“He did this to me…I don’t know how I can handle it” – A burden of regret

Over the years, an incident that shook me and stole many night’s sleep. One Sunny afternoon just before our School summer vacation in 2004, somewhere in mid June, grabbing an Ice-cream after struggling with the skipping ropes for a while, I sat on a shady tree in our school ground. It was games period and few of my friends had gone to the washroom, few were with their skipping ropes and throw ball. Niharika came towards me with a smile (Niharika was never among my close circle of friends. We were together since 5th standard. She was reserved and wasn’t very active in any of the school activities, let alone she wasn’t good in her studies. I never knew anything about her, other than she was my classmate for more than 3 years). I smiled back and asked if she wasn’t joining for any games, she just shook her head signaling NO. I tried focusing on my Ice-cream which started melting because of the sun. She began saying, ” I wanted to talk to you!”

I was stunned…Wasn’t sure if I heard it address to me  “Me???” I looked at her.

She nodded back.

“Yea. Go ahead”I replied, Still wondering what in the world was she going to tell me.

Just before she began, Teena ran from the ground shouting ” Ammu, Teacher Nirmal is calling you”

I told Niharika as I hurried,”One minute. I will be back soon. Just be here”. Before waiting for her reply, I ran. I was stuck the rest of the hours that day with my Scout activity and completely forgot about the talk. I had to reach school earlier than others as I was the class leader that year. The next day I reached class early and was about to leave to the staff room for picking up the flower vase and table cloth when I saw Niharika in one corner of the classroom. I wished her Good morning and left. It was on the way back I remembered that she hadn’t told me what she wanted to tell me. By the time I was back there were students in the class. I wrote a chit telling her that we meet in the church during the short break. She wrote back,”Don’t tell your friends!”. I wrote back,”Okay”. I waited the whole 2 hours to pass and as the bell rang,without telling any of my friends,I walked to the church. She followed me. We sat in one of the chairs. I said,”Its just 10 minutes, tell fast. What is the matter?”

“I don’t know if 10 minutes will be enough. Can we talk about it during recess?”

I said,”I have lunch with my friends. I will need to explain where I am going”

“NO…NO….” The reply bounced back almost immediately and that too with fear

“Its okay. Don’t worry. I won’t tell them if you don’t want to. I will figure out something to tell them. Okay?”

She said,almost like a whisper,”Okay…”

Bell rang and we rushed back to class. I couldn’t focus – what is she going to talk to me, why me, why does’t she want me to share it with my friends, what do I tell them. I was sure about one thing, it was serious, something is haunting her. I decided to focus in the class. I wrote a chit to Tamanna during the fourth period ” You guys go for lunch. I won’t be there for lunch. Need to meet mom” She said, “Okay. But what for?” I was about to write, when Aloka ma’am gave us an angry look and I just signaled her – will tell u later.

During lunch break, we went to the ground and decided to walk. The conversation went as follows :

Niharika, Tell me…what is it?”

“Ammu…..Can I call you “Ammu”?

Yeah….why not….”

“Ammu, Please promise you won’t tell anyone…not even your mom”

Sure. Promise”

“I am scared.”

For what?

“I think I am Pregnant”

WHAAAAT……PREGNANT?!? Are you kidding me?” That came out louder than I expected. She immediately looked around if anyone heard me. I scanned too. No, None heard. The chatter on the ground was louder!

I didn’t understand. Did you say you were pregnant”

“I didn’t say I was pregnant. I think I might be pregnant” and tears rolled down her cheeks.

Man, This is serious. I don’t know how to react to that. A year back, when my best friend reached Puberty,I remember advising her to be careful and not to even accidentally touch a guy as she may be pregnant,to which she replied in shock – “I thought God gave babies when you get married”. I laughed at her because I had more knowledge than her. But yeah, I just looked at her. I could feel my hands getting colder. I told her not to cry…But she didn’t stop. I saw our physical training teacher staring at us. I immediately went upto her and said,”She has got stomachache. Periods second day,Ma’am. Can I take her to class?”. She nodded yes and told me to get medicine from office if required.

Once inside, I closed the door,we sat in a corner. I gave her some water to drink. Then I asked her,”That….that one you said…How can it be? I mean….Why do u doubt?”

