Five days. That was how much time it took for her to get here. ‘2km ahead – Sonapara village’ read the signboard.
She looked out of the window of this ruggedly moving bus and saw dry bushes and very few people on the road. They wore a headgear that looked like a modest turban made out of towels. An occasional paan shop was visible, with hardly any space inside, with the person selling almost sitting on its edge, his vision already covered by the lowered roof of the shop. Her eyes were deep brown in color. They were still and didn’t blink even with the dust and sand mixed with the thick cloud of smoke made by the bus coming on to the passengers sitting on the window side. She had medium-length brown hair which looked like it had been cut by herself. The asymmetrical shape on the side of her neck could easily be noticed by anyone. The bus was a metal garage with rusty handles and seat cushions sucked out of life with very minimum coir inside to support them. They too had given up, like the bus that someday everything is going to scrap anyway. The roads, too, were playing supporting character to the entire scene of synchronous chaos, with its fair share of potholes and naked mud and gravel.
The bus was just 15 minutes away from its destinations, when something caused the driver, who was already in a state of delirium following a 20-hour bus ride, to pull the brakes suddenly. Everybody on the bus fell forward. This caused her to take her gaze away from the universe outside the window when she hit her forehead on the metal holding case in front of her. She still held onto her bad, a green and brown mix, a tough-looking backpack which was about to fall on the floor. The driver announced that the bus broke down and everyone had to walk their way from now. It was just a few kilometers that way, he pointed to the left. She held her backpack in her hand by its upper handled, holding it close to her tummy in a guarded way while she squeezed through the line of people retrieving their bags from everywhere. As she scrambled to find her way out, she tripped on a woman’s feet and nudged her child who she held in her arm. Brief eye contact between her and the child happened and then she stood still for a few seconds. She saw the deep brown eyes of the child and felt an eerie similarity with her own child she had a few years ago. Her thoughts started to assemble pieces of memories with her own daughter.
6 years ago.
Vir rushed down to the balcony where Nina was decorating with a niece of Vir’s. He clutched her wrist and pulled her away from the balcony and took her to the spare room on the ground floor. The spare room was also decorated, but minimally. It was their daughter’s first birthday ceremony and every one of the relatives and friends, even those who hadn’t attended their wedding, were coming. He pushed her into the room and closed the door behind as if she was a captive ready to flee.
“Look”, he said in a stern voice with a serious and concerned look.
“I have even talked to your father. I don’t think it is going to work out”
“You understand na?” he changed his tone to a more sympathetic one, and let his shoulders relax, to show his understanding nature.
He came near her and tried holding her palm but could manage to hold only the little finger.
“We have a little girl. It’s her first birthday. Why don’t you understand? This all just some fantasy you’re having. You’re not fourteen. This is all so frustrating and it is making me so angry”, he threw away the finger, distressed over the fact that Nina isn’t responding.
“It is not a fantasy, Vir. No. No. I feel that way. I have told you many times, Vir. Please”, she quivered while saying those words, a little tear making its way out of her eyes.
He sighed and sat down on the only chair that was kept in the room.
“Didn’t I show you the doctor’s…”
She was interrupted with his hand movements and angrily resented “Nah”
“Nah. Don’t give me this doctor report bullshit. You are not a man, Nina. No”
He kept his head in his hands and wallowed in it in disgust and anger.
“Do you know how disgusting it is? Do you know how I feel? How your father feels?”
“Have you ever thought about our daughter?”
He stood up again and with an assertive stance, “Do you think you can even take care of our daughter with all this happening with you?”
The tears started swelling up and they flowed in a steady path down her cheeks.
“How do you think I wouldn’t take care of our child? You never knew until I told you last week. I thought we would be open and discuss anything, Vir. But no. You seem to have all the ideas about everything and now you’re doubting me about my own daughter”, her words struggled to come out through her crying.
“Look. I don’t care whether you’re a guy or a girl or a dog. If you don’t stop this drama and all this bullshit, I’d have to take extreme steps. Just remember the family’s reputation and our daughter’s life is on the line in all this”
He then moved towards the bolted door of the room and as he left he said, “Now wipe your tears, there’s a function going on and try to be a woman”, he then barged out from there.
At the function, Nina and Vir met a lot of people and chatted and clicked photos. She carried her daughter around who would cry if she was even a little bit more than 5 minutes in anyone else’s arms. Nina loved her and made her laugh with her weird faces and nose pushing actions.
“Arre, IAS Saab!” bellowed a large looking middle-aged man, a relative of Vir’s.
