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One Hour Burn

The change occurred within an hour, akin to the calamity.  

7:15 PM.  

Shumaila aunty was cooking downstairs, biryani by the smell of it, and what a delicious fragrance it was. It wafted out of the kitchen, floated up the narrow staircase, sneaking from underneath her doors until it infiltrated her already heightened senses. She didn’t know what was in the dessert she’d consumed over three hours ago. Her friend had provided it as a gift of sorts, saying she might like it. The truth was she was starting her dessert business with a tiny side business for the closest of friends and customers who had enjoyed her products in college.  

It had felt good for approximately fifteen minutes until it just…hadn’t.  

She sat in a corner smelling the Biryani and a coffee cup nearby which held the remnants of a three-day-old German blend. The only lighting in the room came from a lamp placed in the corner. She sat in the small living area which opened up into a doorway leading to her bedroom.  

7:30 PM.  

Afifa didn’t answer auntie’s phone call. The landlady always offered her food, having only one daughter left behind, with the rest married off, living separate lives. It was a nice gesture, one that overwhelmed her before even receiving the call. One-minute past seven thirty and she couldn’t take it anymore.  

She got up and stood at the threshold of her bedroom, trepidation looming over her more than the dark inside. She leaned against the door frame as the trembling took her once again. It never occurred differently. Always the same tremors gaining control of her body, just like he had.  

As she stood both shaking and slightly swaying on her feet, something snapped. The reservoir of emotions broke through. Grief coupled with pain and anger washed over her in monumental significance.  

An inhuman – yet entirely so – sound emanated from her. It was somewhat of a groan from a sore throat; swollen and raw, throbbing with agony. Even as the tears blurred her vision, the noise didn’t stop, only growing in volume.  

7:45 PM.  

She broke through an unseen barrier, even as it clung to her like spiderwebs would, and stormed towards the bed. She didn’t care what was on it, only clawed and swept at the sheets until they were off of it. Changing the sheets after it had happened was not enough.  

She dragged the lumpy mattress off the bed and with some difficulty lugged it out of the room. Eyes madly dashing around in search of the lighter, even with the drugs in her system she frantically searched for the small object. She found it next to the candles; rose-scented. They made her sick, so she picked them up too.  

She would never know how she made it down the stairs just that she did. Shumaila auntie’s radio had gone quiet. The woman peeked her head out of the door to her own house, took in the sight of Afifa with the mattress, struggling to open the gate and understood what was happening immediately. She was the one who had phoned the police. 

She silently walked out and unlocked it, stepping aside.  

Afifa threw it down a little way from the house and stumbled back into the house. She knew where the gasoline was; Aunty would occasionally throw a barbecue party on the rooftop and she would help with the logistics. She grabbed the can by the handle at the top and moved out.  

When the mattress was fully drenched and the canister was empty, with shaking hands, she lit up the candles, throwing them all onto the mattress. It lit up almost instantly.  

It must have been aunty who brought her inside because at some point she was lying down on the deep blue cushions of her landlord’s den. She curled up there and allowed herself to finally grieve the loss of her consent.  

The radio started up again at some point, lulling her to sleep.  

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