I slid myself into the chair, trying not to feel the pain, but just being glad it was over, at least for tonight. Tomorrow was another day. Even sitting down hurt. I felt numb once again, on the outside as well as inside. And like the million times before, I again hatched up an escape plan. My muddled brain came up with atrocious approaches. Like adding two drops of poison to my tea next morning.
Suddenly I heard movement and my entire body flinched. A shudder ran through my spine and I closed my eyes. But the next instant a loud snore permeated through the closed door of my bedroom and with realization I opened my eyes wide. The pain stopped me from twisting my neck, so I took time turning my body around to watch my boy, my son sleepily saunter into the kitchen.
“What happened?” I asked covering my right cheek with my palm.
“Water …” he mumbled.
He dragged his feet to the fridge and I watched him keenly, hoping he’d not notice the five-finger mark on me or my dishevelled clothes. In my hurry to run out of the room, I hadn’t bothered to dress up adequately. I clutched at the neckline of my nightie.
“Why are you here?” he asked, yawning.
“Just, couldn’t sleep.”
He gulped from the bottle, put it back in place and dragged his feet back. Thankfully he hadn’t noticed. The last time he did he had been just ten.
“Ma, what happened to your face?”
“What? Nothing…” I had tried to feign ignorance first.
“No… it’s all black.”
“Oh… this… nothing dear. I bumped into a wall in the morning.”
My son didn’t reply, but stared at me for a while, before picking up his sandwich and school bag and rushing out the door. Arun was still in the room, but had probably heard the exchange. Since then he had avoided touching my face. Until tonight.
Vishal’s grades at school hadn’t been much of a concern, but his teachers always said he was brooding over things, lost at times. He was reserved and rarely mixed around. I knew it was impossible not to hear things at night, his room was just a wall away. That’s why I muffled my screams as Arun stubbed his cigarettes on my belly, or forced himself on me. Or even when he made that video of me, having a cold shower, naked, in the middle of a chilly winter night. Yes, I kept quiet. What could I do? Marital rape is not even a punishable offence in my country. Where could I go? My parents had disowned me the day I ran away eighteen years ago. Our initial years had been good. But then something happened.
It was our tenth anniversary and a celebration was on at home. Arun had a little too much to drink. And that night, after Vishal had dozed off, Arun barged into our room behind me. Without warning he pushed me to the ground. Before I could pick myself up I was being kicked and slapped around. Stunned, I managed to cover my face. When he had his fill he growled, “Next time, think before you flirt with my friends.”
His mouth reeked of alcohol, but his words reeked of a mind that had rotted. Yet, I said nothing, just cried alone, curled up on the floor, hoping all night, he would come to his senses. That he would hug me tenderly and apologize. After that he never came to me unless it was to violate me. Every night I waited in bed, terror filling my heart as the clock’s hands approached two. A deadline that he usually met once his rendezvous with her was over.
I must have sat there at the kitchen table, softly weeping and ruminating the past years, when again footsteps approached me. I was now too tired to stiffen, too much in pain from the kicks and slaps to flinch. I felt hands heavily land on the table and I uncovered my face to look. There were wads of notes. Maybe around five grand, or maybe more. And Vishal stood beside me solemnly, not blinking, not yawning, not moving his lips. Just waiting for me to ask.
“What is this? Where did you get this?” I felt anxiety rising, “Had he been stealing?”
“Ma, remember I told you about the tuitions?”
Yes I did, but my mind was too befuddled to make sense.
“Well, this is my earning.”
I blinked and shook my head. I was too taken aback to ask any sensible question.
“Ma…,” he sat down and held my hand, “Let’s get away from here. Let’s get away from Papa…”
I could see his eyes well up too. When had my baby grown up so much? My hand probably trembled hard for I felt his grip tighten.
“Let’s just leave, Ma. Please.”
“But where will we go?”
“I am sure we can think of something.”
His voice quivered, but not with fear. There was hope and I knew I had the wind I needed to fly.