As she stood in the family court, pelted with the blame of having paid a contract killer to murder her husband, Jezebel had this revelation: To endure extreme torture, imagine yourself as Christ on the cross.

As you stand in the courtroom in this unfinished building, consider the heaviness that weighs your chest down, as that of the wooden cross. As the short and stout defence lawyer begins his cross examination, imagine you are climbing the Golgotha, bearing that cross. Count the barbs, both direct and indirect, in those questions, as lashings of the whip. Each time the soul is put to death, recognise that it will resurrect on the third day and there will be no pain thereafter.

The family court was a building that would forever remain unfinished. On one side of the road stood the church – where humans were united – and on the other side, the court – where humans were separated.

Past the yard of the primary health centre stood the steps that led down to the court. They had no handrails. The very first time she walked down those steps, holding on to her grandmother, Valiyammachi, Jezebel turned into a prophet who foresaw someone’s end. She saw in front of her, a body tumble down from above. She saw it crash into the little tea shop at one end of the court’s veranda, and shatter the candy jars into smithereens.

Was that not how Jezebel, the queen of Jezreel, had been thrown down from her palace window?

What would become of the human body after such a fall? The spine would crack; the aorta, which carries blood from the heart, would sever; the neck would break; the flow of blood to the brain would cease. He or she would die, or live as good as dead.

That fall could well have been a sign. Just as Jesus Christ spoke to his followers in parables, destiny had spoken to Jezebel through signs.

Seven years ago on 16 June. She was then a medical student in her second year of MD – with classes by day and hospital duty by night. An eight-year-old with burns had been rushed into Emergency that morning. Smoke lingered in a haze along the corridor through which the gurney carrying him had been wheeled in.

As she sped home on her scooter, meaning to return to college to attend the eight-thirty class, she saw the sky – lying face down, dark and bloated, as if it had drowned in the downpour of the past few days. The lightless sun showed up like the protruding eyeball of the brain-dead.

She sensed an uncomfortable chill wrap itself around her. As she turned left at the signboard that read ‘Way to the Birthplace of the Saintess’, her house came into view, as did the unsightly green Indica parked in front of it. She parked her scooter next to the car and picked up the bag with her stethoscope and white coat, not pausing to straighten the dupatta slung across her shoulder. She
could hear a voice from inside pleading: ‘If you too forsake us, John saar, we will have no option but death!’

Inside, her Chachan, Kurishummoottil Poonthottathil Yohannan’s son John, sat in his easy chair, spectacles in hand, lost in thought. Leaning against the door and looking on eagerly, one end of her blue-dotted brown cotton sari tucked into her waist, stood her Ammachi, Ponpally Varambel Peter’s daughter, Sara. Rambling non-stop, dressed in a shiny orange Chinese-silk sari embroidered at the hem and a blouse of the same material, her sparse hair pulled into a tight topknot, was Sosa Aunty. She was a distant relative whom Valiyammachi liked to describe as the seed of a great-grandfather who taught Ouseph Kathanar, the priest, the ploy of making it seem that the north-eastern boundary of his own village fell to the west of the then marketplace, in order to fulfil a whim of building another church right next to the big church at a time when the rule allowed only one church per village.

Sosa Aunty’s husband, Monichan Uncle, who wore a yellow-striped T-shirt with pants that could have been less tight and more long, sat fiddling with his teacup.

‘Dha, here she comes!’ exclaimed Ammachi when she saw Jezebel. Chachan seemed ill at ease. Ammachi muttered, loud enough for Jezebel to hear, ‘Only if we start looking now will we find a suitable boy by the time her studies are over.’ ‘Sara is right,’ chimed in Sosa Aunty. ‘Saraye, go ahead with it only if Jezebel and you both like the boy. Let him come and see her first, I say!’ she beseeched again.

The ‘boy’ had been born and brought up in another city and was a doctor– an MD in Pathology. The proposal of marriage had originally been for Sosa Aunty’s daughter, Tresa, and a relative of Sosa Aunty’s had visited his house and fixed the date for the ‘girl-seeing’. The boy’s family were on their way. But, on the morning of their arrival, Tresa was nowhere to be seen!

When the boy’s family arrived after travelling all that distance, there had to be a girl for them to ‘see’, hadn’t there? Sosa Aunty implored, ‘John saar, you have to help us. To tell you the truth, this proposal suits Jezebel better than Tresa.’

Having had his tea and biscuits, Monichan Uncle wiped his mouth and enjoined with welled-up eyes, ‘I’m ready to fall at your feet, John saar!’

Chachan gave in. ‘Don’t go for your classes today, moley,’ he told Jezebel.

Jezebel felt within herself the silence described in the Book of Revelations – the silence that spread in the earth and the sky when the seventh seal was broken.

She walked past the hall – passing the dining table at one end, the television at the other, and the cane sofa set against the wall – to her room. Once inside, she set her bag down on the table and sat on her cot; she felt her body smoulder, then chill; fretted that this chill was not the cool thrill a young Catholic woman ought to have felt upon hearing about her marriage; worried about Lyla ma’am’s eight-thirty class; reasoned that anyway, someday, marriage was inevitable; hoped that the one coming was a good man; imagined him to be like John Galt of Atlas Shrugged or Howard Roark of Fountainhead.

‘Why the glum face, dee? Do you have someone else in mind? Ammachi glared at Jezebel. ‘If only,’ rued Jezebel. She was yet to meet someone who made her feel that she could not live without him. A few had admired her in secret; a few others had openly expressed their feelings. Sometimes, she had set her heart on some; sometimes, in the company of some others, her heart had begun to bud. But once she headed home on her scooter, humming a tune, shared the day’s news with Abel and her Chachan, then sat down to study, all thoughts of men vanished from her heart like wisps of cotton in the wind.

Then again, there had been a senior – a third-year MBBS student. His name was Ranjith. Whenever they met – in the corridors, the hospital ward, or the canteen – he would look at her with smiling eyes. Her dimples would rise to greet him.

Her friends alleged that they were in love. Wasn’t there some truth to that too, she had wondered. One day, in her third year of MBBS, he took leave of her saying, ‘I’ll see you once I’m back. There’s something I need to tell you...’ He had gone on a picnic with two of his friends – only to end up under a landslide. Never again did she meet anyone who could smile with his eyes.

Excerpted with permission from Jezebel, KR Meera, translated from the Malayalam by Abhiram Girija Sriram and KS Bijukumar.