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Kaya’s parents were fighting.
She knew this, because they were speaking in their “hush” voices.
It always started the same way. Their low, droning voices would slink into her from downstairs. First climbing to her ears, and then infesting her brain. She sat upright in bed, hardly breathing, waiting for more.
Kaya was still dressed in her blue school pinafore, which hung off a set of thin, wiry shoulders. She had a delicate nose set between two round cheeks. Miss Adams, her third-grade teacher, had once noticed the darkened hollows under her eyes, and had wondered what kept the eight-year-old awake at night.
Kaya’s mother was a teacher, and her father worked as a Gerontologist at the local hospital. After spending their energy being patient at work, they would promptly forget as soon as their feet breached the front door. Kaya hated that she was an only child. When Betty Kiff, an older kid at school, had teased that her hair stank of the ‘fishmongers’, Kaya’s mother had said “Just be nice to her. She is probably being treated badly by someone else”.
“Or abused by the school counsellor” remarked her father, his eyes gazing up from his medical journal, “you never know these days.” Her mother would wrinkle in sarcasm.
All Kaya wanted was to shut the voices out. But another part of her couldn’t help but hear every word. There would be flows of silence, where the only sound was the click clack of her Maneki-neko, its enormous eyes affixed to nowhere in particular. Towards the middle of the exchange, her mother usually cried, whilst her father’s barking mounted alarmingly. Roles would occasionally switch. Every minute stacked on dull pressure, gripping her intestines like a vice.
She had thought of the worst thing possible. Yes. They lived in a small ground-floor flat, a few minutes walk from Pimlico Underground station. When the tube came, the cool burst of wind filled her with calm. She wondered what it would feel like to-
(..Jump. Just once. Would end the fighting…)
When things were this way at home, she was tempted to visit the cupboard under the bathroom sink, where the water pipe dripped. Kaya knew there was an old shaving plug on the back wall — the kind that looked ‘foreign’, with two holes instead of three — nobody ever used it. It should have been disabled by the electrician years ago, but Kaya knew it was still live. The Maneki-neko seemed to usher her on with its enormous golden paw.
Maybe just zap my hand, a little, thought Kaya. Just enough to scream out loud so they hear me. Only one finger.
Downstairs, the voices were rising again. Simmering like pus in an overdue boil.
Kaya turned on the water faucet, and opened the cupboard door. She gazed thoughtfully at the U-shaped pipe, which was oozing globs of water into a rusty puddle on the floor. There was a faint humming noise coming from the plug socket, like the white tube-light in her grandmother’s basement. Or a mosquito-zapper, thought Kaya, with a shudder.
She ran her hand under the pipe, wrapping it in a film of water, and then paused to listen. No sound from the living room, her parents had quietened again. She regarded her ten fingers carefully.
She knew that Jimmy Forrows at school only had nine-and-a-half fingers after he’d pawed his hand into his fathers circular saw. He wrote just fine in class.
Only her pinky was going to fit in the socket anyway, right?
She raised the finger. It inched itself towards the shaving socket.
(catch a tiger..)
She was under the train.
She was immersed in the bathtub with a toaster.
She was a seventy-tablet overdose.
The bright blue sparks gently kissed her little finger. She felt a soft pulsation between her temples. She could hear the Maneki-neko repetitively beating in DEAFENING CLARITY.
(“Kaya, poor dear, I would never have guessed..”)
She heard Miss Adams’ voice, flickered and faint. In school, Kaya had always managed to keep her face still, and her voice steady. Even the morning after her father had struck her mother. It took every inch of her strength to mould her facial muscles that day.
Today, it took no energy at all. Kaya Simpson’s face was limp and slack. Her soul faded away, and her skin mottled. Two wispy arms jerked violently, as 220 volts of charge ripped through them.
The fighting stopped.
Hasan Zaheer was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and emigrated to the UK at the age of eight. He currently works as a junior doctor in London, and pursues writing as a hobby with an interest in short fiction.