“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Tommy’s eyes rolled to the ceiling as she took a calming breath and tried to still her shaking hands. The sound of her heart drumming in her chest covered the almost menacing drip drip drip of the leaky sink faucet. Her eyes lowered to the woman lying motionless in the bathtub. She knelt down beside her, sighing at the tired ache in her joints as she lowered herself and raised two fingers to her neck. It was cold and stiff and no matter how hard she pressed, hoping against all hope to hit a pulse, there was none.
Just like her to pull this kind of shit on a Friday. Tommy had come home after a long day glaring at a computer screen craving nothing but a hot shower and the half-finished Bellini sitting in the fridge. She’d cradled the humble desire in her heart since morning, envisioning herself curled up in bed with a brainless Netflix comedy flickering before her eyes as she drank straight from the bottle.
When Tommy unlocked the front door to her shared apartment, she noticed the key only clicked once in the lock, alerting her that Divya had already gotten home. She knew something was off, however, when she stepped in and noticed that none of the lights were on, and the space heater was off. Divya kept the place oppressively hot all year-round, claiming that growing up in Mumbai had made New York feel freezing cold. The early winter chill now seemed to creep into their small living room through the walls. Shrugging out of her coat and tossing it haphazardly on a chair at the dining table, she called out for her roommate,
“Div? You there?”
Silence. Maybe she’d stepped out? Tommy dropped her purse on the same chair as her coat, remembering to take out her phone first, and headed towards her room. Hurriedly kicking off her work shoes, Tommy collapsed on her unmade bed and closed her eyes. She stayed there, unmoving, for a few minutes before she unlocked the phone in her hand and scrolled through the notifications feeling her gut clench when she saw an email from her boss. She swiped it off the screen as if wiping off a smudge and let out a low sigh as she locked the phone again. She tossed it onto her dresser as if it was the phone’s fault she’d gotten a work email.
After two or so minutes of lying in silence, she finally found the strength and motivation to get up and take her long-awaited shower. She shuffled up to the bathroom, situated between hers and Divya’s room, but hesitated after noticing the light bleeding out from the bottom of the closed door. She knocked once, then again, and once more when no one answered. She tried the doorknob, relieved to see that it turned and pushed the door open. Looking up, she screamed in surprise at the mess of red all over the bathtub and linoleum floor tiles. It pooled in a deep crimson on the once cream colored bath mat from where it dripped off the shower curtains. It tinted the water halfway filling the tub a soft pink.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”
Trust Divya to be an inconsiderate bitch right to the bitter end. Tommy groaned as she pushed herself up to her feet feeling an overwhelming regret at the inconvenient delay of her shower. She made her way back to her room to find her cellphone and dialed 911 with numb fingers. At the sound of the distorted male voice asking her what her emergency was, Tommy swallowed down the uneasy bile rising in her throat and answered as calmly as she could manage.
“My roommate’s killed herself.”
Tommy sat on the old Ikea loveseat she and Divya had gone 50/50 on when they first moved in together. She rarely had a chance to sit on it: Divya always seemed to have some guest or other taking up space on the tiny couch whenever she was home and Tommy preferred to keep to her room. She sat there staring blankly at the wall behind the TV playing an episode of “Game of Thrones” she’d already watched. Crimson seemed to bleed from the screen into her peripheral vision until all she could see was red. Her fingers worried at the small tear on the armrest from the time she’d tripped over one of Divya’s boots left carelessly on the floor and had ripped the couch on her way down. She could faintly hear the elevator on her floor ting before voices approached the front door. Then came three loud knocks and one of the voices called out,
Tommy shot up, bounding over to open the door. Two officers stepped around her and entered the apartment, and suddenly the place seemed even smaller than before. Shutting the door behind her, she directed the two officers to the bathroom. She stood a comfortable distance from them as they knelt by Divya’s body and inspected her and the surrounding area before one of them, a woman, stood and turned to her.
“We’ll need to call for an ambulance to take her to the morgue, do you know her emergency contacts? Have you alerted her family?”
Tommy opened her mouth but paused as she realized she didn’t have a sure answer. She knew most of Divya’s family was still in Mumbai, but her sister had come around the apartment enough times to suggest that she lived in the States. She hadn’t even thought to try to contact them. She relayed this information to the officers and told them to look into Divya’s room for her phone if they wanted to contact her family.
There were too many people in the tiny matchbox apartment and Tommy felt the urge to escape beginning to itch beneath her skin. Her fingers twitched for a cigarette. A paramedic had wrapped her in a blanket and pushed her to take a seat on the couch while he gave her a brief look over and deemed her well enough to answer more questions from the officers. Tommy watched as the others loaded Divya’s body onto a stretcher and took her out the door. Something told her to take a good look. This is the last time you’ll ever see her. She had been stuffed into a body bag, but when one of the paramedics had shifted the stretcher to open the front door, one of Divya’s arms fell off the side and Tommy could clearly see the lines of deep red and splotches of purple and green on her forearm.
“Tommy Onwuazo Achike,”
Tommy suppressed an eye-roll at the way the officer looked up at her when she told him. Remember to thank Mom again for this atrocity of a name. Graciously, he didn’t try to make a joke to assuage the tension and once she’d spelled it out for him, he continued asking her questions as he went through his paperwork.
