Story: The Girl With The Cracked Face
By: Kakoli Mukherjee
Rains in Hyderabad are like board exams. Before you can realise what’s happening, it’s all over you. You are left with no choice but deal with it stoically, cursing yourself for not being better prepared.
I remember getting caught in such a shower the day I met the girl with the cracked face. It was quite sunny that late evening, and you would have laughed aloud if anyone told you it was going to rain.
I was again taking one of my aimless strolls in the city, this time along the Somajiguda road, and had gulped down 2-3 cups of delectably sweetened tea at Swathi’s. With tea in my system and wearing a new kurta, I remember being quite at peace with the world.
The sudden rain caught me unawares. First it fell in a quite depressing drizzle, and within fifteen minutes, was pounding us with big, fat drops. It’s not that I am not a rain person, but that day, I was just not in the mood to get wet, not when I was wearing my new kurta and had washed my hair.
All the available spaces to take shelter by the road were quickly filled up, and I scrambled for some partial cover under a tree near a mirchi bhajji wala. It was quite dark by now, and the only source of light was the paraffin lamp which the bhajjiwala had lit. There were a few others too crammed in that corner, and we shrunk ourselves as much as possible, folding our arms close to our bodies, while the smell of the sizzling bhajjis assaulted our nose.
That was when I heard a meek ‘excuse-me’ from behind, and I turned around. She was a girl of my age, and though I could not make out her features in the mellow light, I sensed that there was something odd about the face.
She came and stood beside me, and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you something? Please don’t be terrified.”
Before I could ask why I should be terrified, one of the men who was blocking the light moved away, and I could see her face clearly now. And I remember a chill passing through my spine.
The girl’s face was cracked as if it was made of ceramic. The crack ran from her right eyebrow, across her eyes and nose till her chin. Surprisingly, there was no hint of blood or flesh. All I could see was some transparent liquid seeping out of the crack.
I do not believe in ghosts, but that does not mean that they do not exist. Or was I having one of my nightmares again? I pinched myself, and pretended that she was not there. The rain was pouring mercilessly now, and I struck out the option of running away.
“Excuse me”, the girl said again. I just bent my head, not daring to look at her.
“Is it showing, the crack on my face? Please don’t be afraid. I just need to know. I lost my mirror today.”
“Yes,” I mumbled without turning my head. I wondered if the others could even see her.
“Oh! It was a very bad day today then I guess. I should not have kept them bottled up so long,” the girl said.
She had grabbed my attention by now, and my curiosity took over my fear. I turned to look at her again. And noticed what a sad face it was.
She was wearing a blue top with black jeans, and her hair was tied in a ponytail. She was fair, but the humidity had given her a dark film of grime. Her puffy eyes were red and drawn, and had a hint of embarrassment in them.
“You bottled up what?” I asked her, trying to sound as normal as possible.
“My feelings, specially my pain. This happens with me when I keep them bottled for very long. I just wake up with a cracked face, and my emotions leak through the crack.”
“Oh!” I said, sounding as if it was the most natural thing that could have happened to the girl.
“Umm…, so is it a disease or something?” I offered, my mind already racing about doing a story on a rare genetic disorder, and getting that by-line in our newspaper.
“Oh, no. It’s not a disease. I am perfectly normal. It’s just this crack which I started to get since I was fourteen,” she said, sadness dripping out of every word she uttered.
“So, you have to hide every time you get this?” I said, wondering what would I do I ever got up with a cracked face.
“Yes, and though my parents know, no one else knows. Not even my boyfriend. I avoid people when I get it, and generally it disappears in sometime, but today, it is the worst I have seen.”
“Oh! I see. So, what happened? Why is it so bad today?” I asked.
By now, I had rejected my ghost theory, and was groping for some other theory that might make sense. I did not find any.
“Nothing, actually,” the girl gave an apologetic smile.“Regular stuff that keeps happening to people. I guess I am a bit too sensitive.”
“Well, if it bothers you, you must pay attention to it,” I said, not quite sure of it myself.
The rain had stopped by now. People were dispersing, but the girl remained hiding in that shadowy corner, afraid to show her face to anyone.
