She was sitting on the window seat, next to me in the bus. She waved to an elderly man from the window. The bus started pulling out of the stop and everybody started settling down in their seats. It was a chilly Sunday evening sometime in January 2006. ‘Do you mind if I draw the curtains close…the light of the traffic scares me’ she said. I smiled and said, ‘Sure. I prefer it that ways too.’ ‘Thanks’ she said and turned her head away facing the thick drape covering the huge glass window.
I used to work in Hyderabad and Vizag is my hometown. I used to take the bus back after my trip home because it used to save me a lot of time when compared to a train. They started playing some telugu movie in the bus. I didn’t want to watch the movie and neither could I sleep, so I started listening to some music on my mobile with my eyes closed. I suddenly felt a tug on my right sleeve. I opened my eyes, removed my earphones and turned towards the girl.
“Sorry to disturb you” she said.
“That’s ok. You want something?” I said.
“Actually…what is your name?
(Her name I can’t recall.)
I am from Vizag. You?
Oh! You work in Hyderabad?”
She was being sent to Hyderabad by some consultancy for training. After 3 months of training, if she makes through the interview she could get a job. I realized at that point that it must be one of those small time so-called-offices that would take money from people and make vague promises about vague jobs. And the not-so-smart or people desperate for jobs were their targets.
She did look like a very innocent and a docile girl. Must be 22-23. She told me she had never attended any interview before, was travelling alone for the first time and had never been to Hyderabad before.
“No wonder you look so nervous” I said smiling.
“I hope I get a job. I need it very badly.”
“Sure you will. Relax and don’t be so nervous.”
After a couple of seconds…
“You are married or single? She asked me.
“Single.” I said.
“Oh! I am married. And I have a daughter. She is six months old.”
“Wow. Where is she? You are not taking her with you?”
“No. I left her with my parents. That man who came to see me off is my father. I am the only child of my parents. My husband is in the merchant navy.”
“You know you are very lucky that you are not married” she added.
“Haaa haaa…I know”, I said not realizing that there was a kind of genuineness in her tone.
What she told me after that left me speechless. Literally.
“My husband beats me whenever he is at home.”
I didn’t know why she was telling this to a total stranger and what I was supposed to say. Nevertheless she continued speaking…
“…he is an only child and both his parents died before we were married. He is home six months and sails six months. I am scared all the time when he comes home. He drinks and beats me up. He does not allow me to stay with my parents even when he goes off.”
“Do your parents know this?” I inquired in shock.
“I never told them. They know from some bruises my mother saw. But I never admitted it to them.”
“But why? They need to know. They will be able to help you nah…”
“They are very old and I am scared of hurting them. They got me married even before I completed my graduation thinking that it was a good match.”
“Don’t mind but why are you telling me all this? You don’t even know me.”
“I just want to tell. I don’t know why, But if you want me to stop I will.”
“But let me know how I can help you.”
“No no. I don’t want any help from you. Really. I just want to talk.”
I turned to face her, and put my hand on hers, that was resting on the armrest between our seats.
“He just went back last month and he does not know I am going for this training. When I get a job I will come off here with my daughter and parents.”
I saw her wipe a tear. I gave her my water bottle and she took a long swallow. I seriously had no clue how to react. All I could do was listen to her.
“Once he took me to the beach road for a drive, and drove back alone leaving me there. It was 11:30 in the night. I took an auto and went home. One time, he took me to ‘Gnanapuram smashanam’ (a particular graveyard in Vizag) pulled me out of the car and asked me to go inside and come back. He threatened to tell people that I had an affair or that I tried to kill him or that he will kill me if I did not do what he asked me to do or if I told anybody about all this. At one point I also asked him to give me a divorce if he did not like me. He said he enjoyed torturing me so he would never divorce me. I don’t have the strength to fight him. I am now scared he will treat my daughter also like that. ”
The bus stopped at a roadside dhabba for dinner. The lights were on and she suddenly stopped talking. I wanted to go to the washroom and asked her if she wanted something from the dhabba to eat. She refused. After 10 minutes I went back to my seat and I saw her recline on her seat and her face covered with the small blanket they give in the bus. Was she silently crying? I didn’t know. But I knew she was suffering. Hurting. Silently.
I couldn’t sleep all night. I have known men who beat their wives and feel macho about it. I could never ever respect them. But this was somehow different. This girl so blatantly accepting she couldn’t fight nor confide. Confused, scared and helpless how was she going to get through all that? I felt like giving her a good shake and saying “If this is all true why the hell are you taking it?”
Early next morning, as my stop approached, I woke her up and gave her my number before getting down from the bus.
I never heard from her. I don’t know if she got a job. I don’t know if she told her parents about her suffering. I don’t know if she fought against that monster of a husband. I wonder if I helped in anyway by just listening to her that night.
I think of her often and hope is in a better place now.
2 days ago