The sparsely staffed upper story of GM Towers that housed the diner that billed itself the best Konkani Restaurant in town was having a slow business day. The mostly unworked waiters lounged lazily at the corner tables, out of eye and earshot of the handful of customers who happened to be there. All eyes in the diner were turned towards the grainy, miniscule television that was mounted on an improvised stand near the ceiling of the restaurant. A politician, clad in the brightest orange, spread his arms in a gesture of magnificence, enthralling his junta with all the wiles and Machiavellian schemings that 40 years of politicking had taught him.
This hardly uncommon arrangement was rendered so by a seemingly innocuous rendezvous that took place on its premises on the Sunday of December 31st, 2017.
At one of the tables sat a man, aged around 40, gold chain shining forth from within an entanglement of chest hair, a massive paunch belying a life of lazy Hedonism. A handful of rice was held suspended in his hand, with the gravy running down his arm, unnoticed, as he stared at the TV screen.
Another table entertained a mother, child by her side, staring with glazed eyes at the screen, while the child shrieked for attention, striking her unresponsive arm with petulant pleas.
At the third sat a man, age 32, with head bowed. A green polo t-shirt, impeccably ironed, hid a body that had been assiduously chiselled at a gym. Size 5 converse shoes peeked out from within a pair of denims that looked like they had come fresh from the launderers. The unusual proliferation of creases between his eyebrows spoke of a man who has many reasons to frown, and not as many to smile. He stared down at his plate of prawn ghee roast, apparently taking no delight in it. A laptop bag, lying on the chair next to him, was a constant reminder that work beckoned, as soon as he was done with his lunch.
Across from him sat a woman, aged 23, whose face bore evidence of a sleepless night and much deliberation, and no small amount of determination. Ever since this couple had arrived, it was she who had dominated the conversation, with the man hardly getting a word in.
“…had just about all I can take,” she was saying, as his eyes unattentively followed the wisps of smoke emanating from his steaming lunch. “There are many things I admire about you, Auro, but partial admiration can only take you so far. I don’t feel the effort that needs to be put in to this relationship is coming from both of us.”
That last bit struck a nerve for Auro. He had never liked anyone questioning his work ethic. Frown resumed its rightful place, and he glanced up at his partner. As her lips continued to emit their discordant notes, his eyes strayed up to her ears, noticing for the first time how they were not unlike prawns, themselves. He looked down once again to reaffirm his notion and was pleased to see that he was not mistaken. Frown fidgeted, not so sure of its seat anymore.
Behind him, the speakers continued to act as the harbingers of Separatist propaganda. Auro found it mildly distracting.
“When was the last time you came home with a smile on your face, wanting to spend an enjoyable evening with me? When was the last time your face did not have that God-damned frown!” she exclaimed.
The speakers began to crackle, the politician’s voice cutting in and out intermittently.
“I really think you need to get some help. It isn’t healthy to be this angry all the time. Will you listen to me just this once and get some help?”
Auro had traversed elsewhere within his mind. He was travelling amongst physical representations of sound notes, repairing the ones that had been damaged or destroyed, adorning himself the sound carpenter.
“Are you even listening to me?” she shrieked.
Auro snapped out of his reverie. “I’m sorry, Mona, I didn’t catch that last part,” he said, looking up with the faintest traces of apologetic feeling softening his features.
Mona seethed, “You know what, I’ve had it. This is so typical of you. Here I am, trying to salvage something from our relationship, and you don’t even have the decency to hear me out. You never have. You have always been a terrible listener.”
“Don’t say that,” he said, voice trembling with emotion, “Please don’t say that.” Frown returned, triumphant, dominant.
“Well, I’m sorry, but it is true.”
“Mona, I understand you’re upset, but there is no need to be bitch.”
Her mouth fell open. “Wow, just wow. You know what? You can just fuck off, you Konkan bastard.”
Auro, ears reddening, began, “Are you insulting my mother tongue?”
But she had already left.
Auro walked towards the Five-items-or-less counter at the supermarket with his 5 Kg jar of Serious Gainz protein shake. The cashier was running through customers at an impressive pace, but there were still a couple of people before him in the line. The guy immediately in front of him was broad shouldered and tall. He seemed especially so to Auro, whose deficiency in the height department had always been a source of great insecurity. The man in front of him seemed to encompass his whole field of vision. Auro suppressed a surge of anger, and switched queues. He now found himself at the last counter, closest to the exit.