“When’s the next transfer? You keep going places”, he asked in a harmlessly mocking way.
“He isn’t going anywhere for now. He needs to be around for our daughter” Nina quipped in between, showing her discomfort with all the moving she’s had since the childbirth.
Vir noticed this and took her aside and asked her not to bother giving out witty remarks when the large man’s wife asked whether she had any problem adjusting to all this. She replied again, in a more sarcastic way, that there was trouble adjusting to everything. A scuffle ensued between Vir and Nina following the remark, which became a bit rough, where Vir gets accidentally pushed away by Nina, with everyone watching on.
After that incident, a few days passed, and Vir confronted Nina about her sexuality with abuse and limited time with her daughter, and with his mind already made up about Nina not being ‘fit’ to be a wife and a woman, he pressed charges of violent conduct and mental instability, which lead to her being kept in a mental home for ‘treatment’ and ‘proper care’.
She endured 5 years in the care of prison guard like wardens, threatening her with nightmares of her not being able to see her daughter ever again and that she thinking that she’s a man was the reason for her violent conduct. It was irony in tragedy for her as she pushed through each day, with pieces of memories of her daughter.
The same eyes her daughter had, came back to her when she saw the girl on the bus. She got down the bus and walked in the direction pointed out by the delirious driver. The dry looking hills surrounded her and the others finding their way in this obscure land.
She pulled out a piece of paper from the side of the backpack, read it, and folded it back to where it belonged. She saw another woman coming up behind her, who needed a bit of help with her bags. Nina looked at her first but didn’t bother helping her. She wanted to be alone and not indulge in conversation with people. But here she was, in a fix.
“Do you want some help with the bags?” she asked in a rather distant tone.
“Oh, yes. I do”, she replied rather gleefully.
“What’s your name”, the lady asked, now a bit relaxed after part of her burden had been shared.
“I am Raji. Are you here on some trip?” she asked excitedly.
Raji started looking around. She was looking for more bags.
“Not a big trip I suppose”, still in her cheerful questioning spree, Raji was, didn’t expect silence from Nina for the questions.
“You seem awful quiet and very serious”, she remarked again.
“Umm. It’s nothing. Just here to…ummm...meet uhhh…my husband”, she answered, impassively.
There was a certain amount of disbelief in Raji’s reaction when Nina said that. She understood something wasn’t right so she kept quiet.
The road diverged into two more lanes. One leading to a smaller village nearby, and the other to a large estate that could be seen from the place from where both were standing.
“So, this is me. I live in that village over there”, she accepted her bag which Nina carried, with a big smile still on her face.
Nina started to walk towards the estate, when, Raji, who until then was holding onto the idea of asking another question to Nina, asked “what is that you’re having in your bag? Is it gifts? Or….sweets?”
Nina was confused. She didn’t really listen to her curious questions.
“Is it sweets?” Raji questioned again as if she needed the answer now.
“Yes. It is sweets”, she answered and walked away swiftly facing the other side, leaving Raji bemused.
At the estate, Nina noticed that there was a large sense of calmness on the whole property. No guards. No servants. The security at the gate seemed to allow anyone that came in.
It was a sprawling bungalow, white in color, with no sign of a bad spot anywhere. She smirked looking at it as if the white paint was there just to hide an ugly brown underneath it. She stepped up to the front porch area and read the plaque outside, which said her husband’s name and IAS beside, as though it was a gravestone. She opened the door sat on the expensive-looking sofa that adorned what looked like the living room. It had high ceilings and pillars to hold it. The walls were painted white too, with a lot of paintings hung around. She browsed around the effects placed in the room like every other visitor that came to visit him.
Vir, wearing a white kurta pajama, came from the backyard garden and saw some woman inspecting the paintings in the living room. He made a sound as though he making himself noticed and the lady turned back.
Not in his wildest nightmares did he wanted to see her. Never did she think she’d see him again. Both of them stood still thinking about what to say next.
“Nina!” he made the first move.
She reached for the inside of her backpack which she had held all along.
“This is for taking my girl away from me”, she yelled and took the gun kept inside the backpack and shot him in his face. Tears were all over her eyes as she dropped the gun and fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands as she sat down. She wept uncontrollably. The security at the gate and the servants who were in the backyard rushed to the living room and pulled back the woman who shot her husband. As she was taken away by security, she saw a little girl standing with a servant. She had deep brown eyes and Nina felt like she was taken away from her daughter yet again. She struggled to free herself from the clutches of the security guard, crying and blasting away, removed from her daughter, to be put away in isolation, left with only the pieces of memories of her, again, 6 years after.