Life is an array of weird incidents that change our lives forever. I wonder sometimes, if it is just life’s trick to keep me on my toes. As a person, as a man, I always labelled myself the coward one, not because I am a coward but because I could never stand for things that I should have stood for.
Many years passed but things still haunt me, no matter how happy I am at a particular time in life, at night my thoughts sink back in the depressing silence and pain of my heart. In my heart I know that I am guilty. And now as I lay back in this cosy warm bed, my mind haunts back to the darkness of my past.. Now I am not able to handle this pain, this guilt any more and I just want to die at this moment. It’s been years. I somehow could not fight the courage to face her. Again and again my mind replays today’s day step by step, minute by minute as they happened....
It was early morning, and the clock ticked 5 am when I reached the airport to board a flight for Mumbai. The sun was yet to rise and the air was cold and windy with chilly currents hitting the face.
It had been four years since I had met my college mates. The events of my college time were sweeping in front of my eyes, gradually bringing up happy and sad memories and just then I saw her, boarding her flight. She looked different, with a different hairstyle, different yet recognizable face.
The moment my eyes met hers, a pang of utter pain roused in me and filled my eyes with tears so uncontrollably that it became difficult controlling tears. My mind had lost senses to thinking if at all it was creating a scene in public. The big scar on her face seemed to bring back the bleeding wounds. Her blood ridden face surfaced from my memories, one that had never ebbed away. I wanted to touch it and ask if it hurts, if it pains... I wanted to apologise and I knew “sorry” wasn’t the word big enough. I wanted to cry like a child and I wanted to comfort her the way I wanted to four years back when that happened.
Things halted for like forever and her voice, the delicate velvety voice that was my heart was once again heard. “Hi”, she said. It felt like a drop of water drenched the centuries old dried barren lands. A drop of tear chuckled down my cheeks. Her cries of pain were ringing in my ears, as she was crying for help, as she was crying when she lay there lifeless struggling to reach me, struggling to get up. My pain had just started to break the barriers of my heart in which it lay suppressed since all these days and just then another voice was heard. That voice was of my wife standing right behind me. “You guys from same college?”, said Neeta in her vibrant tone of voice, who seemed excited at the idea of bumping into old school buddies by chance.
My tears ran back to my eyes, my pain suppressed back in the jail of my heart just like it happened when she tried to call me a million times and I turned my back. I had died a million times for each time I lived the memory of that dreadful incident that happened those four years back. Quickly I wiped that rebellious tear and stood with a smile as Neeta stepped out of queue and introduced herself as my wife.  “C’mon Abhi won’t you introduce us?”, Neeta said with the excitement that served to bring me discomfort. Why are women always nosey? Why they just want to know everybody her man knows? I questioned in my mind.
“Neeta meet Shreya, my college mate. Shreya meet Neeta, my wife.”, I said fighting a diplomatic smile on my face. Shreya watched every expression of my face and knew exactly what I was going through. Neeta on the other hand was too vibrant to notice my pain, and how should she? She was completely unaware of the situation.
“Great to meet you Shreya. Where are you staying in Bangalore? Let’s catch up for gossip time and I am sure there are many college time stories about Abhi. How he was like and all... would be fun pulling his leg ”, Neeta said giggling and I stood with a fake smile and eyes hovering both Neeta and Shreya one by one.
“Sure.”, Said Shreya smiling out wide. “He was the famous coward kid of the college. Fattu ekdam!” Shreya said laughing out loud.
The dialogue, the laugh were all sarcastic, a direct tight slap on my face in public that only I could hear. I could stare at Shreya but I could also not meet eyes with her. I chose moving forward in the queue and collect my bags. The only thing I wanted to do was run away, once again, like I did four years back.
“Ok, see you at the wedding then.”, Neeta informally said good bye to Shreya as she saw me collecting bags.
“Sure.” Shreya responded smiling and moved away trying to find her bags.
The distance from airport to hotel was travelled in one sided silence. My wife kept talking and I kept silent or at the most smiled or responded with a “Hmmm”. My mind was reliving the past and my heart was struggling not to cry. I closed my eyes and hunched back in the Taxi seat as we travelled. The scenes of her blood ridden body still haunted me. I could still hear the cries for help and I could still see myself running away. My mind was trying to find justified reasons. ‘I was very scared.’, ‘I was helpless’, ‘they were many’, ‘I was beaten’, ‘I was... coward??’ ... and my eyes opened at the last thought.
