The sun had hidden behind the highrises for quite sometime now, and it was starting to get dark. The slum by the side of the polluted lake was getting ready for Diwali, in its own way.
“Kali, give Debu something to eat.”, said Kartik, Kali’s father. “He guided me home from the theka again today”, he said in a slurry voice, before falling on the ground, missing the soiled mattress by some distance. Kali was Kartik’s only child. Kartik, a widower, was a rickshaw puller in the city by the day and an alcoholic at sunset. After the days work, he would go to the theka on the periphery of their slum and spend almost all of his day’s earnings on country liqour. Kali had already seen more than her fair share of life, so her father’s alcoholism was something Kali was least concerned about.
Kali was married off at fourteen to Shambhu, a man twice her age. Shambhu was a migrant construction worker in the city. After the initial trauma of getting married at such a young age, her life was slowly turning for the better. She gave birth to Roshan, a son, when she was sixteen, a healthy child but for a medical condition which turned him blind at night. Two years back on the day of the Diwali, Kali was decorating their shanty with earthen diyas, when one of their neighbours came running and broke the news of Sambhu’s death in a road accident. Sambhu had gone to work on Diwali for the double bonus. Six months pregnant with her second child then, Kali was broken. She had no choice but to come and live with her father. Kartik was living alone after his wife had passed away, immediately after marrying Kali off. It was at her father’s place that Kali gave birth to her daughter, Chandini.
Kartik had taken to drinking after his wife died and was not in a position to take care of the recently widowed Kali and her children. So, Kali started working as a domestic help in nearby highrise,s to put food on her children’s plate and to give them an education.
Today was the day of Diwali, again. Debu, a middle-aged man, had started accompanying Kartik only about a month back. It was a bond of friendship made over alcohol, and would evaporate as does alcohol when left in open, or as it does in the hangover the next morning. When in his senses, Kartik wouldn’t strike a friendship with a man like Debu, a lecherous man. There were rumours about Debu having sexually assaulted many women. People said he wouldn’t even leave young girls alone. And Kali could sense that Debu had been eyeing her since the day he first accompanied Kartik.
Roshan was playing outside with other kids from the slum, he would return when the daylight is about to fade. Chandini was sleeping on the makeshift hammock made from one of Kali’s torn sarees, hanging from the celing. Kartik had passed out on the floor with an open mouth, after he returned that evening, his saliva starting to fall on the ground. Kartik won’t wake up before morning now. Debu, not as drunk as Kartik, sat there on the floor, staring at Kali’s back as she was getting him food. And Kali could feel Debu staring at her from behind.
As she put the plate down, Debu pushed the plate away and grabbed hold of Kali’s hand and pulled her towards him. Kali tried to resist but eventually fell on him. Before she could give out a cry for help, Debu was on top of her and had his left hand on her mouth, muffling whatever sound she could muster. With his right hand, Debu pulled Kali’s saree up until he bared her lower half. Kali was trying her best to push him away with both her hands, but Debu succeeded in forcing himself between her legs and started to unzip his pants. The stench was unbearable for Kali, the smell of country liqour mixed with that of Debu’s sweat, and the fact that he hadn’t taken bath probably in days, and his shirt hadn’t been washed in at least a month. Kali almost passed out.
Trying to get out of Debu’s evil clutch, Kali tried one last time and threw her arms up, trying to get hold of something with which she could hit him. Her hands moved frantically on the floor as Debu was unzipping his pants. Her right hand fell on a brick, which Roshan had brought from somewhere as he wanted her to make a doll’s house for him. While biting her teeth, with one swing of her right hand she picked up the brick and brought it on the back of Debu’s head with all the energy that was left. The motion of her right hand stopped with a muffled thud, and Debu’s grunts sounded more like a wounded swine, before his body turned cold and flaccid. A stream of thick warm blood from the back of Debu’s head started falling on Kali’s face. She wiped the blood with her left hand as her vision got blurry. Kali laid there for few minutes with Debu on top of her. All she could hear was bursting of crackers from outside. She couldn’t hear Debu’s breath even after trying to focus.
She pushed Debu’s body away and got up. She couldn’t see properly because of Debu’s blood in her eyes. All she could see were shapes and lights when they were bright enough. She stumbled her way out of the shanty to wash blood off her eyes. As soon as she stepped outside, she could hear Roshan. He was pointing at the bright fireworks on the other side of the lake.
“Maa, see fireworks! But I can’t see any colors.”, he said.
“Me too, beta!”, Kali replied, as she walked towards the bucket of water kept outside their shanty.
This short story is my attempt to give voice to #metoo stories, incidents of sexual harassment from that section of the society which does not have a respectable living condition, let alone an internet connection.
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
In frame: Fireworks on the bank of Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
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© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.