A crowd waited impatiently, under a huge banyan tree which served for a stand, for a while the worry of bus strayed to settle on Rathna as she walked towards, Freshly plucked jasmine adored her dripping dark curly hair tied in a pony, wheatish skin aglow in lemon yellow nylon saree that fell like a filament of glass over her lush, tall, rural body, maroon bindi adoring her huge forehead . A row of dark yellow Moonbeams wavered on the edge of the road, undeterred and strong, as if challenging the harsh chill breeze that creapt slowly to disrobe. She looked like a full beam that drew every glance, a moonbeam that stood bold and bright in spite of weird nature. She paid no heed at what she was looked for or who was looking at her as she knew a few rogues had made their routine to chide her with dirty proposals and sometimes stalked too.
This was unfamiliar to her the bus, town, official people and all, she was pulled out of primary school to help her mother at home, she grew ignorant of official etiquettes and the meanness of the real world. she had climbed up the tree busy plucking guavas with other village urchins, while marriage proposal summoned her, she was married off even before she attained her puberty, she spent years playing, bullying boys older than her, beating up other girls, always threatening her mother with a new trouble. Her mother waited restlessly for the day Rathna's husband would take her and one final day sent word the girl attained her age and should be taken home immediately. Before she could understand what takes to be a wife, Rathna was a cursed widow at the age of twenty four with two kids and a blessed poverty. Since her husband's untimely demise Rathna was promised a meager job on compassionate grounds, and for months Rathna waited in office corridors only to return the next day to be sent back on missing documents and sometimes just to wait for an officer who never came. Her already miserable fate and ignorance added to snubbing her, and she never realized where that was leading to and she simply bared it all in hope of the job.
That day being Friday was a market day and release of new movies, she bought some groceries, biscuits and bread for kids, and waited as usual in the corridor , expecting to go home early before the kids fell asleep and delight them with snacks. It was nearing noon, but the officer never returned. A thought of watching a noon show in a nearby theater tempted her and those days watching movie in a theater was the biggest entertainment and with only few theatres in the town or cities it was rather a privilege. Such opportunity was rare and being a hard core movie lover Rathna paid no head of second thought and In another few minutes she was in the theater With her heavy bag resting at her foot, The dark theater was abuzz with people choosing their seat hurriedly, the front row was noisy with people sitting on the mud surface, and a thick smell of beedies and cigarettes hung all around. peanuts, burfies, corns were making rounds. The next row were wooden benches and rusted chairs Rathna was amused her worries buried in the white screen for a while, and negligent as to who occupied the neighboring seat. Meanwhile a Wyle, lusty rogue had followed her and had settled beside her. He owned a petty panshop in front of the office,, and had been watching her since she started visiting the office, he desired to get intimate with her waiting only for a convenient situation. During the intermission she sat chewing her pan for which she was addicted and was taken aback when a total stranger offered her a pack of popcorn.
"Take Rathna " he said, in a tone familiar.
" No brother, I don't want " she said, hesitantly wondering how he knew her.
" oh , it's ok, have it, don't you recognize me, I see you everyday at the office, I'm from the same village as well " he said convincingly fixing his looks on her.
"oh is it, I never noticed you, still I don't need popcorn", she said, resuming her interest in the movie as the theater went dark .
Rathna lost the excitement in watching the rest of the movie as the man had made untoward advances a few times on some pretext. As the movie ended, she grabbed her bag and walked hurriedly not wishing to entertain any communication with the stranger, but he followed her closely behind and asked her if she was going to take the bus.
"No, I have to meet the officer "she replied tuckking her bag.
" Which officer" he asked with a concerned tone.
As Rathna replied, he heaved a regretful sigh and said, "I know that fellow well, but he is on leave, they have misguided you".
Rathna looked confused, it was not difficult to convince her. Her face hung in disappointment and frustration, as she was still pondering over what to be done , "I can help you if you want, I know his house, it is close by, why do you waste your time like this, instead you can meet him in his home", he said, looking all over her like a cat quietly watching it's prey.
Rathna was split in her thoughts, either to go with him so that she can spare coming over and over again or to go home, why to take chance with a stranger she thought.
"Why, you seem to not trust me, the choice is yours, I just wanted to help you because we are from the same village".
"No brother, I have a bus now... It will be late...
"The last bus is at six, by then we can come back, I will drop you in the bus stand", he said in a fake tone and lusty eyes. Rathna was still thinking, he stood with his tvs moped, "you are wasting time, shouldn't you get back for the last bus" he said. As the scheme would have it, Rathna gave in. His whole being burned in desire as he rode quietly, Rathna was not at ease, she should have not accepted to go with the man she thought, in her conflict she failed to notice they have come a long way.
