They arrive with the mandatory bottles of Arrack and take-away rice and curry. I make up my plate and try to keep away from them as much as possible. But the house is small, and I really don’t have anywhere to go, so I join them on the patio. I feel it’s better if I’m in full view, that way I can’t be accused of doing anything wrong.
I sit a bit away from them and eat my food while reading my book, making sure I only speak if spoken to. I can see Kiri downing the liquor, and a sense of unease is taking shape in my stomach.
‘I’ll eat later,’ he dismisses me when I tell him he should have some dinner.
But time passes, and he doesn‘t eat, only drinks. Two of these friends – the names a mystery to me- are sober as they need to drive. Sanka and Sam – a burly giant - are getting more and more intoxicated on the local liquor. With Kiri, it’s difficult to tell, but I can hear from the comments he makes that he is getting aggressive. He is quite inebriated.
I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to see him getting more and more drunk, but more to the point, I don’t want to be around them in case anything sparks his crazy jealous attacks. I know from experience that when he is at his worst, he doesn’t care who is around. He would go for me, no matter what.
To defuse the situation, I take my beer to the back, sit on the old water tank and just contemplate the pattern of the fireflies and listen to the intense cacophony of the crickets that break into the silence. The stars above, the shadow of the banana trees against the dark sky. The jungle is alive with all sorts of creatures at night. It’s fascinating. I’m fine being here by myself. Kiri needs some time with his friends alone.
But of course, he notices I’m gone and comes looking for me. He has searched everywhere in the house and is now coming out, checking the bathroom in vain.
‘I’m here!’ I call to him from the darkness of my seat.
‘What are you doing there? Are you alone?’ His tone is not one of concern, but sarcasm and budding anger.
‘Of course I’m alone, they’re all out the front with you. I‘ll just finish my beer and then go to bed. I’m tired. You can have a good time with your friends.’
He stands next to me for a minute, swaying visibly.
‘I really wish you didn’t drink so much. You might have fun, but I always pay a really high price for it.’
I know he is too far gone to register anything I say. Without a word, he walks back through the house to the front.
I’m going to finish this bottle and then close myself off in the bedroom. I know this is not going to end well for me. The only chance I have is if I disappear long enough for him to pass out. Everything will be fine in the morning.
I turn at the retching noise. Sanka is throwing up at the side of the house. He straightens up and then goes to the front and through the house, heading straight for the bathroom. A few seconds later I jump. Kiri is behind me.
‘You made me jump! Why are you creeping around like that?’
‘You’re scared because you were with your boyfriend!’
‘Let’s see. Where is he? Is he hiding in the bathroom? Let’s see who comes out!’
And in that instant, the bathroom door opens and Sanka staggers out. Right on cue, I get shoved over and lose my footing.
‘You bitch! What were you doing? Sucking his dick?’
As I stand to walk away, he kicks me in the back so hard. I lose my footing again and fall onto the pile of rubble.
The others are alerted by the commotion and by our raised voices -I think, although I don’t really remember if I said anything and what it might have been. They grab him and pull him away from me. He keeps trying to lunge at me, but luckily, he is restrained. He keeps repeating:
’Palean hutti. Fuck off, you bitch!’
I can’t feel anything. This is not the first time. I have heard it all before, but his fury now is unprecedented.
His handsome features are now twisted with rage, his eyes glistening with anger, his fists clenched. I have never seen such hatred. Contempt is written all over his face.
I go quickly to our room and shove my clothes in my rucksack. I think the time has really come for me to go. I walk around the little living-room collecting my bits and pieces and push them inside the rucksack too. I quickly hit the bathroom, pick up my toothbrush – I don’t know why I think it’s so important under the circumstances – put it in the front pocket and zip the whole thing up. My handbag is also on my shoulder. I’m ready to leave.
I can hear him swearing and pushing against the others to get at me. I know the best thing for me to do is just to go now, put distance between him and me. It has happened before, and it has always been the only solution. But Sam, the biggest one of them, stops me.
‘Stay, please don’t go. He’ll calm down. Everything will be okay.’
It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him I know Kiri well, I need to leave to save my skin. Sam is adamant. He takes my rucksack.
‘We’re here, you’ll be okay.’
‘Yes, but the problem is when you go, then I’m left by myself.’
We are standing just outside the little kitchen when the other three join us, marching Kiri toward me.
‘He is sorry. See? Everything’s fine now.’
How gullible can Sanka really be? It’s beyond me!
I look at Kiri, and I can see it so clearly in his eyes. He is just stringing them along. He wants them to go so he can teach me whatever lesson he thinks I need to learn. I feel claustrophobic and quite simply in too much danger in the house. There are too many walls and corners I can get pushed against. I manage to squeeze past them and go outside onto the patio. Two of them are between Kiri and me, but he keeps drinking, and his eyes become more and more deadly. I think it’s the scariest I’ve ever seen him. I just sit there, tears streaming down my face. I’m not crying, it’s just as if the tears come out on their own. I look at him, I hear him spitting words of pure hatred, and I just sit there. A voice inside my head shouts there is no hope, nothing will ever change, you have to leave him now, and the tears just keep streaming down my cheeks.
It’s past one o’clock in the morning. I just know deep down that I must get away from here if I’m to see another day.
I move off and sit farther down the garden. I know he will come for me like a steam train, and I have no plan. I can’t think. There is nowhere for me to run without him seeing me. I feel so trapped. He comes over in a cloud of rage. I stand up; it’s safer if I stand. He pushes me hard against the side of the house. The other two come and pull him back. I manage to use that time to sneak inside and grab the rucksack that Sam snatched off me earlier. I go back out to where I was, but still, no plan has formed in my head. Think! How can I leave without him seeing me immediately, so that I have a little bit of an advantage? Having the others here only stops me from getting to safety.
