It was Tuesday when Akira disappeared. I got home early to find the house ransacked. Her clothes had been meticulously removed from the cupboard, her shoes were gone from their resting place in the hall, and her toiletries were picked apart and removed from the bathroom cabinets.
I searched for any sign of her. In the living room, in the bedroom, under the couch cushions, behind every cupboard, and on every square inch of carpet, but even her strands of hair had been removed. Nothing of her remained. No trace. No note. Absolutely nothing.
I poured myself a glass of water. I drank it staring out the kitchen windows, watching the planes fly out from the distant airport. The rumble was loud enough to rattle the windowsill, now empty. It used to be a hive of life, with bearded plants unfurling their leaves onto the floor. I remembered when we first bought them. I had laughed at how ridiculous they looked, and she had told me that that was the point – we needed ridiculous things in our lives. We couldn’t just live with practicalities.
I turned on the light and took a frozen curry out of the freezer. I placed it, with a thunk, into a ceramic pan, and watched as it slowly melted into a brown puddle on the stove. The smell rose out of the pan and filled the room; cumin and turmeric, mixed with tomato and lamb bones. I inhaled, turned down the heat, and set a single mat on the dining room table, poured a bowl of curry and placed a single metal spoon inside it. I took a spoonful, swallowed, and coughed. And coughed again. And again. Loud, hankering coughs. My throat constricted. My eyes watered. My spoon fell back into the bowl. Tears came fast. I pressed a hand to my temple, massaging my scalp with long, slow strokes. I could have survived a breakup, a short: It’s not you, it’s me, but this was an obscenity.
The calendar was not helping, and I began marking down the days. Two days back, three, we had a small argument about the dishes, a conversation about Easter, and a dull night in. The only notable event was when she started her new day job. I’ll only be there for a few months, she had told me, just until we get our finances back on track.
I found my phone and clicked the yellow envelope. Invite Akira, my mother had texted, with a smiley emoticon. Otherwise, it was blank. I opened my contacts and scrolled down to A. Blank space stared back at me where her number used to be. Our texts were gone. Our WhatsApp conversations were deleted. Even her emails had been deleted. How? It was as if I had merely imagined her existing in my life. Desperate, I opened up my saved photos. Gone. Only selfies of me, alone, remained.
“Why?” I asked the empty room.
Where had we last seen each other? At this very spot, the night before. She had kissed me goodnight and slipped off to bed, telling me not to work too hard. I had gone in later, laid down next to her and listened to the planes taking off overhead. As I fell into a deep and irretrievable sleep, I had felt movement beside me, but nothing more. When I woke up the next morning, she was gone – but her clothes, her everything, had still been there. It was only in the afternoon then, just before I had returned home, that she had collected her things. Had she done it herself? Had someone else helped her? Was there a someone else?
When we first moved in together, under the flight path, neither of us could sleep. We would stay awake all night, staring at the ceiling, listening to the planes flying and guessing their final destination. But it was Akira who snapped first. One night, she said she couldn’t take it anymore, that we had made a huge mistake moving to the city. We should never have left home. I convinced her, in long hushed whispers, that we would find better opportunities here, in this metallic wasteland, where every skyscraper had the possibility of making our dreams come true. In so many words, in so many kisses, she crumbled, agreeing with me to try – to make it work.
But something had changed.
Mr. Guerra answered on the third knock. He was a tall man, with greying sideburns and a booming, full-throated voice. He shook my hand and smiled, wishing me a Merry Easter. You look younger every year, Michael, he told me genially,waving me inside, Some coffee? Cappuccino? Two sugars, yes, as always?
His cat, Mimi, came bounding into the room, saw me, then bounded out again. Mimi only seemed to say hello when I was in a good mood; she could sense sadness and uncertainty. Cats have that quality. The sense to know when someone is meant to be alone.
“It’s been quiet as a mouse all day,” Guerra said, when I asked.
“Akira didn’t come round?”
“No,” he said, hesitating for a split second, before shaking his head.
“What is it?”
“Tell me, Guerra, please.”
