At that moment, she felt she had achieved closure. The chapter of her life was over now. He was nothing but an unpleasant memory from her past.
Megha latched the door of her room and sat down on her bed, trying to calm herself. The pounding of her heart seemed to be exploding from one ear to the other and echoing through the room. Sweating profusely, she took deep breaths and recalled the conversation she had with her mother before barging into her room and locking the door, and why it had such an effect on her.
Trigger warning: This post contains details of child sexual abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
Muffled voices, laughing, and talking, the sound of moving furniture reverberated from the hall downstairs, as dark memories from the past started to surface one by one.
Megha was to get engaged the next day, and since it was a late marriage – as her relatives called it, nobody expected a grand gesture. It was to be a ‘family only’ function, held at their house. Her parents were content their daughter had finally decided to get married. Relatives from all corners of the city had poured in that morning, bearing tiny suitcases of sarees, dhotis, and personal makeup kits, that were strewn all over the house.
That evening, she was emptying packets of milk into a large vessel, while her mother went around asking preferences for coffee – sugarless, extra sugar, light and dark. When her mother returned, Megha had asked her to sit down for a bit and take it easy. She offered to order dinner on the Swiggy app. Her mother had looked at her in shock, laughed, and was telling her how silly she sounded when her dad had walked in.
“When is Rammurthy arriving tomorrow? Should we send a cab to pick him up?” he asked.
“I had called him today morning, he said he will come on his own” her mother responded.
“Hmm, is the coffee ready?”
“Five minutes” her mother had said pointing at the large container now on the gas burner, with milk inside, making small hissing noises now and then.
What happened after, was all muddled in Megha’s memory, just as her experiences with Ramamurthy were. It was like waking up from blissful slumber, only to realise you have an unpleasant, unfinished business to deal with.
She had stood there, watching milk bubbles run from one side of the vessel to the other, forming a ring, before erupting in a frothy volcano. Her mother had reached over in time and switched off the gas.
“I didn’t know he is coming,” she had blurted out
“Who? Oh, Rammurthy uncle? Of course, he is. He is the eldest person in our family circle after your Ajji! He is my uncle, Megha. Why are you surprised?” her mother answered, pouring dark brown decoction into the milk.
“Nothing Amma, I don’t remember seeing him on the guest list. But why is he coming? I haven’t met him in years. I thought this was a close family thing!”
“Megha, it is important for elders like him to bless these occasions. I don’t understand what your problem is. Don’t bring up silly topics and make this difficult for us. You must be tired. Here, drink this coffee and get some rest.”
She handed Megha the coffee mug and started arranging small, stainless steel tumblers onto a big tray.
Before she could respond, her cousins had walked in to help. She had feigned a headache and retreated to her room.
Now she sat there, watching the sky outside turn pink and then a deep inky blue. It was relief that no one came looking for her. She pushed aside a layer of cream that had formed on her coffee and took a sip. Taking deep breaths, she recalled the events one by one. It was like systematically tearing down the walls she had built around herself to ignore and bury deep things he had done to her as a child.
Ramamurthy had shown Megha his penis for the first time in her Aunt’s house. It was a similar gathering of relatives for a housewarming ceremony. Her mother, too busy assisting her sister in the preparations for the next day, had gladly agreed when Ramamurthy offered to look after Megha.
“She is very smart for a six-year-old” he had remarked, before hoisting her onto his waist and planting a kiss on her cheek, as her unsuspecting mother beamed. Later, sitting against a pile of folded mattresses, in an empty room, away from the relatives, he had asked her to stroke his penis and had simultaneously reached for her underwear.
The image of this thick, wet mass, vibrating under her palm, and a sense of unease overtaking her were so vivid, even now that it made her exclaim in disgust. She remembered pushing his hand away and wiping the hot liquid on hers, onto the mattress, and standing up.
“I want to go back to Amma.” she had said. His eyes had suddenly turned steely, as he reached for the end of her frock. When she moved back, towards the door, he had rummaged in his bag and handed her a bar of her favourite milk chocolate.
“This is our secret ok? Now be a good girl,” he had said. Throughout the ceremony the next day, she remembered that he would stand and stare at her from corners and that his expressions would change depending on whether they were alone, or in the company of her parents.
Megha could not fathom why she never told any of this to her parents. A small voice inside her said that wasn’t true. The same day, while they were leaving after the ceremony, she had tried to tell her parents, in the only way she could – that she didn’t like him.
