The Devotee

by aditimittal

Today he would go to the temple.

As he got closer, the mixed smell of cow dung and marigold assaulted his senses leaving a bitter taste at the back of his throat. The crowds got thicker, but he dodged the shuffling bodies, gliding in a clear confident path with a dexterity that could only have come with having been in crowds before. He went unnoticed past the old lady with the cow sitting on a pile of dry grass and the large stand that housed the assortment of chappals (slippers) that came off worshipper’s calloused feet. The vibrations of these heavy feet pounding against the cobbled stones rattled his insides, but he felt nothing. Make no mistake, his senses were crackling and he recoiled to miss a particularly heavy stepping large man and continued, without missing a beat. His eyes narrowed down into slits as he noticed her golden and maroon slippers. She was here. He smiled and ran an eager tongue over his lips.

He snaked his way past the statues of the various deities and eager crowds, not stopping once to worship, till he came to a stand still in front of Kali. He knew she was here; he had tasted her in the air. The sweet, thick, sickening smell of mogra that constantly clung to her was a dead giveaway. He isolated the vibrations of her voice in the air and followed them. She was singing, a sukta he recognized from the Rig Veda, sounding almost sinuous from her high pitched breathy voice. It was a Tuesday, the day that most devotees flocked to Kali. And there she was. Her sari rose ever so little with every step she took in preparation for her pooja, to expose her tantalizingly milky white ankles that stood in a stark contrast with her feet that had been dirtied by the temple floors. She was beautiful and he imagined that many a young man was looking at and enjoying the same sight as him, much more than he was. Her hair was open and she seemed immersed in arranging the flower petals at the base of that militant Goddesses feet. He stood there unnoticed for several minutes, just like, he imagined his only love, his beautiful, his Tannistha had, the day she was killed.

He had told her, that they would not understand her love and her devotion, she was an inferior being and not allowed to worship with them. She ignored him. Once they too, were creatures of God, he had clarified, but now, they lurked on the social and religious outskirts, feared, and ostracized because of that fear. Tannistha had resented that. God does not discriminate between his children she had said. The name she had been given, by the one kind hearted priest he knew, meant ‘devotion’ and there was doing nothing else that made her happier. In everything, she gave her heart and soul; for her children, for him, and for God. But the children were now gone, he could have never loved her enough, and the very God she fervently worshipped had forsaken her. He had found her on the street across the temple, still, coiled unnaturally tightly in her last excruciating minutes of pain. Her slender neck was twisted around completely, leaving her glassy eyes to reflect the slanting rays of the setting sun instead of shining with the light that used to emanate from her. It was in those eyes that he saw the woman he was looking at right now, her face contorted in an ugly grimace of rage and fear; the last face that his beloved Tannistha saw.

She continued to sing; now pouring the last of the lota of milk to wash the Kali’s feet. He waited patiently. She must finish Tannistha’s interrupted prayer. For what must have been an eternity, her lips, behind her closed palms, moved silently and furiously. He looked at the blackened face of the Goddess, her large bright eyes and the sharp red tongue that stuck out from her orange lips. Her face was frozen in a convoluted smile. She was about see justice being done. His calm was unnerving, even to him. He had almost missed it when she stopped moving her lips and bent low to touch her forehead to the feet of Kali.

Aligning himself with his target, he raised his head, threw out his hood and threw his entire body at the bent ankle and buried his fangs deep into her flesh. He felt her quickening pulse, the immediate rush of blood, the wave after wave of her life force from her body rising to meet the flow of venom from his body. He was floating in space, his mind entered another plane and he closed his eyes. He did not even notice when he was ripped off and dashed against the pock marked steps of the temple. The heavy wooden blows did nothing to disturb his peace.

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