The tinted sliding doors provided a reflective surface that few men who hit the gym as hard as Auro did would have been able to resist. He found himself flexing his arms with the 5 Kg jar in his hand, and admiring how well his muscles had developed over the past couple of years.
His eyes travelled upwards, noting the muscle mass build-up around his shoulders and the purple of his veins straining at the skin of his neck. His face was now hidden away beneath a full, lush beard, but his head was clean shaven. The lights of the supermarket reflected off the beads of perspiration that formed on it from time to time. The lines between his eyebrows had become significantly more entrenched. Frown flourished.
It suddenly struck him how much he had changed. How, somewhere along the way, he had lost the innocence of righteous anger, and how his evolution from that had not only changed who he was within, but had been corporealized and was now there for all to see.
“Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you today?” asked the cashier, an unpleasant looking woman well past her prime, smiling wearily at him.
“Oh, just the one item, thank you,” he said, setting the jar down on the counter.
“Gladly, sir. There is an offer on this item, sir. With every purchase of a Serious Gainz jar, you receive one set of Zebronics Multimedia Speakers absolutely free,” she said, with all the magnanimity of Alexander granting a life of continued Royal Luxury to Darius III’s family.
Frown twitched, agitated.
“That’s all right, I don’t want them,” he said, voice curiously subdued.
The cashier was taken aback. This was unprecedented behaviour. Perhaps he misunderstood.
“But, sir, it is completely free,” she repeated.
Auro remained silent, handing over the money, keeping his eyes averted. The cashier bagged the jar and the speakers and handed it over to Auro, who wordlessly walked out of the store.
On reaching the road, he immediately reached into the bag and, extricating the speakers, unceremoniously dumped them into the trash can that lay right outside the store. Then, as if afraid of lingering there, he walked off at a brisk pace.
A short metro trip later, he was home. Setting his new purchase on top of the cabinet, he walked across the hall and turned on his sound system. Immediately, the whole house was drowned in the dark melodies of doom metal, with Queen of All Time blaring from the network of speakers Auro had set up all over the house.
His eyes closed in silent ecstasy for a brief moment, as euphoria overwhelmed him, and he felt that familiar sensation in his groin.
Frown shuddered. Tonight was going to be a good night.
He switched on his computer, grabbing an apple from the fridge, feet moving rhythmically to the music. Logging on, he immediately opened multiple tabs, clicking on his neatly organized bookmarks in alphabetical order. Each bookmark pertained to a different forum for audiophiles. Long months of practice had taught him the areas he needed to concentrate on to get his daily fix, and the areas he needed to avoid, so as to avoid perverting the purity of his knowledge base.
He had developed a fearsome reputation in these circles, ruthlessly mowing down anyone who held misguided views on the characteristics of sound and its gadgetry. People all over the world knew to step out of his way and respectfully accept his opinion, whether out of simple fear, or out of deference to his near encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter. Gone were the days when simply good sound quality and reasonable pricing were enough to satisfy him. Now, he travelled only in exalted circles where the philosophy of sound overrode any quantifiable benchmark by which a particular device may be judged. Auro was the judge, and his intuition served as benchmark enough.
Scouring the various screens, he spotted an unwelcome intruder on an otherwise enlightened post. The intruder, styling himself “CranialDessert”, not realizing the majesty of the company he was in, had naively ventured to express a contrary opinion (with the best intentions no doubt) to that of Auro’s. What followed was to go down in audiophilia lore.
Chat Window 1:
CranialDessert: Well, I originally thought using human subjects to determine experimentally what “characteristics” of sound they found enjoyable and then to build these characteristics into loudspeakers was a pretty good idea. But now it just seems like another way of trying to force feed us linearity in every facet of our lives. #anarchy
Auro-al-Illusion: And what is wrong with linearity? It is the sole driving force of accurate reproduction. Go back to your Momma’s breast and do some fucking research, you Skull Candy bitch!
Chat Window 2:
FieryFoxtrot97: Ha! “Skull Candy bitch.” Nice one. :* :*
Auro-al-Illusion: Bitch-ass noobs trying to troll our threads! I bet his cries for attention couldn’t be any louder if he played them through a Backes & Muller BM 100.
