The benches are rickety. Every time Reshma moves, it squeaks as if it can gauge her restlessness. Pitter-patter of rain drops on asbestos roof top is turning wild. Not far away, a Banyan tree is swaying in the storm. Just then, the school bell rings loud and clear, announcing the closure for the day. It takes less than a minute for children to run amok, out of the school. Reshma neatly but quickly packs her worn out books in a plastic sheet before putting them in her canvas school bag. Hurriedly, she wraps her white dupatta over her head, fully aware that it will not be enough to protect her from the rain. She joins the other school kids and sprints across the compound, crossing the Banyan tree on to the kaccha village road.
Sunaina, her friend from the village and Zehab, her elder sister joins her on the way. Three of them run towards the river. Rain is getting heavier. Water is rising fast. Timing is everything. If the rain gets wilder, it won’t be possible. They reach the river bank, take off their school bags and neatly pile them under the tree. They take their dupatta off their head and tie it around their waist as if preparing for a war. They fold their white salwar up till the knees. Zehab gets hold of a sharp twig and walks inside the river, just a few feet away from the bank. She is focused and quick. She notices a school of sliver fish glistening under the surface of the water and in a quick move, she stabs one with the twig. With contentment on her face, she walks out drenched and victorious, holding the fresh catch from the river.
They walk towards an abandoned dilapidated structure. From the look of it, it appears like remains of a fort which could be of some historical importance. The three adventurers are not aware of it, neither do they care. It is going to serve as a shelter for the time being and that’s all what matters. They wait for the rain to stop, getting drenched, chatting, giggling, enjoying each other’s company.
Sitting there, little did they know, things were about to change. This perhaps will be their last catch from the river. This would be their last outing in the rain. The youth, carelessness, playful, jovial behaviour was about to end. So fast. Too soon.
That night, they had fish and rice for dinner. Zehab’s mother informed that they have found the right match for her and have fixed her Nikah on 25th of next month. The family was super excited about the new development. There was lot do in limited time and money. Zehab, just about 14 and Reshma, 12, were over the moon. The idea of marriage was as exciting as a new dress. By the end of the dinner, they were already consumed by the thought of clothes and jewellery. A piece of gold jewellery was mandatory as blessings from parents. In villages, it’s a usual practice for the girls to get married at a young age despite all the laws against it. None found anything wrong in that. In fact, the entire family tuned into a celebratory mode.
The day arrived. Zehab was married to a man 12 years older than her. Since she was to reign the kitchen in her new role as a wife and a daughter-in-law, she was given the entire kitchen set, much like her childhood kitchen role play toy set. Kurta salwar had made way for sarees in her wardrobe. Careless, jet black hair locks were neatly parted and tied behind. Glass bangles proudly clanked in her hands. A tiny gold necklace adorned her neck. Blessings for a brighter and shinier future showered from her parents. She, without a hiccup, seamlessly moved into her new role.
Reshma continued with her school. Monsoon came on time, much as predicted by the weather department. River was overflowing, fish was in abundance but there was no Zehab to catch them. Sunaina and Reshma, every now and then walked by the banks of the river, reliving, reminiscent of the past. To imagine catching the fish, smelling the curry, relishing the taste.
That very year, Reshma’s school came to a sudden end. She was sent to Bengaluru with her trusted close relative. What initially appeared like a holiday resulted in a life changing move for her. She started working in a plush Bengaluru locality as a house help to support her family.
The debt of the marriage had to be paid, which Reshma paid by giving up her education, childhood and youth!