The city with all its glitz and lights was dazzling in the night. But the lights were somewhere in the background, as if an uptown New York night view wallpaper was pasted far away. Patches of road appeared and disappeared synchronized with the limited throw of headlights as the vehicles swished by. The flickering street lights reduced the visages of people to black unfamiliar contours only giving a hint of their faces from the momentary flashes of light. Here I was a thirty year old lady, near the bus stand in the outskirts of a city, waiting in the dark . I cursed the man who had loved me dearly for the past five years for this delay of five minutes. I frantically tried to reach him on his mobile, failing at which I dropped some angry messages while actually trying to take of my mind off the surroundings and seem occupied.
My eyes bounced from one person to another. A little fear crept in each time I saw the silhouette, of a man. I checked the time, it was a little past nine thirty. A lump rose to my throat and stomach twisted. The voice of my mother during my teenage days came back like an unexpected echo, shaking me, reminding of all the horrors that can happen in the dark. To wipe out the thoughts and feel a little secure I hopped and stood near a lady almost five years younger to me. It was a relief, acknowledging the presence of another woman. With a new found strange courage I looked at the men around us, seeing them for the first time with a neutral eye. They were no different than the men I meet on day to day basis. A hardworking middle aged guy with his bag strap stashed across his chest, a moody typical teenage student, a day worker starching his hair, deciding on puffing a beedi tucked into multiple turns of red and yellow sacred thread wrapped around his wrist.
While this sudden knowledge of common men set out waves of comfort, black thoughts still nagged my mind snubbing the possibility of respite. The horror stories of molestation, rape, kidnapping, abuse kept hovering over my head like cursing demons. Where the hell was my husband? It is unlike him, to be this late. Now an additional fear splashed in my already turbulent mind. Finally a message beeped and I was informed my guy was stuck in the nasty traffic due to a harsh accident. It does seem like a bad day for many people- harsh accident? My eyes glued to the mobile screen I try not to look around and make an eye contact with these common men. A rapist doesn’t roam with a board indicating the same- it could be anybody. With impulse I turn my head around to confirm a noisy brawl between two men walking towards the stand where we stood, we- me, the younger lady and the strange men. Two men in drunken madness, screaming and clearly out of their senses- my stomach touches the ground. With one of the other million pre-programmed reflexes built in every women, we two ladies step closer and stand next to each other as if we were childhood friends.
Why should I fear? I chide myself. Really coming to senses for the first time since I stepped into this bare corner of the street, stripped from the comfort of daylight and facing strangely expose fears which came to light in this darkness, waiting for my husband to take me back to my safe home. I can scream, my nails are uncut, the jeans is comfortable to raise my foot crotch high with required amount of force, I have a police number in my speed dial, I have a strong fist too and the lady beside me, offcourse she would help, now why wouldn’t she? But, all these fall flat when I look at the time again- fifteen past ten. If I ever want to get rid of my husband all I need to do is mention this incident to my mother. Past ten!
As if my worries were less, the day worker starts roaming about the place breaking through the invisible divide we woman made near the where we stood. My heart hopped into my mouth, when he tried to ask something in some incomprehensible language, with a sheepish smile plastered across his face. I walk away in a quick movement making a disgusted brave face but am actually scared like a little abandoned child, fully aware of the ugliness of the world. The worker walks away mumbling and I realize probably he didn’t mean any harm, maybe just too dazed with the tired day, beedi puffs or maybe some desi daaru, I pinch my nose as he leaves a trail of odour behind him. Ofcourse he could do harm, anyone could be harmful, men drunk, not drunk, educated, uneducated, upper class, lower class- there was nothing that clearly separated the good from the bad. And all you need to be in that vulnerable spot is be a woman, nothing matters, the clothes, the decency, the looks, age -nothing really.
A shrill horn breaks my endless symphony with the stressful night. I hop to the car with great relief, …
For happy ending- select the white text below:
…shoot an angry look at my husband. I slam the door and look at the stand where I stood nearly for an hour fearing my life as a woman. I look at the lady, my companion in the joint misery. I stop my husband from shifting the gear and tell him,” Lets wait till someone comes to pick her up.” He turns the key and the engine hum mutes abruptly. The young woman walks and stands closer to our car with the deepest sense of gratitude and we share a smile exchanging our identities for the first time.
For twisted ending – select the white text below:
.. sit in and slam the door in a hurry. I pull out my handkerchief and wipe the beads of fear off my face. While a couple of kilometers away I prop my head on the car window to gaze back the horror I lived through. I notice a car similar to our halt at the stop. Suddenly this car feels strange below my feet. the dashboard doesn’t have the Ganesh idol, the seat covers are a shade darker, the foot rug is missing... I fear looking at what monster could be seated in the driver’s seat next to me. How blindly fearful was I ?? My phones rings and- it is my husband calling.
P.S: It is strange how just one para about 100 words can change the whole track of the story and change how it makes the reader feel. Hope you cherish this little experiment as much as I did writing it. :)