Sometimes my fingers go numb and my legs tremble.
Sometimes I’m unable to breathe like I usually do.
And sometimes my eyes don’t close, night after night.
Daddy and Maa had split long ago. My aunt once said that I’ll have problems in my marriage because of their divorce. Maa said nothing to this. “Gave flowers to grandmaa?” she’d asked instead. Grandma, short and fat with white and golden hair, lived an hour away from my house at Summer Hill in Shimla. She had never approved of their split and certainly not of daddy’s second marriage.
“You’re the life of our family,” she’d say when I gave her daisies, on my compulsory weekend visit to her.
Being the curious kid that I was, I would dig the cupboard at times when Maa went to purchase grocery; I’d go through their wedding album sitting beside uncle Hussain, who visited us on weekends and sometimes during the week too. He’d point out how daddy hadn’t even looked at Maa, hadn’t even smiled.
“Don’t you feel the need of a father, Rehana?,” he’d sometimes question me. “I have one,” I’d say referring to Daddy’s picture in the album. He’d give a fake smile to this.
He usually brought his blue and black file overflowing with printed papers, some flowers for me, and sat in the drawing room with Maa. He worked as an auditor in Ernst and Young, where Maa had joined two months back just when I turned eleven.
On weekends he stayed till late afternoons which neither Maa nor I enjoyed.
Maa had recently begun pretending sudden headaches or body pains when he showed up. Sometimes a visit to Grandma’s place while other times my homework and school projects.
That day, too, he came without a notice. I heard them arguing while I hid in the store room waiting for the clock in the drawing room to display five. This was the fifth time I had bunked my maths tuitions and hidden there.
I heard his pitch rising with his every sentence. Along with the darkness in the room, the movement of his feet from left to right scared me.
“What if he saw me? He’ll tell Maa” I thought
I peeped through the inches of space the door offered and saw Maa sitting on the sofa with her thumbs pressing her temples and fingers criss- crossing in the middle of her broad freckled forehead. She wore a pink salwar and a white kurti that day. September 12, 2005, the calendar read.
She asked him to take away the sunflowers he had brought and leave. When he didn’t, she threw them in the dustbin. I widened my eyes for I hadn’t seen Maa being this rude to anyone. I cursed uncle Hussain for making her angry and if she now found me hidden, I didn’t have slightest clue of what would happen.
“Ouch”, I heard her shout. I sat on my knees and peeped outside, worried if she had hurt herself.
He held her pink salwar and then dragged Maa towards the centre of the drawing room.
“What is he doing”, I thought raising my eyebrows.
He threw her clutch and pulled her curly, shoulder length hair. She yelled. He slapped her so hard that she was knocked by the table’s side. She bled. Maa was bleeding.
My legs went cold as blood oozed down her nostrils. My teeth started clattering. I felt as if I’d lose her the next second, that I should run out and apply an antiseptic to her, just the way she did when I injured my knees.
His black eyes became red and his otherwise melodious voice turned coarse. I was too scared to look at him. He was no more uncle Hussain with whom I’d watch Tales Spin or Gummy Bears. He was no more the one with whom I’ll allow Maa to sit and work.
Maa got up and wiped some blood which dropped from the sides of her thin lips.
“Please leave me”, she begged.
He pulled her white kurti and I heard its tear. My heart contracted. It was her favourite attire and I wanted to hit him for what he had done.
“Hussain” ,she shouted at him. I wondered why she didn’t slap him, the way she had slapped me for the same once.
I planned of calling grandma after uncle Hussain left and telling her how he had hurt Maa. “The green balm would reduce the pain. I’ll apply that on her forehead” I’d thought to myself.
I wanted to open the door and take her in my tiny arms. But my legs refused to move for I felt scared of the beast that stood in front of her.
Maa’s fair skin suddenly lost its colour. Her hands held opposite shoulders. And her elbows bent, bent to hide her bosom. Tears filled my eyes. I hadn’t seen Maa like this before.
He got too close and squeezed her soft cheeks between his thick, dirty fingers, almost forcing her lips to pout. He then kicked her at the parting of her legs to which she almost fainted.
I felt a sharp pain between my legs.
“Hussain!” she cried.
“Maa” I called to myself timidly.
He kicked her again. And once more. Till she fell completely on her stomach.
My cheeks got red with anger and my tears didn’t stop falling. Nobody had ever hit Maa, not even Grandma.
This was the first time I longed for a super hero father who would enter through the back door and poke a dagger in the beast’s chest and then heal Maa with his energies.
But she was still shivering and sobbing. Timidly and meekly.
“Maa , I’m there. I’m there Maa,” I whispered.
My stomach felt uneasy and my head started revolving.
“Mumma,” she cried out loud. It was the last thing I heard before I fainted and fell on the cemented floor.
I opened my eyes in Grandma’s place. They had found me in the store room. It had been four days since then. Maa was at the hospital. I knew why but I never made a mention of what I saw. Neither did them.
“We called so many times. None of you picked. So we came to your home worried. Both of you had fainted. But your mother raped” my aunt said.
“What nonsense,” maa replied, when I asked her what a rape was. After that I wasn’t allowed to meet my aunt anymore.
Since then, Maa and I have spent a number of sleepless nights together at our rented apartment at Delhi. Sharing the same bed, turning our backs and twisting our bodies.
The scar on her brow reminds her of how he fed on her like morsels of meat. It reminds me of my inability to help her.
The memory makes us cry , doesn’t let us sleep at night and brings shivers throughout the day.