Streams of sweat dribbled down her forehead. She cursed the searing and sultry weather for the umpteenth time as her palms worked efficiently and pummelled the flour with accurate precision to knead the perfect dough. Satisfied with the outcome, she decided to catch some shut-eye and trudged towards the living room.
Perching herself on the upholstered settee, she stretched her legs to rest them on the modest centre table which seemed out of place in the otherwise tastefully done sumptuous interiors. The gnawing aches had resurfaced, or maybe they were there all along, but she was too engrossed to feel anything. Her hands manoeuvred their way to the drawers in the sleek, walnut colour TV unit and after fumbling for a while, she found the thermometer.
101.5 F – her body temperature was declared with a gentle beep. She blinked her eyes in quick succession and was promptly up on her feet to do what she usually did when she felt under the weather. She gulped down a pill of Paracetamol and scampered towards the kitchen. He would be home anytime now. The doorbell rang just when the first phulka was puffing up on the stove. She glanced at her mobile to check the time in panic. “Of all the days, he had to be early today”, she thought vexed and made a dart for the main door.
“Why does it take you so long to open the door? And look at you, can’t you learn to be more presentable?”, Sundar roared while glowering at Meena’s flour smeared face and slightly askew saree pallu.
“I…was making rotis. So…”, Meena cut short her response because Sundar had already made way to the bedroom to freshen up.
Meena had precisely twenty minutes now to wrap up her kitchen duties. She was a culinary expert who had a flair for cooking and could prepare luscious dishes in a jiffy. But, her body seemed to have been sapped of all its energy due to the seasonal viruses playing havoc with her system. Somehow, she managed to drag her feet to temper the cooked lentil with aromatic spices. The whiff of the seasoning wafted through the kitchen and soothed her throbbing muscles, even if just for a moment. She took it in and allowed the aroma to seep inside her and let out a slight smile. But, all of a sudden, there was a blackout and her innards began to relax as she slipped into a deep slumber. And then, as if to disrupt her rare moment of peace, those voices came back to haunt her.
“No Mama [maternal uncle], please do not do this. It’s painful.”, pleaded an innocent child in a quivering voice.
“We have no place to go if we leave from here. Your father did not care about us and left for another woman. Life is about surviving and right now, staying here is the only way we can survive. So, don’t complain and just accept this as your destiny.” stated a woman in a firm yet composed tone.
Amidst the echoing familiar, traumatizing voices, Meena heard someone calling out to her with loud, anxious desperation.
“Meena, Meena. Wake up. What the hell has happened? See who has come!”
Meena opened her eyes with a jolt. They hardly had guests visiting them unannounced, so she wondered in a daze who could it be. Her eyes fell on Sundar’s horrified face, and then it hit. Probably, they had arrived! Her eyes now wandered in search of them but she guessed that they were in the living room and hence, out of her purview.
“Meena, get up! You fell unconscious and then police came home to arrest me. They have a warrant. They say that I have sexually abused Radha and they are talking about some POSCO act. That bitch of a girl had the audacity to complain against me. You come and tell the police that they cannot arrest me like that.”
Sundar almost towed away Meena to the living room when he gauged that she was too feeble to walk around swiftly.
“She is my wife, Meena. Ask her! She will tell you that I am a respected man in the society. You cannot hurl such baseless accusations on me.”, Sundar beseeched the men in the uniform and feigned innocence.
“Your wife, Meena, and your housemaid’s 11-year-old daughter, Radha, are the ones who came and filed an FIR against you, Mr. Sundar.”, responded one of the police personnel with a steely nonchalance.
An uncomfortable and uncanny silence permeated the room and there was an abstruse stillness in the air as if a spell had been cast on the house. A visibly shaken and stupefied Sundar stared at Meena. In a split second, they both felt as if they were looking at a stranger. Trepidation and defiance had swapped places in those pair of eyes, which were hushed but speaking volumes to each other, asking questions and seeking answers.
Meena turned around and took ponderous strides towards her bedroom.
“Meena…Meena…How could you? You ungrateful woman…” she heard the words trailing off.
She lay down on her bed gazing at the family picture collage, zooming on a candid photograph of her childhood in which she was cocooned in her mother’s lap. She sighed and slipped into deep slumber again. This time, the voices didn’t come back to haunt her. She had broken the vicious circle – of silence, of tolerance and of everything in between.
Author’s Note: This story, penned by me, is an excerpt from our book “Muffled Moans” which is an international anthology on the subject of child abuse and gender violence featuring stories, poems and essays from around 150 authors.
Following is the Amazon link to purchase the book.