Sarveswari Saikrishna | July 2023 | Flash Fiction |
I see you tapping your pen with impatience. Your lips are pulled into a taut, angry line, your eyes making no pretence about your disgust for me. There is no trace of the sympathetic woman I saw yesterday, the woman whose eyes teared up at the very sight of me. Now, you are sitting in a chair close to my bed listening to me mumble, “I slipped on the bathroom floor and hurt myself.”
You shake your head in disbelief. “Tch,” you say, pushing yourself away from me as if I contaminate your resolve. You go stand by the window, staring outside at what I imagine must be the dark river swirling with filth and mosquitoes. The stench trickles my nose every time I wake from the deep slumber the painkillers often put me to.
You ask me without turning around, without expecting an answer, “And your fingers that are bent backwards? And the forearm that is fractured in two places? What explanation do you have for those?”
You do not mince words. I do not expect you to. ‘The city’s most feared woman police officer’ the newspapers had called you. You know what happened on that evening, but to turn it into an FIR and a case, you need a nod from me. A nod that will make you drag my husband out of his house, my house, parading him while you take him to the police station. A nod that will shatter my husband’s image in society as a jolly good fellow who likes his drinks. I know you would do that without hesitation. I have read about you in the papers, about what you did to the man who taunted a young girl with her compromising photos. You were her saviour. You want to save me, too. But I am not that young girl.
You seethe with anger, seeing the bruises on my face, raw and throbbing with the truth. “I want to rip the hands that could hurt someone so much,” I hear you mumbling to yourself. But I disappoint you again as I repeat my statement.
“I slipped on the bathroom floor and hurt myself.”
You come near me, a mellow dawning in your face, and entreat.
“I will protect you throughout. I will see that the beast who did this to you rots behind the bars. He will never dare to touch, let alone beat, anyone again. You are in safe hands.”
I chuckle and it comes out of my swollen lips as a groan.
You pull up the chair again.
“This” you sweep your arms over my battered body, “is not love. If he has convinced you otherwise, please trust me. This is not what one does to people whom they love.”
How will I make you understand it is not love that is preventing me from filing a case? How will you understand my predicament?
This pain is not new to me. All these years, I have kept it hidden well with my makeup skills and readymade smile. In fact, no one would have known, had the paramedic staff not flagged you about me. The scoundrel had panicked when I fainted that evening and called for an ambulance.
Don’t you understand that if I confide in you, I will be, henceforth, known as a woman who let herself to be abused? I would cease to be a gold medallist from the University, a woman who earns a six-figure salary, a woman who runs marathons supporting women’s rights. It will all be swept away by one label, a label dished to me more out of condescension than pity, a label worse than the pain – a woman who let herself to be abused.
The world will whisper and wonder how I missed it. Those red flags, petty tantrums that will become anger bouts, and small shoves that will turn into slaps one day. They will talk, all hush-hush. “She is educated, and independent, yet she believed him when he said he would not do it again? How stupid.” They will dispense their compassion with the smug satisfaction of being self-aware. Their predatory sympathy will cling to me like a malodor, reaching people even before I arrive, making people see a victim in me, like a caged animal in a freak show. The shame will sting like a thousand needles, jabbing me, draining me slowly, of all my self-worth. What would be left behind will be a deflated shell of my body, bereft of its soul.
I can bear the pain. The wound usually heals. But pity cuts too deep, too close to the heart, almost painless, almost as if it cares. Once it punctures you, you are a slackened, sorry form of your former self, never to be the same again.
You will smirk if you can hear all of my thoughts. But no, I will not be seen as that abused woman.
I am lying to you, not for my father who will take this opportunity to tell his friends, a finger of whiskey giving him the audacity, that he gave me all the freedom of a boy and add “Look, where it led to,” effectively belittling every girl, who wants to make her own decision in life.
I am lying, not for my mother, who will love the drama of it all, will sniffle and complain to her sisters that she told me so, told me a thousand times that I am making a mistake by marrying someone from that caste. “She never listens. Too educated for her own good,” she will say, finding support for her bigotry.
I am not lying for love. Oh! No. There is no more of it in me for that man who I might have loved once, not anymore.
I am lying for myself. For the thirty-year-old me who is struggling to find peace with the fact she made a terrible choice when she was younger, fighting to turn deaf to the taunting voices, trying to avoid being labelled and pitied at all costs.
There might be an end to it, Madam. There will be when I am ready to face the world, when I turn around and scream back at my reckless self, “Yes, I made a bad choice. So what? It is never too late to right a wrong.”
Until then, until I am ready to forgive myself, I will stick to my story, “I slipped on the bathroom floor and hurt myself.”
Sarveswari Saikrishna is a short story writer, currently working towards her MFA in Creative Writing degree from Writer’s Village University. Her stories are published in the literary magazines, TMYS and Third Lane. She was also a finalist in the mentorship project offered by Writers Beyond Borders. She is proud to be a part of several anthologies published by Artoonsinn and Hive. She also has articles published in The Open Page, The Hindu, to her credit.
She lives in Chennai with her family and dreams of a day when she can write without interruptions.
Photo by Rae Angela via Unsplash
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