The Hole in the Wall by Sowmya Vidyadhar

It was an early December evening and raining heavily but the men were still working on the site, wearing blue and white polythene sheets over their heads. Thommachan crept away from them to hide behind the bags of mud and cement stowed in the shed and waited quietly. His shirt was dirty and clung to his body. Sitting on his calves and folding his knees against his chest, he pulled out a packet of beedis from his pocket. He had found them inside his supervisor, Manikantan’s bag, and had snuck them into his own pocket. He lit one and watched the rain. As the smoke filled his lungs, he felt aroused. He sensed it in his thighs, a tightening of the muscles, and he shivered. There were goose bumps on his arms.


It was getting dark and the roads were flooded. Thommachan walked home slowly, covering his head with a newspaper, and jumping over puddles until he came to the end of the road. On his left was Mariamma chetathi’s house. Chetathi’s husband had died young and she lived alone. A fortune teller by day, she provided sexual favours to the men at night. Oddly, all the men addressed her as chetathi, which meant ‘sister’, but the women of the village called her by several other names.


Two coloured, zero watt bulbs hung outside Mariamma chetathi’s house, one red and the other, green. A red light meant she had a customer. Tonight it was red.


Thommachan stood for a moment, listening. All the windows were shut and he could only hear the wind. He wondered whom she was with. What it would be like to look at her breasts and to run his hands over her large bottom. A pair of slippers and an umbrella waited outside the house. Thommachan looked around, picked up both the objects and quickly walked away.


Thommachan had to pass the village temple to reach his house but a procession of devotees had blocked the road. They were carrying parasols and flowers and other offerings for the deity. The procession had stopped at the Yakshi pana, the sacred palm tree. The base of the palm tree had turned a permanent red with years of kumkum-water offerings. The villagers believed the Yakshi lived on top of the tree chewing betel leaves and tobacco, waiting for a lonely male traveller, her presence marked by the intoxicating scent of the flowers of the devil tree. The traveller mesmerised by the Yakshi’s beautiful eyes and voluptuous body would accept her offer to walk with him on the deserted road. On the way, she would request him for lime to spread on her betel leaves and the moment he surrendered to her spell, she would turn into a demon with elongated canines, fly to the top of the palm tree, rip open his guts, and feed on his blood.


Thommachan picked up a garland of jasmine from the bottom of the tree and wore it around his neck. He did not believe in Yakshis.


When he got home, after feeding himself and his mother a-day-old porridge, he undid the jasmine garland, spread the flowers on his bed, and lay down on them. The house had only one room, a tiny slab for a kitchen and a small bath. The toilets were outside. A shabby green curtain separated his space from his mother’s. She had been bed-ridden for four years and didn’t speak. If she wanted anything she hit the bed with her hands and made a deep sound that sounded to Thommachan like she was being strangled. Every day, until Thommachan returned in the evening after work, she lay on her bed quietly, her eyes open and staring at the ceiling. Thommachan wondered what she saw. There was no paint on the ceiling.


A pungent, spicy aroma of Nazir ikka’s biriyani slowly filled his nostrils and his stomach growled.


Thommachan hated his job and he seldom went to work. The cement burnt his fingers. His legs itched in the night and he had developed blisters on his feet that broke and became painful due to the constant standing. He wished his father had left him with some money. His older brother was in the city, running a telephone booth in the corner of Sarojam street. He was married to a hag with a moustache and had two ugly children. But, with the sort of money he earned, he could eat biriyani every day.


Jealousy usually made Thommachan sleepy. He closed his eyes and dreamed of his brother making love to Mariamma chetathi.


It was close to midnight when the sound of fireworks from the temple awoke him. He looked at his mother and noticed with a start that she was staring at the wall on his left. There was something about her eyes that frightened him. He looked at the wall. The plastering on it was coming off. Thommachan reminded himself to talk to the owner of the building in the morning. He scratched the paint. A chunk of plaster and cement fell off revealing a hole in the wall.


There was an empty room on the other side of the wall that had been locked for years. Thommachan looked closer. At first all he saw was the night, dark and hollow. And he heard the wind, whining loudly. But slowly, as his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he thought he saw a woman, her back towards him. Her long black hair was tied in a loose knot and undecorated except for a single fresh clinging tulsi. She wore a white sari, its pallu sweeping the ground. On her arms, she wore bangles, red ones. She walked slowly, the silver band on her waist dancing to the rhythm of her stride. Leaving her clothes on a rock, she lay down naked on the sand and stretched herself, her dark body shivering. Her full breasts weighed down sideways and the bulge of her stomach rose and fell gently. Her large anklet clanked as she tapped her feet slowly. Then she turned and looked at Thommachan. As if in a trance, Thommachan walked out of his house.


Thommachan woke up with a start. His arms and legs ached as if he had been beaten. He examined his body. There was a small purple mark on his stomach but no other bruises. As he lay back on the bed, he thought of the dream. He could still feel her warm body, her lips and her hair. He remembered how he lay on the bare ground, unable to move and she had spread herself on him.


He had mated with the Yakshi.


And the Yakshi in his dreams had Mariamma chetathi’s face.