I figured we had reached the hotel, I had slipped off napping all this time. Bengaluru was sunny and hot. I looked at my wife who was smiling like a shining sun. “You dozed off in the car.:, laughing she said. “Yeah!” I replied with a dull smile. There wasn’t anything much to say.
The day passed anyhow. One by one I was catching up with most of my college mates on phone or some came and met me at the hotel. We had a nice lunch together. New women in life met each other. Shreya was not at lunch. Where was she? I was thinking about her all this time. I was thinking how the four years passed... my mind was filled with questions and this lunch was the least among the places I wanted to be at or among the people I wanted to be with.
Later that evening while I sat reading a gadget magazine, Neeta sat near me and started ranting about all that the others were talking about.
“You know that girl we met in the morning?...”
“Who? Shreya?”
“Yes! You know she was gang-raped by 6 boys on Jaipur highway four years back. The wife of your best buddy Navneet told me when I mentioned we met a girl named Shreya in the morning. She said that they kept hitting Shreya with a stone brutally untill she was lifeless and then raped her all night. Some guy reported to police but they were gone by the time cops came. Her face was completely deranged and she had to go through lot of surgeries to get herself back in much form. But you know? I am amazed at the way she was talking in the morning...  as if nothing ever happened.”, Said Neeta curiously and in a careless tone.
My face was buried in the magazine and my hands were busy tossing pages. I was pretending as if the news was as new to my ears as to hers. “hmmm... I heard , but I guess that was a rumor.” I answered diplomatically.
“Arrey you don’t know. Such girls themselves pave the way for guys to do so and then they cry the rape thing. Saw the way she called you fattu in the morning?? I did not like it but then I thought just let it go. These girls are no innocent either.” Neeta kept talking and I kept ignoring. My palms were sweaty and I was anxious, also angry on Neeta’s curious manner and careless arguments. It Means nothing to her, but means a lot to me. That incident had changed my life; our life... Mine and Shreya’s.
The night knocked with it’s darkest of the darkness. The only light was at the end of my burning cigarette. The wind hissing in my ears as the cigarette smoke danced in front of my eyes and my mind was both silent and numb. Neeta tip toed to me and held me tightly from behind. For a moment I was taken aback. She was wearing the sexiest red dress I had ever seen, something that could turn on the wildest beast in any man. Snugly fitting her curves, a red net nighty laced her body. I looked at her in a glance and turned back to smoking my cigarette. “It’s cold. Go inside.”, I said to Neeta.
“C’mon. Have you turned into a Thanda angaara tonite?” , Sarcastically she said laughing, enough for my already tortured mind. The anger, the frustration all crawled up into a whirlpool of the worst temperament and my palm clenched her throat tightly dragging her by the wall, so violently that I wanted to kill this woman but something in me still kept me from hitting her. I moved back. It was difficult for Neeta to understand what was going on. She started to cry. “Coward!.” She said.

I switched off the night lamp and went to sleep in that cosy bed as the room was filled with Neeta’s sobbing. I had Shut my eyes but my mind kept screaming aloud. Was I really a coward?? Maybe yes I was.. I was a coward that I kept watching my love, my Shreya getting raped that night. I was a coward that I kept watching as they kept hitting her untill she was lifeless. I was a coward that her blood, her cries of pain, her cries for help had no effect on me. I was a coward that even after that I ran away from there. I was a coward that I turned my back on her, when she called me a million times, when she lay in that hospital bed counting minutes of life, struggling to live a dead life. I was a coward that I married some girl because she was a virgin? Or maybe because marrying her was better than marrying a raped girl??... I was a coward. I was a coward. I was a coward and I wanted to shoot myself all this four years for being a coward. At that moment I just wanted to run away from life... And now as I lay back in this cosy warm bed, my mind haunts back to the darkness of my past.. Now I am not able to handle this pain, this guilt anymore and I just want to die at this moment.

Copyright © 2016  PULKIT MOHAN SINGLA under the International Copyright Law. 
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