23:23

People believe I am mad, a crazy lunatic, obsessed with the time 23:23. But let me tell you something; I did not go searching for 23:23, it found me. It was relentless in its pursuit; it hounded me night and day, until I had no other choice but to acknowledge it. I tried everything, switched off my phone, tried to sleep when it was still a safe 22:22, shut my eyes and refused to look at my bedside clock. But somehow, somewhere I always managed to see 23:23.

I had such confidence in my sanity, my logic, my rationality; that I discussed about 23:23 with people, many people; my husband, friends, colleagues and believers in the paranormal. Some looked at me in awe, some even suggested I was a shaman and some strongly believed that I was ready to fall over the threshold of madness.

Before you throw away this paper, attributing it to the rant of a mad woman, let me tell you about me.

My name used to be Anu, short for Anuradha. I say used to be, because now, it is just patient no. 2323.

I was happy, once. I used to live in the bustling city of Bangalore, with its surprise showers and cool weather. I was married too, to the man of my dreams and I bore him two beautiful little girls, twins at that. In our uninhibited joy, we named them Thea and Rhea. Thea, Goddess of the moon and Rhea, the daughter of Gaia (Earth). Both my daughters orbited around each other from the time they were born. Oh how I had loved them until they were toddlers, their constant need to be with me, their constant demands, their unending cries for ‘Mumma’. That was only until they were old enough to realise that all they ever needed was each other. They had a look that was only meant for the other one, like telepathic Siamese twins.

Such strong was the connection between my daughters; that I became the ostracised mother who wasn’t privy to that bond.

Dave, my husband, adored his little girls, with their curly, brown hair, round chubby faces, pink lips and golden eyes. Adored them to the point of obsession, and the adulation was returned in kind.

The first time I confronted that I had been seeing 23:23 way too often; I did not bother myself much. I wrote it off to the belief that my biological clock was somehow attuned to the time 23:23. I was afraid to give it supernatural credence, because if I did, it would become true.

Just like the Mothman, if you don’t believe in it, you don’t see it.

One night, while I fed my five-year-old daughters, one of them kept spitting her food out. I don’t remember which one, but I think it was Rhea, because she had always been the quintessential troublemaker. I would be doing my chores in the house, only to turn around and find Rhea stare at me with a strange intensity. Soon, Thea would join her, and both my daughters would glower as though they could see something dark, something black, something blasphemous in my soul that I, was not aware of.

As I tried to reign in my quickly dissipating patience, Rhea spat her food out for the fifth time, and that is when I lost any semblance of sanity. I bent her over and spanked her, while my daughter howled in pain. On my left Thea held her hands to butt and howled equally loud.

I think somewhere around my fifth smack, someone held my hair and dragged me away from my girls. After that I don’t remember much except for being thrown on the floor, kicks and punches that landed on my stomach, back and face simultaneously. Within minutes that seemed to me like unending moments of torture, I lay there writhing in pain and agony. My self-esteem shattered, along with my elbow.

It was the first time Dave had raised his hand on me, and it landed me in the hospital. When Dave waited for my reports, wringing his hands next to me; I couldn’t help but notice his shivering and furtive glances.

“Anu, I am sorry. I don’t know what got into me. I saw you hitting the girls, and the way they cried. I couldn’t help myself. I am sorry….so sorry.” He broke into tears and I turned my head the other way. My heart plummeted at the thought of Dave crying, I wanted to reach out to him and cradle his head between my breasts and tell him, “It’s okay. It’s okay, baby. It was the girls, they were getting on my nerves.” But I didn’t. I was afraid if I did that, his guilt at breaking my body would just disappear along with the lesson learned. I just lay there with my back to him, all night long, swallowing my own tears of betrayal.

It took me months to heal. But heal, I did.

One day, around eight months post the ‘accident’, as I was fidgeting to put on my clothes, I remembered I hadn’t seen 23:23 since. So, I decided to write off my obsession with 23:23 as a manifestation of midlife crises.

But then a few months later, one night, the girls had slept and I was waiting for Dave to come home. I turned towards the digital clock and the time was 23:23. My stomach sank in fear, yet my mind rationalized, that it was impossible for me never to see 23:23. Then the next day I saw it again and again, the day after.

Almost after two months of stumbling into 23:23, with increasing frequency and vehement denial, in the afternoon, as I precariously stood on a stepladder, trying hard to clean the cobwebs in our bedroom; my daughters ran amok around our house; playing hide and seek, their favourite. I could hear their giggles and screams of delight as they tried to deftly fool the other one.

Suddenly, it stopped, the pitter-patter of their feet, the screams, and the laughter. My home was shrouded in an ominous silence. I strained hard to hear a sound, any sound from my daughters. All I could make out were whispers, soft whispers spoken between Rhea and Thea. I felt strong sense of foreboding that pushed me into getting off the ladder. As I struggled to step down the ladder, my elbow still delicate from Dave’s onslaught, Rhea and Thea came running inside like a storm and toppled the ladder over.

