Flash in the Pantry: Burnt Omelette by Mehreen Ahmed

It was uncannily quiet in the afternoon. I felt like a water sodden dead log as I walked to the summer cottage through the Whittle Thorn forest near our house, within the suburbia of Whittle Thorn. Moments ago, I heard in a news report an abduction in the suburb. Surrealistic, how some news sunk in without having any effect whatsoever, other than this parched feeling at the back of the tongue on a scorched afternoon sun. But I kept walking through the forest. A whipping bird lashed out as I slowed, I felt a whip crack my back. It did not bring a tear to my glass eye. They were a dry desert, prickly as cactus. I rubbed them a couple of times, I wish something would rub off from being with the best ones. There were the best, I tried to hang out with in their tranquil hangout.

A man ushered me into a cottage that smelt of burnt toast and burnt egg omelette. Nothing in this cottage could shepherd the delight of surging romance, a notion. Barren was not how I felt; it was a feeling of a much deeper sense of being abandoned. The abundance of hatred filled my heart from treachery and betrayal. This man whom I called ‘Uncle’ when I looked upon him as an ‘Uncle’. He shredded my childhood, put me through a paper shredder. As I recalled that other afternoon, I was at his place. Obedience was not in dearth, around the clock that was all I did. Obey, and followed him around the house until he broke. Hunger and lust were cascading like ink streaming out of a bottle. Real ink, who saw it these days, anyway? I did. I saw how his eyeliners darkened, painted with sooty coatings of coal ink. He grabbed me. I blinked and passed out.

When I woke up, it was evening. Bodily pains and shivers ran through my spine, I saw a diminishing sun over the horizon. Heavy like a dead log, I felt no remorse until I stood up and felt it, the blues between my thighs. Doors were open and I saw a few men. Jabbering away, one looked my way, I heard about the abduction then. Played the part, I was burning up, Uncle had a round head scar which I saw for the first time. With all the other men, he too was listening to the news of abduction. Play the part? What part was he playing? In the heart of it, I lay low and waited for my chance. I wish I had a crowbar.

Uncle entered the room and looked me in the eye.‘Oh, how could you? You heinous son of a bitch, how could you do this? You heard me,’ I said out loud in my mind, those lousy moments as I glared back at him in silence as always, waiting for the next instruction. Instrumental to this abduction, Uncle took me under his wings after I became orphaned. Courage failed me and I waited it out, for my turn to avenge. Uncle held me by my shoulder as he walked me to the cottage. Others didn’t. What more could they do to me, I thought. 

Despicable people had vulnerability, and hubristic in thinking that no evil could touch them. Of course not, because they were all evil themselves. Evil upon evil upon evil, compounded to make a hot air bubble of ever-growing evils, when one day the bubble had to burst.

The cottage smelt of what it did: burnt toast and burnt egg omelette. Heaps of other kinds of smells entwined the space. Cocaine and alcohol staled the air, to say the least. Concern was how to smell the fresh air, still, and feel free. This was claustrophobic. Uncle’s gang was here already. They were planning something big. Uncle was hiding in plain sight all this while, playing a double part of a benevolent elder, deceptive and whimsical. It was now clear. I sighed, but not resigned looking for ways to get out of this. Burnt toasts and omelette. This wasn’t enough. There had to be dust storms and coal dust spatters; inhale to make lungs a perforated organ full of holes, I somewhat prayed. I was out of my wits.

Uncle sat me down in a chair while he negotiated with his gang. They were selling me out to the highest bidder, while oil was hotting on the puny cottage stove for more omelette. My prayers were answered. I saw a hole in the cottage floor. An object was flashing a shine to my glass eye. I picked it up when no one was looking. Sharp as a razor blade, I kept it in my fist. When a child was born it entered the world with its fist closed; it held a one-way ticket to the blue. This razor was that ticket. I began to cut myself, I screamed until they noticed. They couldn’t sell damaged goods. 

Blood flowed from the cuts but they bandaged every one of those wounds, while Uncle negotiated in the other room. I lay alone for a bit, then jumped blindly through an open window like a petrified kangaroo. Uncle hadn’t counted on this; I had lost some blood and they thought I was weak. Boom. Boom. Boom, I heard gunshots coming my way; I made it to a darkly dense hedge. Camouflaged in the forest, I hid myself well amongst the browns of its plains. Charming as it was, the cottage could have been a safe house but it only housed crooks like Uncle. 

The party was over, or I hoped it would be soon, but people still hopped around, lurking; my heart was thumping. I feared there were more, more like me, at risk. At least, I knew the Uncle’s hideout if I could get away I would burn the whole house down. Night owls came out of the woods, and sat on high branches, I wasn’t, not yet. Still, hiding away from the ubiquitous dance of spotlights through the forest. One of the owl’s hoots instilled in me some hope, the highways were close, and I knew, if I made it through this if I could somehow get to the highway soon.

Something was burning again. It trickled through my nostrils. Not more burnt omelette. Smoke was rising over the cottage, a spark there must have started a fire that was devouring trees and the forest denizens. More and more torches were snuffed out, useless against this fire’s luminous forces. Caught up in this towering inferno, the cottage was burnt down to a cinder too, with everyone in it before they even knew what struck them or how—raging, engulfing, a breathing dragon, and I? I was already in the firm clasps of the owl’s solid toes, as it towed me away. The party was over soon. It seriously was.

Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.

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