FieryFoxtrot97: Ha-ha, yeah…
Auro-al-Illusion: I’m sick of people not even taking the effort to learn about something that they are talking about. I bet this sad excuse for a human being still equates price to quality of product.
FieryFoxtrot97: So, anyway, we on for tonight?
Auro-al-Illusion: Would you believe, they tried to foist a Zebronics piece of trash on me today. Some crap about it being free with my protein shake. I should have given that to CranialDessert, I bet he would jack off to those.
Auro-al-Illusion: What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t see your message. Yeah, yeah, we’re on for tonight.
FieryFoxtrot97: Great, I’ll seeya at seven, then.
Auro-al-Illusion: Yeah. So do you think we should block him from our thread? I think I’m gonna have a word with the admin. I wrote to him last week as well, he never replies.
A couple of hours later, having destroyed any vestige of self-worth that CranialDessert may have salvaged within himself, Auro logged out and began to get ready for his date.
A special occasion warranted a special effort, and Auro did not pull any punches. A smart blue shirt with impeccably fashionable pants to match, a careful comb-through of his beard, and he was not at all disappointed with what he espied in the mirror. First impressions were key. Until now, his entire spectrum of interaction with FieryFoxtrot97 was online. He had never spoken to her in person. He did not even know how she looked.
What he saw was disappointing, but Auro was never picky when it came to looks. She stood at 5’3”,
with a largish build. Bordering on obese, if he was being honest. A shock of curly hair mercifully covered the majority of her face, and she had chosen an unpleasant shade of shock red lipstick to adorn her lips with. Her overall vibe was not quite revolting, merely pathetic.
But ever the picture of chivalry, Auro took no notice of any of that, and the twain proceeded to have a wonderful evening over wine and Coorgi pork. The lady, unused to a charm separated from superficiality, was swept off her feet by his passionate discourses, and pretty soon, with a seemingly natural progression, she found herself accompanying him to his house.
On entry, what struck her first and foremost was the neatness. The almost obsessively perfect arrangement of furniture, entertainment systems and miscellaneous paraphernalia. What struck her next was that this house was an utter and completely accurate representation of Auro’s personality. It reflected the personality of a man who knew what he was doing, who had his life and its direction sorted out. The kind of man who would wake up every morning with a purpose, and not take each day as it comes, but will life into submitting to his whims.
“Come, I’ll show you around,” he said, tenderly, sending her innards into convulsions of delight. She rose silently, taking his hand, giddy with pleasure. He led her through the hallway, down a narrow corridor. The corridor had four doors diverging from it, one on the left, two on the right and one right at the end.
Auro led her into the second door on the right, a room enveloped in the deepest shade of darkness. She shuddered in anticipation, waiting for what they both knew was to come.
A string of light bulbs turned on, illuminating to the awestruck lady what could only be described as a temple.
From the ceiling to the floor, there were speakers. Old school, mid-range, retro, storm-jammers, the best of every genre and age of speakers was represented there, and cross referenced with the current market price of that particular device.
Front and centre, she spotted a massive structure, shrouded reverentially in a protective blanket of the softest cotton. Despite the overwhelming multitude of similar structures around her, she found her eyes drawn to this item alone. This fact did not go unnoticed by Auro, who pressed home his advantage.
“Ah, this,” he said, his hand stroking the cotton suggestively. “This is, as they say in France, La Piece de Resistance.”
“You speak French too?” she gasped, breathily.
Frown, for the first time that evening, made an appearance, albeit not with its usual pronouncement.
A curious feeling of foreboding began to seep into Auro’s mind, a premonition of sorts. He looked at her for the first time with a new look in his eyes. He had offered to take her out for dinner on the vaguely optimistic hope that a fellow audiophile and him would have plenty to talk about and that he would find a companion to share his greatest passion with. But now, thinking back over the evening he had spent, he began to see multiple clues pointing to the fact that this was now no more than wishful thinking.
With an extravagant flourish, he pulled off the cotton blanket, displaying the pride of his collection in all its glory. He had made sure it was positioned just so that the lighting of the room did it justice and that it was acoustically in the optimum position in the room.
“So, tell me,” he began, working hard to keep his voice from trembling, “what do you think this… This structure… This work of art… This… This masterclass of audio technology, what do you think it has that other systems don’t?”
