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It felt wrong, the game felt wrong. As wrong as stealing from Daddy. Perhaps worse than that. But Nidhi was doing it, what excuse did I have not to do it.
We were thorny roses, flitting around in our skates and shorts, with our long legs dancing to the Walkman. Some days we would take our cycles and ride the streets like we owned them. Right in the center of the road, stalling traffic, we rode in a dreamland, next to each other, close enough to talk.
Most days, I would swipe a cigarette or two along with ten bucks, from Dad’s pockets, a matchbox from the kitchen and run up the terrace.
Nidhi waited for me there, grinning with her wide lips and crooked teeth. Her family were a bunch of non-smoking, orthodox nationalists. Who believed that girls needed to be born making round ‘rotis’. My family, even though nationalists too, were slightly better. They were reasonable enough to know that girls needed to be taught to make round rotis.
The first time we lit a cigarette, my hands shivered, and I lost three matchsticks to an unlit bud. Nidhi scoffed at me and took over. With her hands steady, she lit the cigarette like a pro. I think, it had something to do with making round rotis.
Every evening, Nidhi and I would run down the street to join the younger kids. At eleven, in our short dresses, and long legs, we hardly paid heed to the eyes that would follow us.
Hell, we did not care that our tiny breasts jingled and jangled every time we ran. And those days we ran a lot. I remember, the boys though. Not the uncles, even though they would come around as often as they could and ask for hugs as many times as they could. It was the boys I remember. The fifteen-year old, skinny, acne riddled boys standing in a corner, staring at us, passing jibes, laughing at us.
On the days we’d had enough of all that, Nidhi and I would throw stones at them and call them names as the boys scattered around like ants, and laughed even harder.
One of those evenings, while we played with the youngers kids on the street, a motorbike slowed down behind me, and a coarse hand hit my breast hard enough to push me back two steps. I stood shell shocked. So, did Nidhi, so did our other friends and so did the boys, as the bike rushed through our street.
Tears of pain and humiliation stung my eyes and rained down like murky dew drops. My chest heaved in a caught breath and Nidhi hugged me from behind. The younger kids looked around them confused, wondering what was going on. I saw one of the uncles’ smirk, and the boys, they looked away.
By next day I had all but forgotten about the biker. After our customary smoke, Nidhi and I again ran down to greet our friends, this time there were more uncles and the boys chose to stand as far away from us as the street would allow. I felt like a leper.
Just when we kids were busy trying to wrestle an imaginary key out of the other team, I felt a familiar slap, this time on my butt as the bike revved away. My tears then were not just of pain and humiliation. They were of fury.
In the days after, I was careful, keeping to the sides of the road, not turning my back to it. The bike still went past us, I saw it was a dark man with a beard, riding, staring right at me, grinning at me. His right hand out, not holding the steering handle. Every evening my breath caught, and jolts of fear ran down the length of my body. My rational mind told me that I was out of his reach, too far away for him to touch me. But somehow his outstretched hand seemed to grow wider and wider, until my vision was filled with it. After days of eluding him, one day it was Nidhi whose tiny breast was assaulted.
Nidhi did not stand stock still like me, neither did tears run down her eyes. She roared a war cry, snatched a hockey stick from one of the kids, and ran behind the bike. The kids ran after her too, holding stones in their hands and matching her roar like a pride of lions. A trickle of pee ran down my white dress and I shivered in the peak of summer.
It was at the end of the road when they caught up with the bike and only after they had toppled the bike over, did they run back to me. Their faces beetroot with exhilaration and gritted teeth set in grim vengeance.
We never saw the biker again.
It was a few months after the bike incident that the most exciting thing happened in our eleven years old life. Nidhi’s uncle (Chacha) decided to come down from the US and stay with Nidhi. I’d hear stories about how her Chachu would shower her with toys, clothes and chocolates from America. And this time Nidhi had asked him to get something for her best friend as well. I was on cloud nine. I imagined the things her Chachu would get me. Those Barbie school bags that the rich girls in school would carry, or that Tiara worn by Hannah Montana. Would it be the roller skates like the ones Nidhi had or would he buy something just for me, a green princess dress that brought out the golden in my eyes?
The day he arrived, I had been sitting in our first-floor balcony and mooning at the road for an hour. Mummy had strictly forbidden me to go down to Nidhi’s house in the ground floor. We were their tenants after all and it was not our place to be there when their beloved younger son arrives.
I was also furious that Nidhi had gone in her big car to pick him up from the airport, but not asked me to accompany her.
