“Is this f…first year Com… Commerce class,” she stammered. I stared at her for a while. She wiped off the beads of sweat on her forehead. I nodded. She seemed the only one more nervous than I was, on the first day of college.
She looked around for a seat.
“You can sit here,” I said and slid to the corner.
“Thanks” had made its way out through the lump in her throat. I acknowledged with a smile of relief on getting a company.
Unlike me, she didn’t look around and seemed to be reading the invisible script on the desk.
“I’m Vartika,” I gave my unsolicited introduction knowing that conversation was a potent remedy for my nervousness and extended my hand towards her. She gaped at it as a non-smoker does when someone offers a cigarette to him. I was about to pull my hand back when she forwarded her hand. It was cold and wet.
“You?” I asked, tightening my grip on her hand to remind her that it was an incomplete response.
“Sarangi,” she whispered to oblige me.
“What a musical name,” I said, but immediately squeezed my smile since she was not amused.
It was the same throughout the day. Things did improve marginally the next day.
On the third day, I got my match in the bubbly Suzan and the chatterbox Rupali that made up for the reluctant speaker Sarangi, in the group. Suzan could mimic anybody she had heard once and her immaculate mimicry of the four lecturers who came to our class was the only act that had made Sarangi smile.
Though she had no personal vanity, the pinkish tinge and dimples on her cheeks when she smiled brought a complex to all three of us.
The precious act of her lips lit up the canteen and in all likelihood, the eyes of Ashutosh and Rushabh. The duo immediately came to our table and sought to join us.
I felt jealous noticing the boys’ eyeballs repeatedly drifting towards the indifferent girl in the gang from my ample bosom, Suzan’s plunging neckline and Rupali’s hypnotic charm.
Once during chitchatting, almost as a reflex action, my hand moved and rested on Sarangi’s back. I felt something unusually thick, certainly an extra layer in addition to the bra-band. Curious, I worked my fingers on the cloth under. She pulled my hand down.
I made no more attempts in the presence of the boys but it occupied my brain.
“So, this is the secret behind her loose tunics,” I thought. “Is it to make them appear big?” The question popped up in my head.
“Idiot! Why would she wear loose clothes then?”
The more I thought, more it troubled me.
When we returned to the class, I inquired.
“It’s a bandage. I have a wound there,” she said.
Satisfied, I didn’t prod her.
In a week, except Sarangi, we were frank with the boys and our verbal greetings now accompanied the casual hugs. Perhaps, she was not comfortable in mingling with boys. Thrice, she skipped going to canteen. By now, we knew that Ashutosh has an eye for Sarangi.
After a fortnight, I remembered about her wound.
I felt the spot just at the hook and eye closure of her bra, “It didn’t heal yet?” I asked.
Without looking at me she pulled my hand down as before, “Some wounds never heal,” she said. I could easily gauge the trace of bitterness in her voice. Though I was anxious to hear it from her, I decided to give her time.
She continued to keep a distance from the two boys in our group. She walked away as soon as they would join us or chose to sit alone in the class when they would propose to go for a stroll. Her cool aloofness had started troubling Ashutosh.
That day, when Ashutosh came to sit with us, Sarangi, at once stood up to leave. Ashutosh impetuously held her hand.
“Leave my hand,” she was stern like never before.
“You can’t insult us every day,” Ashutosh said.
She turned and smacked him.
“I hate boys, especially those who enjoy company of the girls more than the boys,” she yelled and ran away.
“You’re sick,” Ashutosh screamed.
I got up and went behind Sarangi. I saw her entering the washroom and followed her in. She was crying. I pulled her to my shoulder and let her weep.
She calmed down after a few minutes.
“I know Ashutosh is not the reason behind your hatred towards the guys. You can tell me. You’ll feel better and I promise that it will be safe with me,” I assured her.
“It started when I was thirteen. We were in my mom’s cousin sister’s marriage. We were sleeping in a hall with other relatives after seeing off the bride. The lights were off. I felt a hand on my breast. I shoved it away. It came up again and travelled from right to left. Then, it squeezed them. I tried to jerk it away but my strength was insufficient. I lifted my head to see who it was. He was my mom’s younger brother, my real maternal uncle. I called for my mother. The dirty hand vanished at once,” She gasped. I gave her my water bottle.
“Should we go out and sit somewhere?” I suggested. She nodded.
I took her to a lonely spot under a tree.
“Did you tell your mom?”
“She said it would have been accidental. Everyone was tired and sleepy,” she replied bitterly.
“Did he do it again?”
“Yes. After a few months when we went to their place during vacation, he forced himself on me. He stopped when I resisted and threatened me. I was scared.
Next day, lying on my chest, I was reading a book. I was wearing a skirt. I felt fingers playing between my thighs. I got up and shouted for my mother. He left. I forced my mother to return home the same day. Why me? I keep on asking myself. I did everything I could to reduce my breasts because I thought I was too voluptuous for my age. I tie a cloth as tight as I can bear before putting on a bra. It hurts. It kills me. But, I find it more bearable than the fear and the filthy feeling of being fondled by dirty hands.”
I don’t know whether we were crying or not as there was no sobbing but tears were steadily flowing through our cheeks.
She was silent and perhaps, was waiting to hear some comforting words from me but, I didn’t know what to say to her. People call them women’s assets. They are asset for the lascivious men who are always looking to rob them forgetting the limits and sanctity of relations. I had nothing to say to Sarangi. I pulled her to my bosom, placed my chin on her head, and carefully avoided to touch the thick band on her back knowing that her wound has not healed yet.
*** All names changed