Short Story ID- 2/2015
The shrill screams from the room next door woke Ruma from her sleep. Since the time she had come here sleep had always evaded her, right now she held on tightly to whatever little of sleep she could catch hold of. With all that she witnessed day in and out, she didn’t need such nasty reminders from life right in the middle of the night. She shook her head in a futile attempt to get them out of her mind.
The voices continued to haunt her for some time before getting lost in the nothingness that the dark night brings along. By the time she was surrounded by quietude, sleep had managed to escape yet again. Reluctantly she removed the thin shred of cloth she called a blanket and moved towards the only connection she had with the outer world, a window. She huddled in the corner with her feet held close to her chest and tried to look out for the morning star, one that stood for hope. Her room, the place that was home to her now reflected her life so aptly. A small space barely enough to hold a bed and a shelf with walls that had paint peeling off at places, just like her hope. She didn’t realize when she had started giving up. The shelf was bare, with just a pair of clothes on them synonymous with her heart which was today completely devoid of any emotions except fear. The most ironical thing was the tiny window there. The depleted piece of cloth covering it acted as a curtain most of the times while actually here, it was the curtain that fell on the show called life every evening after playing once. The window overlooked the main road, one that spoke about the life that existed somewhere outside the realms of her world. A life that was beckoning her every time she looked at it, but deep inside she knew it was all a mirage. She could never get out of this shell. She felt as if God had given her a kaleidoscope to look at the beautiful hues of life, but not touch them, feel them or for that matter live them. They were there to be just seen, which she did every evening as they made her forget her pain even if it was momentary.
Ruma didn’t realize when she fell asleep in that position. She was woken up once again by loud voices, but this time it was from the kids playing downstairs in the lane. She rubbed her eyes as she kept staring at them. Not very long ago she was also one of them. Carefree, raring to spread her wings and take a flight of her own. Their tinkling laughter that resonated in those haunted lanes took her back to that dusty lane which led to what was once her home.
One year back – On the outskirts of Gonda village
“Chuimui….” Her mother’s voice resounded in the farms where she was playing with her friends. Busy in playing hopscotch she had not noticed that it was dark now, a signal to be home.
“Aayi…” she screamed back before throwing in the coin to take her last chance before making a dash to the hut. Thin, wheatish with dark, brooding black eyes Chuimui made a decent sight. The most eye catching thing about her was her long hair which went beyond her knees if left open. She used to always dream of having hair taller than her own self every time she stared into the only broken piece of mirror in her house.
For 14years this had been her world -her Baba, Ma and younger brother Chotu with her friends Meena, Shanker and Radha. They might have never seen the fanciest play-stations or doll houses but the joy they got from playing with mud dolls and wooden toys was definitely the same. They could barely have two square meals a day but the fact that they were all together was perhaps enough to give them a peaceful sleep every night, albeit on empty stomachs. With a promise to meet them tomorrow like every day Chuimui began racing down to her house not knowing that destiny had some other plans in store.
That night as she lay outside on her bed counting the stars, she heard her mother sobbing inside and her Baba trying to pacify her. “There is no other solution. This year even the crop hasn’t been good enough. We will never be able to come out of it. This is the only way we all can survive. It is for our betterment trust me, for all of us. Why would I think of it otherwise?” which was followed by some inaudible whispers, some more sobs and then an eerie silence. Next day morning Chuimui woke up to her mother smothering her face with kisses. She smiled as she rubbed her eyes awake and asked her mom, “What happened ma?” One glance at her mother and she knew she had not slept the previous night. Her eyes were a mix of sleeplessness and fear. They seemed to be ready to cry at the next opportune moment. Trying to hide her sniffles, her mother smiled faintly and said, “Today is your birthday Chuimui. 14 years ago God gave me this angel…” she left her sentence midway and ran into the kitchen. Chuimui ran behind her, tugging her saree, “Ma, what happened?”
“Nothing Chuimui, I need to cook all your favourite delicacies today; that’s the reason I am busy. Nothing else! Now run quickly and get ready…”
Unknown to the complexities of life Chuimui got ready for the feast her mother was preparing. In the meanwhile her father had come home from the farms. As was the custom she went and touched his feet.“Chuimui, this year I have got a big gift for you.” Her deep dark eyes lit up in excitement. She tried to rack her brains trying to think of all that she had asked her father or mother till now. Unable to contain her excitement she finally spoke, “Baba, what is it?” with a huge smile on her face.
