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Still trembling all over, she shouted in his direction – Hand for a hand! Some people stared, as she bellowed out, while many others hardly realised what had ensued in these few seconds.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Ilham Modi Bharmal is one of the winners for the July 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Jane De Suza commented, “The writer uses language to create complexities, contrasts, to create a living throbbing witness out of a mundane mechanical train. Sample this ending: ‘The dignity of Platform Number 6 had been restored’.”
As Saavi stood motionless on the platform, she suddenly felt a warm drop on her face. It was an unsolicited tear. Within seconds, everything became hazy. A fuzzy train screeched to a noisy halt at the station. Saavi’s 6.30 p.m. local also seemed to be screeching angrily, irritated at the filth it had to witness every day on Platform number 6.
Several colourful forms jostled to get a foot in the train compartment. Saavi had often been one of those jostlers.
In the past, she had been proud of her enviable train-boarding talent. She hardly ever missed boarding a train, no matter how packed it would be. In the past, her friends had labelled her – The Great Train Escape Artist. She always knew her way through a crowd. Within moments, she could disappear into any compartment. She made Platform 6 feel like 9 3/4th. If only there was a competition for such a thing. She would be a gold medallist!
But today, none of this mattered. It was all a blur. Her feet moved nowhere close to the colourful cloud of jostlers. She was stationery at the station. Frozen, pale, cold, motionless. She closed her eyes and several tears emerged hurriedly, all at once. He had groped her yet again. He got away with it, all week. Everyday. On the same platform. Platform number 6. Her mind suddenly threw up a useless observation – notice how Platform number six sounds like Platform number sex? Huh? Why did this thought even cross her mind? She felt stupid and angry at the same time.
While her body froze, her mind was operating in overdrive mode and it began to do the math – Okay Saavi, take action or ignore as usual? The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. If no action was taken, this groping act could go on forever! Platform number sex was going to become an everyday reality!
But what am I even supposed to do? She wondered!
She melted into the platform bench. Should I change my everyday local? Look for a new job? I could always use the carpool to work. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now. Her mind travelled back to her friends. They called her the Great Train Escape Artist. Here she was, totally trying to escape her situation. She felt like an Escape Artist in every possible sense.
Her mind created a debating platform of its own. Each argument was strong and practical. Each argument was logical and seemed right.
Do I have what it takes, to confront?
But Maa always says to ignore these ‘types’.
But, I can’t let this go on!
She was still confused. The question remained frozen, just like her physical self – Take action or ignore as usual?
He had followed her for a week. His sickening touch had left behind its repugnant perverseness on Saavi’s body. She felt like disowning her physical self. He had caused her hours of anxiety, shame, disgust and sleeplessness. His touch had pervaded deep into her skin, her pores, her internal organs and burnt a piercing hole into her soul. She felt a sting of disgust and extreme anger. It was like a wave that took over her. It felt now like warm water splashed across her ice cold body. She was stirred into a state of motion.
Something took over Saavi in that moment. Her feet hurriedly lifted themselves off the platform. In that same moment, her 6.30 p.m. local took off, in the opposite direction. It seemed as if the train was triggered to abandon the platform, intimidated by her determined and aggressive run. Her hands and feet were speaking a language of their own. Her mind was in a tizzy. The sounds of the whistling train were drowned out by the sounds inside her own head. Saavi and the train seemed to be running at the same speed, except in opposite directions. Her mind threw out a random thought – It’s time to run against the tide, Saavi.
Before she could fathom what was happening around her, she found herself walking to his left. The victim and abuser, matching step after step. His mind filled with thoughts of sleaze and lust. Hers filled with disgust, anger and frustration. Another train was marching towards platform number six. It was the size of a matchbox. The whistling, clanking and screeching sounds became louder. Saavi could barely hear any of that. All she felt was a vacuum. The train came closer and closer. Simultaneously, his right hand reached out for yet another innocent breast. She knew the motion path of that perverted hand. It was all too familiar. She knew how much hurt it caused her. She knew that yet another woman was going to experience that same wave of disgust.
In that nervous moment, her trembling hand found the power of several hurt souls, who had suffered at the hands of this abuser. The train had slowed down as it prepared to approach Platform Number 6. She jumped a step ahead, blocking his path. She swung her hand straight at his face and stood there staring at him. Her eyes pierced through his soul. Fear overtook the faceless fellow. He ran as fast his filthy feet could carry him.
The woman she had saved had sensed what this was about. She was a regular at Platform number 6. Most women at Platform Number 6 knew this unspoken secret. They had all swallowed the same guilt, anger and emotion. If this was a cult, they could’ve named it Victims Ville.
As if reading Saavi’s mind, she told her – You chose to take action. You did not ignore, as usual. You have inspired me. The woman looked down at her bulging belly and stroked it slowly. She seemed to be talking to her womb. Amongst the maddeningly loud clanking and whistling sounds, coupled with the announcement, Saavi heard a broken sentence – And that is your first life lesson – Always take action.
Saavi’s mind and body finally aligned together once again. She could feel her heart beating fast. But her mind felt calm. Another warm drop invited itself on her cheek. Why do they always come unannounced, thought Saavi, as she smiled. Her heart was all warmed up.
The 6.50 p.m. local had finally screeched to a halt. Saavi felt as if it had let out a happy whistle and that screech almost sounded like an applause. As if the train was grateful for the brave sight it had just witnessed. Back to her jostling game, the Great Train Escape Artist disappeared into the crowd. She looked outside and saw the pregnant woman waiting for her turn to enter the compartment. The woman searched for Saavi in that crowd and their eyes met. The woman held out her hand, assured that Saavi would help her once again. Saavi gently took her hand and helped her to make the final leap. Once again, her overactive mind threw up another random thought ‘Hand for a hand, indeed.’
The train picked up motion once again and Saavi wore a silly smile on her face all throughout that journey. Amidst all the heroic thoughts that crossed her mind, another random thought popped out of nowhere. Maybe they’ll call me the Great ACTION artist now. The smile grew bigger. The dignity of Platform Number 6 had been restored.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Jane De Suza, whose books combine humour with thought-provoking insights, which have got them onto award lists and Amazon’s and Nielsen’s bestseller charts. Flyaway Boy (shortlisted for The Times AutHer Awards, PeekaBook and Neev Lit fest awards) and When the World went Dark bring hope to issues like death, grief and stereotyping. The Spy who Lost her Head and Happily Never After are of special interest to women, and the SuperZero series and Uncool for children. The Midnight Years, out soon, takes on young adult mental health.
The cue is from her latest book When the World Went Dark.
“The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now.“
Image source: a still from short film That Day After Everyday/ LargeShortFilms on YouTube
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My passion in life lies in learning new things all the time. Emotional Intelligence is a way of life for me. I like to mix it with all my areas of interest that include - Psychology, read more...
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