“Relation to the victim?”
“I’m her roommate.”
He nodded at this, as if he was only checking to make sure her answer fit the information he already had. He pressed her for more information, asking about Divya’s behavior in the weeks and months leading up to the suicide. He asked her about the nature of their relationship, giving Tommy a hard look when she told him they had no relationship to speak of. The more he grilled her, the more agitated she felt and the idea of a cigarette and the December wind became more and more appealing as he went on. Her gaze fixated on a small stain on the arm of his jacket, almost unnoticeable on the dark blue fabric. Tommy wondered if it was Divya’s blood.
After the door closed behind the last officer, Tommy was left alone in the quiet apartment. She had been well acquainted with suffocating silences but this was different. She no longer had the assurance of another person to break the still loneliness if she just tried calling out. Not that she ever had. Tommy stood up from where she sat on the couch and padded over to the kitchen for the bottle of Bellini she had promised her evening to. Without bothering to grab a wine glass, or even shut the fridge door, Tommy turned the bottom up and drank it all in large throat stinging gulps.
Once she could feel the familiar spread of warmth in her gut, she knocked the fridge closed with her hip, dropped the bottle in the recycling bin by the kitchen door, and made her way to the bathroom. Dead roommate or not, you need that shower. The paramedics had done their best to clean the area of all the blood, but the large dark brown stain on the bath mat and the red tint on the shower curtains refused to let Tommy pretend nothing had happened. She took off her clothes, and did her best to avoid her own gaze in the mirror. She turned the water up to the hottest setting and stepped in after taking in a deep breath. She gasped as she felt the scalding water on her goose-bumped skin and was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that she would drown in it.
Getting out of the shower was harder than getting in. The chill that seemed to take over the apartment licked and teased at Tommy’s exposed body. She grabbed for her towel and swaddled herself in it, finally catching sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. She stared at the woman in the reflection for a few moments before unstoppable waves of nausea began to crash in her stomach. She bent over the sink and emptied out the half wilted salad she’d eaten for lunch earlier. Once she’d stopped retching and her stomach had stopped constricting painfully, she straightened her back and gathered her discarded clothes and walked to her room to get dressed.
The bottle of vodka was worth at least two months of her salary. She’d never had the guts to steal some from her roommate before, but it’d always intrigued her. She tipped back the bottle into her open mouth, and instantly regretted not stealing some of the alcohol before. She chased it with $2.00 orange juice and grimaced at the poor taste. Tracing a finger at the mouth of the bottle, Tommy watched a droplet of the clear liquid fall down onto the golden paper label, smudging the words on it. According to the Su~~~on General, women should not drink… She’d almost startled herself at the sound of her own laughter breaking the heavy silence.
Shrugging into her coat and grabbing her purse from where it sat on the dining table chair, Tommy left her apartment, rushing down the stairs two steps at a time. Leaving the double security doors behind her, she stepped into the frigid early morning air. The Manhattan sky was an expanse of black and the sidewalk stretched out before her. She kept her eyes forward as she walked, right hand gripping the bottle of mace in her coat pocket. Tommy fantasized about someone pulling her into a poorly lit alleyway and shooting her between the eyes.
Her steps were quick as she made her way to the CVS 3 blocks from her building. Walking through the automatic doors, she made for the registers. Standing on her toes, she peered at the selection of cigarettes behind the counter. She walked up to the only open register, smiling absently at the cashier as she continued to scan the shelf. It’s not here. They don’t have it.
“I’ll just have the Marlboro gold.”
The cashier, a woman in what looked to be her late 40s, glanced at her and turned to pick up the small white and gold box.
Tommy pulled out her drivers’ license and handed it to the woman. She seemed to stare at it for much longer than the usual time it took to check that she wasn’t underage, and it was anyone’s guess whether it was her name or the fact that her ID picture looked like a mugshot. Maybe it was the dead look in her eyes. Whatever made her hesitate hadn’t seemed to be enough of an issue to refuse selling her the cigarettes, so Tommy swiped her card and declined the bag that was offered to her.
Tommy sat at the stairs at her building’s entrance and cupped her hand around the cigarette in her mouth as she flicked open her lighter. Inhaling, she watched as the end of the cigarette began to glow a bright orange. She frowned at the taste and sucked at the acrid smoke, savoring the feeling of it as it sat in her lungs. The cigarettes smelled of melancholy and loneliness. She’d grown up romanticizing that smell. She looked up again to watch the Manhattan sky. Something bright flashed up there, and Tommy thought whimsically that it was Divya. It was probably an airplane.
The lucky bitch managed to escape first. When the cigarette had shrunken to just the filter, Tommy rubbed it out on the steps where she was seated. She pulled her phone out of her purse and tapped the first number on her contacts list. Her hand shook as she placed the device against her ear and listened as it rang and rang and rang. She felt her eyes begin to blur and sting and touched her face in surprise at the streaks of wetness running down her cheeks. Finally, a tinny recorded voice told her to leave her message:
“Mom? Divya’s dead. I’ll call later. Bye.”