The lady, intent on Auro himself rather than what he was talking about, did not process the question entirely, nor did she gauge the apparent importance it held for Auro. What she did spot, however, was an option to flirt.
“Um, I dunno,” she said, “Maybe ‘cause it’s really, really big?”
Frown cast down its anchor. It wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the night.
“I see,” said Auro, now visibly worked up. “Could I interest you in showing you something truly beautiful?”
A playful smile lit up the lady’s face as she said, in a sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”
Auro took her hand and led her back out into the corridor. Turning right, he led her into the last door at the end of the corridor.
He unlocked the door, and seemed to struggle with its weight when pulling it open. Beyond yawned a gaping chasm of the most absolute darkness.
“After you,” said Auro, showing her in.
She walked slowly, cautiously, feeling with her feet. Behind her she heard the heavy door thud shut and the click of multiple locks. A shiver ran through her.
“Well, this is… Unusual,” she ventured.
Her comment received no acknowledgement as Auro had seemingly busied himself with something else, of which the only evidence reaching her was the vague sound of shuffling in the darkness. She braced herself, expecting to feel his touch at any moment.
Suddenly, the lights flicked on. Initially blinded, her eyes took a few seconds to adjust. The room she stood in now was threadbare to say the least. There was one chair in the middle of the room. And three of the four walls were covered in drapes, even though there were no windows to this room. The floor contained no panelling, and the room came across more as a basement than anything else. It certainly was a far cry from the king-sized bed the lady had been imagining.
She gasped as she suddenly felt Auro’s hands wrap around her from behind. Sliding his hands across her belly, they came to rest in the crevice between the bottom of her breasts and the first fold of fat from her belly.
“Are you ready?” he whispered, nudging her forwards towards the wall.
She was beginning to feel quite disconcerted, by now.
“Erm… Not really. I don’t quite like this room, can we go back outside, please?” she asked, her tonality taking on that childlike quality that every woman seems to have at their beck and call when required.
“Oh, but I haven’t showed you what we came here to see,” he said. He had manoeuvred her until she now stood within arm’s reach of the draping on one of the walls. “Pull it off,” he commanded.
“I really don…”
“Pull it off!” he hissed.
She flinched, and then yanked at the draping.
After two long seconds, in which her mind processed what it was being forced to, the silence of the night was rent apart by a blood curdling shriek.
She writhed and struggled, but Auro’s once sensual embrace was now an unbreakable grip, as he manhandled her into the chair. His forearms closed around her throat and he began applying pressure until it was no longer possible for her to scream, and eventually even to breathe. She blacked out.
When she came to, she was still in the chair, but she had been stripped naked, and her hands and ankles were tied to it. She noticed, too, that the chair had been nailed down. The chair sat in such a position, that the person occupying it had the best seat to appreciate the collection that resided behind all three drapes.
Auro had left the lights on, and removed the drapes for her benefit, and so it was that she beheld the entire collection in all its wonder.
Adorning all three walls, labelled, tagged and arranged according to size, shape and colour were ears. Human ears. Starting from the left wall, where the smallest and frailest ears were displayed, some of them undoubtedly the ears of babies, the size increased all the way to the wall on the right, where the adult male ears were displayed.
Auro stood at the wall directly in front of her, having labelled and indexed an empty spot on the wall in front. He turned to face her, an expression of maniacal pleasure on his face, though not without Frown. He emitted a laugh, but not like anything she had heard before. It was not a normal laugh, not even an evil laugh. To her petrified ears, it sounded like a long exhale from an asthmatic, or the final expelling of breath from one who has not the strength to inhale anymore. It sounded like death.
Tapping the empty spot, he said, “This is where you belong, you pseudo-audiophiles. This is your rightful place. Before you, my dear, is a collection of all the most imperfect ears mankind has created. Not imperfect to look at, mind you. A true audiophile isn’t as superficial as that. No, no. Imperfect in their ability to detect the truly sublime sound from the merely good sound. You, who had all the equipmental knowledge gleaned from constantly scouring that forum, how could you allow your ears to degrade to the point where they can’t discern between volume and clarity? How, despite your excellent aural education, could you say something as ignorant as you did outside?”
