This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
Nilima stood shivering in a dark alley on a cold winter night. It was a moonless night, eerily still and motionless, except the occasional bustling and screeches of the night-crawlers. In the far distance, there were twinkling street lights and the moving cars, and the silhouette of the persons who were late for home or wandering aimlessly in the ghostly silence of the city appeared and disappeared among them.
Her bare cold feet were shuffling above one another in a vain attempt for warmth, but the cold was already creeping its way through her body. Her stomach ached with hunger and her eyes were blurred. Her rapid breath that mingled in the mist and her heart was beating hard and valiantly as if giving its every effort to survive. She looked like a girl of about 15 or 16, some naive signs of womanhood clearly visible in her body. She was alone in the city, convicted of crime, a runaway from home and now, a girl struggling to survive the cold and hunger.
Standing there alone, her memory reeled back to the place where she was born, where her mother had always been for her. This hunger had been a stranger to her few days back, when she was at her home, with her mother, under the warm roof, and she had a bed, though not luxurious, a comfortable one, something which she could claim as hers. She never had an empty stomach- her mother would not let it happen.
Nilima never knew her father. When she was young, she frequently used to ask her mother about her father, and her mother would just conjure some stories or sometimes pretended not to listen at all. But that was not enough to satisfy the curious young mind, and when she saw her other friends with their father, she used to go to her mother and ask again but all in vain. Instead her mother used to tell other stories that amused the little girl and made her soon forget about her question, she used to tell her why she was named Nilima, that it was after her bright blue eyes that were like crystal balls, and how the birds sang the most beautiful song when she was born. These stories fascinated her young mind and she would soon forget about her father.
The day soon arrived when she was to go to the school. “Mommy”, she sobbed, “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to leave you.”
Her mother hugged her and gently whispered in her ears, “Oh don’t cry my little angel, I am not leaving you. I will be right here waiting for you. In there you will meet many friends you can play with, and my small kid here will be a big girl someday.”
Each day her mother would comb her hair and neatly tie it into a ponytail, wash her face, her hands and feet, prepare meal, readied books and notebooks and get her ready for school. Each day she would take Nilima to the school, bring her home and cared her in every possible way.
Time passed by, and Nilima grew to be a beautiful and loving child. There was pure bliss in her life, and never did she felt the harsh cold nights, there was the warmth of the eternal sunshine in her life. And then one day she fell very ill, she had a terrible fever and she could hardly eat and walk. She experienced then the cold she had never felt before, it was making her body numb and senseless, and very much alike the cold she was feeling now. Her mother had taken care of her day and night and her comforting hands were there for her every moment until she was fully recovered.
In the dark alley where she stood shivering, the nostalgic tears filled her eyes on remembering the caring warmth of her mother. Instinctively she reached for her mother’s hand, but the fact that her mother was dead haunted her again and she cringed on the very thought of it. She was cold and hungry but she had no soothing hands to comfort her, her heart was bleeding but there was no one left it could turn towards. However hard she tried, she could not chase the memory away and her frantic breath was unable to soothe her terrified heart. She had lost her mother, and now she realized how helpless her mother was, she realized the sacrifice her mother made to keep her baby angel happy.
Nilima was growing bigger day by day, and the unusual things about her home were not hidden from her. They never had any relatives visiting them nor did any neighbour ever come to their house. Her mother preferred to remain solitary and she had very few friends. When she was at school or outside playing, she felt as though other people were looking at her and jeering. They never had any invitation from any of their neighbours when they were celebrating festivals and in any other ceremonies. She would just watch the festivities from a distance, longing to be there, celebrating with other people, laughing and cheering, and that was what she imagined to be a mirthful day.
“Mother, why don’t they invite us in the marriage?” She would ask her mother.
“Oh! My angel, don’t worry. It’s just that they are jealous of you and don’t want you near them because you are far more beautiful than them”, her mother would try to comfort her.
But now she had grown beyond to be distracted by those fairytales, so she would still insist “But I want to go there!”
“When my angel will be a big girl then she will marry a handsome man and then we shall not call them too!” Her mother would reply.
Though she still did not get her answer, her mother words would make her brain wonder upon her own marriage. She would imagine a handsome young man who would be perfect for her. She dreamt about the life she would be having with her husband though she really didn’t understand what it meant to be married. She used to tell her dreams to her mother and her mother would always kindly smile at her. The kindness reflected at the eyes of her mother always sufficed to forget her petty worries.
The days were passing on, and Nilima had just begun experiencing the first signs of womanhood in her body. Then one day she arrived home late after school, and went straight to her mother, hugged her and cried for a long time. There was immense pain in her eyes and her lips were shivering in the unspeakable pain she was bearing. Her mother tried to comfort her but she wouldn’t listen, she would just cling to her harder. Her mother could not understand why she was crying nor could find any words that could comfort her.
After a long time, her sobs were reduced to long sober breaths, after she regained her speech; she turned to her mother and caught her hand. “Mother”, she said, “My friends at the school says that you are a prostitute, tell me they are lying mother, please mother!” Tears welled up in her eyes as she struggled to finish her sentence.
Her mother listened to her daughter quietly and plead of her daughter met her ghostly silence in return. There was pallor in her face and tears on her eyes but no answer to give to her daughter. How could she explain this to her daughter? Did her daughter have enough courage to face the truth; or did she herself have that courage? Could her daughter understand the bitter truth about the world? Was her precious angel ready for all this? She didn’t know.
The silence of her mother was a death blow to the hopes of Nilima, she had hoped that her mother would refuse this all and this would pass away as a bad dream. But no! Her mother stood before her in silence, quietly accepting what Nilima had hoped to defy, shattering with it every dreams she had, drowning her hopes and happiness along. She felt pain no more; it was just the blank numbness that took over her senses. She was disgusted by her mother, for she had become the cause of her lamenting heart.
