They introduced themselves, but Farhan already knew her name. It was on the poster outside Prithvi Theatre – a dramatic performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She’d played one of the hags and when the last show was over, Farhan went over and told her in his opinion, her act was ‘bewitching’, and she laughed a throaty laugh. He liked how she sounded, minus the cackle on stage.

“Let me get us some coffee,” she offered, and they headed to the canteen. The lights were put up in a myriad fashion and the seating area bathed in the warm glow from the coloured paper lanterns. They talked over Irish coffee and Farhan could hardly believe everything that was happening. Her foot rubbed against his for a couple of moments, and he caught the look in her dark eyes that he was hoping would turn up soon enough.

This, he thought, is unreal.

It didn’t take too long. Within the next fifteen minutes, they were in a rickshaw, lighting cigarettes and the proximity between them was minimal.

“I love Mumbai winters,” she said, her hands moving over her arms, trying to warm herself up.

“You could hardly call it winter,” Farhan remarked, exhaling an almost opaque cloud of smoke.

“Hey, they’re a really pleasant cold, okay?” she playfully defended, a grin on her face.

“Sure,” he chuckled.

She flicked away her cigarette and the last vestiges of the smoke died in a ruddy purple haze. She gazed ahead at the traffic, personifying silence the first time since he saw her in Macbeth. He had to stop himself from looking at her for too long. She was friendly and everything, but hungry, lecherous stares were a different thing. So he sneaked a look at the rickshaw’s side mirrors and found her dark reflection.

What he saw was inhuman. Her eye sockets sunk into her skull, her cheek bones extremely prominent and highlighted by the red rear light of the car ahead. her face looked deprived of skin, of flesh, of life. She looked haunted.

“Thanks for escorting me back home, Farhan,” she said, catching his gaze in the mirror. She turned to look at him, her hand sliding up his sleeve. “It’s not safe to travel these streets so late in the night, you know.”

He didn’t know if it was her touch or her words, but there were goose bumps rioting on his skin. The next moment, her lips were on his. She tasted strange. His mouth was burning.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, breaking the kiss but sliding closer. “Are you uncomfortable?”

“No, it’s just…”

She laughed. Something so unreal about her laugh, something so not human, something repulsive. It nauseated him. He heard short ripping sounds. Her nails were in his leather jacket, reaching and biting into his skin. His throat was jammed. There was no sound.

“I’m sorry, its difficult for me to get out of character once Macbeth is over.”

Nyrah leaned in for another kiss.

There was madness in her eyes, and acid on her lips.