It was a special treat to go out for dinner those days. Money was tight after they had to get a second mortgage. They even had to trade in her Mini Cooper for a cheaper car. Style counted for a lot, but the extra $200 left over every month counted for more.
They found a coupon for a nearby Indian restaurant and chose to go on a Tuesday evening so it wouldn’t be busy. The restaurant was normally slow, but a new coupon might alter that. They were sure that was the hope of the owner, who took a chance with opening an ethnic restaurant in the South that wasn’t Chinese or Mexican. General Tso’s chicken made sense to Southerners. It was deep-fried meat with sauce on it. You might as well call it Aunt Carol’s chicken for all the difference it made. And tacos? They were just loose hamburgers with a shell. They made sense somehow to the Southern palate. But Indian food was a whole other animal entirely. The ingredients were familiar once you got past the unfamiliar names and the heavy sauce. Potatoes, spinach, and chicken were all familiar things, but when served in unfamiliar ways they might as well have been Martian food.
The weather was mild that night, if a bit humid. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when they pulled up to the tiny restaurant. You could tell from the shape that it had been a house many years back, even though there was now a drive-through window on the side. Some other brave person had tried another restaurant here not too long back.
There were only two other couples inside, and both were seated by the front window. It wasn’t much of a view looking out onto the busy main road, but the window let in a lot of light and made the small house-turned-restaurant seem larger, less cramped. There was still space by the window, so they sat there and waited on the complementary bowl of mulligatawny soup and naan bread. When the waiter came for their order, she chose malai kofta and he wanted saag paneer.
Then it began to rain, just a little at first. Then the sky darkened. The air grew heavy and thick, oppressive, like being smothered or drowned. And there was yet more rain. Suddenly she remembered, down in her bones, when she was three and her family was at another restaurant, at another city, sat at another large window, went through another fierce summer storm. The rain had thrashed against that window then, just like it was doing now. It was as if the rain wanted inside and was pounding on the door, desperate to escape some tormentor. That time, so many years ago, it shattered the glass in its desperation. That time, there was a breathless hurtling escape away. That time, the rain demanded a sacrifice and it came in the form of a bloody gash on her brother’s head.
She had no interest in experiencing a second time. But their food was ready, and the storm was too strong to consider going home. But something had to be done. Eat in the bathroom? It was the safest place – no windows, and located in the center of the building. But there were no tables or chairs in there – as one would expect – and the air freshener would ruin the taste of the meal. However, there were tables near the bathroom, so she asked her husband to relocate. She was moving towards it already. Even if he didn’t want to move, she would. Fortunately he agreed, fortunately he understood her concern. Had she told him the story before? It was too late now.
But then the other customers noticed. How could they not? It was a bit of a commotion. They overheard her telling the waiter why they wanted to move – he was helping with the plates. And then the unthinkable happened. Two of the customers spoke up, mocking her. They said the storm wasn’t that bad, that she was being stupid. They didn’t keep their opinions to themselves. She was being trolled, but in person. These bystanders, these strangers, were sharing their unwelcome opinions in public. Her emotions switched from fear to confusion and then to rage.
It was as if the violence of the storm had indeed broken through these walls and come inside, infecting the people, turning them into raving monsters. And yet she stood her ground, stayed in her safe area. She stayed, silently glaring at her attackers, the taste of the food dulled by the bitter metallic taste of anger. Or was it shock? Perhaps betrayal? This wasn’t supposed to happen! Why did they feel it necessary to harass her? Perhaps their anonymity empowered them, like with every other bully. It is easy to attack if you’ll never see one another again. She stared at them but held her ground. She watched them because perhaps they might become violent in their actions. Nothing would surprise her now.
And then, halfway through eating her entrée, it happened. The window came crashing in. Huge shards of glass sliced into that couple – just that couple. Half of the man’s face was sliced off, as cleanly as if it had gone through the slicer at the deli. Jagged triangular shards stood out of the woman’s chest, stood out of her arm nearest the window.
And she looked calmly upon them, not even getting up, not rushing to their side. They had chosen, and the storm had chosen. Like called to like.
It is best not to get between such things, like two magnets. You can be hurt by them, crushed even. Rescuing them was out of the question. This was divine judgment, of a sort, but it was larger and deeper than that. This spoke of the laws of the universe that existed before the first blades of grass came to be, but after the separation of light and darkness. This law was formed on the second day of creation, when the sky was separated from the water. The water remembered that time, that time before, when it was something other, being water and air together, and yet land too at the same time then, as there was yet one more day before that separation happened.
The water remembered, and it fought against the arbitrary-seeming separation as often as it could. Were these people caught between a spat, a tiff, a fight older than time – or was it deeper even than that, as deep as the water in their blood, the same proportions as the water on the earth and the land, the same eternal struggle there too? Like calls to like.
The rain knew these people, knew of their violence, their torment, knew that they refused to ever admit it was part of who they are. It called to them, sought them out. It embraced them now, their torn bodies, their sad divisions ended. The rain got what it had come for, finally, blessedly, mingling with their blood, which here was now streaming, there was pooling, like a river at high flood, out upon the linoleum tile floor.
And she just watched, secretly glad that they had died exactly as they had lived, violently, without thought, without meaning.