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“Isn’t this what you want; isn’t this why you’ve been dressing up so provocatively for me? Those earrings drive me crazy… and your perfume!”
“Like chalk and cheese!”
The two boys sat on a sidewall that overlooked the sea. The sky was overcast and little droplets fell as they commented on the girls passing by. The above comment had been made when two girls strolled past the catcalls that assailed them like a swarm of hornets. They pretended not to hear, but some of the barbs really hurt.
Dolly stole a look at Amisha.
“These idiotic boys have absolutely no sense, do they?” she remarked, a frown marring the perfection of her face.
Amisha smiled at her. “Chill, Dolly! Let’s enjoy our stroll. Besides, they are ogling at you. I’m sure they do not see exotic, hothouse flowers like you very often.”
She continued, “Didn’t you hear the chalk and cheese comment?”
Dolly shrugged. She was aware that her beauty overruled her personality. Most men could not take their eyes off her face, and she was sick and tired of their reactions.
On the other hand, Amisha was no beauty, but she had a piquancy that shone out of her eyes which often went unnoticed when she was with her friend. However, she did not have an envious bone in her body, and was happy in her own anonymity. So, she wore torn jeans and sports shoes with her favourite checked shirts, most of the time. She had many friends – both boys and girls – because of her sunny nature and her intelligence. “Could I have a smoke too?” she would ask her male friends who looked upon her as a buddy. Sometimes, they gave her a puff, and at other times they shook their head.
“No, Amisha, you shouldn’t get used to the habit. It is not good for girls to smoke.”
She laughed at their misplaced concern, or so she called it, countering it with her own logic.
“Look at it in this way, guys. Smoking is not good for any of you. Yet, you do it. What right do you have to stop me?”
So, she smoked with abandon. Dolly would also remonstrate with her.
“Why do you smoke? Is it to appear cool?”
“I can’t believe you are asking me that, Dolly!” she once retorted. “I am comfortable in my own skin. I don’t need to act cool; I am cool!”
However, what even Dolly didn’t know was that Amisha had a past; one that would have shocked her if she had known about it. But Amisha kept it hidden deep within her, not allowing it to filter into her mind ever. It was like an insidious little snake that would have hissed within her brain had she allowed it to. But she refused to let even a chink of light into that innermost recess for fear that it would unhinge her, if she did.
If Dolly found her friend a trifle strange at times, she was willing to let that pass. For she was aware that it was next to impossible to find a good friend who was not envious of her striking good looks. All her other so-called friends were wary of even introducing her to their boyfriends for fear that the latter would lose their heads over her.
On one balmy day, things finally came to a head. Dolly and Amisha had been invited to a party by Sunanda, an acquaintance, who was getting engaged the next evening.
“Do we really have to go?” wailed Dolly, who was not fond of the girl.
“Yes, we do!” said Amisha firmly. “We will be conspicuous by our absence.”
“No, we will not. She has invited the whole town, and its sister.”
“Exactly my point.”
Dolly gave in with a bad grace. However, she cheered up when she realized that she had a new outfit which she had been dying to wear. Amisha too dressed up more than she normally did, in a pretty rust and cream salwar kurta which made her glow.
“Wow, Amisha, don’t you look resplendent!” That was the first comment she heard as she walked into the venue. She received so many compliments that she was quite abashed. Dolly looked as proud as a mother hen when she heard them all, for she too did not have an envious bone in her body.
“Friends, do lend me your ears for a moment.” Sunanda’s voice cut through the small talk. There was a sudden lull. “I would like to introduce you to Vishal, my fiancé.” A tall young man stood up and sauntered over to her side, smiling. He had the most charming smile with fetching dimples.
A gasp made Dolly look at Amisha. The latter was ashen, her hands over her mouth as her eyes seemed larger than life.
“Amisha, what’s the matter?” she asked in a low voice.
Amisha seemed ready to swoon as she continued to stare at the young man who was receiving the congratulations around him as though it was his due. A single tear clung to her long eyelashes, and she brushed it away in impatience.
“This cannot be happening,” she whispered.
Dolly pulled her to a quiet corner.
“Tell me what’s wrong. Do you know this Vishal guy?”
Amisha nodded miserably.
“Let’s go home. Now!” she whispered, as Dolly held her icy cold hands. Something was very wrong here.
“OK, but we need to tell Sunanda first.”
“No! I do not want to see her, or HIM!”
“Huh? You don’t even know him,” retorted Dolly.
However, Amisha was now sobbing uncontrollably. Dolly put a comforting arm around her. “Amisha, what’s wrong? Stop crying.”
That night, Dolly and Amisha sat in the latter’s room, as Amisha brought out the whole sordid story.
