For the first time in years, the feel of water on Rikta’s skin was so soothing . The poisonous burning sensation that had lingered for years, gradually fading, giving way to a coolness. It was as if the water was washing off the feel of those dirt hands. Looking up in a silent thanks, she smiled with satisfaction - justice delayed, not denied. True, she had had to bear the albatross of trauma, disgust, guilt, but the perpetrator was gone today. She felt strange that the news of a death in the family could return her - her life. She enjoyed the tingling sensation of the drops and came out of the bath as a new person. Pulling a crisp white saree from the wardrobe, she pondered a moment upon the jewelry to best go with it. Later she stood admiring herself in the mirror , the pearl string complimented her creamy neck and the studs rested like milky droplets on her pink lobes. She had lost count of the years when she had last looked at herself in the mirror. She calculated, she had been eight then and not thirty three, twenty five long years her guilt had not let her look into her own eyes.
“Beta, thoda jaldi karo. We are already late”, that was the voice of her mother-in-law, “mammam” to her only son.
“Abhi aayi Ma” , she responded as she spared herself a final glance at the mirror .
Her mother in law looked at her curiously as Rikta walked towards the entrance. Maybe because she had never seen her beautiful daughter- in- law take so much pain on her appearance. She must be finding it strange thought Rikta and smiled in self satisfaction on her unusual choice of occasion. How would anybody know that it was a moment of celebration for her. Rikta’s thought went back to when she was eight years old and her paternal uncle and his family had come for winter vacation. With them came her “Kaku " too.
Kaku had voiced his decision of not getting married ever to his brothers and showered all his love on the kids of the family. No wonder he was their favorite uncle. With so many guests and the chilling cold of December, they fell short of beds. Happy to have her dear “Kaku” with her, Rikta was more than happy when he suggested she share his bed with him. She didn’t find anything amiss when kaku held her extra cold. Though she had her own bed, on weekends she was allowed to sleep with Papa and she really loved sleeping in his arms. Struggling to keep her eyes open and concentrate on Kaku’s story telling, she felt a little uneasy as his hands moved down. She tried pushing his big hand with both her tiny ones, but it was of no use. Sleep had left her eyes. Strange the way even little kids, unaware of the facts of life awaken to the need to escape when creepy hands grope. She tried to break free, but her strength was no comparison to that of Kaku’s. She had never imagined that simple fingers could give one so much pain. She tried screaming, but Kaku pressed his other hand tightly on her mouth to stifle her voice. Her silent tears were the only witness to her pain and humiliation.
Next morning she tried telling her ma that she would not sleep with Kaku, but in the hurry of all the extra work that came with guests, her words went unheeded. She tried a few more times through the day but could not get her ma’s attention . Kaku’s constant eyes on her made things extra difficult . He behaved as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, while the pain in her legs and abdomen told her that it should not have been. She could not tell her tale of shame in front of everybody and then Kaku’s eyes told her to keep quiet. The same thing happened the next night too. This time she did not fight , she lay quietly absorbing the pain and letting it stream through the corners of her eyes. The tears also took away her spirits and she resigned herself to the ordeal for the next six days. The coldness of the wet pillow was an indicator of how cold these slimy nights would make her life.
“ Rikta , beta phal le lein” – her mother in laws voice drew her out of her thoughts.Getting out of the car, Rikta walked to the fruit shop and ordered for a basket of fresh fruits. Remembering how her Kaku used to bring her raisins before the ominous nights, she asked the fruit seller to prepare a hamper of dry fruits too. Her mother-in-law looked approvingly.
Her young aunt’s look of bereavement made Rikta’s heart sad for a moment. Yes, few years after that cursed visit, her uncle had agreed to marry and his loving brothers and their life partners had done their share by finding a suitable match for him – a young teenage girl from a needy family for their brother well into his mid thirties. Having lost their father at a young age, her brothers were more than happy to marry off their sister to the eligible bachelor. Then her eyes landed on the framed photograph of her Kaku – smiling at her .She remembered her mother once saying that one should not harbor any negative feelings for the dead. She tried remembering the context in which the words had been spoken, but nothing surfaced. She tried hard , but could not help feeling good that Kaku was dead . She sweetly smiled back at the photograph. God’s justice finally done.