Sunday, 28 September 2014

Skin Of Death

Maxine looked at Minah and wondered what on earth was going on? Had the natural order of the world just gone slightly wrong? She looked at the beautifully wrapped up present that Minah held in her hands and then looked at Minah, thinking that something had to be wrong. This would not be right if nothing was wrong. She even narrowed her eyes at here, despite the fact that that was such a rude thing to do. Minah just laughed at the look on her face and smiled a big toothy smile. She gestured for Maxine to take the present with a little pleading look on her face and started to say something. Before she could get the words out of her mouth, Maxine opened her mouth and spoke first.

'Okay, Minah. Why are you doing this? And don't tell me it's my birthday.' She insisted on being very forward. If there was anything besides good gesture behind this, she wanted to know. Minah sighed and shook her head. She kept the toothy smile on her face and put a hand on Maxine's shoulder. Maxine had to make an effort not to recoil. It's not that Maxine was a particularly horrible person. It's just that she had apt reason to be wary of Minah. She had been deceived by that congenial smile one too many times in her life. 'Don't worry Maxine, there is no bomb in there. It's just that, I am not sure how to say this. It' just that I miss you and I am sorry about all the things I did. I missed the times when we were friends and I would like to have that back.' Maxine's jaw dropped at the humble statement that humbled her along with it. She immediately felt guilty for all the possible reasons she had just been concocting in her head to explain the sudden friendliness in this girl who had caused her so much pain.

Maxine smiled and took the wrapped gift. She took it and then, still holding it, embraced Minah warmly. They then looked at each other for awhile as Maxine smiled and felt the package. 'Still like guessing before you open it?' Maxine nodded and asked whether she could open it there and then and Minah laughed and asked what she waiting for. Maxine undid the scotch tape as carefully as she could and took out the piece of cloth from within. She opened it up and looked at it with sparkling eyes. It was a long, tie-dyed dress in deep yellow and black. It had straps for sleeves and was made of the softest material anyone could imagine. She did not think that Minah could have possibly bought this from anywhere; she must have bought the dress and dyed it herself. When Maxine asked her, Minah just shook her head mysteriously and said that she had bought it but she was not going to tell her where from. Maxine absolutely loved it and promised she was going to wear it as soon as she had a chance. 'You have no idea how happy that would make me,' said Minah, smiling her usual toothy smile.

Maxine woke up two days later past noon and got ready to meet her boyfriend in town. She opened her closet and took out the dress. She smiled to herself and held it in front of her, looking at it for a while before starting to put it on. She put on the dress, which fit her perfectly and flattered her figure. She closed the closet that held her full length mirror and went outside to put on her shoes. She had finished getting ready and walked to the lift. Just as she went in she felt a sudden sharp pain in her left foot. She cringed and held the door open with her right hand as she looked down at her sandal-clad foot. It looked perfectly normal to her as far as she could tell. She limped into the lift and cringed again as she press the button. She bent down and examined her left foot but found nothing wrong with it. She sighed and concluded that it was just one of those things that involved muscles which sprained without their owners knowing why. She walked toward the bus stop and then decided to take a taxi. There was no way she was going to take the bus to the station; she would have to do a considerable amount of walking. She limped towards the taxi stand and got into a taxi. She then directed him to where she wanted to go.

When she reached her destination and as she was about to alight from the taxi, she braced herself for the pain she thought was going to shoot up her leg when she got out. But when she did get out, her foot was perfectly fine. She was pleasantly surprised. She got out of the taxi and walked to the bus stop where her boyfriend would be waiting for her. When she did meet him, she was still shocked at the fact that her ankle did not hurt. The pain had been so intense that she could barely walk into the lift when it struck. She asked him what it could have been, it disappearing so fast and all. 'Pain gone; why you worry?' He laughed as she hit him at the back of the head and pouted. 'Do you have any idea, how painful it was? I was actually considering not coming and paging you to call off the date, you know?' She narrowed her eyes, exaggerating anger as he put his hand to his heart and put on his best hurt look. She was about to open her mouth to speak when she gasped instead, her right hand moving towards her stomach and clutching it.

'Jordan?' she said, softly, obviously taking a lot of effort to do so. 'My stomach, something is wrong.' For some reason, guys always decide make practical comments when it counts the least. He supported her with his own body and tried to hold her. 'I thought you said it was your foot that hurt.' She shot a glance at him that would have made him take a step back, if he was not supporting her. 'It did,' she growled emphatically. She moaned a little as they made their way to the nearest outdoor seat and sat down together. Maxine could not explain the sudden decision her body had made that day to keep causing her pain. She looked up at the trees, suddenly afraid that a trouble making bird would decide to use her head for target practice. She was thinking this exact thought when the pain subsided. She suddenly got up and looked at Jordan, who was looking at her with that bewildered look on his face. 'It's gone!' She exclaimed, snapping her fingers. 'Just like that! Like my foot. I mean, my foot is still there, but the pain just disappeared. It's miraculous. Annoying in some sense, but miraculous. There is definitely something wrong with me, Jordan.'

