So she waited with the sharpened tool in her hand, she squeezed the splinter of wood which she hoped was enough to cut his throat. She continued to stare at the stars twinkling through the small opening in the ceiling. What are stars? They are just balloons of gas. They are hollow and dying. And is it the fear of dying or the desire to live, which one stronger, which has kindled the flame to fight back, to burn like the stars. And does that mean I would die soon? She was burning within, this was a different burning, this was not the burn of pain, not the burn of helplessness, not the burn of her insides splitting into multiple, tiny parts, and being aware of ten thousand parts aching at the same time, this was not the burn of her dignity. This feeling was different, this was the flame of hope, this was the flame of courage.
The sound of the key turning in the lock broke the chain of her thoughts about stars and the new- found flame. She squeezed the sharpened wooden splinter tightly, her weapon, and her saviour. In her mind, she thought through and deliberated the details. She got only one chance. She had to kill him in one blow. And now was the time. She should apply all her force in thrusting the sharp edge into his neck in such a way that either any of the jugular veins or the carotid artery or the windpipe is damaged. Two years back she had enrolled herself as a volunteer with a relief organization for aiding the drought-affected victims in a remote village in Rajasthan. There were riots in the village for the food and water supplies, and a villager’s throat was slit in the duel. The villagers had brought him to the nearby relief camp. She had learned from the doctor that evening how lucky he was, and how a severe slit of the nerves situated at the periphery of the neck could be fatal.
As usual, the captor was wearing a mask. Was he early? He never came at this time? It was still night. But it would be a day soon. She had spent all the night sharpening the wood against the metal edge of the bed. The captor now inside the room and just a few inches away from her bed beckoned her with his index finger pointing to the floor. She walked close to him the sound of the metal against the floor reverberating the room. This was her opportunity. When she was very close to him, she pierced the wooden piece at the periphery of his neck with all her strength. She then pushed the wooden piece further inside his neck as much inside she could.
The captor was in a state of shock. He did not expect this weak girl to fight back. He tried to grab her and hurt her, but it was too late. The wooden piece had severed a vein, and it was too deep in his neck now. He held the dangling piece by the neck to remove it but he couldn't. He fell on the floor screaming in pain. Her face was sprinkled with blood, a shower burst from his neck. Watching him collapse on the floor, she quickly searched his pockets for the keys. Her hands were shaking, and her heart was beating like a siren. Freeing her leg, she ran out of the room with the bunch of the keys she had found in his pocket. She wanted to see his face, the face of her molester but there was no time for that. What if he is not dead and only injured? What if he grabbed her by the neck and throttled her to death?
She took the set of the keys, and ran out of the room into the hall, another shabby room but had more furniture and another high watt bulb hanging, and next to it was a kitchen with a sink, a table and few glasses and vessels. She opened the main door. She had to try two keys before the third one fit. The door opened to a grass field and twinkling stars. She saw wild grass everywhere. What kind of place was this? Far away from the main road or a highway, secluded, a perfect place for crime. She ran like the poor deer that was being hunted. She ran for life.She ran for a while and then she followed a mud track. She kept running. Her legs ached, there were cramps in her stomach, her abdomen was paining, but she kept going until she found a kaccha road, and a few yards further, she saw brick houses. A smile appeared on her pale face. Few yards more. Few steps more. The night was fading out. Daylight pierced the night sky, sprinkling red and orange shades everywhere.
She stopped in front of a mudhouse, a woman was sweeping in front of her house, not noticing the strange girl standing in front of her house. A low moan ‘HELP’ reached her ears, she dropped the broom and rushed to the strange, wounded girl who fell unconscious on the floor.
‘There is a girl in front of our house. Oh God! Is she dead?’ She shouted and called for her husband and son who were sleeping in the house. Hearing the screams, they jumped out of their bed thinking that some unwanted accident has happened to the lady of the house.
Tara Devi couldn’t stop her tears. The girl was in a battered condition. Her thighs were exposed, and the gown she was wearing wasn’t enough to cover her legs. The back of the dress was drenched with blood. One of her ankles had black marks as if she was chained. She had bruises all over her face and body, the part of the visible body. Tara Devi wondered about the invisible wounds and she cried more. She quickly wrapped the girl in the blanket and Manjit Singh, her husband carried the girl inside the house, and laid her gently on the verandah floor, while their son dialed 108 and then 100. The ambulance took full forty minutes to reach and police took thirty minutes. Tara Devi sprinkled water on the girl’s face but the girl did not wake up. She prayed to God to somehow keep this girl alive until the ambulance comes. They stayed far away from the town, and she hoped the distance does not kill the girl. A few minutes more. Please. Don’t give up. Please. She caressed the girl’s forehead and cursed whoever did bad things to the girl.
The police interrogated the husband, the wife, and the son.They told the police all that they knew. Minutes later, the ambulance arrived. Tara Devi insisted to accompany the girl to the hospital. She did not abandon the girl. She waited outside the ICU and outside the operation theatre. She wanted to make sure that the girl was in safe hands. The mother of the girl arrived when the girl was was being operated. The mother held Tara Devi’s hands and kissed her on her hands and thanked her. Tara Devi hugged the mother who cried in her arms like a little child. She was happy to find her child back. But she was also broken and shattered to see her child found in a terribly abused condition.
When she opened her eyes, it was night. Run. Run. Run. What place is this? And then she saw the blurred vision of her mother. There were tears in her mother’s eyes, and her mother forced a handkerchief in her mouth to muffle her sobs. She was happy to see her mother’s face after such a long time. Her mother smiled in midst of her tears, ‘How are you feeling?’ Her mother asked in a trembling voice. Kruti closed her eyes feeling safe and she opened her eyes again to make sure that she was not dreaming. It was not a high watt bulb. It was a tube light. The ceiling was not wooden but white. It was cement ceiling. She closed her eyes slipping slowly into a deep and sound sleep. I am a star. I retained my light. I kept my flame burning. But I am hollow, a balloon of gas. Am I floating? I did it. I am alive. I am safe. Am I?