“We have fixed your marriage.” These words brought along a strange silence with them. The joy that should have been on Ma and Baba’s face was missing but maybe it was the pain of having to let her go she thought.She didn’t know how to react. This was the norm, she knew it. Quite a few of her friends had got married in the last few months as was the tradition. Suddenly the excitement about her birthday vanished. Two days, that’s all she had. To play, laugh, hug her Ma, cuddle up to Chotu at night as he slept or ask Baba to get her those orange candies she loved so much. The next two days passed in a haze. Even the glimpse of her wedding dress didn’t make her jump in joy; this was something that scared her. She had always heard about stories revolving around these occasions, where all that you did was to get dressed in pretty finery and smile. You were treated to the best dishes and nobody scolded you for anything. Now wasn’t that fun? Then why was it that her heart didn’t even feel like smiling once. With a thousand thoughts playing hide and seek in her mind she fell asleep half praying for the night to never end.
The D day had finally arrived. Dressed in that red and green Ghaghara with her face veiled in the dupatta, Chuimui was completely dependent on her mother to take her through the occasion. She couldn’t see anything through that veil and on top of it she had been instructed to lower her eyes. It was all over even before she could comprehend what had happened. She just faintly remembered a rough, brusque pair of hands in which her father had placed hers.
By evening she was bidding a teary goodbye to her family and friends. Tired from the entire hullabaloo surrounding her marriage she didn’t realize when she fell asleep in the car next to the man, who was now her husband. She still didn’t know how he looked like, but then she had the whole life to figure that out. Letting her thoughts drift to the beautiful tomorrows her Ma always spoke about Chuimui entered the dreamland. She woke up to lot of noises only to see that she had reached a house, almost similar in size to her father’s hut. She could hear lot of voices from outside, which she assumed belonged to the guests who would have come to attend the wedding. Not knowing what to do, she continued to remain seated there thinking someone might come looking for her at the right moment.
The wait seemed to be endless as the day had turned into night and still there was no sign of any one coming to ask her even water. She was tired, hungry, and thirsty .Looking at the current scenario sleep sounded like a better option. She tried hard to close her eyes and fall asleep but the rumbling sounds from her stomach woke her up every alternate moment.
Just when she was about to get up and peep through the door she heard it being pushed open. A tall burly man who must be in his early thirties entered the room, closing the door behind him. She identified him as her husband. She was hesitant, not knowing what to do. He was walking towards her and every step he took increased her heartbeats manifold.
She opened her mouth to say something when she felt his rough hands on her mouth. One look in his eyes and she knew it was all over. She didn’t remember anything after that except that when she had woken up the hut was all empty with only her lying on the charpoy. The bright light that seeped into through the tiny hole in the wall suggested that it was day, which time she couldn’t gauge.
She unsuccessfully tried to get up. Her entire body was in terrible pain as if it had been run over by a hundred trucks. Every bone had a story to tell, every bruise was screaming a song of its own but she couldn’t comprehend anything at all.
With a lot of effort she managed to freshen up and began to search the containers for food. All she could find was some stale rice which she gobbled up like a hungry vulture. An unknown fear was building up inside her and she didn’t know what was that she feared the most, that man who was her husband or what he did to her.
She managed to gulp that handful of rice with 2-3 glasses of water which seemed to pacify the fire of hunger within her. But the burning sensation just refused to go. It was as if her insides were set to flames to take her along when they died. The pain running through the body won over her fear making her fall asleep once again only to wake up to his firm steps into the house. It was like a repeat of what happened the previous night. This continued for almost more than a fortnight when one day Chuimui fell down unconscious on one such night. This was enough to scare him. By the time Chuimui came back to her senses he had already finalized the plans.
“Get ready, we need to leave.” That was all he said in a stern, baritone voice. She interpreted it as a journey homeward, to her Ma- Baba. The only remnants of her soul which had escaped unhurt from his brutality seemed to dance together in joy. She merrily packed whatever little she had of hers in that house and stepped alongside to embark on the journey.
They hitch-hiked with a jeep driver and reached the main road. After which they changed two buses before entering a train. This whole thing was enough to dampen her spirits. She knew they were not going home. She knew a train meant going away from home.
But as she was told by her Ma, she couldn’t gather the courage to ask him. “He is your husband. His wish is your command. You just need to follow all that he says. Never ask, never question just listen and do.” She had told her before she left the house. And that is what she was doing at this moment. She spent the whole night crying her heart out to the stars and the moon, the only witness to her woes. The sun’s rays came with hope as the city they had reached shimmered in its golden hue. Big roads, tall buildings, colorful people… Chuimui was taking in all her eyes could capture. Bustling with activity the people here seemed to be in an eternal race for life. They all seemed to be running to nowhere. This all puzzled her but she had her own puzzles to solve as of now. Why were they here, she didn’t know yet.
