from the Ashes
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
had finally ended.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004