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The next morning, Neelam went on with her usual chores but was constantly observing Anand. She saw the way he looked at Minu while she was leaving for school.
Trigger warning: This speaks of child sexual abuse and many be triggering for survivors.
The clock was ticking 7:30 which meant it was time for the kids to leave for school. Neelam was done packing with the boxes and was hurrying up her kids – a 13 yr old daughter and a 9 yr old son. As soon as they left, she hurriedly arranged breakfast for her diabetic father in law, packed her lunch and checked her watch. It was 7:40 am and she was thoroughly pleased with herself on achieving this feat every single day.
She waved at her mother-in-law who was busy with her morning prayers and stepped out. A 5-min walk from the house to the bus stop and her regular 8:10 am bus to Government Hospital.
She managed to secure a seat in the bus today which meant she had the time to play Candy crush on her phone. She was about to complete her level in the game when her stop arrived. She sighed and made her way out of the overcrowded bus. With fast paced steps she walked into a hospital, headed straight to the nurses changing room, quickly changed into her uniform and reported at 9 am sharp.
This has been her routine for the past 8 years. She was a hardworking woman who loved to be on time always no matter what.
Neelam had lost her husband in a tragic accident 8 yrs ago. She could not grieve for long as she had the responsibility of looking after her two kids and also support her in laws financially. A qualified and registered nurse by profession, she had always wanted to stay home for her kids. But fate had other plans. Neelam’s saving grace had been her husband’s parents who were extremely supportive of her decisions and had always been there for her children.
After a hectic day at the hospital, Neelam was just about to enter her house when she heard some loud voices and her daughter crying. She immediately understood that it must be Anand, her brother in law and wondered what he was upto this time.
Anand, her husband’s older brother, lived in Kanpur with his wife and children, and came to Lucknow once or twice a month for business purposes. His visits had always been a cause of stress for the family as his only intention of visiting his parents or his deceased younger brother’s family was to try and persuade them into selling their ancestral home in which they were residing. Neelam had put up a strong resistance to it and as a result these two were always at loggerheads.
“Come in your Majesty, welcome” said Anand mockingly as Neelam stepped into the house. She saw her in laws seated at the table with a worried look on their faces and her daughter standing in a corner against the wall sobbing. She was still in her school uniform.
“Why are you crying, Minu? What happened?” asked Neelam puzzled.
“Let me answer that for her,” snapped Anand. “While you were happily loitering around on the streets, your dear daughter was getting all cozy with a boy. I caught them red handed and that too right outside our house. You have never been a good mother Neelam and your daughter too reflects your values.”
“Tauji is lying,” muttered Minu in between sobs.
“Keep your mouth shut. You are a disgrace to the family!” yelled Anand to which Minu started crying out loud. Neelam’s mother in law quickly got up to console her grand-daughter and walked her into her room. Neelam looked at her son who was sitting there too terrified to speak and signaled him to go inside.
“You are unbelievable. Such hatred towards your brother’s widow and his children. Truly unbelievable. This is my family and I know how to deal with my issues,” Neelam said in a stern voice and walked inside. She could hear him yelling about how he was stepping into his dead brother’s shoes and being a good father. She went to her room and shut the door. Once she calmed down, she went into the kitchen and walked out with a plate of food in her hand. She crossed Anand who was busy pouring himself a drink in the living room. “Disgusting!” she murmured to herself as she went to her children’s room.
She looked lovingly at her son who was asleep by then and sat next to her daughter who was awake but had covered herself completely with a blanket.
“Minu, let’s eat something,” said Neelam pushing the blanket away. Teary eyed Minu looked at her mom and started to eat. After having a few bites, she began to state her version of the incident, “Ma, it was Jatin. He was coming home with me so that we can sit here and rehearse for our play. I don’t know how all of a sudden Tauji appeared and caught Jatin by his collar and threatened him of consequences if he ever talks to me. Then he grabbed me by my shoulders and squeezed my breasts……”
“Wait! What?!” asked Neelam shocked.
“Yes, Ma. Tauji squeezed my breasts hard and said that I need to be taught a lesson”. Replied Minu with tears in her eyes. “I felt so ashamed” she added.
Neelam trembled with anger. She could not believe what she heard. She knew her brother in law was a misogynist but to imagine him as a monster who could molest a girl his daughter’s age was nauseating. She hugged her daughter tight and said, “I’m so sorry beta. This should have never happened. It was not your fault. Not your fault at all.” And they both cried.
The next morning, Neelam went on with her usual chores but was constantly observing Anand. She saw the way he looked at Minu while she was leaving for school. She had thought about it the whole night. In the wild, when a predator attacks a young animal, its mother attacks the predator, kills it to defend her young one.
“How dare he touch my child! How did he even think he could get away with such disgusting behaviour!” thought Neelam. When she reached the hospital, she had made up her mind. She walked towards the pharmacy department in the hospital where all the drugs were arranged in shelves alphabetically in white boxes. She opened the box with Sodium Oxybate written on it and quickly emptied four vials in her bottle and stuffed it in her bag. Then, she refilled those vials with plain water and placed them back in their place.
She clutched her bag tightly below her arm and walked home. As she entered her house, she saw Anand pestering his parents to loan him some money. She quietly walked into his room where she saw a half empty bottle of alcohol lying beside the bed. She emptied the bottle a little and filled that space with the sodium oxybate she was carrying.
She walked into the living room, stood facing Anand and in a very angry tone said, “You need to leave. You can’t stay here anymore.” Neelam’s in- laws were taken aback by her tone more than her words. She had never spoken to him or to anyone in that manner. Anand lost his cool at this humiliation. He stood up and kicked his chair in a fit of rage. He yelled, “You b**ch”!
Neelam also raised her voice, “Leave or I’ll call the police” she said looking into his eyes. By now, even the neighbours began to gather at their front door.
Helpless, Anand walked into his room, slammed the door shut, lifted the bottle of alcohol lying in front of his eyes, gulped it down entirely and slammed the empty bottle to the ground. Neelam shut her eyes relieved as this was what she had hoped would happen. He packed his bag and left without saying a word, pushing the neighbours who were unwillingly blocking his exit at the door.
Suddenly, the whole house went quiet. The neighbours too left the place talking in soft murmurs. Neelam went into the kitchen to prepare dinner for all. The kids who had just returned from school realised something was not right and went into their room. Neelam’s in-laws sat in the living room too scared to speak. On the surface, all seemed calm, but things move forward exactly as they should, in tandem with an unseen natural rhythm. All she had to do was wait.
She waited the whole night. The following morning she woke up to the news she wanted to hear. Neelam’s mother in law was crying over the phone. Anand suffered a heart stroke in the bus on the way to Kanpur. The passengers in the bus admitted him to a hospital nearby. He survived, but had been paralysed completely. Sodium oxybate is an odourless, colourless liquid which is a major component in many date rape drugs and causes dizziness and increased heart palpitations. It has a stronger reaction when combined with alcohol.
Neelam went to Minu who had heard the news too and sat next to her. In a soft voice, Neelam said, “Believe in God Minu. He always punishes the wrongdoers.” To which Minu replied, “And because it is difficult for God to be present everywhere, he created ‘MOTHER’. The way her daughter looked at her told Neelam that she understood.
This story had been shortlisted for our December 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. The author-juror Ranjani Rao said about this story, “Never mess with a mother, even if you think she is weak or helpless, specially if she is alone.”
Image source: a still from the short film Juice
Pratyusha Pinnali. An amateur writer. Mother. Worked for an NGO dealing with senior citizens. read more...
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