“I WASN’T LISTENING TO YOU!!! I JUST SAID THAT TO FLIRT WITH YOU! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU PSYCHO!! HELP ME! HELP!” she screamed.
Auro shook his head disapprovingly and, approaching her calmly, bludgeoned her with a right hook, shutting her up and cutting open her cheek. Her pleas for help were replaced by groans of pain.
“If you had paid attention, my love,” he said, “you would have noticed that this room has been soundproofed. You could scream till your sub-par ears are rendered even more useless, but nothing will come of it. I recommend, therefore, that you desist.”
As she sat, hunched over in her chair, Auro produced a backpack. From within he pulled out an iPod and a pair of headphones. The model number on the headphones read MX-50, an upgrade on the now obsolete MX-20’s.
Working slowly but surely, he chose the track he wished to play and set the headphones over her ears. They were tightly clamped and she found that shaking her head, however vigorously, would not dislodge it.
Turning up the volume to the maximum, Auro hit play. Immediately, a cacophony of sounds blared through the headphones, filling her head, drowning out any coherent thought.
She screamed and flailed, trying to escape, but the headphones stayed clamped. She felt like she was being subjected to a million nails being painstakingly drawn across a million blackboards, with all the collected wails of misery ever voiced by mankind added in for good measure. The sound made her skin crawl, and its sheer volume ensured that it reverberated within her.
Seconds melted into hours, and she had no idea how long she sat there, screaming, blacking out, coming to, screaming again. But, do what she might, the sound did not stop. In the midst of her travails, she had lost control of her bladder, and now sat drenched in her own urine and faeces, but found herself unable to even process that fact enough to be disgusted by it.
Her screams now blended into the wails and screeches emanating from her headphones, and everywhere she glimpsed ears, as if mounted to hear her scream. She passed out again.
She came to, conscious of a stinging pain in her neck. She opened her eyes to see Auro withdrawing a syringe filled with her blood.
“For filing, you understand,” he said, airily. He knew she could not hear him over the sounds playing into her ears, but he still kept a one sided conversation with her. He found that he enjoyed conversations most when he was the only one talking.
He returned with a knife. It looked sheer, was made completely of metal, and looked, even at first glance, to be immensely sharp.
Nonchalantly, and with no foreplay, he held her head in place by wrapping his arm round it, and held her right ear with his hand. His other hand brought the knife and began slicing through. Her agony touched new peaks and she positively shrieked in excruciation. The knife, thoroughly sharp, sliced through the ear with no trouble at all, and soon he had his latest specimen.
He held it up for close examination. His sensitive ears were inundated by her continued shrieks, distracting him. Frown fretted, agitated, and suddenly Auro swung the knife across her face with all the force he possessed. It struck her on the left cheek, slicing through her jaw, all the way to the other side of her face, until her lower jaw lay hanging by cartilage. The next swipe sliced open her throat, causing blood to cascade down her breasts, down to the foot of the chair, mingling with her refuse.
And at long last, he had his beloved silence.
Six months later:
Mona sat in a hotel room, munching on a piece of toast, flicking through the channels, when onscreen flashed the picture of a person she was all too familiar with. She watched in silent horror as the gruesome details of Auro’s deeds were explained over and over again with sadistic glee by journalists from every channel in the country.
“…police say the suspect has admitted to kidnapping, theft, assault, manslaughter, graverobbing, cannibalism and many other heinous crimes. The suspect also furnished details in support of his statement, lending further credence to his claim that he had no accomplices. However, the police admit that they have hit a snag in determining his motives. On being asked to state his motive, the police report states that the suspect emitted a loud, wheezy laugh, and simply said, ‘She can’t say I’m not a good listener. I listened all right.’ On being asked to elaborate, the suspect clamped up and refused to speak any further.”
The piece of toast was still suspended midway between the plate and Mona’s mouth; its holder had not moved for the past few minutes. Snippets of their last conversation flashed before her eyes. Those words that he had immortalized in criminal lore, those words were hers. She had cast them at him, carelessly, unthinkingly. She had set in motion, with a careless remark, events that would affect hundreds, maybe thousands of people.
She set her toast back down on the plate and switched off the TV. A headache began to assail her. She felt her head being invaded by an alien presence. She felt heavy, weighed down. She glanced into the mirror by her bed.
Frown stared back at her.