Shadows of a Girl

I woke up screaming and taking off my bed sheet. I felt drops of sweat flowing till the end of my spine and they disappeared inside the fine cloth of my skirt. I peeped into my shirt and checked whether my not yet firm and still blooming breasts are in their place. I sighed. I badly wanted some water so I searched for the water jug and gulped water making my shirt go wet. I wanted my breasts to get removed from my body. There is no other female organ which makes the life of a girl terrible. Lying down on the bed did give me some comfort. The cool air which found its way through the bed room window soothed my headache. The window pane had weird designs made by the shadows of the nearby trees. It gave no surprise when I saw the switched off street lights.

 “Why can’t you wake up early and sweep the house?” mother shouted at top of her voice. I slowly pulled the bed sheet from my face and looked at her. She was standing tall with a broom. The dust from the broom made me sneeze. I looked at the timepiece and it showed 6 A.M.

 “You will suffer at your husband’s place. Lazy girl ! ” Amma shouted from the kitchen. I wanted to shout at her back but refrained. I have always thought how she can think about getting me married at the age of 13.

I am not going to marry until I get a job. Period.

Why did I born in this house? I should have born as Prakash uncle’s daughter. He stays in Chennai and his children are well off. Unlike me, they were smart and intelligent. Once, he once promised me that he would take me to Chennai for higher studies if I pass out tenth grade with flying colors. From then onwards, Amma started calling me, Oye Collector madam, please wash the clothes; Collector madam please wake up. I hated it. At times, I really hate my Amma. I wish she were not my mother. Bhavana’s mother is the best mother in the world. She loves Bhavana so much that never I have heard her shouting. They talk to each other as if they are friends. Bhavana has no secrets with her mother. She is so lucky. I don’t even remember talking with my full heart to my Amma.

 Before getting out of the house to school, I prayed well. Looks like God is not listening to my prayers. I have been praying for more than a year and until today I am tortured while going to school. While walking to the main road I still prayed. Nobody is there to help me and I wish I had a brother.

I got inside the 8.15 AM bus and stared at my toe nails. Suddenly somebody touched me and I recognized that touch. I slid my right hand inside the school uniform skirt’s pocket and took out a 1 rupee coin. I gave to him without looking at his face. I again slid my right hand into the pocket to keep the ticket inside. I hate him.

While getting down from the bus, I again recognized the touch. There were so many sleepless nights which I have spent thinking why can’t buses in Kerala run without a cleaner man standing at the door of the bus pretending to help the women open the bus door. Five months back, when I was sitting in front seat, he touched my hands. I stared at the cleaner man and he winked at me. A sudden chill hit me like a lightning and my heart started beating fast. I understood that he has kept the hands on the brim of my seat as if it is a normal posture to travel in a bus. He touched my legs and pinched me. I went numb. I saw my classmates flocking at the door to get down from the bus but I couldn’t even get up from my seat.  But my legs were shivering, my hands were sweating and my stomach had butterflies flying inside it. I gasped some air to make me look normal and then it happened. The conductor pulled me out of the seat holding my arms and shouted “Day dreaming girl!”.He used the opportunity well and slid inside my shirt sleeves as deep as possible to hold my hands. I ran to the door and stepped down from the slightly moving bus. While stepping down, the cleaner man almost hugged me to throw out of the bus.

At times, I feel that my Amma doesn’t love me at all. She never listens to me. All she talks about is the money she has to find to pay the dowry when she marries me off. I think she misses my father and that’s why she behaves strangely and rudely to me.

I always wanted to tell her about those men who is coming both in my nightmares and day dreams. I wanted to tell her how much I hate them and how much I hate myself when they touch me or pinch me. Once during the lunch break, I told Reshma about him. I somehow felt like trusting her as she has been sitting next to me since we both joined the school together. But I couldn’t believe what heard from her. She told me that her father’s brother who is staying with them always keeps her in his lap. He would caress her breasts when her mother is in kitchen, he would tell her to massage his legs and he would touch her hair as if showing affection. Reshma’s family is a joint family and her father toils to run that big family. I asked her why she is not telling this matter to her mother. My jaw dropped when I learned that her mother knew it and even tried talking to her father but all in vain.

