“Eclectic, interesting…will fill you with hope and resolve!” – Pick up our new short story collection, Women.Mutiny
We heard the ambulance come in. I saw you on the stretcher, with blood pouring from your nose and head. I couldn’t even run out with all the lockdown.
The fifth winner of our April 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Janani Balaji.
I remember when we were kids, neighbors and best friends, and you’d take any reason you could to hold my hand. It didn’t matter if it were to cross the street or to run around in my father’s large garden, you would firmly grasp onto it like it was your only lifeline, adamantly stating that it was your duty as a knight to protect the princess from anything dangerous.
I could see our future together. You were my knight, after all, and the knight would always end up marrying the princess.
Then, one day, you hadn’t come by to pick me up from school. I waited, and waited, and then began to head home alone. It was scarier than it should have been. I had almost reached home, when I heard it. A sickening crunch, incoherent sobs. I could see it through the window. Your dad was standing there. Aunty was splayed on the floor, one of her twisted arms at a weird angle, near his feet. Then he kicked you and I shrieked. Then I ran.
Uncle Navin, how could he be such a vile human being? I remembered him carrying us on his shoulders at the zoo, gently encouraging us at trekking camps…But the eyes I saw were nothing like those fun filled eyes. There was no humor in them. Just red and full of hate.
How could he do this to aunty, I wondered. She was such an educated woman. She had a fancy job at the bank. She even volunteered at an NGO that helped so many women with second marriages…how could she let this happen to her…to you?
Then the misery started. So many abuses hurled. So many threats I heard every day. Of cutting off your allowance. Of not allowing you to study further. Of throwing Aunty out of the house. How her food was pathetic… How she looked so fat and ugly now after kids…
I remember asking you if we could do something. Complain to the police. But you said it would be okay. I should not have listened to you. I should have listened to Kamla. “What is the use of all this education? She gets hit, just like me. All men are the same,” she had said as she continued to hang out the clothes.
And it continued. Year after year, for the next three years. My best friend and her mum suffered while we all watched and knew and did nothing.
Then there was a sudden news – a dreaded virus had hit. Thousands of patients were being rushed in. My days and nights were a blur. As overnight, the country was suddenly trapped and quivered under a mask. The gloom seemed unbelievable. No one seemed to smile. The mask had taken it away.
The next door seemed worse. Now that everyone was at home, the abuses, the screams, the tears seems to be continuous.
I even asked mum, “Should we complain, Aai?”
But she had just said, “Uncle Navin is in a high position, beta, and he is a nice man. Besides Aunty was also a Vice President at the bank, why would she keep quiet? She is not financially dependent. Don’t poke your nose in everyone’s business.”
That night I flipped though our copy of Anne Frank’s Diary mindlessly, reading nothing but the text you had highlighted “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
As Aai softly hummed a lullaby, my eyelids drooped; I wondered what beauty come to rescue me in this miserable time.
Then, there was a loud noise and screams. We heard the ambulance come in. I saw you on the stretcher, with blood pouring from your nose and head. I couldn’t even run out with all the lockdown. Forgive me Lila, my best friend. I couldn’t stop the tears, I cried all night.
I tried to call you so many times. But there was no way to reach you. I broke down completely.
Dad told me, “When in sorrow, help someone else.” I listened to him and started making masks and distributing food to the people under the flyover with permission, but it was mostly to distract myself from thinking about you. I still cried every night, wondering when I could see you again. Wondering if maybe, just maybe, if I looked out the window and wished hard enough, then you’d be there. That you’d be there, laughing and making silly faces at me through the glass. But there was no one there, no matter how many times I wished on the single star I could see from my window.
Lockdown came and went, but you didn’t. I tried to call up hospitals and see if I could find you, but I couldn’t do anything. I was miserable without you. I still cried, and cried, and cried.
Then, one day, a pebble was tossed at my window. Then another, then another. Finally I looked out to see you, laughing wildly, waving frantically with your left hand. Your right arm was in a cast, and you still had bandages wrapped around your head, but you were alive. You were here. You were right in front of me.
“I did it,” you said. “He’s gone now.”
“It was all just a ruse,” you said, smiling. “My mom always excused his repulsive behavior, saying it was all for me, so that I’d have a proper family. I knew I couldn’t just get him out with a few cuts and bruises, I had to get solid proof, or he’d be back. He was rich, influential, but I was tech savvy. I bugged my house, and compiled the footage on my phone. Then with cops stationed outside during lockdown, it was only a matter of time before it happened again, and I could run out, sealing his fate. He’s gone, and now there’s no one in the whole world who can hurt us.”
I hugged you, and you kissed the tip of my nose. And I remember thinking that maybe there is beauty in this world, after all. That there has always been beauty, because there has always been love.
I am Janani Balaji. A grade 9 student, 14 years old and passionate about writing stories and poetry. I feel strongly about gender equality, body issues and mental wellness.
Editor’s note: If she had survived the Holocaust, and lived to this day, Anne Frank would have been 91 years old, on the 12th of June, 2020. Would she have realized her dream of becoming a published writer? Maybe. Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of the most riveting pieces of non-fiction literary work we have. What makes it so compelling is the fact that the writer was just an ordinary girl in her teens, writing about the ordinary things of everyday life in extraordinary circumstances and died at sixteen.
In July 1942, Anne’s family, along with some of their friends, went into hiding from the Nazi persecution of the Jews. They remained hidden in the Secret Annexe (as Anne calls their hiding place in a hidden area of her father’s office building). They were helped from the outside by loyal non-Jew friends, who kept them supplied with food, essentials and news. Sounds so much like the lockdown we’re in right? Except it was much worse – they were discovered in August 1944 and taken to a Nazi concentration camp.
Anne’s diary has its last entry on 1st August 1944. In the 2-odd years that they remained hidden, she wrote all her thoughts and experiences – the good, bad, and the ugly – in a diary that she received for her 13th birthday, from her father, Otto Frank. Miep Gies, the lady who was one of their helpers, found the diary along with other papers after their arrest, kept it safe, and handed it over to Otto, who returned after the war as the only survivor.
So much of what she writes is about hope for a better life ahead, “after all this is over”. Hope, to slightly misquote Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers living in every heart. Let’s look beyond this stressful time, shall we?
The cue is this quote by her: “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
Janani Balaji wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay
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