I saw my reflection in the huge terracotta container where drinking water was kept and instantly regretted looking at myself. My lower lip was swollen, in the middle of which was a small patched wound, eyes were bloodshot and one eye was a complete dark hollow. A part of me wanted to yell and cry and break the damn pot but I knew better of it. My spine ached in a way it hadn’t even during my labor pain. What i felt wasn’t self pity, it was hopelessness. The fact that one human being is more human than another. The fact that justice is a luxury not everyone can afford.. Not a woman at least.
Ramlal walked inside the house as I had set out a tray and several cups of tea on it.
“I.. I don’t know Malkin…” He looked doomed, as if I had asked him something sinful.
“Who knows then?” Before Ramlal could answer my husband barged into the house, swinging the door open and letting it slam several times.
“Why? You plan to seduce him too? Do you?” He barked.
“No.” I looked down.
“Then why are you whoring around your nose about it. One more word and you won’t recognise your own self, I’ll male sure.”
I swallowed hard and went about my chores. By the time I reached Shashi’s chamber limping and aching, it was already 1. I knocked the door and moments later he opened it.
“Come in Radha.” The room smelled of medicines as before but it didn’t have the scars I had on me. It was cheerful and full of life, serene and settled, just like Shashi was.
I couldn’t help but smile. But what happened next was completely unforeseen. The little patch in the middle of my lip burst open and a globe of blood oozed out. My eyes stung with tears and I tried to blink them back. Shashi looked at me and pursed his lips, then he gestured me to come inside and closed the door behind him.
“Please sit on the bed Radha.” He said with a smile. It was then I realised that a man could make a woman happy just by taking her name, just by the sweet acknowledgment of her existence. I sat down and he fetched a small briefcase. Gently and with utmost care he dabbed around my wounds, bandaged my hand which I had scraped trying to clutch on the iron bed. As I stood motionless, aware of his presence, of the burning on my wounds that the spirit caused, of being vulnerable at the hands of a total stranger, I thought of days back at home when my mother had nursed my wounds with the same tenderness. To my embarrassment, after he finished dressing, he was the one who thanked me instead of otherwise.
I quickly got out of the room and rushed to my own. I didn’t sweep or mop that day. All I did was lied on my bed and peered into the cracks in the ceiling. He had not asked me if my husband had hit me, he didn’t ask me if it was my fault. It didn’t matter to him at that moment. What mattered to him was that I was in pain and that he being a doctor could relieve me. Was it out of pity? I didn’t have an answer.
That night while cooking I thought of Chotku. I didn’t know where he was but I had a funny feeling that there was something behind his sudden slack. Of course I didn’t dare ask my husband. He, like many other people can relate everything a woman might say to her somehow being a whore. That night when he came in the room, I didn’t say a word. I did what I was supposed to while my body was covered with goosebumps of disgust. It felt like I was eating someone’s leftover, something that wasn’t mine, that I didn’t want.
The next day I felt much better and went early in the morning to the temple near the pond. Several women were washing their clothes by the pond. I carefully covered the wounds with my drape and walked towards the temple. As I bowed down near the first step to touch it with my hand and then touch my head, I heard a woman crying.
“He says he wouldn’t take him.. The police might press charges.” The woman sad in the saddest possible voice, I, with all my sadness wasn’t even nearly sad as her. It was Chotku’s mother. When his elder sister saw me, she prompted her mother to be quite. At once both of them looked at me and the scorn that I saw in her eyes could’ve burnt me then and there to the ground. I didn’t know how to react. I quickly bowed and walked out of the temple hardly completing any ritual.
I spent the whole day listlessly pushing my mop around the house, the incident in the morning had struck me like lightening. Was he in some sort of trouble or was she talking about someone else? But she had mentioned the police also? Did he try to steal? I can’t believe he would’ve done that! Hundreds of possibilities whirled around my head as I chopped onion and garlic finely, the way Shashi preferred them to be. When I took the plate to his room that afternoon, he first asked me if I felt better. He was talking about the wounds. I said I did and started for the door when he called out.
I looked back at him. “Yes”
“You look bothered. Is everything okay?”