dragged the body from the shallows to the damp mud of the bank, shaking off the shivers. He covered her pickled body with his lungi, draping it over her face. He returned to the winter-chilled waters of the Hooghly naked and finished his bath. The sun emerged over the rooftops of Kolkata, a peeled orange behind the smoky veil of monoxides, its twin crawling over the river. Morning reflections warmed the tarnished turrets of Howrah Bridge in the distance, glistening off the sluggish stream of early traffic crossing it.
    Other bathers came and went, only glancing at the body. When Krishna returned to the bank, a Tantric priest was crouched over the dead woman. The priest, smeared white as a ghost with ash paste, looked up at Krishna.
    â€œIs this your wife?” the priest asked.
    â€œNo,” said Krishna. “I don’t have one.”
    â€œThen maybe you should be her husband.”
    â€œWhat’re you on about?” Krishna snapped.
    â€œShe needs someone, even in death.”
    â€œMaybe she already has a husband.”
    â€œIf she does, he probably argued with her, then beat her dead, maybe raped her while doing that, and tossed her in the river. Shakti and Shiva, female and male, should be at play in the universe. One should not weaken the other. This woman has been abandoned by man,” said the priest, gently touching the dark bruises on her face, throat and chest. Krishna thought about this. The priest waited.
    â€œFine. I’ll take her to the ghat and see her cremated,” said Krishna.
    The priest nodded placidly. “You will make a good husband one day,” he said.
    â€œYour faith in strangers is foolish,” muttered Krishna. Not to mention his sense of investigative protocol, Krishna didn’t say. The priest smiled, accepting this rebuke and walking away. Krishna didn’t know much about how washed-up, likely murder victims were handled, but he was sure just cremating them without a thought wasn’t how it usually went.
    Still.
    Krishna looked at the corpse. If he left her, someone would eventually call the police, and they would take her to a refrigerated morgue where her frightened soul would freeze. Her killer would remain free, the case unsolved, because since when did anyone really care about random women tossed into rivers? He thought of his mother cooking silently by lantern light, her face swollen.
    He remembered asking a policeman on the street to take his father to jail for hitting his mother. He was laughed at. He remembered playing cricket on the street with the other slum boys, doing nothing to stop the beatings, waiting years until his father’s penchant for cigarettes and moonshine ended them instead. Not that it mattered, since his mother faithfully followed him not long after.
    â€œWhy don’t you take her to the ghat, you self-righteous bastard? You’re as much a man as me,” Krishna said aloud, looking at the priest, who was sitting quietly by the water. He was too far away to hear Krishna, not that Krishna cared. He shook his fist at the priest for good measure, then he peeled his lungi off the body, leaving the woman naked again. Sullen, he threw the lungi in his bucket and tied another around his waist. He always brought an extra in case he lost one in the water. He kissed his fingertips and touched them to the body’s clammy forehead, nervously keeping them away from her parted blue lips. For five minutes he sat next to her, as if

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