She said,”Promise me you won’t tell teacher Deepthy….” That’s my mom. As I told,She was in the same school. She was the favorite of all students and teachers. While bringing her to class, thoughts were running through my mind as to why she chose to tell me this. I wasn’t even her friend. I assumed it might be because she needed my mom’s help and she chose me to convey it to mom. But now,thats not why.

Almost immediately I nodded,”Promise”. (then Why me?!? – those words ran to my mind, but felt inappropriate for the time. I held those words back)

“Its my Dad!”

Holy SH**, Did she say DAD…Yeah, she did. Seeing my doubtful expressionless face,I think she felt I didn’t hear her. She repeated,a little louder and clearer,”It is my father. He did this to me and…..and I can’t handle it anymore” Tears rolled as she spoke. I felt helpless,I didn’t know what would make her feel better. I hugged her, I could feel tears filling my eyes. I tried hard holding them back,telling myself – You are brave, don’t make her weak, Don’t…Don’t….. I have just read above such monsters on the newspapers and stories, but here, I am with a girl,my age,who has been living with one from the time she was born. I was too young to understand what she went through.

She continued,”He never treated me like a daughter. I never knew if it was right or wrong. When I was Six, I remember crying in pain as some knife was inserted through the place I peeped. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even know it was wrong. As I cried,my father closed my mouth with his hands and hissing-“Sssssh………… sssshhhhhhhhhh……………its over…….wait…..” After a while, I felt water droplets on my thighs.Through little light, I saw him rub it off with a cloth. I cried to sleep. I don’t remember where my mom was that day, but she wasn’t home.” It was too much for me to digest. I couldn’t understand half of what she said because I couldn’t relate. I had doubts to clarify, but no,I can’t ask her details of that night. Was it a real knife? If yes, why didn’t she bleed, how can she be alive then? If No, what was it? And how is she able to pee? I knew somewhere in my mind, it’s not the real knife she meant, but…yeah..whatever….I told myself here is something more serious that my questions and shifted my focus to what she was saying.

“After that, it happened frequently. I would sleep next to my brother with nightmares, hugging him tight. But midnight I would wake up in pain next to my father and it repeated. As I grew,I realised its not normal what is happening to me.After a while, I understood my mom knew what was happening with me. She was acting blind to it.. I soon realised my family wasn’t the normal happy one my friends have. Still it continues…I thought of running away. But to where? Noone can help me too…”

“Why did you think about telling me this?” Before realising, it can out of me.

“I heard you tell Tanu the other day about the news where a father raped his daughters and how your dad exclaimed – how can a normal person think such a way about your own blood. I thought probably you would understand” I remember my dad saying that, he was so angry reading that news.

“Neha, what do you want me to do? Why can’t you talk to your brother?”

“No Ammu. He can’t help me. He is just a year older and is in the boarding school”

“Then Lets tell my mom….”

“No please…you promised…..”

“Are you serious you are pregnant?”

“I can be. I missed my period for last 2 months”

“Neha, I think we should tell someone. Talk to your mom. She knows it,right”

I hate her,Ammu. We don’t talk to each other any more. I think she feels I am the reason my father isn’t leaving us. She keeps a blind eye because she can hold my dad back. I have heard people saying he has another family somewhere”

“Lets wait and see. But if you really are pregnant,what will you do?”

I will die!

Terror waves shook my body “No.Please don’t do it. You just doubt. Its may not be true. I will tell my mom if you are saying things like this. I won’t mind breaking my promise. Promise me you will never think of dying…”

“…….” She didn’t respond

“Promise me….”

“Promise!!!”

Sleepless nights followed.I prayed hard everyday,She gets her period. First thing to ask her everyday would be,”Did you get?” She would nod- No. My friends fought with me for spending more time with Niharika and not sharing things. After a week, I got a phone call in the evening. It was her. As soon as I said Hello,She said “I got….I got” I almost shouted in happiness. She didn’t talk much, after few normal exchanges, she said,”Talk to you tomorrow” and disconnected the call.

I was so glad that she wasn’t pregnant. I wanted to tell her the next day that she shouldn’t allow her dad to touch her hereafter. I haven’t been so stressed out ever before.

Next day, she didn’t take this topic. I thought of not reminding her. She definitely needed a break. She seemed happy and relaxed.