She could not put into words what had happened to her, out of fear that he would cause her harm and because she was unable to understand exactly what bothered her. He had not hurt her physically or scolded her or done anything she knew would qualify for a complaint, and yet, it had made her uneasy.
During the next few years, he had started stroking and pinching other parts of her body, and every time it was the same – a sense of confusion slowly turned into guilt. After the guests would leave, she would lock herself in her room, take out her diary and draw pictures of him and cross them off violently.
“I will tell them you are a bad girl Meghu, who do you think they will believe?” he had smirked on one such occasion when she threatened to complain to her parents. The desire to cause him pain kept building up inside her. She would think of elaborate plans to escape him and that would be the only thing on her mind.
There was a burning desire to punish him for ruining her childhood and casting a shadow of perpetual guilt, shame, and anxiety over her. As she entered high school, she would deliberately try to make eye contact with him and make angry faces. She became increasingly rude to him whenever he came home.
Her parents dismissed this as teenage behavior, after scolding her a couple of times. Somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to tell them even now. The fear of how she would be perceived kept her from doing so. In subsequent years, Ramamurthy became a faceless man in the depths of her memory, forgotten and buried deep, as she moved cities for her education and employment. But she felt his ominous presence in all her failed relationships, abandoned projects, and inexplainable fear of social contact.
A knock on her door brought Megha back to the present. A cousin of hers was calling her for dinner. She touched her face and realised she had been crying. She wiped her tears and headed downstairs.
Sitting at the dining table, she felt like screaming her lungs out and telling her parents about him. She could not understand the urge for this outburst now, but it was there and was gradually consuming her.
What purpose would it even serve? She tried to reason with herself. Her parents, sitting across her, looked happy and content. She thought of the devastating effect, her truth would have on them and decided to shut up.
Thankfully that night, she had her room to herself. Her aunts and cousins sauntered in and out of it to change into nightclothes or retrieve clothes for their husbands and children. Somehow the thought of encountering Ramamurthy the next day was gnawing at her.
Unable to sleep, she went to her cupboard and retrieved a personal diary of her school days and looked at it with fondness. A few pictures of when she was a toddler fell out of the diary. Picking them up, she wondered, when the happy, vibrant child turned into a shy, awkward adult?
There was a page with a drawing of a man and ‘Die’ written all around it. His trousers were severely scratched. As she traced the deep trenches left by the pen on paper, she remembered this day in high school, where she played a Voodoo game with her friends, where they had to think of a person, they hated the most and draw their picture with curses all around it. She imagined her childhood without Ramamurthy.
The next morning went by in a blur. Her aunts and cousins dressed in silk sarees and crisp underskirts surrounded her to help her get dressed. All she could think of was Ramamurthy. But she would not let him ruin this day for her. The time had come to confront him.
When she arrived at the main hall, where the ceremony would take place, he was there, standing in front of her, unable to meet her gaze, even after all these years. The old fraud looked almost the same – the white dhoti, the dirty brown bag which had started to yellow at places, and his deceivingly affectionate smile. She couldn’t help but cringe at the sight of him.
The pujari sat her parents down on one side and her fiancé’s parents on the other, with the two of them seated next to each other. Ramamurthy was on the opposite side, overseeing the ceremony. Megha had the urge to reach across and slap him, cause a scandal.
As the pujari chanted away into the afternoon, she exchanged rings with her fiancé, the parents exchanged clothes and assortment of fruits, there were loud cheers, and one of her aunts signalled at her to smile. That irritated her and she restrained herself from scowling back at her.
Somewhere in between all this, she started dreaming about the punishment that was due. The hard slap that had occupied her completely, the sound of it, the feel of it on her palm was calling out to her. After what seemed like an eternity, she felt a nudge on her shoulder and was transported back to the present. Everybody around her, previously seated, had gotten up and her fiancé was motioning her to do the same.
“Time to take blessings. First the eldest gentleman here,” the pujari signalled her towards Ramamurthy. Sweat beads had formed on the t-zone of her face as she approached him with clenched teeth. He looked at the ceiling, then his toes, and on either side of him, as her gaze of indignation bore into him.
She raised her hand as if to slap him, and observed a gasp escape him, his eyes fearful. At that moment, she felt she had achieved closure. The chapter of her life where he cast a shadow over her very being was over now.
He was nothing but an unpleasant memory from her past. She looked around at her smiling, unsuspecting parents, adjusted her hair with the raised hand, bent down and touched his feet with a deep sigh.
This short story had been shortlisted for the July 2020 Muse of the Month contest.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Dhadkan
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Raksha is an engineer by day and an aspiring writer by night. She is an
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