I fell from three feet, and landed smack on my back, with my head hitting the floor in a jarring impact. While my head and back reeled and the room swam in front of my eyes, the last thing I saw before passing out, was my girls stepping over me and walking out of the room.

Naturally, I was convinced that those girls were not normal, they were demonic.They were never born right. After that incident I became wary of Rhea and Thea. I would lock my room every time I had to go to the washroom or take a nap. I grew eyes in the back of my head and did not entertain the girls in any games or chatter.

I would find excuses to avoid my own children, I would lock them in their room and wait for them to cry to sleep, rather than sing them a lullaby. The only time I could be carefree, was when the girls had gone to school. Initially, I missed it. Especially those cold lonely nights, when Dave was out on work; I missed the warm soft bodies of my girls; their honey voices talking to me about their day at school or their small hands moving around my bare stomach and finding each other. But then with the increasing frequency that I saw 23:23 and the ease with which my daughters decided to alienate me, I came to believe that 23:23 was not my enemy. Instead it came to warn me, it was my friend.

Soon Dave started noticing the change in me and one night he complained, “I have to go and tell them a bedtime story, Anu. And I’m exhausted. Why have you stopped putting them to bed? Why are you avoiding them like that?”

“Because they are monsters. That’s why?” I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I knew that Dave, Thea and Rhea were in it together. Instead I walked up to Dave, freed open my long hair, and straddled him.

“I missed you, Babe. Can we talk about the girls later?” And within seconds, his daughters forgotten, Dave’s hard penis was freed of its shackles. And I rode him like it was my last night on earth.

The next day, at breakfast, I saw Rhea and Thea sulking and whispering in a corner. They wouldn’t even speak to Dave. If I had any doubts about them conspiring against their mother, they were erased that morning. I knew my daughters wanted me out of the way. I turned and looked at the kitchen clock, it was broken, stuck at 23:23.

A few months passed, one night when Dave was out of town, again, I sat staring at the TV screen, listlessly. I was aware that in the last few days I’d been seeing 23:23 almost four times a day, which usually meant something was going to happen, soon.

I heard a snap behind me, instantly, I turned to the sound, the living room was silent, still, nothing disturbed.

I turned back to the TV, and five minutes later I heard the snap again. I knew it had to be the girls. Those tiny bitches were at it again, and I wondered what did they plan to break this time, my neck? I decided to go up and check on them. But before I did, I picked up a large kitchen knife. No part of my body was breaking tonight.

I took the spiral staircase, suspended from the ceiling, slowly, one step at a time. The kitchen knife held in front of me. As I reached closer to their room, I heard another snap from below. And I looked down to see Rhea stand there in her white night dress and stare up at me; the hair on my nape stood ramrod straight. My hands shivered enough, that they threatened to lose the grip of the knife. I wondered where was Thea, and just then I heard Thea speak from a few steps above me.

“Mumma, boo!” And with that I lost my balance. But, thanks to the warnings by 23:23, I had been holding on to the railing of the stairs. Those tiny Devil’s whores were not getting away with it this time.

They wanted to kill me, they wanted Dave all to themselves.

With that thought, any last thread that had me tethering with the demons that I’d birthed, broke. I ran up the stairs and grabbed Thea with her thin white night dress.

I pulled her towards me and held her by her small and slender neck. Her barely 20 kilo weight was no match for my 75 kilo frame. I lifted her in the air threw her down the steps where her sister cried and begged me to stop hurting Thea.

I ran down the stairs, I wanted to make sure that both those fucking monsters were in my sight until I reached below. I needn’t have worried. Thea lay in moaning in, with her hand and leg twisted at an odd angle. And next to her Rhea sat holding her leg with one hand and her other hand having limply, howling for help.

But the only help that came for Rhea, was a kick on her back with my foot. She reeled over to the other side of the room and hit the wall before she landed on the ground.

My fury couldn’t be reined in. I lifted both my daughters with both my hands and threw them against the wall.

They banged into the wall like straw dolls and fell down at odd angles.

Not a single sound that came from my girls. But I didn’t want to leave anything to chance; I took the kitchen knife that I had left on the table. Dragged them near their favorite chairs, put them on it, and slowly proceeded to slit their throats.

Warm blood oozed out of the slits, and their bodies shook vehemently in seizures. The blood dripped down their favourite pink chairs and created a beautiful bright puddle. Only after I was completely satisfied that the demons were dead, I got up to get a mop and clean up the mess.

I would bury those tiny whores in the garden, I thought.

And as I was walking back with a bucket of water and a mop, I slipped my foot on their gooey blood and hit my head at the table. The impact was worse then when Dave broke my elbow or when my daughters threw me off the ladder. I could feel the skin break and my head slide down the table. The back of my head felt warm and sticky. But, before I lost consciousness, I turned to look at those dead rag dolls sitting expecting them to smile through the large, red slit on their throat. After all they got what they wanted.

But the last thing I saw was Rhea and Thea, speaking from their slit throats, “Mumma, we love you.”

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