"How far brother, you said it is nearby, haven't we come a long way", she said worry lurking in her voice.
"we are almost near" he said taking an abrupt turn from the main road. The narrow path lead into thick eucalyptus farm on both the sides. Except for the sounds of birds and a dog barking far away the path was deserted for any human soul
" I don't see any village around, which place is this".
"This is only a short cut", he said and stopped by the side, and as he got down he walked hurriedly into the farm, that was nearly dark under the canopy of huge branches. Strong smell engulfed the farm, uncollected dry boughs had farmed a bed over up to a feet. Rathna felt his ways strange , he was not even looking behind to see if she was following. She tucked her bag and held her saree above her ankle, and managed to scurry through the tearing boughs, slowly watching her steps. A few yards away she raised her head and found the man was not be seen, and the barking grew louder. She stopped, and called out to the man, a strange fear sliced her heart and from nowhere her kids flashed before her eyes. "brother", her voice frailed, as she looked around, from behind a huge tree out of semi darkness a dark hand emerged and slowly the face of the man, Rathna wondered why the man was hiding, before she could make sure if it was the same man, he gestured her to come further. He showed himself partially and gestured again.
"what are you doing there, where are you taking", she shouted.
"come here", he hushed. Rathna got his intentions clear and hurriedly retreated towards the path holding up her saree and the bag still. Her head swirled, at what she was led into and how she would escape the situation , she ran to the road as he hurried behind her. She cursed herself for her impulsive decision, her heart heaved heavy with agony and anger. she reached the road breathing and sweating profusely, as then an auto was arriving towards her, as it neared she could see three dark men all hefty , looking at her. Rathna's heart plodded as if every nerve was breaking. The auto passed her slowly, meanwhile the man had made it up to his moped and was giving it a start. Rathna stood befelled, should she scream and stop the auto for help, fear gripped her, what if those men too turned out to be like the man. Just then the auto stopped, a huge guy visibly drunk got out and in a high voice asked, walking towards her,
"who are you, what are you doing here"?
Rathna looked at the man, it seemed as if her I'll luck was gracing her a favor, the moped didn't start, and the man was giving fast kicks so that he could escape the scene. He was scared, she gathered all her guts threw her fate a fighting chance and said, with out hesitation "we were going home, the moped failed, my husband is trying to start", the huge guy stopped there.
" have you lost your sense, don't you know it is not safe here, leave the place, get going ", he shouted as he walked back, the other two men stared out of the auto. Rathna walked to the man who was ready to leave, held his collar and whispered,
" Drop me from where you picked or I will call out and tell what you did, you son of bitch", the man did not dare look at, all her anger burned in her eyes, saying that in all her bitterness, she sat behind. All the way back he rode queit like a cold log, The darkness grew, few street lights blinked, Rathna prayed for safe return through out the way. As they reached the bus stop, Rathna got down looked at his face hard and pulled a hard slap that brought all his blood clot in his heart.
"you dare once again , you will not have your bones whole, you bastard",she fumed and walked towards the bus .
The darkness had pervaded thick and black except for the moon beam that showed amidst sparse branches, when she reached the village, a few from the bus paced behind her talking among them selves, she just managed to drag herself home unthinkingly. The pain, disgust, and Unresolved questions battered her all the way through. The eventful day was only an other jolt on her already mystified fate. Though it did not deter her yet the pain of humiliation, exploitation and repression was like rubbing salt on the scraped skin, that would not let dry. she had toiled home, the kid was engaged in his own things sitting by the door in lantren lit light. the sight of her kids broke her, she dropped the bag ran to her son in a loud cry, pulled him close, hugged him kneeling to the floor and tears gushed as if flood gates let loose carrying all her misfortune. while the boy was startled and watched clueless as the younger one blinked petrified being waken from blissfull sleep.
"why are you crying " the kid asked stupefied.
" I would have died today, I might have died.... " she cried hugging the kid tight.
" Amma.... " the kid called repeatedly.
" umm, it's nothing, don't panic the child, there are some snacks share with your brother " she said wiping back her stains of tears.
" will you go tomorrow too" the kid asked grabing a pack of biscuits.
.................. "yes, I will be going, don't worry I won't be late", she said as she raised.
About the Author: Rani Rathna Prabha K. V. is an English poet who is working as an Assistant Professor of English at Government First Grade College Sirsi, Karnataka. She's an alumnus of Bangalore University.