This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
Dreams are fascinating. They are liberating.
Sleep is an escape.
I stare up at the wisps, seeing faces of those who, the little rational part of my mind said, I cannot see any more.
My little puppy.
I breathe in deeply, feeling the false sense of security hug me tight, pulling me into the deeper depths of slumber. The faces become more distinct.
As I lay spreadeagled in an attempt to coax a dreamless sleep, I cannot help but think what had happened.
And what could have happened.
And what should never have happened.
My mother was the angel of my life. I remember her kindness, like this halo of gold which feels homely and warm. I remember her voice, telling me stories, singing me lullabies. I remember her fingers running through my hair.
I also remember her blood-stained body which I helped to carry into the hospital.
I also remembered the wicked red knife and the mad, possessed face of my father.
And I also remember seeing myself in the mirror—a black haired girl of fourteen with deep hazel eyes, slightly plump with an upturned nose and full lips which were now pale with terror.
Father always returned late at nights—though mother said his job was a demanding one. That night, his breath stank and his green eyes were bloodshot. I had tried to block the screams, the swearing and breaking furniture.
When I peeped out, I saw mother collapsed on the passage, the pool of blood being soaked up hungrily by the carpet. I saw father with a knife. Father saw me peeping.
I ran downstairs, out of the front door and banged the neighbour’s. They saw my frightened face and immediately called the police and the ambulance.
My mother died the next day, never waking up. Father was pronounced guilty and was put behind the bars. Relatives shrank away from taking my responsibility—and I didn’t want to go to them either. Finally, I was put up in an orphanage which had a dingy, dodgy feel to it.
Maybe God wanted to test out a new version of purgatory.
Or maybe, I was paying for my crimes committed in some past life.
The orphanage was hell, and the caretakers were devil incarnate. I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t breathe.
I was afraid that one day, I would forget to think.
Money came from the government, and it went into the caretakers’ pockets. The books were tattered and dirty, as if generation after generation kids have had puked their guts on it.
I tried to make out words from the greenish smudge—as I tried to block out the wails of the oldest girl who was in the room with man-in-charge.
I knew I would be next. I had to get out.
I was thirteen…maybe. I lost count of the days I spent amidst the walls of peeling paint. I was thin, bony and my eyes sunk until they could sink no more.
But then again, maybe I was thin enough to slip through the bars of the gate in the dead of the night.
One night, when everyone fell asleep, I sneaked out. The moon played hooky that day, hiding behind a cloud cover. The only source of light was a broken lamp flickering near the gate.
I could see the guard dozing on the wicker chair.
I crept to the wrought-iron gate, the only strong thing in the premises. I often thought that the building might fall oneday, but this gate would still stand with its spires spread towards the heavens as if praying for salvation.
I could do with some salvation.
A stone crunched under my foot.
The guard stirred.
I made a mad dash towards the gate.
A strong arm curved around my waist, yanking me back when my fingers were mere centimetres from the gate.
“Escaping now, are we?” a whisper slithered into my ear, making my spine tingle with nameless terror.
I struggled, but in vain. I weighed no more than a sack of footballs.
I pummelled him with my fists, cried, begged.
He revelled in my captivity, enjoying the brief sense of power and control.
I lost it. I saw red.
I sunk in my teeth into his forearm like a feral, rabid animal.
He gasped, yelled out in pain. He cradled the arm like one cradles a newborn babe. For a precious second, he forgot about me.
My legs needed no instruction from my brain. I ran as if my life depended on it.
My life did depend on it.
I slipped through the bars, letting adrenaline control my system for once.
The moon came out, shining the path brilliantly.
Maybe it was God’s way of showing me a path to live. Maybe it was just a coincidence. I didn’t stop to think as I ran.
It wasn’t yet over. My life was just about to start.
Many years have passed. I was shuffled from orphanage to orphanage before I managed to be adopted by a decent family. They didn’t have children; some medical condition prevented that. But they were happy to find me.
I was a voracious reader—the appetite that grew in my years of purgatory couldn’t be quenched easily. I read my textbooks, the reference books and even the law books my foster father had. I soon found out that the one responsible for this mess could be brought to justice.
I wanted to become a lawyer. I studied hard, worked hard.
I read through my foster father’s case reports. He told me about what goes on in court, how lawyers battle out their wits for their clients.
He also told me that revenge is not the only option or the only goal in life.
I didn’t deny. But I needed closure.
I needed to see that vile, pathetic scum behind the bars. I wanted him to be punished for his sins.
It was a long, arduous journey. I stumbled. I fell flat on my face.
I remembered my mother’s blood staining my Hello Kitty pyjamas I loved the most.
Then I got back up.
This time, losing was not an option.
This time, it was personal.
And the only way was forward.
It was a long time before I could finally drag him to court. He smirked at me.
I gave him my best smile.
I fought tooth and nail with my words. I dragged in key witnesses. I produced evidence which had been smothered by money and threats.
I saw that smirk disappear and uncertainty take its place.
I ploughed on for months diligently, ferociously. I received threats, but I didn’t buckle.
Since that day, I had not worn nor bought any Hello Kitty merchandise.
That day, the final day, the uncertainty on his face gave way to unadulterated horror. The same horror I felt I the hospital. The same horror I felt the night I escaped the orphanage.
My smile widened. My eyes brightened.
My shoulders fell suddenly light.
The nightmare…it was over.
I bowed to the white statue of justice before I walked out. I saw my foster parents waiting for me in their car. They were smiling.
For the first time in many years, I felt the warmth of the sunlight hitting my back. I felt the breeze ruffle my hair, the cheerful twitter of birds filled my ears.
Maybe the fates had some good written for me after all.
I skipped to the waiting car, finally warm. Finally safe.
For the first time in many years, I smiled truly.