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     Volume 4 Issue 14 | September 24, 2004 |

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Rising from the Ashes

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

The loud shrieking of a baby brought her to consciousness. She willed her eyes to stay shut. She wanted to stay this way for a while. Just for a while, until the pain goes away, she thought. She could feel the hard ground under her twisted body, cushioned only by a frayed carpet with holes. It hurt. Everything hurt. She couldn't differentiate which part hurt more. The wailing of the baby hammered through her head like a loud echo. Don't open your eyes, it will go away if you ignore it, she told herself. But the screaming persisted, and eventually, obeying her conscience and ignoring her instincts, she opened her eyes.

A crusty film of dried tears and blood blurred her vision as she dully surveyed the room around her. Pretending for a moment, just for her sanity, that she wasn't a part of this nightmare. Hoping against hope that she was an outsider, watching a play or seeing something that was happening to someone else. Someone else, she thought. Why couldn't I just be someone else?

The room around her was in shambles. A table stood overturned with streaks of rice and daal decorating its surface. Lonely, limp bits of boneless chicken and vegetables swam in a pool of water spilled from a broken glass jug. The water spread towards her feet, mingling with blood. It took her a while to realise that the blood was hers. There were magazines strewn all over the room, stained with blood and bits of turmeric from the uneaten dinner that had been so cruelly thrown aside. She had sweated for that dinner. And it wasn't even worth more than the cracked plate that it was on. A lampshade sat a few feet away from its other half, which lay cracked in two, the light-bulb in diamond-like shards.

She didn't know how she managed to get up. All she could remember was the pain and how every part of her body was screaming for her to stay put, for her to just lie there until death cocooned her in its protective wings. This is not a life, she thought. I don't want this life. Still, her scratched hands grabbed onto a chair nearby, and as her blood-caked fingers dug into the wood, she pulled herself up.

The first step she took was greeted with sharp stabs of pain. Dazedly she realised that she had stepped on glass. She didn't care. She kept walking, the fresh blood on her feet making small paw prints all over the floor. She passed the hallway mirror on the way, but didn't bother to look. She already knew what she would see. The same purply-bluish-black eye, which alternated routinely depending on which hand he used when he hit her. Judging from the swollen, throbbing pain on her temple, she guessed that, this time, he had used his right hand to punch her in her left eye. Her mouth hurt the most. She remembered something hard and metallic cutting open the side of her lip when he repeatedly slapped her, after pushing her onto the floor, her hair tightly knotted in his clenched grasp. When she licked her lips the salt from her saliva caused the fresh cut to sting, but she did not cry out or grimace because that would only make the pain worse. Her sari was ripped, she was sure. He always ripped her saris. The nice ones that she treasured and saved up to buy, those were the ones he took the most pleasure in ripping.

Last night came back to her in glimpses. She had fed the baby, changed into a fresh sari and sat waiting for him to come home so that they could eat dinner. An hour passed, two, three, she lost count at three and a half, and still, no news from him -- not even a phone call to ease her panicked mind. She sat at the table looking like a foolish young girl: all decked up and nowhere to go, no one to see. She was worried. What if something happened to him, she had wondered, her stomach rumbling. She had skipped lunch because she was so busy preparing the evening meal. He stumbled in at 3:30 in the morning, reeking of stale alcohol and cheap perfume. She had been livid. She had snapped. She said horrible things to him, screamed at him, cried and sobbed broken-heartedly until finally, he stood up, pushing over the table, and the never-ending circle of her nightmare began.

The baby's incessant crying broke into her thoughts and she walked faster, blindly fumbling and feeling her way towards the back room where the make-shift cot was. Once inside the room she fell to her knees and picked up her beautiful baby girl. Munia. Her sole reason for living, for getting up after each nightmare and walking through every aching step of her life.

The crying stopped as Munia looked up at her with teary eyes, showing no surprise at seeing her mother's current state. She is used to seeing me this way. She recognises me when I am beaten and battered. For what seemed like eternity, she stared into her baby's eyes searching for some kind of guidance. She had no one else who loved her so unconditionally, without complications. While staring, she realised with a shock that her darling child had his eyes. She had never noticed it before. It was hard even now to make the connection for Munia's eyes looked up at her with a kind of vulnerability and softness that her father was not capable of showing. He only had hatred in his eyes, and cruelty. And this was her husband, the father of her child. The inhuman monster who had beaten her senseless the night before.

She made up her mind. She got up with her baby and walked out of the back room, walked passed the hallway mirror without a glance, past the cracked lamp and shards of glass that mercilessly cut into her feet again, past the frayed carpet and its holes, which gave her comfort while lying in a stupor, past the magazines and watery chicken and vegetable stew, past the overturned table, until she reached the front door. With one bloody hand staining Munia's white fluffy blanket as she gripped tightly onto her, and the other hand poised over the doorknob, she hesitated. She knew if she looked back now, she might never leave. She turned the knob and took the first step towards her freedom, her redemption, her rebirth. The sunlight beat down on her face and passersby stared open-mouthed, but she didn't care. She kept walking, her bare feet scalded by the hot pavement, still making small tracks of blood. She didn't know where she was going but it didn't matter. As long as she wasn't going back to the darkness of that room and her life with him, as long as she had her baby, she knew she would be okay.

She thought of him, of his surprise when he came home and saw that both she and the baby were gone. He would come after her, she knew. But she would fight him. She would never go back to him, to that room, to his darkness. She would never let him beat her again. I will never let him beat me again.

Her nightmare had finally ended.



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