I cannot explain the blood rush and the rage that wave inside my heart and body when they touch me or pass lusty comments. I want to hit them on their face when they do so but all I can manage is to hold my fist tight and then sit on the seat like a stone. Sunday is the only peaceful day but then Sunday nights are terrible. The thought of again bearing those hard presses and pinches will make me scream in helplessly in anger.

Few days back, I was sitting in the front seat, far away from the conductor seat. I gave him 1rupee coin without looking at his face and put back the ticket in my pocket. When the crowd grew, he came and stood next to my seat. He leaned on the bar next to the front seat in the bus. I could sense that he was looking at my breasts and my blood flushed. I held my bag tight to my chest and looked outside. When an old lady got inside the bus, he ordered me to get up from my seat. He shouted to everybody that students are making the private bus owners of Kerala in loss. I managed to stand up from the seat and stood holding the seat rod. He asked the crowd to give him way to the other end of the bus. Then it happened. On the pretext of pushing me, he squeezed my breasts. I thought I would faint then. I wanted to vomit as I felt sick in my stomach. I held the iron bar of the seat tightly and stood in the crowd. After this incident, I started getting nightmares that at times him or some other times strange men are trying to squeeze my breasts. My mother sleeping in the adjacent room neither cared nor bothered but yet shout at me to better sleep soon rather than disturbing her sleep. When she is in her slumber, she forgets me. I searched for one person to talk this out or to get help.

I lost my father when I was two. I know him only through stories from my mother which she told when she wanted to let me know how unlucky I am. It was from Reshma that I learned the secret behind my mother’s hatred towards me. A soothsayer made my mother believed that it was my unlucky charm which brought death to my father. A lot of times, I have secretly wished that my mother have hugged or kissed me like rest of the mothers of the village do. They oil their daughter’s hair, they celebrate when the daughter reaches puberty and they tease their daughter telling about the prince charming waiting for her. Once I took the bottle of oil and sat next to my mother who was sitting on the steps of the front door of the house. She gave me a glaring stare and I understood the answer. How can I ever tell a woman who hates me, who talks only about the pain she is taking to make money to pay my dowry about the men who eves tease me?

 Every time when I get on the bus, I wished I had the courage to hold the hands of the cleaner man from touching me and then slap him tight. But when I think about the school mates, neighbors and acquaintances in the bus I refrain myself from thinking about such a plan. I was going crazy thinking about the modus operandi that he worked out with me. Why do those two men torture me this way? Why should bus have a man standing at the women’s door? Why does he never move from the two meter foot-board while women are getting on the bus? He touches every other women getting inside the bus. He teases every school girl sitting in the front seat of the bus.

Ninth grade final exams were going on and I returned home at noon after the exam. Most of the times, I will be the only girl in the bus by the time the bus reaches the last stop where I get down. Somehow I was lucky for four days as the village Panchayat president travelled to my stop as he was monitoring the road work. I thanked my stars and for the first time I enjoyed the warmth of security. I realized how beautiful the sideways of the roads are. I understood what I missed by sitting scared and absent-minded in the bus. On the fifth day, after my Social science exam I gleefully sat next to the window of the front seat. My heart uttered sotto voce that things are wrong. I hesitantly looked back and I didn’t see the Panchayat President in his usual seat. Then I looked at the cleaner man and I saw the lusty urge in his eyes. I took my eyes off him and sat straight. My heart sank and I wanted to jump out of the bus. Altogether, there were only eight people in the bus. Two security men returning from their work , two tenth standard students coming back from their tuition class, the bus driver, the bus conductor ,the cleaner man and myself. One of the tenth standard students is my neighbor and I have already blocked his textbooks for my next year. The security men took the advantage of the nearly empty bus by keeping their legs on the bars of the seat and snoring off their last night’s pending sleep.

I jumped from the seat when the cleaner man came and sat next to me. He looked behind the boys and winked at them and I heard them laugh. He comfortably stretched himself on the seat and kept his hands around me as if he was my lover. I was not sure whether I was dead or not. I couldn’t move and inch and I shivered. When he held my hair, I took all my courage and jumped out of the seat. He laughed at me and pulled me to him. Bus conductor made a comment to encourage the cleaner man. He kept his hands on my shoulder and something inside me exploded with courage that I slapped him hard on his left cheek. He fell off the seat. He called me names and ran to me and lifted me holding my uniform shirt’s collar. I kicked him and suddenly the driver applied sudden brakes. Both of us fell down. His head hit on the gearbox and he was in a rage. I opened the door of the bus and ran. I ran. I ran until I reached my house. I slammed the door and got inside my room.