As if on the cue the rickshaw halted at the gate of a big locality. She craned her neck to take a peep inside but could barely see beyond a few feet of distance. She followed him as he opened the gate and entered the locality. He started walking straight from where he took a right turn to half at a house which had 409 written on it with black paint. It had a bright blue door a striking contrast to the otherwise dull ambience around.
The door was opened by a thin rakish man who looked at them, top to bottom twice before allowing inside. She felt like a kid in a toy store. Everything was so new for her, the train, the rickshaw and now this house. It had large mirrors on its walls so that the moment one entered it felt as if a twin had accompanied along. The room had a strange stench, she couldn’t identify. It was something that made her uncomfortable but she didn’t let it show. In extreme corners of the walls there were huge speakers hung from which loud music was playing making any conversation inaudible unless done in whispers near the listeners’ ears. At the far end of the room she saw a lady sitting on a bed. Dressed in a bright orange saree with lot of jewelry she looked garish. This is how they dressed in big cities; her little mind corrected her thoughts. Her husband seemed to be in deep conversation with her before beckoning her to come near.
He introduced her, “This is Mariam Appa. She is like my sister.” Her mind registered this and she nodded at that lady. “Don’t be scared my child, consider this to be your home from today.” When that lady said this and placed her hand on her shoulder all the fear that was throbbing in her temples vanished in a moment. She kept staring at her with wonder in those big black eyes that tried to gather all that they could from her surroundings. “You be here, I will come in a while.” He said after sometime and left; never to come back. It took her 3 weeks to understand that he was not going to come back and this place was now really her home. She was given a room on the topmost floor with another girl who acted like her mentor in many ways. From being in a state of denial to constant crying, attempting to run away, begging to be sent to her parents to complete surrender she had come a long way since then. She realized it is better to be raped every night by a different man for survival than to be raped by the same man night after night not knowing if you will survive till the next day. She witnessed various forms of pain and hurt, ones that changed the only definitions of them known to her. Her strength was challenged so many times and now she didn’t remember how she had survived before all this. This had become life for her.
She learnt that life is more about survival than living with hope. Yet she hoped someday to be able to go home, run again in those dusty lanes, call out her Ma asking her to make her favouritekheer and feed with her own hands and then fall asleep holding chotu in her arms. The morning star that she used to keep staring at back then was the one that ignited her hope now.
Ruma wiped the tears that just refused to stop.
“Rumaaaaaaaaa…” she could hear Mariam Appa’s voice piercing through the noise they called music and reach her, which she pretended to ignore.
Just then a breathless Fariyal reached there. “Ruma come, Mariam Appa is calling you. Everybody is there.” She said trying to catch her breath.
“What happened?” She never calls us so early in the morning. “Unless it is something special…” Fariyal interrupted her. “It seems you have completed a year here.” She said with a smile before running away again. Ruma remembered these celebrations where Mariam Appa gave a sweet box to the girl sharing the sweets with the other girls too. Maybe this was her way of making this, a home.
She remembered the cries she had heard next door. The pleas of a helpless mother mourning the death of her unborn child which stank of the bliss that the childwouldn’t have to go through this hell called life. Perhaps she had forgotten the thumb rule for survival here. There is nothing called yours here. No will, no desire, no dreams, no ambitions….nothing. Not even your name. Chuimui was dead long ago and buried with her heart and soul. What remained was a body called Ruma which was sold and bought everyday yet there was none that could claim it to be theirs, not even herself.
Author’s Bio: Namrata hails from India and is a prolific blogger known by the name Privy Trifles in the blogosphere who romances life through her writings. She aspires to make love the universal language. She dons various hats between that of the author of Metro Diaries, the contributing author to 9 anthologies, a reviewer for leading publishing houses an editor to various books and a columnist. Apart from that she is also the editor for an online magazine called Writer’s Ezine. Having mastered the nuances of finance till recently she also held the title of an investment banker closely to let it go to embrace her love for writing fully.
Appa – Elder Sister
Duppatta – A long scarf usually used by women to cover their faces and heads in rural India
Ghaghara – A long flowing skirt made in the traditional Indian style with sequins work or embroidery and worn on weddings.
Kheer – Sweet pudding made with rice, milk and sugar.