Manya stood in front of the mirror appreciating her new dress. It seemed like ages since she went on a date, since she put on a dress like this that complimented her personality. As she looked at the bright sunset outside her window, she realised how she had almost stopped keeping track of time in this new place. Yes it was beautiful, and serene, and she had everything she could ask for. Still she longed for the life she had left behind. As she sighed and picked up her purse, she hoped that this encounter would give her new reasons to start afresh.
Manya had asked Rehaan to meet her at her favorite restaurant in the area. They had met through a friend in a party, and decided to go out once to assess their chances together. As Manya went through the menu, she noticed Rehaan approaching her table with a beaming face.
“Here you are my sweet lady,” he gave her a light hug and handed her a pink rose.
“Chivalry much?” Manya gave a teasing smile.
“A beautiful lady like you will turn the most savage of men chivalrous,” winked Rehaan.
“Could you just be yourself this evening, and not be so pretentious? The last time I saw you, you seemed authentic.”
“Oops, yes you caught me. I promise I’ll be myself.”
As the waiter arrived, they ordered some fries and two cold lattes. Somehow the food didn’t seem important at all. Perhaps they had outgrown these cravings that dominated their lives so well before. All they yearned for was some company, someone to share their unending time with.
“So without much ado, I know what you want to ask me, and I want to ask you the same. I guess that’s the very first question that pops up in one’s mind at this place,” Rehaan was very straightforward, and seemed impatient too. But Manya understood, because she felt the same.
“What brings me here?” she said with an air of nonchalance and a smile in the corner of her lips. “I expected you to bring that up soon enough. Well I am a woman, you see. That’s primarily why I am here.”
“I don’t really understand.”
“Rehaan, it was five years ago. I don’t want to ruin the evening by talking about it. I know it is important for you to know, but I am afraid you might start judging me if I tell you.”
“Give me a chance, Manya. We all know there’s nothing left to judge or despise anymore. We are way past all that.”
Manya sat in silence for half a minute, and contemplated. With a sudden, sad but satisfactory pang of realisation, she understood that she had nothing left to lose. She was ready to take a chance.
“I was raped, Rehaan. On the sidewalk. It was midnight.”
Rehaan was surprised by the casualness of her voice, the acceptance of her fate that had overtaken her in the last five years. He did not know what to say, but questions swarmed like bees in his head. He could not figure out which one would be appropriate to ask.
“Were you alone? Did no one come to help?”
“Yes I was alone, returning from an overtime at work. It was just few hundred metres from my office, and I meant to take an auto soon. But before I could, they preyed on me. I screamed of course, but all the cars drove past without stopping. And before you ask me what I was wearing…. “
“Oh no Manya!” Rehaan interrupted quickly. “That doesn’t matter to me at all. I am so sorry.”
Manya laughed. “Why? You had nothing to do with that. I’m sure you would have stopped for me if you were there.”
“Yes I would Manya. But you don’t hate men, do you?”
“Well, what do you think? I’m sitting with you right here,” she touched his arm gently. “I had a very loving father, a very caring brother, and a very understanding boyfriend. I could never hate men because of the handful of scoundrels who do not even deserve to be called men.”
“That’s a relief then,” smiled Rehaan. “I’m glad I met you. And of course your past does not affect this relationship at all.”
“Well thank you, but this is not how I pictured meeting someone like you. This is literally an out-of-the-world experience.” They both broke into a hearty laughter, as their fries and coffee arrived at the table.
“I only wish I could see my family once more,” Manya said. “They did not deserve this. I saw my parents crying by my bed for months, my brother stopped talking to his friends because they would say things about me he couldn’t bear to listen to, my boyfriend almost lost his job because he couldn’t work. I loved them so much, and they suffered because of me.”
“Stop blaming yourself dear. It wasn’t your fault even a bit. It will all be alright soon. Your family will be happy again. At least I know my family is recovering slowly. It has been three years since my car crash, you see. It is difficult, yes. But everyone you love will leave you someday, no matter what.”
“I want nothing more Rehaan, but they already spent five years demanding justice for me. My parents are old, my brother has to complete his education. I don’t know how long this will go on. If only I could help them in some way…. “
“I’m sure you can, by living in their memories. As long as they love you, which will be forever, they will fight for you. They will do everything they can to bring you justice. And this is what will keep them going. You are alive in their hearts, and you will be till they live.”
Manya fought hard to keep her tears away, but she couldn’t.
“I am sorry for your family too, Rehaan. I can very well imagine what they went through.”
This moment seemed perfect to let go off her pent-up emotions. She did not want to stop. She wept over the scars and wounds that burnt away with her body on the pyre, but she wept harder over the wounds she carried with her even as she left her earthly abode. She knew those wounds would stay till eternity. They had pierced her very soul that night. On the sidewalk.