My back aches and so does my head. I hear before I see the next wave of commotion. Kiri is stopped from flying toward me. Two of them pull him back. He starts arguing with one of them. I can’t understand all that he is saying, but I know he is spewing abuses at him and accusing him of defending me only because he wants me. I hear Kiri slapping him. It’s time for me to flee. If he’s attacking one of his friends, there’s really no hope for me tonight. I quickly walk off hoping the diversion has taken the attention away from me, but Sam is on my heels.
‘Wait, don’t go. It’s night, where are you going. It’s not safe!’
I want to laugh at this, the irony!
‘I’m okay, Sam. Please go back. I’ll be a lot safer away from here, please let me go.’
‘Come with us to Colombo. We can’t leave you here.’
A scream escapes my lips as I see Kiri charging toward us. He is on us like a bat out of hell. He dodges Sam and lunges straight at me. I know I’m hurt. But my body is numb. He’s coming at me again, grabbing me by the hair and punching me in the stomach.
I try to put distance between us while Sam holds him, but he frees himself. I don’t see him, I only hear the blows on my back, I don’t even feel pain anymore. The other three arrive with the car, but despite them, Kiri’s strikes are relentless and ferocious. Sam tells me to get in the car! I gather my rucksack - I dropped it under the blows- and I look for my left sandal, which I must have lost when I was pushed over the broken wall.
‘Get in the car!’ Sam urges me again while the other three are holding Kiri.
I get in the passenger seat, but the window is down, and the key is not in the ignition. I try to find the button to at least lock the door, but I can’t find it. I can’t find it! My mind goes blank. Kiri sees me and strikes me through the open window. His nails are on my face, my hair in his hands. I’m trapped!
He is pulled off me, and I watch incredulously as he pulls a big branch off a tree and brandishes it. He looks straight at me through the windscreen. I feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Unable to think, unable to move.
I see Sam standing on his own, looking shocked. He is staring at the floor, touching his cheek where he has been repeatedly hit by Kiri. He seems stunned.
And then I hear it. Sanka is holding on to Kiri with the other two. They are next to the bonnet of the car, between the car and the wall.
‘Maddy, get out the car. We have to go.’
What? He can’t have said it. But I hear it again.
‘Maddy, get out. We have to leave.’
‘He will kill me if you leave me here now.’
‘Just get out! We can’t get involved.’
It all seems so surreal. I’m sure this is my last night on this planet. There’s no way I’ll get out of this alive. The moment they are gone, I’m dead.
But something tells me not to give up. They are still blocking him, I get out of the car and run, dive through an open gate into the next garden, crouch in the dark and make my way into a tuk-tuk parked next to the house. I sit flat against the sides, in the darkness. I don’t dare move.
I hear the car leave. I can’t breathe. I tell my heart to be quiet. I’m paralysed with fear. I see him through the back window of the tuk-tuk. He is walking past the open gate, I flatten myself against the seat, he slows down, looks in. Even in the dark, I know his expression is cruel. I wait, nothing moves, nothing twitches, he walks on, Terminator-like. I still wait without moving. He must have seen me, he is coming back. I listen. No sounds. I see no shadows moving. Breathe! I urge myself. I want to hope he has gone, but I don’t dare. I sit still, my side hurts, my back hurts, my head hurts, my leg is bleeding. But I sit still. I’m not sure how much time has passed, but I gather my courage, fish out my phone and shield its light with my hand. 3:35 a.m. Okay. I will count one hour from now, then I’ll move.
My breath has started again, but it’s shallow. I feel like throwing up, my ears are buzzing and all I can think of is Maddy, get out of the car, we have to leave. I play it over and over in my mind and tears start streaming down my cheeks. I’m not crying, but I can’t stop them, and I can’t stop hearing Sanka’s voice.
I don’t know what I feel. If I had my faculties, I’d say I’m in shock, but I’m in shock, so I’m not too sure what’s happening.
Time passes and still no sign of Kiri. I dare to hope against all hopes. I recheck the time. 4:05 a.m. He should have passed out by now. I haven’t seen him walking by the gate, hunting me down.
I should be safe. Somebody stirs in the house. I don’t want them to find me here. I don’t want them to take me back to him. I slip out of the tuk-tuk, hike my rucksack on my stiff shoulders and strap my bag across my chest. Everything hurts.
I stop and listen. No sound. I look out of the gate. Left, right. Nobody’s there. I step over the branch now lying discarded on the road. He would have killed me with it.
I head for the main road. I have no plan. I have no idea where to go, but I keep moving.
I’m on the main road. The night is still dark. I see Kiri under a street light marching toward me. If he’s still out looking for me, there’s no stopping him. My heart stops completely. He must have seen me, there is nobody else around. There’s nowhere to hide. I flatten myself against the school gate and wait. All I can hear is my heart thundering in my ears, even the roaring of the ocean is muffled. Then I hear footsteps. This is it. Again, I can’t breathe. My mind goes blank. The footsteps are closer now. He’s here. He’s come to get me. I look down, I don’t want to see his face contorted. And the footsteps walk on. I look up surprised. It’s not him! It’s someone else with a white T-shirt and brown shorts. It’s not him! My knees buckle, and I slide down the gate. Breathe! I need to remind myself.
I close my eyes, and when I open them again, he is standing over me.
‘You bitch! You can’t leave me!’ And he swings something against my bleeding leg. The pain is unbearable but short-lived. I see him lifting his arm high, there is an object in his hand, and I hear a thud. Something crushes against my head, and everything goes black.