“Chandni” by Fiona Kezia Winston

Short Story ID- 13/2015

She was five when her mother took out a perfectly polished agate and moonstone encrusted sword from the attic, dusted it thoroughly and handed it to her.

Her small hands were too soft, and her frame, too petite to even hold the heavy sword without staggering and panting. But her mother did not take it back. How could she? The sword was the first big thing; she had lifted as a child, as had her mother and her grandmother. She was the great grand-daughter of a Raani, the brave Raani who fought for her clan with the same moonstone and Agate sword, with her dead husband on the back of her steed and her infant daughter suckling to her breast, tied to her body, with royal purple fabric. It was a shame that the royal bloodline was now in poverty but that did not mean they would be any less proud. Pride and dignity ran in their blood and she wanted her daughter to know, that they were the descendants of CHANDNI, the Raani who made the moon bleed with her valiant fight for freedom. She stood content and peaceful, watching her beautiful daughter, struggle with the flashy thing and finally finding a perfect niche to hold it warmly in between her little palms. The sword stood a head taller than the little girl, who smiled, revealing her two missing front teeth, with purest pride at having achieved such a herculean task.

“Chandni”, her mother said, running her fingers through her soft, silky black hair. “Your name means Chandamama_the moon, the daughter of the sky. When you smile, the earth spins faster, faster and your light will save the night.” Amidst stories of the Raani, several wars and the good old days, she would often point out, with her spindly finger, to the inky black sky that was bejewelled with a single majestic crescent or sometimes a round ornate burning moon; The moon that bled for the queen who fought her final war. Her beautiful daughter smiled, lying on her mother’s lap, nodding off in her sleep. The mother knew she would have handsome suitors someday. She was such a pretty child with the purest of hearts and the sweetest of smiles.

She was ten when she was raped, by her own father, muted with a kitchen rag and tied with gossamer threads and thrown to the attic, where the sword still laid.

The sun played truant all day and the clouds mourned with her, for her_the daughter of the sky. She bled from various parts and her honey toned skin, shone with raw gashes of a hungry predator. She washed and bathed and tied up her hair in a red ribbon and latched herself from the inside of the old, incense breathing puja-room. She swore she would never cry, for her tears, completely drained and dry, parched inside her tear ducts. She also swore to never tell anyone of her shame. Not even her mother who showed her the moon.

She was fifteen when she was raped again by her father, this time in a drunken frenzy, with three other men who were old enough to be her grandfathers.

This time, in front of her mother, her proud mother, who doused herself with kerosene and flicked one spark of match light and died, that very day. Chandni noticed, amidst the pain and blood, that she had stayed as still as a roti, that was thrown into a tandoor to be willingly baked. Death of her mother and a torn body broke her apart and still, Chandni survived. She was in pieces, battered and left to die. Moti, the street dog, even licked her bleeding wounds dry and she was too afraid to move. What if he eats me? But hours later, she knew Moti was less harmful than the other predators and so she slept and was raped again and again and again, by a dog, which never licked her wounds clean.

She was twenty when she ran away, with a tattered bundle of old clothes, a sword, and a growing bundle of her father’s sin in her womb, in the middle of a dark and dangerous city.

She slept on the roads and ate scraps that hotel owners threw for the dogs. “Tamil nahi maalum ji”, she’d murmur to everyone who came up to help. Some dogs even came hauntingly near, running a shivering hand near her withering breast and pretended to care. But what haunted her more was the city that came to life at night. The city that needed no moon. That frightened Chandni and yet she knew, she would find a place, for herself amidst the garbage rubble and for it that lived in her tummy in this dirty dark city.

She felt creeping hands, raking her body; when she was sound asleep, curled at a bustop, near the statue of the puritan. And yet, she pretended like she did not care. There were several Motis around, harmless Motis who could only ravish her body. There were only very little predators that could eat her heart and spit it out like stale meat. And that predator was at a sad, little place called home. She was safe. Safe, here. Away from home.

