Three months later, he still pined for her.
He missed her presence in the house, he missed the careless romps on the bed, he missed her fragrance that permeated through the room.
He kept the window open in the hope that she would return someday. He went to the beach hoping that he would come by her again. But it was not to be.
He kept himself sheltered within his cocoon of an apartment and rarely ventured out. He stopped taking any assignments for it pained him too much to even hold the camera in his hand again. It was the instrument of his grievous loss; it brought no further joy to him.
But it had his last labor of love. The photograph of her. He needed to see it, frame it, keep it as a souvenir of the times they had.
For a long time he could not pull himself together to look at her picture again. But one day, when he could bear her loss no longer, he switched on his camera for just a little look. The picture was still there, and as he looked at it zoomed to as much as it could be, he found himself captivated by those eyes again. It was just like in the past. The urging in those eyes controlled him, and he took the camera to a shop that made large-sized digital prints.
The poster was a standard 24” x 36” in glossy paper and he pasted it on his bedroom door directly, without framing it. Suddenly, the memories of the happier times came flooding into his mind, and he sat looking at it, oblivious to the passing of the day.
+ + +
He was interrupted when someone knocked at his door.
The man outside was a foot taller than him and he at once spoke in a loud voice, “You did not tell me she is not with you?”
Orson vaguely remembered the face, but he could not place it. His vision was blurry of late, and he had difficulty in focusing his sight. “Sorry, I did not recognize you,” he said in a faint voice.
“You do not recognize me, eh?” the man said, and held Orson by the scruff of his neck. “What have you done with her?”
The man held his face close to Orson, so close that his spittle flew right into his face as he spoke. The recollection of the face came back to him.
“You… you scumbag… where is my sister?”
In his pining, Orson had quite forgotten about Lonnie. But why had he forgotten about her? How could he forget her? It pained him so much.
“Lonnie… where is she?” he stuttered.
“Do you want to play it this way, then? I warned her to keep herself away from your miserable ass. But she insisted on coming to live with you. I am not going to ask you again—what have you done with her?”
The blow on his jawbone was heavy. It made his entire skull ring and he felt the vibrations in his skull. The skin around the jaw had certainly broken, for her felt the warm dampness of blood oozing out of it.
“I don’t know…” Orson spoke through his bloody mouth. “I had… I had… forgotten.”
“Forgotten? How could you forget your fiancée?”
This time the blow was right in the stomach. He felt as though a portion of his gut had been severed, and he bent over in the pain.
Nathan locked the door and shoved Orson inside on the floor of his own house. “I am a guy who finds his own answers. No point in hauling you to the cops, because I know you did something funny with her. I am going to sit right here, in your house, and keep pounding your ass till you tell me what you did.” He kicked him on the groin and he fell to the floor.
Night was approaching but Nathan did not budge. Orson was on the floor, pinned by Nathan’s heavy legs, who sat on his bed and smoked his umpteenth cigarette, frequently rubbing its burning end against Orson’s skin.
Orson found himself to be within an inch of his life. The beating was slowly removing the spell that had been cast upon him, and he wondered where Lonnie was. The irony was that he was being asked to give answers when he himself could have done anything to find out about her.
When another cigarette was stubbed out on his bare bleeding back, Orson gave another huge yell of pain and blacked out.
“Bloody shit!” Nathan exclaimed and squatted on the floor to check whether he was still breathing.
“The bastard will live,” he muttered to himself.
At that moment, something brushed past his leg. He suddenly turned to look and saw a fat black lizard running on the floor. “Jesus,” he exclaimed and stood up in disgust. “Filthy pigsty!”
That was the first time he started to look around the little studio apartment.
And he realized that lizard wasn’t the only freeloader in this house. The sight on the floor made his head turn; he felt little ripples run through his brain as he saw the lizards on the floor. They were of all sizes; some fat and some thin, some sickly white and some horridly black.
He almost fell backward as his flesh began to creep under his skin as the clammy reptiles clambered all over him. For a person who had never dared to touch a single lizard before, here he was buried under a riot of them. The nauseating soft skin of the lizards clung to his body, and he ran all over the place trying to get them off him. He stepped over dozens of them, squishing them on the floor, but more of them emerged, coming out of the cracks in the floorboards and the open window and even the bottom of the furniture, and vied for any inch of space on his body.
He began to pass out when they made for his face, and tried to wedge their soft paws into his mouth, but then he felt them retreat.
It was abrupt and unexplained, like most of the things that happened in this shabby coop of a house. He saw the mass exodus of the lizards away from him, and while he was busy being thankful for being saved from their onslaught, he heard the song.
He remembered the tale he had read long ago—about the Pied Piper of Hamelin who lured the children away with his music. Only, here it was a song and the hypnotized losers were lizards.
Then he saw the Pied Piper.
All the critters were drawn to the poster in the wall. And when he saw the woman in the poster, even he could not escape the pulling effect. She was unlike anyone he had seen. He had no taste for women, but even he could not escape her bewitching beauty. He followed the lizards, now unmindful that he was almost racing with them in a bid to reach the poster.
Her mouth in the poster was open. Or was it that only the lips were moving? The lizards climbed over the wall, and reached that beautiful open mouth in the poster, and willingly entered it. And he wasn’t quite conscious of what he was seeing at that moment, but he did hear a slight munching sound interspersed with the sorrowful strain of the siren’s song.
In his trance, he reached the poster and came so close to it that he did not leave any space for the lizards who had been tardy in reaching their destination. He was dazed and lost; the only thing he wanted was to be on the other mysterious side of the poster. He wanted to be in it.
His wish began to be fulfilled when her hands slowly emerged out of the poster and began to hug him tightly, drawing him inside it forever.
+ + +