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For the first time, Roshni saw the face of terror in broad daylight. She saw it in her daughter’s tear filled eyes.
*Trigger Warning: This has graphic descriptions of domestic violence and could be triggering to survivors
Roshni was lying beneath her husband, still as a corpse, her head turned to one side. From the small window of her shanty, she saw the moon shining brightly against the dark sky. Her eyes fixed on it, she waited for the ordeal to be over. Finally spent, Mohan rolled off his wife.
“Do you know what Nitin was saying yesterday?” Mohan said while tying the strings of his payjama. “He saw our Pari playing with her friends and instantly took a liking towards her. He says he wants to marry her.”
Roshni sat up startled. “But Pari is only 12 and that Nitin is a thief who spent five years in jail! How can you…”
Before she could complete her sentence, a tight slap landed on her right cheek.
“How dare you question my decision, huh?” Mohan thundered. “Saddling me with three girls, you useless woman! At least I will have one mouth less to feed. I will marry her off as early as possible. And…” Yanking her hair sharply, he hissed into her ears, “.. I hope you remember what happened the last time you tried to escape.”
Roshni’s face turned pale with fright. The bruises on her arms and thighs bore marks of his anger. Laughing maliciously at her, Mohan went to sleep.
She lay awake in the dark, cursing herself yet again for the mistake she had committed 13years back.
Born to a rich businessman, she was the youngest amongst her two siblings and hence the most pampered. Cocooned from life’s realities, she had no idea about how the other part of the world existed.
It had taken only a few days for 18 years old Roshni to fall in love with the handsome 28 year old security gaurd posted at the entrance of their sprawling two storied bungalow. When Mohan suggested that they better run away to get married because her father would never approve of their relationship, Roshni believed him. Never once did it cross her mind that he could have a hidden motive.
Guilt washed over her as she remembered her distraught parent’s face.
Her mother crying, her dad pleading with her to return. Being an influential man, he had even sought help from the police. But it was she, who had sealed her fate by proclaiming, “I am 18 dad! You can’t stop me. I love Mohan and I know he will keep me happy.”
It hadn’t taken long for the rosy picture to crumble though. She knew that Mohan was not as affluent as them but the dilapidated conditions of his chawl coupled with the daily struggles of living was a far cry from the dream world she had imagined.
Still Roshni had accepted and adapted to her new life. But the day her husband went to her parents seeking financial help, she wept tears of shame and lost self respect.
Even after so many years, shiver ran down her spine as the gruesome scene replayed in her mind.
Mohan had come home drunk, with fury written all over his face. “Your father refused!” He hollered, “Refused to give his son in law even a single penny… said that he has disowned you. You might as well be dead for him. Is this what I get for marrying a princess?”
Slowly, he started unbuckling his belt. “You are going to pay for your father’s sin.”
That night, she realised what she had brought upon herself. She had actually married a monster!
Outside, the night had turned pitch black with the moon hiding behind the cloud. Not a ray of light was visible.
‘Just like my life’, sobbed Roshni silently.
She had tried to escape once but had been caught immediately by one of Mohan’s friends. What if she tried to do that again? She couldn’t let that leech marry her daughter!
Instantly, her husband’s ominous threat came to ring in her ears. Trembling with fright, she curled up into a tight ball and willed sleep to take her fear and problems away.
The next morning Roshni was walking her daughters to school when Nitin appeared from nowhere. He stood blocking their path. Cocking his head to one side, he leered at Pari. Frightened, the poor girl hid her face in her mother’s bosom.
For the first time, Roshni saw the face of terror in broad daylight. She saw it in her daughter’s tear filled eyes. She felt it in her trembling hands which were now locked around her seeking protection.
Something snapped inside her and fury unlike any she had felt before engulfed her. Thrusting her chin up, she fixed him with an icy stare, challenging him as well as threatening with dire consequences. For a moment, Nitin seemed to be taken aback. And then slowly, he started retracing his steps, but not before she saw the hint of fear in his eyes.
Emboldened, she clutched her daughter’s hands tightly and marched off. At the school gate, the girls ran inside except for Pari who seemed wary of letting her mother go. Her large brown eyes, exactly the replica of her mother’s, shone in the bright light of the sun. Roshni saw in them the same dreams and hopes which she had cherished long back.
And suddenly she knew what she had to do.
Back home, she quietly went about her chores, waiting patiently for Mohan to leave the house. Since he had no permanent work and only did menial jobs that came his way, there was no fixed time of his coming or going. Around noon, he went to take his bath and Roshni seized the opportunity to steal a few notes from his wallet. She would need them!
Restlessly, she glanced at the small clock in the corner. In another half an hour she would be leaving for the school. What if Mohan decided to stay at home?
No, she had made up her mind. It was now or never!
To her relief, Mohan finally left after 10 minutes which gave Roshni only 20 minutes to quickly dump some clothes and rotis into a small duffel bag. Slinging it over one shoulder, she strode in the direction of the school.
Though her husband had left late, there was no guarantee that he would not come hom early. Roshni couldn’t take such a risk.
Taking her girls aside, she spoke to them urgently, “We are not going back home. We are going somewhere where we all shall be safe. Ok? Trust me!”
She hailed an auto and gave him the address. The destination was merely 40 minutes away but each second felt like a lifetime.
She willed herself not to think about what would happen if she got caught again. In fact, she was anxious about the reverse.
What if she was not welcomed? Where would she go then?
‘Anywhere but to Mohan!’ Her head screamed.
Finally, the autorickshaw pulled in front of a two storied bungalow. The girls looked up with awe. Roshni felt her heart beating wildly. The new security guard, unaware of who she was, took down her name on a register and asked her to walk in.
With each step that she took, Roshni felt herself transported back to the days of her childhood. Hesitantly, she rang the bell.
After a minute or so, the massive door opened. An old man, in mid sixties, stood gaping at her.
Roshni fell at her father’s feet weeping and begging for his forgiveness.
5 years later :
Roshni peeked inside Pari’s room. Two big suitcases stood packed neatly in a corner. However, the huge bed lay empty.
Anxious, she trotted towards the attached verandah. Her chest swelled with pride as she gazed lovingly at the slender form of her daughter.
Pari was finally on her way to fulfill her dream.
Her little girl was soon going to be a doctor!
All those ugly divorce proceedings, Mohan’s false accusations to gain custody of her daughters, her father’s relentless support, everything had paid off.
She tapped gently on her shoulder, “Beta, you should be in bed. You have a flight to catch tomorrow.”
Pari whirled around. She looked tensed. “Ma! What if..what if I fail?’
Roshni squeezed her hands reassuringly. “You will fail only if you believe so. Always remember that our fear is strongest at night but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.”
This short story had been shortlisted for the August 2020 Muse of the Month contest.
Image source: shutterstock
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