Those Few Moments - contd
by Suneet Paul
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She spoke affectionately and softly, “My name is Radhika. I was standing on the opposite side of the road and noticed you going to the police booth. I could make out that something was wrong, and impulsively came over.” She continued with a sad, forlorn expression, “Yes, this is a dangerous city, especially if one is alone with no money.” She paused to take a deep breath. Rahul looked up to her with open fixed eyes, which made her smile, “Stop being scared! Be brave - like me. Don’t worry, there will be a way out.” Her hand consolingly went to his head, lightly ruffling the well-oiled hair. “I am also alone after my parents died six months ago,” there was a slight shake in her voice. “My cousin Mohan brought me to this city from the village and then – and - anyway, why should you be interested in my story?” She stopped to wipe a tear which had slipped down her cheek and, sitting upright, sipped her tea.
Rahul forgot his dilemma for a while and feeling disturbed by the silent drops, said, “Tell me please, what happened to you?” There was anxiety in his passive tone.
Radhika pulled her chair closer to the table and spoke with a sigh. “You have enough troubles of your own.” Somehow, she felt protective about him, and felt an affinity with him. Seeing the eagerness on his face, she spoke hesitantly, “I must have grown fifteen years in the last few months. What have I not undergone - and - and yet- am surviving.” It was as if the memories had cast a shadow over her, and an inhuman, blank expression dwelt on the otherwise gentle and sweet face. “You want to know happened to me?” There was intensity in her voice, “I was- was raped - before being sold to a madam who runs a dancing bar.” She was desperately trying to keep up her brave front. “I was also beaten here and was given no food, because I resisted to do the vulgar dancing.” Her emotions were high and tears rolled down her round cheeks. It was after a long time that she had opened up and confided her pain to someone.
Rahul felt baffled at this outburst of emotions, and her story further accentuated his own fear factor. But he was not thinking of himself. Completely overwhelmed by her unfortunate tale, he compassionately took her hand in his, “Please take it easy. Everything will work out. God will help you.” He felt totally engulfed by her sorrow. His own troubles had taken a back-seat.
The few people across the other tables were staring at them inquisitively. Sensing so many curious eyes on her, she sheepishly cast her face down. “How foolish of me to lose myself. I thought my eyes had lost all the water in them.”
He spoke tenderly, “Radhika, God always has an eye on people who require help.”
“Really? He must have gone underground all these months. Or, probably, he is also a beaten person like me,” she broadened her shoulders. “But I am okay now, trying to make peace with my situation.”
“You see,” he pressed her hand in reassurance, “God’s ways are too mystic for us humans to understand. Have faith in him. He will not let you down.” He wanted to reach out to the strangled soul in her. And in the process of comforting her, he too regained his lost confidence and faith.
Radhika peered into his eyes, as if trying to find some cozy corner where she could shut herself and forget everything. She felt it to be strange that she was narrating her story to this unknown boy. Somehow, she had experienced a spontaneous warmth for him, desiring him to be by her side always.
The waiter brought a plate of biscuits and placed it on the table. Radhika, clutching his arm tightly, spoke in a hushed tone, “What if you accompanied me to Madam’s house? I could try to get you a job and also stay there.” The thought of having him nearby, rekindled her dormant zeal. It was for the first time after leaving the village, that she had felt the gush of blood in her. His loving attention and kind manner
had pierced her hardened feelings. The child in her had again woken up.
Rahul noticed two deep scars on her left temple. “How did you get those marks?”
Her hand automatically went to them, as though wanting to hide them. Rahul felt like touching them to feel the pain and suffering they must have caused.
For a while, a fired intensity dwelt in those light blue eyes. She quickly turned the focus to him, “Let’s forget about me. What are you planning to do? My Madam, I think, would give you a place to sleep. There is space enough in her house.”
This conversation brought Rahul down to earth, to his own dire situation. The helplessness slowly resurfaced on his face. He had nowhere to go. Her very being with him, gave him strength. Sitting by her side, he experienced a sensation unknown to him. He also wanted to be with her and spoke instinctively, “I can come with you. I want to be with you. Thank you.”
“Fine, then,” Radhika was prompt to respond. “I’ll take you to Madam and let’s see what she says. She can be kind hearted also. Let’s go, or they will come looking for me.”
Both of them got up and having paid the bill, Radhika led the way. From no-where, the boy who had been with her, also appeared and started walking with them. She whispered to Rahul, “They always send him with me whenever I am permitted to come out to the market. I think he is sent to keep a watch on me. But now, he has become my friend.”
The rush on the street once again reminded Rahul of the contrasting peace of his village. His mother would probably be busy in the kitchen, with his father out in the fields. His sister must be up to some prank. He longed to be back with them with his head placed in his mother’s lap.
They had just turned at the corner to a narrow street laden with rubbish all around, when Radhika suddenly stopped and said, “Wait, I have a favour to ask from you.” She stared at him with a haunted expression, “Oh! I - I want you to go away - anywhere, but go! Don’t come with me.” Her downcast face was a total contrast to the mild cheerfulness before leaving the restaurant.
Rahul was taken aback by her talk.
She blinked her eyes a few times, probably suppressing the swelling tears, “I have been too selfish to think of dragging you along with me. Oh my God! I would have been a criminal like the others who brought me to her!” And then with a resolute, she unlocked a knot on her scarf, and took out the five hundred rupees from it. This money she had secretly saved from the little she was given. “Here, take this. This is all I have at present. Go back to the station and take the first train back to your village. This money should be enough to buy the ticket.”
Rahul was not expecting this. He stood there, confused, and just staring at her questioningly.
Coming closer, she spoke hurriedly, “Rahul, I would never have been able to forgive myself for taking you to such a miserable place,” her voice was heavy, almost like his mother’s. “How could I have ever thought of taking you to this hell!” She held his hand, “Please rush back to the station and – and don’t talk to strangers unnecessarily.”
Rahul’s fixed gaze almost frightened her. The pressure on his hand increased. He took the money, and spoke softly, “I don’t know what to say-.” A despondency made him continue, “I don’t know how to thank you for your help! I wish I could assist you in some way.”
Before he said anything further, Radhika nudged him, “Go, rush if you want to catch a train today to the village.”
Rahul gave her one last passionate look, and then quickly turned back towards the station.
She followed him with her eyes right till he became unrecognisable in the crowd. With him blew away the short-lived hope kindled in her. Yes, her fate had been written, but she now had those few moments in the restaurant with him, to carry her forward for some time. ***
*Sahib - Sir