When the hopes of the man dies, when there is no reason left to be happy; then the dark side of the man is revealed. The catastrophes are born due to the dark thoughts and hatred of the man, and in the darkness, the hatred of the man is often directed to a single person or cause. The seed of hatred towards her mother was sowed in her young mind. The loving face of the mother had turned to something bitter, and the loving hands of her mother had turned untouchable. Now she could understand why they had no visitors, why no one ever invited them, because they didn’t belong to that society in whose image she was being deluded all along. She could picture her in the society, painted as something untouchable, something sinful, who had no right to be among them. She was someone who had no father; she was a daughter of someone who sells their body for living.
The fact that her mother was a prostitute hit Nilima hard; she could never recover from the shock fully. She would not go outside with her friends anymore, she left school and she was never again that cheerful girl whose merry laughter filled the house. She was becoming a melancholy. The hatred toward her mother was rooting deep into hers. Her mother was no longer the one she loved; her mother was someone she wanted to get rid of.
Each day she saw her mother, with different men in their home, something she had not noticed before, and each day she wished she was dead. She saw the bruises on her mother’s face, the markings that was left on her by those cannibals she saw, something her mother beared silently. But instead of sympathy, those bruises only added more hatred towards her mother.
Every day she lived in her home, the more hell it seemed to her. She witnessed the slavery, the silent tears and the bibashta of her mother. She wanted escape, for she was taught to be defiant by her mother; she was rebellious, for she was taught to struggle by her mother. She could not forget what she was taught though she knew how hollow they were yet her endurance was much stronger than she had known; she continued to hold on a thread of hope when the world was fading from her.
As usual, Nilima was in her room, witnessing a slavery of the mankind, hearing blows and yelling from an unknown to the person she loved most.
“No”, she thought, “this must end! I will not let my mother die in a hell for me. I will no longer endure the insanity from these brutes…I will escape from here.”
She went in the kitchen silently, picked up a knife and hid it in her clothes, and then she went to the room where her mother was strangling herself with that beast.
Outside the room, she paused for a moment, as if in dilemma, as if praying to the lord for forgiveness for what she was going to do. But her sorrows were deep; and hatred had already been born out of it, and no force, no rationale would prevent her from what she had set herself in.
She pushed the door open, she saw her mother, in her most miserable state. She saw her predator, looked into his eyes with revenge. The vendetta that was boiling inside her turned her into a stone, or to say, mortified her. She didn’t flinch a bit but gazed intently to the person she was going to strike. Angered at being interrupted, he rushed forward with an angry fist to push Nilima out of the room, but before he could touch Nilima, the knife was inside his chest, draining the life out of him.
The man tried to squeal, withered and remained still after some time.
She looked at the vanquished face of the dead corpse, her victory chanting through the spilled blood. It was her victory for freedom, for an open sky where she could deny any threats that endangered her existence. Her blood soaked red hands were the colours of her liberty.
Just as she had begun appreciating her victory, the terrified shrieks of her mother rang into her ears. She turned to face her, a woman in bruises of a lifelong torment, a weak soul denied of its very existence, a woman crying in the ignorance when her freedom was so imminent, or so Nilima thought.
The shrieks of her mother were like a traitorous conspiracy against her victory for Nilima. “It is you who made me do it!” she yelled at her mother, and the tides of desire that rose into her which demanded of her freedom was not yet pacified.
She took the knife out of the corpse, and walked slowly towards her mother. There were tears in her eyes, which clouded her strong determination. Her mother cringed in fear, but she quietly put the knife aside and looked straight in her mother’s eyes.
“I love you mother”, she said, her voice was trembling and there were crackles in her shaky voice. “But I love my dreams more, I love my freedom more. Mother, please forgive me!”
Before her mother could realize what she meant, the blade of knife had pierced her heart; she was drowning in obliviousness, in the arms of the person she would die for.
Nilima stood in the dark alley, cold blizzard hitting her, her body freezing in the icy cold of the winter night, but this was nothing as compared to the throbbing pain her heart was enduring, the pain from the memory of her mother, the pain from having to watch her die. She escaped, as she had wanted, from her mother to this barren land where she was alone amidst the crowd.
In the dark alleyway, she stood, dying from hunger, she remembered her mother. There were no tears in her eyes, but her ravaged soul that soaked in the dried tears running through her cheeks was bleeding. She had escaped, but she never had anticipated the struggle she was up to, struggle for survival. This unknown place, where she had dreamt her freedom, offered her no refuge, no food. She was left alone to battle, and there she was, in the cold alleyway, holding her life dearly, even when she knew that she was losing the battle.
She now understood the position her mother had been, the trade she had to do for survival, the sacrifice she had to make to keep the battle going. She saw the bondage the life holds on to everyone, and in the bondage, nothing can be justified wrong for the survival.
Just as her hopes were beginning to fade, Nilima saw the light of a car from the distance, heading towards her. As it was approached near her, she waved her hand, signalling to stop it. The car screeched to a halt, Nilima went near the driver, looked at him and a fake smile crossed her lips.
“How much for a night?” The driver asked hesitantly.
“Five hundred.” Nilima Said, and after a thought added, “and a meal before.”
The man smiled on hearing this, and opened the door for her. She got in the car, and the car sailed to some place she didn’t cared.
“Who are you?” asked the man.
Nilima looked at the man, took a deep breath, and slumped in her seat. After a moment, she replied, “I am a prostitute.”
The man didn’t ask further questions. His hands was already wandering at her breasts.
Nilima was thinking about the meal, and the warm bed which would protect her from this cold night.