Sunlight was piercing through the dirty window panes, creating joyful little shadows on the floor. Shouts, cries, laughs and the sound of quick steps could be heard in the corridor. Careful of not looking at anybody in the eyes, I walked in the hallway, gripping my books tightly for support. I furtively looked up searching for any sign of them lurking around. I stopped in my tracks, sensing someone’s gaze on me. My heart fluttered in my chest, my palms were sweating and even my plastic-covered books left me alone. I saw the shadow of a person, or what seemed like a person in front of me. It did not matter how much I tried, I could not escape him or his memories.
The scenery suddenly changed. It was dark. I was scared to open my eyes, but I don’t know why. I waited for a few seconds. Hearing nothing, I opened my eyes slowly. The mere act of opening the eyes was torturous. It hurt above my eyebrows. I was sitting, hunched, on the floor, my back to the wall. I raised my head and the first thing that stood out was the smell of decaying flesh. The second thing was that the only source of light in the room was the moonlight coming from an opening in the wall, which seemed to have been made by two or three punches. A shaft of light decorated the dirty floor, immersed with dried blood which seemed to have been there for days. I was bare feet. My hands were covered in mud and blood –like substances. I rubbed my hands on my already-soiled clothes but the mixture of blood and mud wouldn’t go away. I suddenly got the irresistible want to scratch the mud out even if my skin would come off too. After desperate attempts, I had enough. I started howling, not only from the pain of blistering my hands but also from the anonymity of the place I was in. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was feeling helpless, and I didn’t know why. It was such a small thing, not to be able to clean my hands.
I suddenly heard heavy breathing. That’s when I realized that I was not alone in the room. I waited for my eyes to find the source. In front of me, a woman had both arms chained to some sort of wooden structure. A stench was emanating from her. She had long, wavy hair dangling in front of her face. Her wrists were bruised from the heavy chains and her feet were covered in blebs. Her sight made my skin prickle and the hair on my arms rise. She was wearing a sari, which was torn in so many places. I moved closer to her. Her ears were bleeding. One of her heavy earrings was hanging on what seemed like a thin piece of skin. Her arms were adorned with scratches. Her drape was lying on the ground, her petticoat torn, baring her left breast, which was dark and bruising. I suddenly felt something slide down my cheeks, and I immediately cried out. I slapped myself on my face continuously to remove whatever was on my face but whatever it was, just kept coming back. That’s when I realized that they were tears. My lips were wobbling, my hands trembling, and I wanted to go and help the woman, hug her, console her. I reached out to her but couldn’t find her. Suddenly her legs gave out. Only the iron linked cuffed to her hands was supporting her whole body. A soft “He…l…p me… p… p…le…ea… see” came from her bloody and purplish mouth. I watched, unmoved. I was standing there, my feet stuck to the ground, feeling faint. I managed to stretch my hands further, but she seemed too far even if I could see her myopically. As I held my hands further and further, the woman seemed farther and farther, until she was blurry and she disappeared in a flash.
Bright-colored bulbs were strung on a cord and hung on trees along the path leading to the big mansion. The walls became trees, mud and blood on the floor became grass under my now stiletto-clad feet. I was rubbing my hands on my sequins-filled Indian attire. When did I change into this? I looked up and found the moon. Further down the path, music and laughter could be heard. I put one foot in front of the other and tried not to fall. I could not remember why I wore heels. I thought that I did not like wearing them because they hurt my feet. I did not remember what I was doing and why. I was moving on auto-pilot mode.
The house was decorated like an Indian bride, with flashy bulbs and a huge magenta and cream-coloured tent just in front of the house. As I approached the entrance, I could smell sandalwood, and food, hot, spicy and oily. At the entrance was the statue of one of the most revered demi-gods in Hinduism, the elephant-headed one, called Ganesh, as is the norm at weddings. He is known as the protector and the remover of all obstacles. The latest Bollywood music was blasting from the speakers, and it was a miracle that people could even hear each other over the music, let alone have a decent conversation.
People had big smiles on their faces and were sitting around round tables. The guests were separated as if by their sex. Uncles near the food counter were animated in their conversations about the food it seemed. Aunties were in another corner, most probably discussing the latest fashion and jewellery. As I went further in, I noticed that I knew no one here, or was it that I could not remember. I saw a few girls smile at me but they could be smiling out of politeness. As I neared the stage, which was at the end of the tent, I could see the younger ones.
Children, in their cute little outfits, were dancing to the beats of a very popular song. I suddenly felt happy. I think dancing, music and the atmosphere were my favourite things. Children dressed in colourful lehengas, Anarkali churidars, girls dressed in their best cocktail dresses, looking like princesses, and boys dressed in suits and sherwanis were a remarkable sight. Kids were running around, some teenagers holding hands and flirting, while others went on the dance floor to show their hidden talents. I smiled melancholically. I tried to remember why I was feeling wistful, but again, I could not remember why.
I was now walking back, towards the entrance when there was a sudden influx of people. I turned abruptly to my right to avoid a group of people and I bumped into someone.
“Sorry”, I said
“Oh no I’m sorry”
I was mesmerized by the voice. I looked up and found myself surprised at such a handsome man. I knew him. I think. I could not remember. Why could I not remember? Surely I would remember such a good-looking face.
“Are you okay?” he continued.
“Yes yes I’m fine”, I said trying not to look into his brown eyes.