They woke her up in the middle of the night one day when the city was sleeping with all lights on and there was no need for a moon. They took her aside and gave her freshly starched clothes that were so white, that they’d not stand a chance when she slept at the muddy pavements. But they took her bundles and gave her food and medicines and watched her eat and sleep, like a mother, like her mother who showed her the moon.

It squirmed inside her like she had eaten too much and she puked. Several times each day, at the metal sink in the empty room. She stood at the bar-less windows and watched the trees and men, running around, laughing like clockwork dolls, cut paper caricatures, in fast forward. She laughed to herself as they swooped in and out in her own mental rewind and resume.

They never came. The people who fed and washed her. But she had a prickling feeling that she was being watched and the empty walled room, with the metal sink in the corner and the bar-less window, only frightened her more and more. Even more than the dimly-lit bus stops that used to be her bedrooms. It was frightened too. Not as much as she was, because she had seen a maniacal world that it was yet to see, but it was scared. So scared that it would keep kicking her all day and she would scream her lungs away.

They would come in when she was screaming and give her something so sour, that she would immediately drift to painless sleep and wake up hours afterward, feeling all the more tired and unrested. Her pain ate away her body, even as her gashes healed, gaping holes still remained. Unclosed and painfully opening to speak and shutting up, when they found that the monster had severed their tongues.

Her only solace was the moon that stood unwelcome, floating in the farthest end of a city that did not want it at all. And every time she choked with recurring sobs, watching the unwelcome moon, she reminded herself that she would not cry. And her sobs died at the base of her throat, washing away, along with her strength.

She became insane when it talked to her, from the inside, for the first time.

What would you name me?

She cursed it, abused it with words that she had only heard from the predators, when they tore her slowly but surely apart, inside out.

I don’t know you. She said, finally. And I don’t want to know you, you wretched piece of shit.

To hell with you. I don’t even know myself anymore.

And with that, she felt her tummy caving in and cascading in a tumultuous fashion and she knew it was crying inside.

The water broke.

She laughed loudly, cursing the Gods, cursing her mother, the monster, his allies and finally the moon.

“The sword”, she whimpered as they tied her up. She kicked the vial of sour medicine that would put her to painless sleep. “The sword! The sword!”, she shouted as they forced her to be still and pinched her honey toned skin with the tip of a sedative injection.

It did not work.

Her madness had intoxicated her and the venom of her own insanity killed the medicine inside her tattered body.

Tearing the binds, she woke up, bleeding at the parts where her binds ate through her skin, her anklets undone, her saree torn at several places, she pushed them away with herculean strength that she did not know she possessed since the first time she carried that sword when she was five. She slashed the bottom half of her stomach with her agate and moonstone encrusted sword that she found on the attic of the empty white washed room. Blood coloured her white starched saree and she laughed like a madwoman, screaming: “Die bitch, die. You’re no good like your father, you will be an whore someday, die bitch, before that happens, die, die, die”

She was twenty when she died laughing, a mad woman, who tried to kill the child that she thought, was inside of her , the child that was never there.

And her pretty sword shone with her beautiful ruddy blood.

And the moon bled again, for the last daughter of the Raani who died fighting her last valiant battle.

That unwelcomed, unwanted moon, that shone in its own corner, in the dark and dangerous city.

 

“Your name means Chandamama_the moon, the daughter of the sky. When you smile, the earth spins faster, faster and your light will save the night.”

Glossary:

Chandamama-The moon in Hindi.

Raani-Queen.

Puja Room-Prayer room in the house.

Roti-Indian flat bread.

Tandoor-Indian earthen oven used to make breads.

“Tamil nahi maalum ji-A Hindi phrase which means, “I do not know Tamil(Another Indian language), sir”

Fiona Kezia Winston

Author’s Bio: Fiona Kezia Winston is an entrepreneur/writer/published poet/spoken word artist based in Chennai. She works with Women’s Web India, as a guest writer and co-owns Educafe(An Educational Institution that targets quality education for the masses) along with her husband. She has authored one book(CALL OF THE CATACOMBS-A compilation of poetry) and is presently working on her second and fourth novel, and is also pursuing her Masters in English language and literature simultaneously.

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