The kettle screamed to life on the stove.
“Well, it’s not my business. There are many ways to arrange a marriage and if you want to – well, then who am I to say – I mean, these days, just saying the wrong word to you, I could be stepping out of line, you understand, yes?”
He poured me a cup of coffee, then added milk and two sugars, before handing it over. I clasped onto the cup with white knuckled fingers, lifting it to take a sip. The bitter taste slid down my throat and burnt on the way down. It was too hot, but I didn’t complain.
“I saw a few men,” he said finally, with a sigh.
He paused, weighing up my reaction.
“The men that came for your wife, of course.”
I shook my head.
“I can try to recall more about them, if there was anything else that I -”
“Well. For one thing, they made an awful noise, clanging into the walls, the way they carried the boxes. I went out and told them – if they damaged the walls, I’d see them in court.”
“She’s really gone then.”
He paused, with a thoughtful look.
“You should go after her, Michael. She’ll take you back, I’m sure.”
I stood up on shaky legs.
“I have to go.”
Mr. Guerra came running after me, insisting that I have some cake, that I stay for dinner, that I eat a hundred other things he could give me if I so wanted, that if I had marriage trouble he had the perfect attorney, and the perfect court, and the perfect judge he just so happened to know who, with the right amount of pressure ,would be willing to – willing, mind – to lean heavily on the case in my favour should it come to that. But no, it would not come to that, he continued. My marriage would flourish as his had done, for thirty years. So yes, I should stay, because that would be perfectly reasonable in the circumstances, notwithstanding my marital affairs.
“I can assure you the utmost discretion.”
“I can’t,” I said quietly.
“Michael, please -”
I closed the door behind me and fell back against it, leaning heavily on the frame. My thoughts spun uselessly back to Akira. She would contact me, surely. Some pang of guilt would run through her in the following days, and she would reach out to me, saying that it was all a big mistake, a momentary lapse in judgment, a strange outburst of anger against not me, but the city. She would turn up at my door. I would argue with her, of course, to put on a show, but eventually relent. I weighed the thought against the probability. The chances seemed close to zero.
The curry had become a cold, tasteless thing, but I shovelled it down my throat anyway. Tomatoes slid off the spoon and onto my shirt, making a bold red stain against the crisp white lines. I took off my shirt and threw it at the laundry door. I stared into the empty bowl and then at the clock on the wall. Seven o’clock became eight, became nine, became ten. The seconds hand of the clock seemed to be ticking by incredibly slowly, and I wondered, for ten minutes, if the clock was broken.
When we first moved in together, I had promised to teach Akira how to cook. I spent weekends at the farmer’s markets, securing the right ingredients. Watermelons were ripe if you tapped them, mangos were ripe if you pressed them, avocados were ripe if you saw a dark purple skin. Everything had its own signature, its own place in time, coming round with the seasons, just as we had our own seasons of a relationship. Times when things were right; and times when things were rotten. By the end of the first year, we had amassed a catalogue of recipes, collected on an app I downloaded that promised to organize my life.
The curry was hers. It happened accidentally, as these things do. On the journey to becoming a cook, cooking becomes experimentation, where enough is learned so that tastes and flavours combine in instinctive ways, so that one ingredient is so perfectly calibrated to combine with another in one’s own mind that the dish is tasted before it even exists; and it was on one such occasion that the curry sprang into existence. I had left the pan boiling on the stove, and she had wandered over, tasting, then adding her signature.
It was strange, that she left the curry. Or perhaps it wasn’t strange. The freezer would be the last thing on her mind, the last place to clear. The oversight gave me hope, however. Perhaps other oversights had been made. Perhaps she had left more than I had found.
I stripped and lay against the soft white fabric of the bed sheets. The planes roared overhead, taking people far away. I pictured couples going off to Rome or Paris, or some far off island. I pictured Akira in amongst them. I pulled up the covers, breathing in the scent of the freshly laundered bed sheets. Even her perfume was gone from the sheets, as if my senses had never been real. I thought about that for a long time, before slowly closing my eyes.
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