It was another hour and perhaps five hundred and fifty-seven mosquito bites later, that I heard, before I saw, Nidhi’s family car rumble in and my best friend pop out of there like a cork off champagne. Following her was her Chachu dressed in torn jeans and a white t-shirt, he looked like one of those movie stars from American movies.
I zipped past Mummy and ran down to greet them. Nidhi jumped and hugged me as she introduced me to him. “Chachu, this is my best friend, Alina.”
“Good evening, Chachu.” I said, ensuring I was on my best behavior.
He bent down and brought his face close to mine, his eyes gleaming and a wide smile lining his lips.
“Ah… such a beautiful best friend you have, Nidhi.” He said, the back of his hand caressing my cheeks.
I gave a gleeful laugh, and Nidhi pushed him away from me.
“But Chachu, you always say I am the prettiest.” Nidhi pouted and threw a tantrum.
“Of course, you are.” He said and lifted Nidhi in his arms. Nidhi’s parents and grandparents gleamed behind them. A look of indulgence gracing their face.
Nidhi did not come out to play for the next week. And I never got the gift that her Chachu brought for me. Those days I did not even feel like smoking or going down to play with the young ones.
Mummy told me to be patient, to watch TV and wait for Nidhi to find time. I waited, but all she did was come back from school, screaming ‘Chachu’ and running to her door. I had no idea what happened the rest of the day, I did not see either Nidhi nor her Chachu step out of the house in the evening.
It was a Sunday, when Nidhi called out to me from below. I was eating my lunch while playing dress-up with Mummy’s old sarees and makeup. I left my food halfway through and dropped Mummy’s saree in a puddle. I ran to the balcony and shouted, “What do you want?”
“Come down!” Nidhi said. “No one’s at home. Only Chachu.”
My heart skipped a beat. Was I finally going to get my gift from America?
And then I remembered I was home alone too. Mummy and Daddy had gone shopping for grocery and told me not to step out of the house.
“I can’t. No one is home here too.” I said. Feeling the weight of my disappointment descend on my lean body, I toyed with the idea of latching the main door and going to Nidhi’s place.
“Ohhh…but you have to. Chachu wants to play a game.” She said, pouting again.
A game, I thought.
“But what about my gift, you told me your Chachu will get me something.” I shouted back.
“Come naa. It is a surprise.” She said.
I wrung my hands and mentally calculated. Mummy and Daddy had just left, I thought. They should take another hour to get back home. It was 2 pm, if I could be back home by 2:50 pm, no one would know.
“Okay.” I said and ran down the steps. Forgetting to finish my food or straightening Mummy’s saree.
Nidhi opened the door for me.
“Come to my room.” She said and skipped away.
I followed her and saw Chachu waiting on her bed, dressed in only shorts. His chest was bare, and I slowed my step. Daddy never walked around the house in his bare chest, I thought. I’d never really paid attention to a man’s chest before.
I lowered my gaze and dragged my feet to the bed.
“Hi Alina.” He said.
I lifted my face and looked at him. He smiled like an angel and held out the package in his hands.
“Open it, Alina.” Nidhi said jumping up and down.
I grinned and ran up to him. I took the package from him and hugged him, he hugged me back. Squishing my tiny breasts to his bare chest.
“Alinaaaa….” Nidhi stomped her foot, impatient. “OPEN IT!”
I tore the package and took out the most beautiful, shiny green dress, I had ever set my eyes.
“See… I told you my Chachu will bring something for you.” She said. “I have the same thing in pink.”
From under the bed pillow, she pulled out a similar dress in hot pink.
“I told Chachu that your favorite color is green.” She grinned.
“Alina…” Chachu said. “Nidhi told me that if you get this dress, you’ll play the game with me.”
“What game?” I asked. I had already forgotten about it.
“I will tell you what it is. But before that why don’t you wear your new dresses and show me.” He said.
I started moving to the bathroom, when Chachu nudged Nidhi.
Nidhi jumped and said, “Alina… no! You silly. Change here.”
“But why?” I asked, fidgeting with the dress, wondering if Chachu would take it away for not complying.
“It is a part of the game, Alina.” Nidhi explained. “Chachu will touch all your body parts one by one and you need to give it funny name. Like the ‘third ribtickle’ or the “the wiggly nipple”.
“Yes, Alina. A pretty girl like you should be able to come up with funnier names. Don’t you want to do better than Nidhi? I will give you chocolates too.” Chachu said.
Nidhi cried and stomped her foot. “Chachuuuu… not fair.”
