Maya angrily slammed her fists on the bar counter, roughly taking a seat and ordering a whiskey. She was going to get inebriated tonight. She had finally come out to her parents, and after a huge fight, they had thrown her out of the house. Maya had hidden her true self for years, before mustering up the courage to come out, and she wouldn’t stay in the shadows anymore. It was time to pack up and start a new life.
Taking a swig of the hard liquor in her hand, she scanned the place. The LGBTQ bar was decked in red and white; to celebrate Valentine’s day. Groups of people surrounded the small stage in the centre of the room, some holding hands with their partners, some sitting alone hoping to make connections. And under the soft glow of fairy lights, her eyes stopped on a woman with auburn hair, caramel skin, and a scintillating aura. She wore large round spectacles, and her tank top on dark blue jeans looked simply great on her. Although engrossed with a group of friends, she must have felt Maya’s stare, because she suddenly turned toward her. Maya’s brain told her to look away, but as their gazes met with rising intensity, she smiled at Maya. It was like time had stopped; Maya felt everything and everyone faded around her; the lights seemed to blur; the slam poetry everyone was applauding simmered to a lull. It was love at first sight and Maya knew it.
She knew she had to talk to this alluring woman. She ordered two tequila shots and approached her, striking up coloua conversation with a sly pick-up line. Her name was Angelina, and she was an artist. Winking at Maya, she picked up her strange drum which caught everyone’s eye. It was morbidly beautiful – the shape was odd, the colours were bright, but the carvings on it told a story. Angelina played it expertly, serenading Maya with her mellifluous voice. They were inseparable after that night.
“So, where did you get this?” Maya asked one day, reaching over to touch the unusual drum. Angelina slapped her hand away. “You need to earn touching Kendra,” she said, half amused. Angelina explained how she had spent some of her 20s backpacking in remote corners of the world, where she got acquainted with various tribal cultures and learned how to make such instruments that were colourful and contained mysterious carvings.
“Okay, but Kendra? What a vanilla name for such a complex object.” Maya objected.
“It’s named after some people I met during my travels, Maya,” Angelina responded, holding her face and giving her a chaste kiss, which Maya quickly deepened, effectively forgetting their conversation.
It had been six months since they first met. Maya felt like she had known Angelina all her life. Angelina had left for a show, so Maya quickly sneaked in and had started hanging up streamers and balloons for a surprise date on completing six months. In the daylight, she was able to see the house more clearly, and it was a sight to behold. Her living room was filled with statues and artefacts, similar to ‘Kendra’, the drum that Angelina had, each item holding a story in it. Different paintings in dark colours with morbid figures gave the house an eerie look, but Maya shrugged it off.
She went to the kitchen looking for scissors. After trying a few drawers, she walked to a door that looked like a closet entrance, but on opening it she saw a flight of stairs disappearing into darkness, which piqued her curiosity. Nervous with trepidation, she climbed down, switching on her phone’s flashlight to see in the darkness. The stairs ended in a large space that was empty, aside from slivers of a small kitchen that showed up under the light of her phone. Not thinking much of it, she shone her light to the side and screamed bloody murder. It was the face of a woman. Heaving and gasping out of fear, she held the wall for support and accidentally flicked a switch on. The room was suddenly illuminated and its sight made Maya regurgitate her breakfast. Her stomach turned at the sight of a row of glass caskets, filled with carefully preserved bodies of women – with their faces intact but the skin of the bodies removed. The rest of the room was filled with a wood rolling machine, knives, weird molds, and bottles of varnish and paint. In the centre of it all, were several hooks and long irregular sheets of material, which looked like skin under the light. Maya was appalled at the gruesome sight before her when she remembered something Angelina said frequently. “I can never let go of you, Maya. Ours is a love that will never die.” Then it hit her.
Kendra. She was not someone Angelina knew.
She was the drum Angelina played.
Revolted at the revelation and terrified out of her mind, Maya turned to run but stopped dead in her tracks. Angelina stood before her, with calculating eyes, now that her dungeon was discovered. Maya’s face became sheet white. “You weren’t supposed to see this place, my love,” she whispered in her ear, making Maya whimper and beg for life. Angelina smiled, her once radiant teeth now looking like shiny fangs, “Now you will live in it.” Screaming, Maya tried to make a break for it, but quick as lightning Angelina struck her, and she fell to the ground, unconscious.
Angelina had just finished performing her new set in a newly opened café. After receiving her applause, a guy walked up to her, introducing himself. They spoke for a while, and he asked, “So what do you call this instrument of yours? It’s very unique.”
Angelina ran her hand over it fondly, with a wistful smile on her face. “Her name is Maya, and you have to earn her touch.”