I knew they wouldn’t understand. I did not expect them to. Only another person who has gone through what I have will understand why I refuse to take legal actions.
While Kiran with his sharp eyes tried to reason and explain, inspire and encourage me, Khaki Pants was extremely expressive and loud about his opinion, shouting and pacing the room, interrupting Kiran every now and then. If Khaki Pants could open my head and pour boiling hot sense into it so that it would settle into every idiotic pore inside me, he would have done that. What he didn’t know was that I can be stubborn. I knew this day would come. I did not avoid Ralph and all other men and relationships without reason. I did it because I knew he will chase me down and make insane connections and deductions about people around me. I did not want anyone else to be damaged from their contact with him. I am already damaged, it didn’t matter what he did to me. But, at least, I could save others.
I agree, kidnapping and attempted assault is a serious criminal offence and I know that they do not really need my permission to file the case. But it will not lead to the desired end without my support. There is no twist here. I do not have the courage and strength to confront Ralph again. I expended all of myself in surviving the disaster that was Ralph. One more and I will simply be blown into pieces. I was not exactly listening intently to the lecture of these two men. I knew what they would say. I have to be strong and raise my voice against crime, have faith in the law. There are many who will benefit blah blah and blah…
Suddenly Khaki Pants’ words penetrated my trance and woke me up.
“You are a coward.” He was angry and his words burned me like red-hot iron.
What did he know? How dare he? Who was he to call me a coward? It was now my turn to be angry.
“ENOUGH. STOP IT BOTH OF YOU.” I screamed. I felt the blood heat behind my eyes and my cheeks burn and fingers tremble and my heart race. I was right. They will never understand.
“You don’t know anything okay. Stop acting all righteous and perfect gentlemen. I am grateful to you and will be indebted to both of you as long as I breathe for saving my honor and life, for saving me from Ralph. But, filing a case will not solve the issues. IT WON’T KEEP HIM AWAY. YOU DON’T KNOW RALPH. You don’t try to close a fuming and ready to erupt volcano. You avoid it okay. And it is not cowardice. It is wisdom. Experience of being burnt and singed badly. But you won’t understand. YOU WON’T. EVER.”
“You do not know how many days and nights I have drowned in abuse for inane things and comments. You do not know how many hours I have spent praying to avoid any conflict that will abuse and insult me. You do not know the lengths I have gone to hide and avoid some innocent female from his assaulting judgements just for pillion riding on a friend’s bike. I have hidden in university library when I could not take his poisonous words anymore. Every word he said hurt me physically, tore me into pieces. I could not understand why he behaved like that. I did not know how to escape. Every time I tried, he made me feel so guilty and so worthless.
He made it all my fault. Its cloudy today, my fault. Its sunny today, my fault. The bike won’t start, my fault. There is no balance in phone, my fault. THE FOOD IS NOT GOOD, THE TEA IS COLD, THERE IS NO MONEY FOR BOOZE, HE IS NOT ABLE TO SLEEP, THE CLASS IS BORING—IT. IS. ALL. MY. FAULT. You do not know how malicious and vengeful Ralph can be. He will be the perfect gentleman during the day and turn into a beast and whisper hateful and debasing words into your ears at night. He will weave a magic web of charming words and trap you and you wouldn’t know what hit you. Without using a single object, he will maim you. It took me years to identify this strategy and still more years to break free. I do not want to cross paths with Ralph anywhere. Not in real, not in dreams, not accidentally, not deliberately. So legally is definitely out of question. OUT OF QUESTION.”
Khaki Pants was looking at me warily and with dazed eyes. I went and stood right in front of him and said, “Don’t you dare dude, don’t you dare call me a coward when you don’t understand the first thing about me and the things I have survived. Okay?” It came out in an eerily hollowed voice, heavy with secrets, hurt and many other unnamed emotions.
It would have looked funny to anyone from outside. I was tiny in front of these men. But right now, I felt like I was looming above them, and indomitable. I felt like I have expanded and grown ten times. Such was my rage and hurt. It was then, staring up into the eyes of Khaki Pants, that the traitor tears entered my eyes, draining out my anger and strength, drilling holes into me and pouring out my pride. I was shrinking again.
Inside my head I was screaming. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to be weak. Not now. Not in front of them, not like this. My body hurt. My heart ached. I want to go home. I want someone to hold me. I want someone to tell me that it is okay, I understand. Not bellow their opinions on me. I want space. I want time. These men, as much as the good souls they were, they had no idea how to handle my sorrows and wounded self. So, once again, I steel myself into the tough person I have to be, ignore the tears and I walk out of the room.
This time it was Kiran who caught up with me, not Khaki Pants.
“I am sorry about that Indira. We were not really tactful in there. My bad. But I want you to think, reconsider… I cannot keep Ralph in custody for more than 24 hours. We still have some hours left. I want you to rethink your decision and inform me. Unlike what you think, I do have an idea of what you are going through now. I am no stranger to victims like you and assailants like Ralph. And having seen Ralph at the garage and later at the station, I must say, he is not an easy person to handle. That is another reason that I want you to be brave, once again, and come forward to file the FIR.”
Victim. In one word he just summarized everything. My life of past so many years. His words made me alert, afraid and brave at the same time. Maybe this is the fight or flight condition. But I didn’t say anything. Kiran continued, “Is there anyone I can call for you? We found your ID card on the road yesterday night itself. It is with Shaurya. We have informed your company and also your roommate.”
Alarm coursed through my veins and bones. What have they informed at the office?
“Indira, relax. Don’t look so worried. We just mentioned that we got the ID card from the road and needed to contact the person or someone who can contact the owner of the ID. Shaurya was the one who called. So it’s okay. Relax.”
