I wake up to a cold and harsh morning. A dull gray light sweeps over the room giving it a surreal look. As more light trickles in, I raise my throbbing head slightly and try to moisten my parched lips. Where am I? I look around at my meager surroundings, the room smelling damp and unclean with moisture seeping in through the cracks in the ceiling. I try to move my hands, but I can't feel them. Wait, I think they're tied. The realization makes my wrists burn and my head continues to throb in pain as I try to clear my jumbled up mind. My lids feel heavy, and as I struggle to pull my legs up to ease the pain in my cramping back, I feel a searing pain around my ankle. God, I am tied to the bed! The realization hits me harder than a slap, and my heart pounds in fear as countless possibilities flood into my mind. As I concentrate on trying to remember, trying to clear my hazy mind I feel lost and vulnerable. The passing minutes seem like eternity and my body feels bruised, battered and somehow.violated. The silence is ominous. As I try to lessen my increasing panic, I wonder, God am I dying? Is this how we feel when we die? At least tell me why you are making me suffer this way and what is killing me? Have I committed any sin?
My mind travels to my aspirations in life, my hope of being an actress.that takes me back in time as I recall my childhood and search desperately for a clue to my presence.
Maiya, haven't you had enough looking at the aaina?" my mother gently reprimanded me with a smile.
I shook my head a little as I swept my fingers through my lustrous black hair, shining in the warm sunlight as I felt my cheeks redden. It had been a little over a week since I'd passed my SLC exams, in First Division, and I was proud to be the only girl in the village who had done so. My mother had promised me she would send me to Kathmandu for higher education if I did well in my exams, and I excitedly waited for my father- the Ward's Chief- to come back home, so that my mother could talk to him. I could not believe how lucky I was, compared to other girls of the village. My mother understood and believed that I should have the chance in life, to experience something different and not be restricted only to home, kitchen and children like she had been. It was only because of her, that my father had continued sending me to school, even after I had come of age to marry. I had heard of Kathmandu, and its Kollywood film industry and I hoped that I could go there. My mother had told me when I was 5 years old, that I was pretty enough to be an actress, so I had vainly taken her words for granted through out my life. My thoughts were interrupted by, "Go make some chjya for us will you? Your father will be here soon."
"Yes, amah," I said eager to make sure everything went all right in the evening.
"I will not send my daughter to Kathmandu. Why, I let her go to school, didn't I? I let her study up to SLC, and now you mother-daughter have been conspiring behind my back to go to Kathmandu!" the raging words were sealed by a slap that made my heart skip a beat. My father- the man known to be fairest in the village- it couldn't be. "Next week, a zamindar's family is coming to see her, make sure she is ready. I am tired of keeping up with all her whims. I will marry her off next month with the family, and gladly rid myself of the unnecessary burdens." The tears that welled up in my eyes drowned away the only dream I had ever dared to have. My mother's pale face, her quivering and bleeding lips, were the last thing I ever wanted. My father had always found some fault or other in my mother, but that was not unusual; however, he'd never hit her as far as I had known. I was ashamed that I had been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I had, for my own happiness, merely taken for granted that my father would let me go. And because of me, my mother had been hit. I dared not go in front of them. I silently retreated into the darkness, as tears rolled down my cheeks.
I stood in front of the mirror, adorned in a red sari with a dark line of kohl under my eyes. I wore red bangles and a golden necklace that clasped around my neck. I let go of the bun on my head, and my healthily glowing hair cascaded in a fall of black. I hated having to tie up my hair, one of my few prized possessions, so I stubbornly shut out what my conscience was telling me to do. The red sari and my black hair contrasted against my pale skin. They were coming to see me, and I would be lucky to get married to this 'family' according to my father. He said the man was young, and strong and rich and he would take good care of me- he was 29 years old- 12 years older than me. I stifled the emotional turmoil inside my head, tucked back my thoughts of Kathmandu and acting with a strand of my hair, and went downstairs to greet them.
I heard laughter before I got to the room, and as I entered; a hush fell in the room. With my eyes glued to the floor, I put down the tray of tea and stood silently without raising my eyes from the floor. Then I realized that the silence was still-too still to be natural. My heart throbbed at realizing what the consequences would later be for my own silent resolution not to put the sari above my head. I could see my father clutching the edge of the chair so hard, that his knuckles had turned white. The tears threatened to pour, but I held them back.
The pain is unbearable; my throat is parched, the room swimming around me. I try to remember what else happened that day. But I only remember my fear, and my father's hands against the wooden chair. What happened then? What happened today? I force myself to remember but I cannot. I fear the unknown, as I drift into my hazy past.one more time.or one last time...
I was on the window seat of the bus, looking out the window, staring out at the endless green and blue sights that passed in a haze. My back hurt, probably because it was going to be "that time of the month" but today the pain seemed exacerbated. And my eyes couldn't stop watering, or my fingers quivering. I think I was running away, but from what, I did not know. I will become an actress I stubbornly thought, and I will never marry.
As I turned my head, I saw a man staring at me, from the corner of my eyes. He looked about 20 years old, with jet-black hair, a square jaw and an aquiline nose that suited his face. He looked like a younger version of one of those clean-shaved Brahmins who performed pujas at our house.
At the next stop I got out of the bus and threw up. When I got on to the bus again, I had to sit next to the man. I did not look at him, but I could feel that he was still staring at me from the corner of his eyes. As I almost opened my mouth to tell him to stop, he said, "You run away from home?" in English. I was thrown off-guard at his question, and understood his discretion, since there were other people on the bus. Not knowing what to do or say, I merely nodded at the stranger.
"Ma pani." he said. This knowledge made me curious about why he had run away- but he said with a smile, " I wanted to become an actor." I hadn't heard of boys not being allowed to go to Kathmandu before, and I wasn't sure how to react to his confession- a reason so similar to my own. I turned away from him, merely to feel a prick.
My throat is scratchy, my eyes getting sandier. My arms and legs numb from the tightly bound rope. The memory of being pricked makes my left arm burn. What happened after meeting the man? What happened.why did this happen? Is this my punishment for running away, for following my only dream? Why do I have to face this nightmare? I can hear the door creaking open, and a shaft of light enters the room. I hear a girl say, "It isn't her fault, she couldn't please him because she was drugged too heavily."
My throat catches itself. I should have known. The stories of "Bombay girls"- it is true after all. But why...how me? Do I deserve this hellish punishment? My only desire was to gain some independence- to be me. The shadows lengthen, and the shaft of light near the door gets brighter, too bright. Nonetheless shadows still lurk near me. I don't know where I went wrong...while following my only dream.