The Sphinx

-Gargi sengupta

“The Sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

She took a languorous sip of tea from the large mug. The hot fluid burnt the tip of her tongue.
She paid no attention. A smile played on her lips. The last few months had been thrilling.
Exhilarating even. Her thoughts drifted…
The beginning was jerky. He was suspicious and reluctant. She persisted, he gave in. It was an
uneven match. Yet, an unbridled abandon egged her on. The sex was awkward initially. It
became better with time.
The contradictions kept things interesting. He boiled his tea in milk till it was a dark brown. She
liked hers black. Without milk.
Among her circle, she was careful to introduce him as a ‘friend’. She could sense it annoyed
him, but he never really said anything. She liked the hold he had on him.
But more importantly, she liked the unconventionality, the purported secrecy, and the idea of
Her lips touched the chipped edge of the mug. Grimacing, she got up from the bed and went to
the kitchen. The vegetables needed to go in the fridge, the groceries needed to be sorted. Oh,
how she hated adulting.
The bell rang. Adulting could wait.
The thought of her made him dreamy. Those voluptuous curves, that infectious laughter. He
didn’t like being away from her. The first time she had offered him tea, he had hated it. But
gulped it down anyway. She didn’t seem to mind his constant presence. He was only too glad to
be around.
But he felt a void now and then. As if he was invisible. He wanted to make her feel whole. He
wanted her to be his. But he sensed a cold resistance. An apathy. He wanted to talk, she
seemed imperceptive. So he kept putting it off till he could. Today, he was determined to have
that long-pending conversation.

As he undressed, she wondered what it was about him that attracted her. He had droopy eyes.
A scraggly beard disguised his weak chin. Spindly legs supported an ungainly body. His gait
was unsure. The stories which were amusing initially had now become repetitive, and mundane.
She jerked out of her reverie, and pulled him towards her. He still smelled of dirty seats, and
rusty metal. The smell of the bus he had ridden in. It was a reminder of the world he came from.
It struck her then. The rustic charm of what he symbolized had drawn her to him. It was not the
physical person, or the personality.
He was her perception of the idyllic, the uncomplicated. Beyond the realms of etiquette, polite
conversation, civility. Yet, she enjoyed the comforts, and privileges of her designated class. The
dichotomy of her existence intoxicated her.
She lay on the bed, staring at him. His soft glance belied the storm brewing up inside. Slowly
she put on her kaftan, still a little breathless. There was so much he wanted to say. She knew
the conversation couldn’t be avoided any more.
They sat facing each other on the sofa. The curtains danced in the autumn breeze, oblivious to
the tension in the air. Her face was taut, but defiant. He smiled, sadly. And then he began to talk:
“I know. I have always known. But I hoped I could be enough. I thought you’d realize that some
day. What we share couldn’t possibly be so shallow, so meaningless. I can’t bring myself to
believe in this charade anymore. Be mine. We cannot go on like this.”
Then he put his right hand beneath the nearest cushion and raised it with the other. The sound
of the bullet was muffled. The force wasn’t. She fell back, motionless. Blood trickled down her
smooth forehead. Feathers fluttered around.
He slumped on the sofa. Head in his hands.
The door was unlocked. He wasn’t particularly surprised. He stepped in gingerly. An ugly pair of
worn out shoes greeted him. In the 8 years that they had been married, he dreaded seeing a
pair that wasn’t his.
He heard the soft grunts from the bedroom upstairs. Slowly, he started climbing the stairs. He
pushed the bedroom door open, startling her. Her lover pulled the sheet around himself. She

didn’t make an immediate effort to cover her nakedness. He noticed the beads of perspiration
between her cleavage. Oh, those curves.
When they met, she had an easy-going charm. She was opinionated, with very little perspective.
She would often complain about the vagaries of class distinction. It made her feel
claustrophobic, she said. And yet, she loved her wine, the trips abroad, the expensive gifts. She
liked her black tea with a hint of cinnamon – a trick he had taught her after the tasteless tea she
had fed him on their first date.
Two years down the line, they got hitched. Over time, he saw her degenerate into a sphinx
without a secret. She liked to think of herself as a woman of ideas, a woman breaking social
taboos, a woman shrouded in mystery. He knew about all her affairs, her shenanigans, her wily
attraction towards oafish men. Her superfluous ideologies amused him. But he never quite
hated her. He indulged her more, much like a child. He needed to protect her after all.
He simply wanted to talk. Instead he had taken the gun out from the chest in his study. Placed it
under the cushion before climbing the stairs.
Sitting behind jail bars, he kept thinking over what made him go at her on that fateful day. Was it
the sight of those shoes, her conceit, or just his silent suffering of all those years.
Then his focus shifted. He had killed all the men before. But she never seemed to tire. It had to
stop. And he had made it stop. He felt that warm, fuzzy feeling coming back to him. She was
now his. Completely.

Photo by Christine Schmiederer

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