The room spun around me. Was there a part of me that wasn’t bruised, cut, or abused? Blood trickled into my eyes blurring the already dark room. The ropes finally came off my wrists and ankles. They were preoccupied the last time. I smelt of blood, urine, and semen.
It was four days, maybe even more. This place doesn’t make sense. Nothing does; not him, not them, not me. It was supposed to be a family meeting. I agreed with everything they said, except for…
It wasn’t a big deal. I just wanted to talk to my parents once. They would have understood and supported the decision.
Pain shot up as I tried to stand. But I had to escape. They would come again. The door would be locked, no use trying to open it. The window was too small. Doesn’t matter. I could fit through. A few more bruises were better than this.
Each stab of pain was a reminder of everything that had happened. He loved me, yet it did not matter. They, the father and brother took turns in front of his eyes. He said nothing. No; he said it was my fault I did not agree. He held me tight as they thrust into and ravaged my lower half repeatedly. How could he feel nothing?
Bile rose in my throat, choking me from inside. How many times did they do it, I lost count. My body wasn’t mine any longer. It felt ugly, dirty, polluted. I need to wash it away. But, the scars would remain forever. They’d haunt me until my last breath. I had to face them.
What was my fault? I only wanted to tell my parents before agreeing to convert. I grew up believing we were all the same. The social divisions did not mean a thing to me. When I first met him, he said the same. It brought us together one day at a time. Love bloomed naturally, or so I thought.
Naina objected. She warned me against him. Her protests gave me a headache. I called her jealous. After all, she was just dumped by her guy. And, mine showered love and affection in abundance. She called him names. Yet, he was gentle and caring. I refused to let her ruin my beautiful relationship. He was far too precious for me to choose between him or her.
“Some people are blinded by hatred for us. You are different. I love you so much for that.” His whispers caressed my skin that day.
The fights in the hostel room escalated. I changed rooms unable to bear her pressure. She gave me examples. The news was hidden, but it was there for those who saw. She did. I didn’t. How she kept pestering me. I never bothered. Oh Naina, what have I got myself into!
Heaving from exhaustion, slumping against the wall, I tried to breathe. There was little time left. They came randomly. Alone at times, together sometimes. I need to get away. Yes. Get away first. Don’t think about the rest. The window was good, better than I expected. It gave me hope. Climbing wasn’t easy. My thighs protested. My body was assaulted to its limit. Gritting my teeth, I braced my arms on the sill. I lost two teeth when he slapped me. He. Hit. Me.
They should have killed me instead. Wonder what was stopping them. Did he think I would marry him after this? No, he wasn’t going to marry me. Or was he? Maybe, they will kill me, once their lust was stated. But, would it ever?
My people did not know I came here. No one did. It was a last minute plan. The mobile phone too broke on the way. It slipped from his hands as he was taking my picture in the café. His phone had low battery he said. I wasn’t bothered. I was safe with him.
Legs suspending from the window, I tried to balance on the sill. I could do it. I would do it. My feet missed the grip once, twice, thrice.
Finally, in one movement I was half out of the window. No time to waste. Not now, not here. The wood pressed into my abdomen. I could bear it. Another swing of my legs, the ground was thankfully soft. Tears, sweat blinded my vision. The only sound I could hear was my thundering heartbeat.
A twig cracked somewhere. My blood froze. I need to get away. The twilight sky was turning darker with each passing second.
But where? Trees around me. Must be some jungle.
He lived near the forest. The house was beautiful, mesmerizing. The family was too. They served me beef stew for lunch. I wasn’t particular about vegetarian food despite my birth. I grew up eating whatever I wanted. This was no different.
The food was indeed tasty. I told them that. His mother was elated. They loved that I could eat anything. They did forbid me from one particular animal. I knew about it already. Ever since we began dating, I stopped eating sausages. They told me it was rare to find someone like me. We laughed and had a good time.
Until a man entered. He was the cleric, they said. “Are you ready for the Shahadah?” He asked.
I remember laughing. It wasn’t a joke, though. They were serious. I had to take my vows that instant to prove my love for him. Maybe, just maybe I should have agreed. I’d have convinced my parents later.