“Come on… come on. Who goes first?” He clapped his hand and watched Nidhi take off her t-shirt, her shorts, her vest…
“Come on, Alina.” Nidhi said as she was down to her Hello Kitty underwear.
I slowly pulled up my dress, over my head. I wore a vest and boxer shorts underneath.
“Your vest, Alina.” Chachu said softly, his eyes were glowing a furious gold, and his hands stroked his boxers.
I pulled my vest over my shoulders and shrunk as my nipples etched to the blast from the AC.
“Ah…now my little girls are free.” Chachu said, standing tall his boxers tight around his pelvic.
“Just one more thing, remove those cute panties.”
“Yes, Chachu.” Nidhi promptly complied, like she had been doing this every single day since her Chachu had arrived.
“Alina… you’re wasting time. Come on… remove your panty.” Nidhi shouted at me.
“Alina! There isn’t much time. Stop dawdling.” Chachu’s voice changed, from an angel to very pissed off monster.
I thought about the biker man, his massive hands reaching out for me, grabbing hold of my breasts and hurting me. How his touch felt dirty, filthy and disgusting? How I was feeling the same emotions standing there in Nidhi’s room?
“No… Nidhi.” I turned to my best friend and pleaded. “Mummy says never to remove my panty for anyone.”
“Mummy also says smoking is bad, but that doesn’t stop you, right?” Chachu budged in, grabbing my thin wrist in his big hand, pulling me forward.
I screamed, “NOOOOO! Leave me.” Just then I heard the faint sound of Mummy calling out to me.
“Alina… Where are you?”
That moment of shock on Chachu’s face when he heard Mummy, was enough for me to grab my clothes and run outside.
I left my naked best friend, calling my name to come back. I didn’t care, I needed to escape the filthy hand with which Chachu touched me.
I was shivering violently when I reached my home. I took three steps a time, trying to escape Chachu and Nidhi.
“Alina!” Mummy shouted and Daddy came running.
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you wearing your clothes?” Mummy took me in her arms and Daddy stared at me, utter confusion marring his face.
Long story short, I told Mummy about Chachu and his game.
And then my parents fought, forever. Mummy wanted to throw that ‘pervert’ into jail. Daddy, a Government servant, wanted to avoid any long-drawn court drama. Mummy wanted to call her brothers and beat Chachu to a pulp. Daddy just wanted to pack his family and get out of the house.
Daddy won, two weeks later, we were all packed and ready to vacate the house that had been our home for a year. I hadn’t been allowed to meet Nidhi in all this time. But from all the raised voices and shouting in my home, I figured that Mummy had informed Nidhi’s Mom about what had happened. And apparently all they did was asked us to leave before we could tell them that we were already leaving.
Nidhi’s Dad threatened Daddy that if we go to the cops, he’ll put multiple criminal cases on both Daddy and Mummy.
Leaving the house, no one from Nidhi’s family came to wave us goodbye and that’s how our friendship died.
Image source: pixabay
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Writer. Artist. Dreamer...and a Coach.
Hi, I am Lakshmi Priya, but I respond better to Ell.P. A leadership consultant/coach when the sun shines, and a writer/artist past midnight. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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Mostly Normal is a book of innocence, longing, filial love, angst and acceptance, encapsulating a gamut of human emotions within its lightweight edifice. The book touches the human heart and will stay with you.
Some books enthral you till the last page, and then there are those that you stop reading after turning a few pages. Some books are a one-time read, while you carry some books with you long after you have read them. Then, once in a while, a book hits you so close to home that you find it difficult to slot into any category.
I will put Priyadeep Kaur’s Mostly Normal (BookSoul Reads, 2022) in this last bracket.
At a little less than hundred pages, Mostly Normal is a testimony of the power of words to inspire, irrespective of their length.
Most women do not get to live their lives the way they want, on their own terms. So why should they be tied down in their old age?
Every morning, while dropping the kids at the bus stop, I find a grandfather waiting with his granddaughter. I see him again when I fetch the kids. This has been the pattern for the last few years.
He is seen actively participating in his granddaughter’s activities, from morning and evening walks to attending her parent-teachers meeting, sending her for extracurricular activities to even planning her birthday party. He is admired by all. He is appreciated for making himself useful in his old age. People rave that the doting grandfather is doing his duty towards his children and grandchildren. The much-admired grandfather is also a widower, having lost his wife years ago to chronic disease. It’s also to be noted that both his son and daughter-in-law are working parents.
Every day, the onlookers appreciate his sense of duty and dedication. They say that this is how the elderly should keep themselves occupied. They should bring up their grandchildren while their children go off to work.
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