They looked at each other for awhile and then at their watches. They had been sitting there for about half an hour. They decided to continue to walk around for a couple of hours before Jordan eventually sent her home. When she had got home, she was so exhausted that she just sat down to dinner without taking a shower or changing her clothes. She felt a dim pain in her stomach and decided not to eat. It went away, like her other pains when she got ready to go to sleep. She sleep peacefully that night, not being able to remember her dreams when she got up. She told her mother the next day about what had happened and her mother was suitably concerned. They knew a modern healer. He was a personal friend and she said that if it happened again, to tell her about it so she could call him and have him give them both a diagnosis. The next time it happened, Maxine was out with her brother, Carl, getting a present for their father's birthday. Looking for something to accommodate the hot weather but was not too scruffy, she slipped into the yellow and black dress.

Maxine almost collapsed all of a sudden from the sudden pain in her stomach. She swore and told him what was happening. Like anyone else, he did not know what to do and did nothing more than attempting to comfort her. She tried to regulate her breathing to ease her pain but gasped as she felt something icy sharp shooting up both her legs. She fell to the ground. Carl, four years older then her and fairly well built, tried to pick her up but he could only carry her to the nearest bench. When she was well enough to move, he supported her into the lift and to the taxi stand. She told him to call Uncle Chan. At home, she changed and the pain subsided. They waited for Uncle Chan to come over. She hung the dress she had worn over the dining room chair inside out so as to air it out. There was no point in washing it yet since she had only been in it for an hour. Uncle Chan came over, hugging each of them in turn and stopped short at the sight of the dress that hung on the chair.

'Who gave you that?' he asked Maxine. She looked at him, rather puzzled, responding that a friend had given it to her. She did not like the way he was looking at it. He looked at it the way someone would investigate a mysterious bloodstain on the dining room carpet. He picked it up and looked at it. He then held it up and then let the family see it. 'Can you see it?' 'See what?' they all asked in unison. Maxine's jaw was the first to drop. She grabbed the dress and stared at it. She then turned it inside out and looked at it, realisation sweeping over her. She turned it back out and held it out to her family. The dress's patterns were made up of two main splotches of black and yellow. They were huge and created patterns throughout it, the black dye sometimes fading into grey or turning the yellow into a sort of muddy colour. What she had not seen was something on the top splotch that spread over her chest. Amidst all the black dye, there was a very specific pattern. She had noticed the outlined of a circle first. There was a perfect circle within the splotch, made up of two wavy lines that kept intersecting each other, making it look like a braided stream which ran in a circle.

This had caught her vision and led her eye to the centre of the circle where in faint lines of grey slightly different from the rest. There was the out line of a man in a moustache. He wore a turban and sat cross legged, his hands together as if in a gesture of prayer. The sight was extremely unnerving. It could have been an accidental design and it not been do perfectly symmetrical. Her mother placed her hand on her mouth and Carl actually took a step back when he made out the design. 'Your mother told me about your problem; I think this may be your cause. Did your friend get this from another country? They do this thing in some places where they work their religious designs into their products. They use the cloth to cover corpses. It is called the skin of death.' He looked at her for awhile and then suggested she throw it away. He then went on to add that it could have also been an act of malice by the person who made it. They might just have another copy of the picture in their home over which they cast spells.

That thought was just too much for her and she almost ran to the chute to throw it down. She apologised under her breath to Minah and then let it fall to the bottom. Whoever had made this dress would have no more power over her. Three days later in schol, Maxine sat down next to Minah, slumping onto the table. Minah smiled and said that she needed to go to the toilet and that she would be back. Maxine simply smiled and then pick up Jasmine's file to move it so she could put her head on the table. She smiled as she looked at the pictures of her favourite actors on the side that faced up. She turned it over to look at who was in store on the other side. Her heart stopped. On white typing paper, drawn in black marker was a man that sat within a circle. He sat cross legged, wore a turban and had his hands together in a position of prayer. He seemed to look up at her as she looked down on him. In his ankles and his stomach, there was thumbtacks inserted into the cardboard of the file. They glimmered in the light of the classroom made her shiver.

Minah came in and looked at Maxine, smiling her toothy smile the way she always did, her friendliness seeming more fake than it ever had. 'Why are you looking so tense?' Maxine stood up and pushed her chair back, looking at Minah straight in the eye. 'Don't you ever talk to me again.'

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