That’s him again. Insightful and careful. Then why did he act like an inconsiderate and unforgiving brute inside?
“A lady named Sharmishta is coming to pick you up. We told her that you met with an accident. We didn’t want to alarm her either. It was Shaurya again who spoke. For some reason, he wanted the final decision to be made by you. That is why we didn’t get involved. ”
I bowed my head in confusion. What does he want? I can’t understand his intentions.
“Where am I, Kiran? What is this place? Is this some kind of clinic?”
It was Khaki Pants who answered from behind me. “This is my consulting clinic.”
Consulting clinic? What does that mean? Is there a separate treatment clinic?
Khaki Pants smiled, like he couldn’t help himself. I looked at Kiran and he was also shaking his head and smiling, without really giving in to the smile. What?
Khaki Pants was now standing close behind me and said to Kiran, “You can leave. I’ll take care of her. Keep that bastard behind the bars as long as you can and even after he is out, watch him closely. He is a dangerous man.”
“Got it, Shaurya, give me a call if there is anything. Indira, please think hard but not too long about what I said. I’ll leave now. Take care.”
I turned to face Khaki Pants, “What were you laughing about? What was so funny?”
“You haven’t realized it yet?”
“Can’t you just tell me? Why do I have to play games and guess?”
“Okay, okay, relax angry bird. You were thinking aloud again. This is a consulting and treatment clinic together. Do you have any more doubts?”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No. I think myself as a healer. This is my counseling clinic.”
Oh boy, not that. Please… Ughhh… Not counseling and understanding shit…
“Don’t worry. I am not going to do it for you. At least, not in the clinical sense.”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I’ll tell you. On one condition.” He leaned in and touched his forehead to mine, hands on my hips.
Confused about everything that’s happening with me, I couldn’t help but take an involuntary step back from Khaki Pants. He seemed to not like the distance between us and filled it immediately by coming closer. I am nothing but a bundle of mutinous desires and complex conflicts. There is so much to think about and process, so many decisions to be made, explanations to be given. But here I am refusing the world and standing in the arms of a stranger. Does this make me a whore? Is this what Ralph was talking about all the time? Was I being a loose woman? No… No… Don’t think like that Indira. Oh god, where have I landed myself in?
“Stop calling me Khaki Pants.”
“Is that too much to ask? To stop calling me Khaki Pants.”
I giggled. I actually giggled.
“Say my name, Indira… Call me by name and I am all yours…” His voice was laced with an emotion I didn’t recognize. Anguish. Concern. A desperate need. Affection. What was it?
“Shaurya…?” It came out like a whispered question.
His hands tightened on my hips and my palms lay open on his chest. I felt he was feeling more than he showed. There was thunder and a storm raging inside his heart and I didn’t have to strain hard to hear it’s rumblings outside. We were standing that close. I looked up to him and tried again more confidently, “Shaurya…”
He closed his eyes and started talking.
“I thought I would kill him yesterday. After my boys saw a girl was being chased, they called me and Kiran immediately. Till I entered the garage, I didn’t think it could be someone I knew. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be you. But there you were, struggling, smeared with grease and dirt, screaming and crying.
And then by God, Indira, you ran. I didn’t know how to get to you. I was terrified that if I came, you would fight me too. It took all my will power to leave Ralph behind without tearing him into pieces. You stumbled and fell and I lost all control. I could breathe only after you were safe in my arms. The terror in your eyes, Christ, will haunt me till my last breath. It took five years off my life. Do you know? Do you…? Memories of our first night together were still fresh in my memory and then I saw you yesterday, Indira… I am only sorry that I couldn’t be there earlier.”
“Shaurya… I… I don’t…. I mean… Thank you…” I am not sure he heard my thanks and he continued.
“You saw me but didn’t see me, didn’t recognize me. Then you fainted in my arms. My clinic was the nearest and I brought you here. I was trying to clean you up and every time I touched a tender spot, you whimpered, and you did that a lot. I was so afraid to touch you, so scared that I was hurting you more. At last I sedated you. I wanted you to be free of pain at least for some time. You cried all the time Indira… Even unconscious… I was helpless… powerless.”
Shaurya was in a different state. I have never known another person who understood and lived my distress along with me. Instinctively, I hugged him and rested my head on his chest which was still beating wildly. It was not just me. Somehow, I felt that there was more to this empathy than my assault. But that can wait. I had to be the stronger one now so that later he could be the stronger one for me.
Somewhere in the corner of my mind I marveled at my composure too. Am I the same person that Ralph had reduced to nothing yesterday? Or was I just denial. Will the real shock engulf me in a tsunami later when I am on my own? Was I still expecting something to go wrong? Was that the reason behind my alertness?
“Kiran came back from the station and told me about Ralph’s calm demeanor and silence. Anger like I never knew before was building inside me. I never contemplated that you would be so scared to not pursue legally. I shouldn’t have pushed you.” He was now crushing me in his arms. But this pain was a balm to my wounded heart. That care and concern, I was in fact, relishing in it.
“Indira, I forgot, totally forgot, all reason, experience, professionalism. There was only you. And you were hurt. Your outburst is exactly what I need. Your words and Kiran’s observation just confirm what I already knew. But I never thought you woudn’t want to file… Ralph is a mentally deranged person, Indira. He needs to be put behind the bars. You must be careful. I understand your struggle and reluctance better now. But it is not easy at all Indira. To sit back and wait and watch.
You must also understand that I am not leaving you alone. Not now. Not ever. I am going to make you stronger and the most confident woman ever. Professionalism be damned. ”