She was Radha, who also called herself Razia depending on where her next crumb of bread was coming from. Her home, for as long as her mind was willing to remember, had been one corner of a platform of a suburban railway station. Her only purpose in life was maintaining the wholeness of the cells within the skin she called herself. The ‘purpose’ was only as good as the ‘life’.
He was Manoj, another wreck of civilization, spending his days between imbibing country liquor and smoking dirty brown powders. But to her, he was a knight in shining armour who took her to his life and home.
A bonny boy was born, and motherhood made a woman out of a waif. She would toil and take care of him and the child. There would be just enough to soak his days and nights with pungent, chemical-tasting spirits. She would patiently give in to his beatings and continue working and making a reputation as a ‘good person’.
Their latest home was a week old, a tiny brick floor under a tarpaulin sheet, surrounded by immense bales of plastic, collected and delivered by rag-pickers from the city’s waste dumps. She, along with a few other workers, would wash the plastic mugs and bottles, cut them up into strips and re-package them for delivery to the furnaces. The locals respectfully called it a ‘factory’.
It had been raining on a day that had turned bitterly cold. He was drunk as usual. They fought, and he thrust a kitchen knife into her shoulder-blade. The handle broke like everything around and inside them. She screamed into the void. Two other nearby families went about their businesses, though there were no doors to any of the “rooms”. She told him that this time she was going to die. It was only then that he half saw the oozing blood.
There was no hospital for miles, and even more remote was the notion of getting help from any public service. Neither of them had ever dreamed of utilising any such amenity of civilization. He tried to wrap the wound and fell asleep beside her on the floor. She woke him once to ask for water. When he woke again, she wasn’t moving any more. He picked up the sleeping child and walked away.
The police, which was moving in teams jointly with persons who could recognise him, stumbled onto him after eight hours, still clutching his child.