I wrapped myself in the bed sheet. I held it tight to stop myself from shivering. I heard my mother shouting at me for getting inside the house wearing the shoes. She poured her rants about me not being an ideal girl. I found it difficult to breathe and finally I cried. I cried my soul and anger out. I cried until the news reached my mother’s ears. Her hands made huge noises on my door and I couldn’t make out whether she was shouting or crying. I got up from the bed and slowly opened the door. There I fell on my bed again as my mother slapped me hard. I went blind, deaf and dumb. She lifted me from the bed holding my arms and asked why I slapped that man. She threw me down on the floor and ran out the room.

She lamented that the family’s honor is lost and now nobody will come forward to marry me. The complaints showered on my head and I felt that my head is going to blast. People flocked outside my house as the news had gone viral. She ran around our small house saying I have brought such a shame to her and the family. I lay on the bed and closed my eyes.

When I opened my eyes, it was dark everywhere. I couldn’t see the clock to know the time. I realized that I had a sound sleep. I touched my left cheek and felt the imprints of my mother’s finger. My ears pained and the clotted blood behind my left ear smelled. I got up and went out of my room. I stumbled upon some utensils. I switched on the light and saw my mother lying down of the floor. I ran to her but she turned her face without any emotions. She cursed me.

 I went back to bed after gulping some water from the kitchen. I slept peacefully that night. I dreamed about walking through the beach, singing songs and running around in garden. I saw my prince charming dancing with me. When he kissed me, I woke up. I screamed when I saw my mother hugging me. Her face was as calm as Night Sea. Her eyes were puffed from continuous crying. I felt good having her hands around me. The last time she hugged me is not even there in my memory. I tightly hugged her. She kissed on my cheeks and told me to stop going to school. She advised that I am too young to bear the embarrassment. I argued with her because there was one more exam left for me to pass the ninth grade.

Stop it Priya. People will talk nonsense about you. Let me talk with Prakash to get you married off soon.” She told me wiping her tears.

I fell back to my bed and looked through the window. The street lights were off but I could see the moon and stars. A million questions burped in my mind. I am good at studies and lately Meena teacher told me that if I can put in little more effort I can pass out with flying colors in my tenth grade. Then I can go to the town and study further. I had plans of telling Prakash uncle to loan me some cash and I will promise to pay him back once I get a job. The thought of job and salary for myself always brought me goose bumps.

I woke up early and got dressed up to go to school. Mother uttered no word but when I got out of the house I saw my neighbor hanging wet clothes on the jute lane. She stared at me and spat on the ground to get rid of my sight. While walking to the main road, I heard people’s whispers behind me, I saw people coming out of the house to see me walking and I felt that they were looting my inner strength. I walked faster and people at the bus stop covered me with their stares and glares. I breathed heavily to relax myself .People around me debated about whether I should be allowed to come out my house. But at this crossroad, I decided to go to school and study.

The bus came and I was the first one to get inside. I looked at the cleaner man and he looked away from my eyes. He has lost the guts to look into my eyes. I sat next to the window of the front seat of the bus. When the conductor reached my seat I looked at his face. He was not looking at me. I took a one rupee coin and gave him. I slid the ticket inside my skirt’s pocket and looked outside the window. The wind patted me to appreciate my courage to stand up for myself, the trees stooped to let me know their respect and my hair danced in the wind to show my happiness of freedom.

And I smiled.

PS:  This is not a fictional piece and this has disgusting memories from my school days. But, this incident was told to me by my relative who lives in a remote village in Palghat, Kerala. Looks like this girl is currently working as a teacher in the village.The ending of the story is made this way only to make the girls feel better after reading this and to let them know that they don’t have to give upon their dreams because of some morons.

 It is high time that Kerala should stop a “cleaner” man standing at the front door of the bus. A decade back when I went to school, things were bad. But, today things are worse. Stories which I hear from  school- going girls are nasty and terrible. Why can’t the Kerala Government fix an automatic door or have a bus without a door. In the worst case,  women are capable enough to open the door and get out of the bus. We prefer this to being touched and commented by someone every time we get in and get out of a bus.

Related Read : One Tight Slap , What I feel now is