Numbers

Sixty four.
The number of times I’ve stepped out of the house alone after eight, leaving my parents with their fingers as much in a knot as their minds. Should they not have let me go?

Fifty seven.
The number of times I’ve caught an auto driver scratch his chest inside his shirt as his lust filled eyes continued to bore through my thick jacket; all the specks of dirt flying onto the rearview mirror couldn’t hide his intent.

Thirty two.
Times the shopkeeper’s fingers lingered on mine as he handed me my change back; as if giving me my fourteen rupees was consent enough for him to stroke my trembling skin.

Twenty six.
The number of times I’ve hesitated to take that shorter route to class because a gang of bikers known to collect virgins in a bottle had declared the street as theirs.

Nineteen.
The age of the perverse fourth cousin I met at a wedding who forced himself onto me in the empty room.

Sixteen.
The number of accidental brushes of his arm against my leg, my waist or my chest in that crowded train when I didn’t say anything because I’d been taught it was safer to not draw attention to myself.

Thirteen.
When I first found out from my neighbourhood aunties that the length of my shorts was directly correlated with my dignity.

Twelve.
Times my father sent me back inside when the repairman came because he didn’t want me to be “too exposed”.

Ten.
The number of times I’ve been called darling and been checked out top to bottom, this past month. Hmm. I wonder if they liked my new Aldo boots.

Seven.
The number of times I’ve caught uncle looking down my shirt as I bent down to touch his feet. Needless to say, and much to his disappointment, I resort to namastes now.

Five.
My age when that casual labourer working across my house lured me to the back of the unfinished building with a cheap new toy.

Three.
The number of times he ravaged me before letting me go; my muffled screams getting lost in his grunts.
He made me promise to not tell anyone, said it’ll be our little secret.

Two.
The number of days afterwards that I had trouble walking. My mother wanted to take me to the doctor but I thrashed and screamed, just as I had that Tuesday afternoon.

One.
The number of lives I wanted to end with my bare hands.

Because if you can’t beat them, you join them, and if you can’t join them, you surrender. Lay your ashes for them to walk on; feet crunching over broken faith like dry gravel.
Because a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and when that joy is denied , the thing deserves to exist no more.
You deserve to exist no more.

Inescapable oblivion

I see you every Saturday evening,
In your high heels and short skirt;
lipstick so carefully put,
Your face painted with the shades
You wish to be recognized by.

I see your insecurities seep through the cracks at the corners of your mouth
As you fidget with the tassels on your dress.
You call for me every week while I wish to forever be at your doorstep;
The same one you stumble onto after a night of haze you insist on calling ‘Life’.

Your footsteps move in tandem with your hips,
Which as they falter make something inside me skip a beat.
But I,
I never come to your rescue. I wait for you to call me,
Walk up to me and ask for help.
And I, unfailingly, oblige.

I transport you to a new world week after week and take you back to reality.
I want to ask you if there’s someone else, too
Whose breath gets caught in the tangles of your hair.
You smoothen them out with a straight face,
But what do you have to hide from me?

I know six years ago you were afraid this city will spit you out like a piece of bad fish,
And now,
You drink in its lights, its noisy rhythm now a sweet symphony.

And I saw it all unfurl
As I rang your doorbell to tell you I was waiting;
For another round of clinking glasses and hollow laughs,
All clearly audible from my side of the door.
I cross my hands and wait,
Because I don’t want to save you
For then, I would lose you.

But I do wish to whisper a few words to you every now and then.
Hah, but what do you care?

All you feel is the hum of the engine,
All you hear is my silence, and
All you see
Are two white gloves and the back of a head.

A ceasing hush

Her hands trembled as she picked up the pen.
The same one which had looped around to
Add cayenne
To her monotonous life,
Imagining firsts that hadn’t happened then.
She’d construe rainy afternoons and Sunday winter mornings in her head,
A wonderland to which the rabbit hole led.

Six months later,
When she realized that perfection was as hard to find,
As that night was to get off her mind,
She steadied her hand
And wrote

I knew it had been a mistake to step out alone that night as soon as I heard the imminent footsteps…”