He suddenly collided with me again and he held onto my bare waist to hold both him and me from falling. His cold hands elicited a gasp from me and caused my head to involuntarily move up and look at his face. I could feel my eyes widen, and dilate as did his. His breathing quickened and his mouth seemed to come closer to mine slowly. His eyes were partly closed and frantically moved from my eyes to my lips. His hands tightened softly on my waist and he moved closer to me. I closed my eyes and a moment later, a noise from behind us broke the moment and I opened my eyes. His hands had already left me and he already turned away from me and went forth in the crowd. I was speechless. I tried to move my lips to form words but none would come out. I sat in silence for a moment for I could not understand what had happened. I was like in a trance. I did not know whether what I had just seen was real or not, whether what I had just seen was real or not, whether what I felt was my imagination or whether I really experienced those emotions.
After what seemed an eternity, I saw him again. He was not alone. He was smiling and he was talking quite energetically with a woman. She smiled shyly and put the wisp of hair that escaped her elegant bun behind her ear with her henna-covered hand. The woman was beautiful, clad in a black and white sari with sequins all over it, and heavy earrings sparkling almost too brightly. The bangles on her hand chimed with the movement she made. They seemed to be quite familiar with each other. An eerie feeling of déjà-vu got me. They were closer now and suddenly someone jostled the two persons. The woman jumped slightly and the man caught her hand and smiled flirtingly. She seemed over the moon with that one smile. He pushed her into a corner and grazed his fingers lightly over her cheekbones. He told her something but I could not hear what they were saying. The man’s body gave out signs of discomfort. His face was scrunched up by whatever the girl was telling him. He grasped her hand and the girl squirmed under his gaze. She tried hard to release her hand from his but she was too weak.
The man pulled her away from the crowd. I quickly followed them. They took the stairs to the house. As I climbed the stairs, I felt as if I did that many times before. They were still ahead of me. I followed them. The guy opened another door to what seemed like a closet. He pulled her inside and closed the door without bothering to lock it. I quietly opened the door and went in. I could hear something jingle. It must be the girl’s jewellery or clothes, I assumed. I went down the stairs and found another door. I could hear shouting, and screams and crying.
I could not resist anymore. I blast opened the door and my eyes took in everything. Rough and dilapidated walls, a hole in the wall from where the moonlight was coming in, and the man pinning the girl to a small bed. Bizarrely enough, no one heard me come in. The girl was trembling and crying, trying to push the man of her, in vain. Her kohl was streaming down her face. She threw her legs and hands at him in an attempt to get out of the man’s deathly grasp. He slapped her so hard that her earring was dangling off the edge of her ear. He tore her blouse, pinched her breast and smiled smarmily. The girl groaned and yelled and fought against him. But she was not strong enough.
All I did was watch, while the beast got her. I could not do anything. I was helpless. I went to seek help from the guests but no one heard me. I wondered if anyone could even see me. People passed by me, through me and on me but did not help. I went back to the room and I saw a mirror on the wall. I looked at it and knew. I backed away from the mirror until I reached a wall. I slid down it and sat, resigned. I could feel something on my hands, water?
As I looked down, I saw a hairy little thing on my lap. I was hunched against a wall in the corridor, with my books strewn around me. People looked at me strangely but no one said anything. I looked at my hands and saw a puppy look at me with innocent and playful eyes. He licked my hands as if he knew my pain.
The henna was almost erased. The henna of love that I wore for him. It made me want to scratch the memento of love that I had temporarily tattooed on my hands. I almost wished I had a permanent tattoo so that I could laser-remove it and let go of my love for him. It is more difficult with henna. The latter imprints on the skin and leaves a temporary image to the wearer but it actually seeps in the outer layer of skin and into the living skin and the blood stream. This made it even more difficult to forget him.
Rahul was his name; a colleague, a friend and most recently my boyfriend. We were almost lovers that is, until I found him cheating on me and then feeling jealous and possessive when I would talk to my male friends. He could cheat on me but I was not allowed to have a conversation with a male friend. The situation had improved because I stopped talking to my colleagues by taking a different route to work, eating at a different place and so on. He also promised to understand and be more patient. I made concessions for the person I thought was right for me. He was more understanding and loving. But things got worse at my cousin’s wedding, where all hell broke loose.
Rahul didn’t know some of my maternal cousins who came from Toronto just for the wedding and seeing me with them was too much for his ego. I was flaunting my body he said. And then he started the lecture. Why was I showing so much skin? Why was I wearing a sleeveless blouse? Why was I laughing, talking and even existing for that matter?
It was too much. I really thought that he had changed. He was so thoughtful during the whole ceremony, caressing my hair, asking me for drinks or food. But his behaviour changed when he left me with my cousins to take a phone call. When he returned, he was passive aggressive. He behaved softly towards me, pulled me into a corner and then his demeanour changed. He looked at me, fury in his eyes, his nostrils flaring up and outwards and his teeth tight in his mouth.
He dragged me with him towards the house which was rented for the wedding and brought me to a room where he started his accusations and harassment. He abused me both mentally and physically. I lay down there hours after the beast had me, weak and ashamed. I was unrecognizable. I was found in the wee hours by a cousin who saw the door to the basement open.
I was never the same after that. My self-esteem and self-confidence took a blow. I was scared to put one foot outside. I was afraid to look in people’s eyes. I was the guilty one. I was the one to be blamed for wanting to be me, for not being submissive to my boyfriend’s demands.
I was trying to live, survive the days however I could. But I think I found the path to happiness by volunteering in this centre for stray and battered animals while studying to become a veterinarian. They understood me and my pain and these voiceless animals were better than the authoritative humans. Their experience was similar to mine. They were also betrayed by their loved ones.
Taking care of them, and playing with them gave me hope and hope was enough for a woman, thirsty for love and acceptance.
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