But, I wouldn’t have seen the mask fall off. He wasn’t the man I loved. Not when he shoved me to a side for asking to take me back home. Not when he kicked me in the guts when I protested. Metal tasted on my lips. My cheek still stung.
No. Don’t think about it. Not now.
There was silence again. Eerie, yet peaceful. But, I wasn’t safe. Not yet. Where do I go from here? No money with me. My ring, Grandma’s gift for last birthday. It’d have to do. But, where? How? They would search for me.
Think. Somewhere to hide, to spend the night if I can’t find the way back. Keep walking. Ignore nausea. Ignore the pain. Ignore the blood. Ignore the memories.
My foot tripped on a root. Luckily, I fell onto a tree. It held me as I slumped to the muddy earth. Can’t walk anymore. No food, no water. How did I even manage to be alive?
All around there were thick shrubs. I crawled through those, hiding among the thorny bushes. Needed to gather my dwindling energy. Required some rest to walk away. To run away.
My eyes closed of their own will. Memories rushed forth. I had no strength to block those. His cute smile, our first kiss, how I laughed as his beard tickled me, the secret night rides through the deserted roads on his bike, the midnight conversations.
My awe when he confessed about his tremendous faith in God. It attracted me more. Imagine someone who prays five times a day. I don’t do it even once. Festivals weren’t a big deal either. Wear clothes, take selfies, and share on social media.
He celebrated Navratri with me. We went to the decorated arenas and danced all night to the latest Bollywood numbers. My dress was green that night. The orange top showed too much cleavage, he said. I agreed. Green looked grand too.
Though I don’t tell him, I planned to fast the whole of next month along with him. We wanted to create a relationship of equals. One wouldn’t bow down to the other’s customs.
What a joke it turned out to be! I kept my hair long because he liked it. The headscarf too was for him.
“Only I get to see your hair.” His husky voice tingled my senses. It was romantic, seductive.
The look in Naina ‘s eyes when she saw me that day. It was pity, pure and simple. I recognize it now. Too late, with everything in shatters, including my body and soul.
What would I tell my people if… when I went back home? Society never accepted rape victims. We were always blamed for short dresses, alcohol, and whatnot.
It was my fault. I trusted the wrong man. Ideals looked good on paper and on social media. Masks were too perfect to see through on an inch screen.
Naina did, didn’t she? Was I such a fool? The answer too was around me. The mosquitoes sucked my remaining blood. It felt good to let go. Whatever should happen will happen. Just leave everything to fate.
Fate? Never before did I believe in it. Why now? My legs wobbled as I stood up. Live. Survive. Expose.
Expose? A harsh laugh broke the silence around me. I was startled to realize it was mine.
The moon was full, rising from the horizon. On instinct, I let it guide me. Broken branches, dried thorns bled my feet. I got used to the pain. It felt good, somehow. Sounds changed, gradually. That was the horn of a bus. I was getting closer to the road. Or somewhere.
Fear gripped my heart. What if I went towards his house? What if they found me?
I would escape. Again.
The buzzing of the traffic grew louder, intense. It was a highway. Must be the one we traveled that day. It meant the house was on the other side. I did it. Almost.
The glaring headlights made me dizzy. Just a few steps more. I needed to flag the right vehicle. A bus, yes. Lots of people. It’d be safe. Each second squeezed my lungs harder. I couldn’t stop the car. Too risky.
There it was… Finally…
The bus screeched to a halt as I jumped in front of it. The driver could have run over me. He didn’t. Someone yelled and cursed. Nothing touched my ears. I stumbled towards the entrance. The driver and conductor were shocked. From frown to pity to wary, the emotions changed.
“I can pay.” My voice broke.
A lady helped me inside the bus. It started to move. People were curious. Someone shot me a question. The lady shut them up. She was good.
“Will you call your people?” She offered me her mobile phone.
Whom do I call? Fingers refused to cooperate. The phone almost fell. She caught and handed it back. I dialed; hoping, crying.
“Naina …” It was a gasp. Shivers racked my body. The lady took the phone. She gave an address.
“Naina will be there for you. It’ll be okay.” Her voice was gentle, just like Grandma’s. My head was on her shoulder when I woke up. I stank, she said nothing. Not a word.