It had been a dark, blustery night, as the wind whistled in the trees. Amisha’s parents were away for a party and she was alone at home. She had settled down to read a book after dinner when the door bell rang. Cautious as ever, she called out, “Who is it?” Relieved to hear the familiar voice, she ran to open the door. He stood there, handsome as ever, his glasses glinting in the light of the street light. As she led the way in, he dimpled charmingly at her.
“Where are your parents?” he asked her over a cup of coffee.
“They are at a party. They will be back latest by midnight.”
He glanced at the clock. It was around 9.45.
Next, he looked at her. At her pretty face, her sleeveless top and the wraparound skirt that she had casually wound about her slim waist. Long earrings skimmed her shoulders, earrings that she had been about to take off when the door bell rang.
The horror that followed left her numb. He sidled over to where she was sitting and put an arm around her. She was a bit startled and tried to move away.
“What are you doing?”
She twisted away from him. “Stop it! I dress for myself, not for you, not for any man!” She looked at him, wide-eyed, unwilling to believe that her perfect gentleman had feet of clay.
“Please go away. My parents will be home any moment.”
He laughed softly, almost maniacally.
“They will be back only by midnight. You told me yourself, my little Cinderella!”
She ran into the kitchen, taking him by surprise, but he was too quick for her. He grabbed at her skirt, and she stumbled and went flying across the room. She scratched at his face, his arms, his neck like a wildcat, and he cursed at her. Just when it seemed that he had got the better of her, she felt a knife behind her, and she took in out in one fell swoop and slashed his arm with it.
As the blood gushed out, he was momentarily diverted and let her go, and in that split-second, she slipped out of his grasp and flew into her bedroom. The next moment, she had locked the door, and run into her bathroom, locking that as well behind her. It was only after that that the tears and the trembling began, as she realized what a narrow escape she had had. She sat there, cowering, waiting for her parents to get home, for she had left her mobile phone in the drawing room.
He had disappeared from her life after that. Her parents were horrified that she had had to go through such an experience, but they were also thankful that she had escaped, unscathed, or so they assumed.
From that day onwards, Amisha’s dressing style altered alarmingly. From a bubbly young girl who loved frilly tops and pretty clothes, with perfect accessories, she turned into a tomboy, most comfortable in jeans and loose shirts. She locked away all her dainty trinkets. When her mother remonstrated with her, all she said was, “Ma, I do not want to dress up and provoke any more men.” She refused to open up further, and every day, her style turned more tomboyish than ever.
Dolly listened in silence, horrified at her friend’s confession. She held her hand gently, as she said, “Amisha, I am so sorry. I wish you had told me this earlier.”
Amisha shook her head. “And today, when I saw him with Sunayana, smiling with those dimples, it was as if I was living the nightmare all over again.”
“What do you want to do now?” asked Dolly.
Amisha looked at her squarely. “What do you think I should do?”
“Nothing that happened that night was your fault, Amisha. You have nothing to be afraid of.” She added, “Shouldn’t we tell Sunanda?”
But Amisha’s eyes were filled with fear, and she shook her head again. “Suppose he comes after me again?”
“He will not dare to do so. With one complaint, you can put him behind bars, you know. In fact, that is what you should do.”
Amisha looked at Dolly in surprise. Her friend seemed to have matured suddenly, and her words made perfect sense. She nodded slowly; she needed to take responsibility here and rescue another woman from the clutches of such a man.
“Do you really want to rake up the past, Amisha?” Ma asked her, tentatively. Her father said nothing. Amisha nodded, as she strove to put her feelings into words. Dolly smiled at her in encouragement.
“Ma, Papa, I need to do this. Years back, I was too scared and too young. Today, I am still scared, but I need to get out of it and warn Sunanda. It is not fair that she should get married to a man who got away with such a horrific act. Tomorrow, if he behaves like this to any other girl, I will not be able to forgive myself.”
A horrified Sunanda heard all that Amisha had to say in silence, as they sat in a cafe. “Are you sure it was Vishal?” she asked in anguish. Amisha just looked at her.
“Sunanda, I have been looking for you…,” Vishal strolled in at that very moment, his dimples very much in view. Then he looked at the other two girls. “Hello there!” he said cheerily to Dolly, and then, he caught sight of the girl who sat next to her in a sleeveless top, a wraparound skirt and long earrings that touched her slim shoulders. His face blanched, as her perfume evoked a long lost memory in his mind.
The next moment, however, he suppressed it. His face grew bland, but the damage was done. Sunanda had noticed his expression.
Amisha stood up, quaking inwardly. “Hello, Vishal!”
His face was pale. “Hi, Amisha. You haven’t changed much.”
That was her defining moment. She smiled back, almost cheekily at him. “No, Vishal, I haven’t.” She shot a meaningful look at Sunanda, as she chose her next words with care.
“I am sure you haven’t either!”
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the August 2017 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: Photo by Jimmy Bay on Unsplash
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Words have always played a vital role in my life. Short stories, poetry, humorous pieces
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