Coward’s Siege

Coward’s Siege

by Nidhi Singh
A vast army is gathered along the forest edge; hot dust swirls around stomping, hobnailed leather boots, and a great din rises, scaring away finches and dingoes as spears are struck against iron breastplates, and the roll of drums and wail of bugles call the faithful to post.

I clench my hands into white fists and press them against my temple but the tempest within does not cease. The hand instinctively gropes for Rosa, but her side of the bed is empty, the dank pillow reminding me she is gone.

Pressing my burning cheek against her cold arm, or sliding an arm around her soft belly always quieted the mêlée inside, but as the fumes of alcohol lift, I realize she has left. She left me soon after I got fired. They said I didn’t have…what was it…a fire in my belly. Her things are still in the house—the studded dresses, the dribble-spotted underwear, the ointments and potions crowding a small vanity table: there is hope still.

With a groan I rise to visit the John. Damn—the door is jammed! Leaning my slender frame in doesn’t do the trick. I turn the knob – it is stuck – locked from inside!

“Rosa,” I softly call out, “Rosa?” In reply a missile is hurled against the door and the toilet seat is slammed a couple of times. As the object rolls away I realize it must be my canister of shaving foam. The only—just one thing I like since Rosa left is that I don’t have to raise the toilet seat. I move away from the door—just in case the man has a shotgun. I look around for a weapon—what good can a rubber hose of an unsold vacuum cleaner be against assailants armed to the teeth?

My hand trembles as I remove my size-6 slipper and shake it at the door. Yes—I do have small, dainty feet. Rosa loved to paint my big toenails a bright scarlet on Sundays, telling me how she wished she had my feet.

I press my ear against the door—I can hear the shower running. There is a patter of feet, some screeching and swoosh of water. I rush to get the main door—alas—it is unlocked. I forgot again, after drinking last night, to lock it.

A thief, or thieves have walked in the front door and locked themselves in my washroom and are taking a cold bath! And they have a thing about shaving foam cans and toilet seats. I rush to the bedroom door and lock it—at least I have one line of defense before my trench lines are stormed. I slam a chair against the door—just to make sure. I summon reinforcements, but the security blokes don’t answer the intercom—they must be snoring. The time now is 3:45 AM; an unearthly hour to expect any help from the neighbors. I debate on calling the police—they must have some law against unemployed, single men who are long due on their rent. Are they still conscripting young, healthy men, and sending them away to the cold front to die? I wouldn’t know; I stopped keeping up with the world once Rosa left. O Rosa, why did you leave?

I long to reach out to the nearly empty rum bottle from last night, but with a major heave of the willpower, decide it may not smell nice on a dead battle hero being prepared for a martyr’s farewell. For the end is certain: for help is not at hand. Worrying wearies me, and I dose off. I slip into the usual nightmares, and just when I am about to lose a grip on Rosa who is slipping into an abyss, I wake up, sweaty and breathless from fear.

The intercom is buzzing in my head. I lunge toward it. “Yes? Neil Coward residence.”

“Sir: did you make any call?”

It’s 6 AM, thank god! I have survived the siege! “Please, help! There are armed robbers—I have managed to lock them in the toilet. Quickly!”

I must look the part—of the lone guardsman at the gates, holding off the romping marauders. Grabbing a broomstick, an olive raincoat, and my most terrifying expression, I collapse on the chair against the door; the effort is too much for a civilian not used to the cut and thrust of hand-to-hand combat.

Help, in the person of semi-clad housewives—some with sucklings at the breast, saxicoline uncles, and half-asleep guards with whistles at lips swells at my doorstep. Together, we remove the fortifications, namely the chair and frying pan atop it, and gingerly march toward the besieged bunker, brandishing our weapons high, some chanting hymns, others plain bellowing. Hurling shoulders, boots and abuses in unison, we manage to bring the door down, ready to whip the offending Adam out of the adversary.

Behold then, the astonishment of the liberators, as they witness a deserted battleground! My meager objects of conceited vanity lie spattered about the walls and floor, but the enemy is as scarce as toothpaste in the tube. All eyes search the nooks and corners, and pause at the open window high above, where the shutter is banging in the wind.

“They have run away!” Mr. Dogberry, our President, raises a broom-toast and proudly exclaims, “ Victory!” People hug, pat each other, and start to file away.

Suddenly the twigs of the gnarled Bunyan outside the window rustle and lurch violently. Amid the howls and gasps, the hairy intruder, with a baby riding on its back, swings adroitly onto a branch, and then strides away, leaving us gaping at two huge, orange-crimson bollocks swaying majestically in the monkey’s wake!

At the doorstep pretty Miss Butterworth from next-door pauses. “Rosa’s gone forever. I miss her as much as you do. Would you care to talk about it sometime? Over a cup of coffee perhaps?”

I struggle for words. A tear escapes my eye.

“I’ll be here by eight. I’ll drive you,” she says, tenderly squeezing my hand before walking away.

◊ ◊ ◊

Nidhi Singh
Nidhi studied English Literature at Delhi University. She has a number of novels and miscellany published in India, including commentaries on Sikh Religious Texts, and Bollywood.
Several of her essays and short stories have appeared in Aerogram, eFiction, Flash Fiction Press, Fabula Argentea, Romance Magazine, Under the Bed, and Nebula Rift. She lives near the sea in Kutch, India.

2 thoughts on “Coward’s Siege

  1. I skipped the title before reading and thus thought it had to be a tale of someone on ICE.
    When I went back to reread and find an explanation, I found the title and was relieved.
    Not bad!

  2. I liked the boozy aura. And what I assume is a deliberate air of put-on. “Saxicoline uncles” “President Dogberry” “Hurling shoulders, boots and abuses” et al. remind me of Sam Clemens’ playing with extravagant insertions in some of his humor. And our hero’s reaction to lovely Miss Butterworth filling the void left by Rosa. Madcap humor. AGB

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