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?
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.
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.
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.
The age of the perverse fourth cousin I met at a wedding who forced himself onto me in the empty room.
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.
When I first found out from my neighbourhood aunties that the length of my shorts was directly correlated with my dignity.
Times my father sent me back inside when the repairman came because he didn’t want me to be “too exposed”.
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.
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.
My age when that casual labourer working across my house lured me to the back of the unfinished building with a cheap new toy.
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.
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.
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.