“Come. I paid your fare.” She helped me down.
“Miku… Oh, God!” It was Naina. Her arms came around me. She thanked the lady and pushed me into the car. The drive was silent. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t speak.
“Hospital?” Was it panic in my voice?
“We need evidence, Miku.”
Yes, I knew all about it. But…
She wrapped a scarf around my face. “I’m with you.”
I nodded and kept my eyes closed, gripping the scarf to hide my face. People were too interested in others’ tragedies. My face would be all over the internet; if it wasn’t already. Naina was a force to reckon with. She had me in a pristine room in less than ten minutes.
“I’ll be back.” She whispered.
Let it be a lady doctor. Please. Voices murmured around me.
“Naina, stay.” It was a feeble plea.
“I’m here. The doctor is my friend.” The assurance felt marginally better. I cringed when a hand touched my bare skin.
I squeezed her fingers, hard. Blank it out. Don’t think about it.
Do not think about it. My lungs protested.
“Breathe, Miku,” Naina whispered.
Yes. Breathe. It hurt.
“She can take a bath, now. Tomorrow, I’ll sign the papers.”
I could wash it away. At last.
“Come.” Naina took me to the tiny bathroom. At least, it was neat. My hands trembled as I tried to remove the dress. Naina took over. She undressed me, gently scrubbing my body and washing my hair. Her touch, I could bear. Strange. She reminded me of my mother. The hot water felt good erasing the dirt. Only if I could erase the memories as easily.
“We’ll file a complaint tomorrow.”
Did I want to do it? Confusion filled my mind.
As a part-time activist, I was a part of rallies and candle marches. He loved my determination and fight against patriarchy and oppression. He participated in some of the rallies supporting my views. Was it all fake?
“Okay. Tomorrow.” I’d drag him to court.
“Your parents are worried.” Naina’s words broke my thoughts.
“I can’t. Not yet.” How could I? What would they say?
She nodded, understanding. “I’ll talk to them.”
The nurse brought me soup and left. Do I want to eat it? My stomach rumbled. I took a small mouthful. It was watery and bland. I swallowed some slowly as she spoke to my parents. A part of me wanted to cry in my mother’s arms. Still, I said nothing.
“They are shocked but relieved you are alive. They are taking the next flight available. I can’t stop them, Miku.”
Yes, yes. My parents were concerned. They would support me.
Naina left her phone with me and went to get something sorted. “Call them if you feel like.”
Should I? Could I?
“Miku…” She answered before I could cut the call for the third time. Mom’s voice.
“Baby… Say something… We are on our way. We will always be there for you.” She choked. I made her cry.
“I’m sorry…” The phone slipped onto the bed. Tears flowed freely. Pain, hurt, humiliation, anger, hatred threatened to drown me.
Naina… She was back, soothing me, murmuring it’d be okay. But, it wouldn’t be. I know. Not for a long, long time. I’d fight this through. The words were a chant. Determination filled my tired soul.
“You are not alone,” Naina said.
Yes. I’d remember that. I wasn’t alone.
She’d be there with me, my parents too. I’d get by with their support. I’d tell the world the truth. Let them judge me, abuse me, accuse me. I won’t back down. Not anymore. I would teach Afzal and his family a lesson for life.
The author realizes that readers might have questions regarding the selection of the storyline. The author will confirm that she has been following this issue (it has a name), for close to two years on various platforms. She attaches along links to few articles to help the readers understand.
The author understands that genuine love happens. There are and will be couples who in all reality live in interfaith relationships happily. She finds it vital to be able to differentiate between real and fake.
Being aware, the author feels is more important than being socially/politically correct to maintain a status quo among others. The author realizes that the readers have every right to disagree with her views.
When a person gets converted before the wedding to another faith, it is no longer eligible to be termed as an interfaith marriage. That is what happens in many of the interfaith marriages.
To know what Shahadah is, go here https://interfaithshaadi.org/index.php/muslim-hindu-marriage
The first links give religious conversion statistics for the state of Kerala along with a few more details.
It is to be noted that there are more such incidents. The author chose to share only a few links along with the story.
This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/break-free-artales-16-open-event/
Check out Srivalli’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/srivalli-rekha/