Suddenly, I felt nice that she had trusted and confided in me. On one hand, my mind told me to get the hell away, but the curious part of me kept me rooted to the spot.
I looked at her again. She was crying silently now, unable to hold any longer, and her tears mixed up with the silvery feelings from the crack.
I made a decision. I decided to stay, and invited the girl for a cup of tea, which I truly believe can cure any pestilence of the mind.
The girl looked surprised at my suggestion, and when I proposed that we would have tea in one of the dark stalls in the lane where she could sit hidden, she gave a hesitant nod.
We sat together on a scooter parked in the lane, with cups of tea in our hands. The place was dimly lit and no one paid us much attention.
“So’, I began, “What happened to you today?”
The girl had calmed down by now, and her initial reserve had broken down.
“My boss called me an idiot today, and insulted me in front of the whole office. I did make a silly mistake, but I was having a bad day. I was sleepy, and had a headache. I wanted to be anywhere but the office. Why couldn’t he talk to me personally? Why did he have to do it in front of everyone?”
She said everything in one breath, and in her agitation, spilled some tea from her cup. We exchanged perfunctory sorrys.
“Bosses can be monsters,” I said wisely, recalling sharply all the jobs I had done till now, and all the bosses I had.
“Isn’t it?” the girl seemed invigorated, and then in a whisper she added, “Even my boyfriend thinks it was my fault. He said that I am always careless.”
“Well, it does suck when you make a mistake, and others too point it out, specially our close ones. As if we were not already miserable after making a mistake,” I opined.
By now, I was quite comfortable with the girl, and if I ignored the teeny detail about the cracked face, I almost felt I was chatting with a friend. My clothes and hair had dried in the wind, and I did not mind having another cup of tea.
The girl seemed to be surer of herself now. She continued:“I could hardly tell the difference between the two files. My eyes were stinging due to lack of sleep. I just wish his ordeal ends soon, though I do not know whether it will end for the better or for worse.”
“Whose ordeal?” I asked.
“My brother’s. He met with an accident two weeks back. Though he is back from the ICU, he is still in the hospital. I, mummy and daddy take turns to stay at the hospital, but because both of them fell ill, I had to be there for three nights straight. Bhai is improving, but at a very slow pace. They still cannot say if he will be able to walk again.”
I wanted to say something, but sensed she had not yet finished.
“My bhai is a very active person. He is the star cricketer of his school team. It’s difficult to see him like that, with tubes attached everywhere. Every time I go to see him, I come out and cry.”
Both of us sat silently for some time, I trying to picture her young brother lying like an invalid on the hospital bed. I tried to feel the pain his family was going through. I could pretty much do it.
I was expecting another bout of crying from the girl, but she seemed to have done with crying. I lay a hand on her shoulder and said,“It’s going to be alright. Don’t worry.”
The girl smiled genuinely this time, as if these simple words had lifted a weight off her shoulders.
“And everybody makes mistakes. It just was not your day,” I added.
“Yes, I know,” the girl said. “But the heart does not understand reason. It just needs to cry out, to be weighed heavy until it can take no longer. And then for me, these cracks appear.”
The crack! I had totally forgotten about it. I tried to make out the girl’s face in the dim light and saw that the crack had almost disappeared, with only a small remnant resting on her cheek.
“Your crack, it’s almost gone. How did it disappear?” I asked, bewildered.
The girl smiled at my bemusement.
“The crack goes away as soon as I feel better. I should thank you for listening to me today, otherwise I would have to stay out the whole night.”
“You are not going to the hospital today?” I asked.
“No, daddy is feeling better today. So, he will go. Anyways, since the accident, none of us has slept much.”
I just nodded, having nothing to say. I realised that I could just pray that her brother becomes like his old self again.
The streets were now soon becoming empty. The shop shutters were being pulled down. I realised that it was almost ten, and I had already missed the dinner at my hostel. I had to buy bread.
The girl also seemed to realise this, and stood up suddenly. Now that she was normal again, she seemed to be ill at ease for having emptied her bag of woes before a stranger.
Not wanting to prolong her uneasiness further, I wished her luck and walked away, thinking to myself that all of us wake up with cracked faces one day or the other.
The difference is that it never shows.