We had our summer vacation after few days.It was a month long vacation. We never took that topic during those days. On the last day, we discussed our assignments and exam preparations. As the bell rang, we walked towards the gate and I told her,”Do call when possible and yeah, don’t let him touch you. If he does, come to my house. We can tell my parents. They will help you”

She smiled. I could see she was relieved hearing my words. I was happy too.

She called me just once during the first week of vacation to ask about an assignment. I was enjoying my holidays,occasionally thinking what she would be doing. I missed her though I knew her just for 2 weeks,I grew so fond of her. Not because she opened up to me and that made me feel special. But because she trusted me with her biggest burden of secret. I loved her innocence. I loved for having the courage to tell me what she had been through. I waited for the school to reopen.

I waited the first day, but yeah, she didn’t turn up. I knew something was terribly wrong. I had no way to find out. How do I contact her? Whenever I tried contacting her, both her parents wouldn’t hand over the phone to her. I decided to call her that evening once I am home and waited impatiently till the last hour. As the bell rang, I was waiting outside the staffroom for my mom to come. I heard Teacher Nirmal tell our class-teacher,”She was playing. But the string got pulled accidentally and  the veins got cut. Kids these days are more interested in playing dangerous games. These movies are influencing a lot”. Sir George was coming out of the staff room and asked her,”Whom are you talking about?”

Immediately came her reply,”Sir Johny’s student who died few days back. She was playing it seems. Her mom found her hanging on the window. Police say she was playing and it got accidentally out of hand…” They saw me standing out and stopped. I gave an artificial smile and acted as if I didn’t hear them. I was praying,”Its not her…not her”

After a while, mom came down. Teacher Nirmal also got out. She came upto me and said,”You heard, right”. I nodded and asked,”Niharika?” She said, “Yes Child. Don’t tell anyone. Tomorrow it will be announced in the assembly.” Tears poured out and she hugged me,”My child….don’t cry. Don’t cry”

My mom came to me and asked ma’am,”What is the matter?” Ma’am should have given some hint or signaled, my mom immediately stopped. I rubbed my tears and walked home. Ma’am and mom talking behind as we walked…. I ran to my room, closed the door and cried my heart out. I didn’t want to hear anything…neither did I want to know what happened. Questions started flashing – Was she lying she wasn’t pregnant? Was it really an accident? Could she have been murdered? How can someone hang to death from a window? I started thinking of situations – maybe she threatened she would tell others and she was choked to death or Maybe she wanted to end her life and she did. Maybe she felt hopeless and helpless. Whatever it is, She was gone. I almost broke when I heard the Reverend reveal the news to the school during the assembly.

I was naturally upset, being guilty over and over again. Thinking I could have saved her life if I did open up to somebody – maybe my mom or Teacher Nirmala….or our class teacher. My friends told me,”She wasn’t even your friend….” My mind whispered,”She was….she definitely was…The dear one who considered me important enough to share her life, her suffering…even when she knew I cant help her. She knew for sure I wouldn’t judge her”

Years passed,occasionally reminding me of that friend who came to my life for 2 weeks and vanished away creating a scar which would take a lifetime to heal…Couldn’t even afford to find answers to those questions she left behind unanswered. Why did she? Probably the stupidest thing to do was keeping those things to ourselves. We should have spoken it to somebody. But yeah, we were kids….Kids of 14. When I read stories of child abuse, first thought would always be – why can’t they tell somebody? But then it gets back, almost a decade, what did I do? Why didn’t I help? Its easier to question. We never know what people around us go through. And neither do we think for a second anyone can be a victim to those monster stories we read everyday.

Almost a year back, during an usual discussion with a dear friend & colleague – Saritha, we bumped into this topic and she told me exactly the same story of her best friend who committed suicide during one such vacation. I was in a state of shock to respond I had been through that state. I had seen a dear sister still living in the nightmares of one such disastrous night she went through, which I knew 16 years later. Looking back, I realize, it wasn’t easy spending a minute home with someone whom I knew wanted to sexually take advantage of me. But I wish I had known that 12 years back. I don’t know if I understood well the seriousness of what she had been going through for 14 years of her life, from the time she recollected. Wonder if she had atleast a moment to smile freely without those fearful thoughts. I wish I had known her a little longer. I wish I could have had an opportunity to give some happiness. This burden of regret she handed me over will remain with me and will die with me, however you console yourself there was not much you could do. The conscious murmurs each time,”There were things you could do, but you ignored to do!!!”

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