“Mummy! Don’t come near me!” shrieked Greta. The whites around her bloodshot eyes gleamed in the moonlight. Her hair was a tangle of golden knots. She faced me, fists clenched. Her neck was lowered like a bull ready to charge.
“Greta, my darling,” I said, my voice almost breaking. “Don’t…”
“Stay away, mummy! I said stay away from me!” She almost snarled. Her nostrils quivered like a rearing horse’s.
A sudden reek hit my olfactory senses. I backed away, but only a little. She was my daughter after all; my little baby whom I had suckled for nearly two years. There was a time when she would follow me around wherever I went. Even standing outside the bathroom door when I took my bath, a favorite doll clasped solemnly under her armpit.
I thought of summer days when we used to sit on the swing, two pairs of languid legs dangling, arms around each other’s waists, singing made-up songs or just gazing at the clouds and giving a name to each shape.
I recalled stormy nights when she refused to sleep anywhere except between us, her dad and I, because the lightning scared her too much, and no amount of reasoning or admonishing would make her budge. In the end we gave in to her soft arms and legs and warm milky scent, and secretly admitted to each other that we’d never slept better.
Greta loved her dad, no doubt, but she was closest to me. I was the one she always came to for everything. I was the only one who could reach that deepest place in her heart. But now all that was changed and she was irrevocably her daddy’s girl.
Her daddy, my husband, the Rev. Joshua Gabriel! A wave of hatred washed over me like molten lava. And, to think that there was a time when I loved him so much that I would have laid down my life for him. But that was before I met Grigore, and the scales fell off my eyes.
Grigore helped me realize my true self. It was he who made me see Joshua for what he really was — a chauvinistic fanatic, who would stop at nothing until you were either on his side or finished forever. Now he was extracting his revenge by turning my darling daughter against me. Oh! I wish I could tear him apart. If I could only lay my hands on him…
Greta was looking at me strangely now. The expression on her face banished all thoughts of Joshua from my mind for the moment. I couldn’t bear the way she was looking at me. I had to get my baby back. I would deal with Joshua later, once I had won Greta over to my side once and for all. The thought made me feel better. Grigore would have approved too. He wanted Greta to be part of us, our family, away from Joshua.
I took a step towards Greta, but she screamed again and yet again. Her screams fell on me like knives. The stench emanating from her was horrible. It was all I could do to keep myself from fainting. But I had to do it. If I lost this one chance to take her, Joshua would win forever. As it was, it was impossible to see Greta during the day. And Joshua never let her be alone at night. I had waited for my chance for many days now. Tonight was my lucky break. I knew that the longer she stayed with him, the stronger his influence would grow. How heartless of him (and how like him!) to separate a mother from her beloved daughter, her only child. How could he be so confident that Greta would not wither away without me?
“Greta, my love. My precious baby. Don’t do this. Come to me. Come to mummy.” I extended my arms towards her.
Tears streamed down her eyes, and she sobbed. “Mummy! Oh, mummy!”
I took another step and then another and another. I held my breath as I advanced. Slowly, cautiously, but determinedly. She didn’t seem to notice, racked as she was by her sobs. Now I was close enough to touch her hair if I reached out, just a little.
“Baby!” I whispered.
She jumped back with a force that startled me.
“Don’t come near me!” This time her voice came out like a deep growl.
I could see saliva at the corner of her lips. Her eyes stared wildly and she thrust out her right hand. I gasped and jumped back. Fear clutched my heart with dead cold fingers. I shivered as I backed away. She opened her fist with a look of triumph, which quickly turned to pity and sorrow and yes, also hate. She raised her hand high and the moonlight glinted on the lethal little thing in her hand — a silver cross. And the string of garlic pods around her neck glistened like pearls.
Rumjhum Biswas is a headless chicken when she doesn’t write. She stores her stuff, not necessarily on time, here: www.rumjhumbiswas.com. And recently started to blog here: rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com.