Over and over again
Despair reigned. Anju's frail body lay cocooned in sheaths of soft cotton. Perched on top of the antique mahogany bed, I surveyed the room like an eagle scouting the land. I wanted to cry but my voice gently fizzled in the ambers of unspoken thoughts. I was mute, silent but alert. The carriage of women, older peers shrouded in white, floated through the rooms commiserating. What a tragedy, they whispered. How can life be so cruel to such a young girl….it wasn't accidental…they say she was pushed exclaimed others. She was so beautiful…how could she have fallen from the roof like that…and when there were other people there too, they continued... what a misfortune! Look at the catatonic father curled in a corner in the bedroom. Look at the mother, despondently pleading to have her child returned. What a shame, the women said….what a dreadful tragedy!
I was six when he started. It was never in a dark room. Shards of memories are my only proof. They rear their heads from the depths of an abysmal darkness to prick and pierce me with their truth. I can see and understand with a clarity that shields my shame. Random scenes unfold like parts of a narrative film that I cannot piece together yet am forced to replay over and over again.
I remember my pigtails bobbling up and down, my worn plaid dress brushing against me as I hurried to catch the commotion. Oh Oh Oh, I thought, I must see why the children were shouting outside. His bedroom opened out into the biggest and longest balcony overlooking our courtyard. One could stand there and glimpse the very boundaries of our neighborhood. The neighborhood, then, was bordered by lush vivid greenery that shimmered and shimmied under the sun's adoring gaze. Here and there were patches of masked white blocks of houses protruding from the earth, aesthetically complementing and blending within nature's dominance. Our house was the oldest. Our land the largest. Our family the foremost settlers on this once-fallow land.
I exploded through the doors, oblivious to his presence in his bedroom, and made a beeline for the balcony door. It was locked and I banged headlong into it. He laughed as he saw me rub my forehead wincing and befuddled. He materialized from the bathroom, adjusting his pajamas, and with one swift movement scooped me up to his chest. I wriggled and squirmed as he admonished me to be careful. Open the door, oh open the door, I pleaded. Laughing, he gently planted me on the floor, and unhinged the locks. Once my feet touched solid ground I plunged into the balcony fearing the commotion had dissipated just at my arrival. But it hadn't.
Someone had thrown a brick from our rooftop and it had landed on the brand new car that Sajid bhaiya, the dashing boro bhai of the neighborhood, had bought just the day before. It was prominently displayed at our courtyard, beaming its lustrous silver visage. The windshield was broken; a huge icy gash ran across its body with hundreds of little cracks branching out like small crooked fangs. The brick lay on top, halved, exposed, and shamed. The culprit was absconding. Sajid bhaiya stood silent next to his car, disbelief penetrating every pore of his face. His mother stood slightly apart screaming and accusing anyone in sight. Shouting and cursing obscenities over and over. I leaned against the wall of the balcony, teetering on my toes, brimming with unbridled excitement. What will happen next? Who is responsible? What will Sheila mami do? Will Sajid bhaiya talk?
I heard my name softly whispered. I turned back expecting him to conspiratorially wink at our bond in relishing in other's misfortune. But he didn't wink. He was staring at me. Oddly. At my shoulders peeping from where the strap of the dress had fallen over my arms. At my bare legs where the dress fell in soft folds. A chill soared through my body. I took a step back unconsciously creating distance between us. He abruptly turned his back to me and returned to his bedroom. I returned to the commotion outside…
…. He had me pinned against the bed. I looked at him but his face was a blur. I could smell his warm sticky breath, as he whispered my name nuzzling my ears. His free hand was roaming, wandering, meandering, and feeling my sullied skin. He gently lowered his body on top of mine…. I looked at the locked door….he placed one of his hand gently over my mouth and whispered “ aita shudo ador…this is only affection” over and over again….
I heard my bua calling my name outside his door, the swelling panic in her voice. He emerged from the bathroom and yelled to give him a minute. He walked over to where I was lying naked, trying not to stare at the small puddle of milky liquid gathered in the folds of the bed sheet. With a soothing voice, he put my clothes on one at a time, gently repeating “…aita shudo ador…this is only affection…”
When he opened the door, my bua almost tripped in her hurry to pick me up in her arms. She started instantly chastising me for disappearing. She apologized for disturbing Choto Sahib. She assured she wouldn't lose sight of me again. She noticed the crumpled bed, the milky puddle, and my numb state. She didn't say a word.
I cannot remember other episodes, or even if they were more. But his stench, his kisses on my shoulders, on my chest, on my arms, on my legs, on my crevices I cannot cleanse.
As I sat quietly in a corner of that room which was brimming with disbelief and misfortune, I sighed in a relief that seemed twenty years too late. I noticed Choto Chacha in his daughter's bedroom clutching a framed picture of him and his daughter on her ninth birthday, wailing at the injustice of his loss. Curling and uncurling my aching fingers, I remained in the corner staring at Anju's body displayed at the center of the room, whispering voicelessly, “it wasn't my fault, it wasn't my fault” over and over again.
Tisa Muhaddes is a member of the Writers Block.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009