He felt something cold rub against his arms and looked down. A gold anklet, studded with rubies and diamonds, lay next to him.


Thommachan looked at the anklet turning it over and over. His heart was pounding in his ears. The fireworks had stopped but the wind continued to howl threatening to rip the window out of its hinges. He examined his body carefully this time. There was dirt under his fingernails and his feet were dirty, as if he had walked barefoot in the mud. He was suddenly scared.


He dragged the old cupboard that was placed next to his mother’s bed and positioned it in front of the damaged wall. His mother grunted and hit the bed with both her hands.


The sun was just rising when Thommachan left his house. He carried the anklet under his shirt, tucked inside the elastic of his pants. The neighbouring village was several kilometres away. So that he would have enough time to think, he decided to walk. There was only one jewellery shop and he had planned his words. He had also remembered to wear good clothes and shoes.


‘Can I see the manager?’ Thommachan asked a woman who was cleaning the shop.


‘Saar is inside the office. Wait here.’


The manager was a short stout man in a white shirt and white pants. He was wearing a heavy gold bracelet on his left arm and a huge ring with a white stone on his middle finger.


‘How can I help you?’


‘I, uh … will you buy gold?’


‘How much?’


‘How much?’ repeated Thommachan confused.


‘Weight, weight.’


‘I, uh, don’t know.’


‘Okay, let’s find out. Can you show me what you have?’


Thommachan looked around before pulling out the anklet from under his shirt and placing it on the glass table. It occurred to him that the anklet had become bigger and heavier. The manager hesitated for a moment but quickly opened his drawers and brought out a looking glass. Holding the glass close to his eyes, he looked at the anklet. He lifted his head once, looked at Thommachan, and back at the anklet again.


Asking Thommachan to wait, the manager went back into his office.


Thommachan waited with the anklet under his shirt. It felt cold and clammy against his bare skin and threatened to slip out from under his clothes. His palms were getting sweaty but he managed to hold on to the anklet tightly. Other customers were beginning to arrive and it was getting hotter. He felt the beginnings of a slow headache. He thought he heard police sirens in a distance. Unable to contain himself any longer, he stood up and walked towards the door. In a moment, he was out and running. He ran until the jewellery shop had disappeared from sight. Crouching under a tree, Thommachan waited until his breathing was even. He noticed that he was near a house and he decided to ask for some water.


When Thommachan rang the house bell, the owner of the house, Raman Nair was making love to his wife. Raman Nair’s wife was a shy and terribly orthodox woman. Mondays and Saturdays were reserved for the gods and she spent hours in the temple praying for her husband’s immortality. Sex, for her, was dirty and ungodly. But she knew men had desires and if she couldn’t satisfy her husband, he would go elsewhere, probably to Mariamma. So once a week she let him make love to her. And when they made love, she made sure all the lights were turned off. But today, for the first time in twelve years of his marital life, Raman Nair was able to convince his wife to break her routine.


Thommachan waited outside the house for a while and rang the bell again. He thought he heard a man choking and looked in through a half open window. Suddenly Thommachan felt a movement under his shirt. The anklet gripped him and Thommachan instinctively pulled his stomach in. The anklet slipped and clattered on the cemented floor. The woman looked up and screamed.


Raman Nair’s men, who heard the screams, noticed a man running out of the house. Thommachan heard footsteps behind him for a long time. But it was growing dark and he managed to hide in the fields. He waited until he was sure the men were gone.


It was late in the evening when Thommachan reached home. There was a horrible smell in his room. His mother had wet her bed and defecated on it. The urine had seeped through the mattress and was dripping on the floor. She was staring at the cupboard, her eyes large and terrified. Thommachan pulled back the cupboard and looked at the wall. The hole in the wall had become bigger, as if someone had tried to crawl out of it. The anklet tightened its grip on his body again.


Before he knew it, Thommachan heard a loud noise and the front door smashed to the ground. His mother screamed. Three men grabbed Thommachan and pinned him to the floor.


‘What is the smell?’ Raman Nair was standing next to his mother’s bed, sniffing the air. He turned to Thommachan and kicked him in the face. Just before he lost consciousness, Thommachan saw the men ransack his house. They broke the cupboard, his cot, the table and everything in the kitchen. The curtains were ripped and the cotton from his mattress fell like snow everywhere.


When Thommachan opened his eyes, his mother was still screaming. He cleaned up, putting back everything in its place. He gave his mother a bath and discarded her mattress.


One of his teeth was broken and his lips were bleeding. He cleaned his wounds but there was a slow pain in his stomach.


He knew what he had to do. He picked up the anklet and looked through the hole. She was staring at the tree, looking up at its branches, as if saddened by something only she could see. She suddenly looked at him. Her eyes, the colour of the earth, brown and raw, were lined in black kohl. Barefoot, she walked towards him slowly.


‘My anklet.’


Without looking into her eyes, Thommachan threw the anklet at her feet and walked away.



After completing MBA from Bangalore University, Sowmya Vidyadhar started working as a copy editor. Her poetry is inspired by the works of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Kamala Das and Sarah Kaye. She is currently pursuing an MA in English Literature from Annamalai University.

She occasionally blogs and writes poetry at sowmyavidyadharpoetry.