He is your father
For the past few days Mariam was not feeling well.
She was an asthmatic patient for many years. She knew the provoking factor of her asthma. Whenever she drank a bit of ice cold fluid she used to get problems. Her throat would start getting sore. Then she would experience irritation at the throat and later dry cough. The episode had repeated thousand times. She knew the names of the medicines which she was usually given by the doctors when the symptom started.
About a week ago, the weather was very bad. It was a very humid day. The local public bus drivers were on strike. So she had to walk on foot for a long distance. Her shirt was wet with the sweat. Felt very thirsty. She tried to quench her thirst by drinking a packet of ordinary water. It did not do any justice to her thirst. She went to the nearest kiosk and ordered the coldest ever possible coke.
She finished the whole bottle of 350mls coke in few gulps. She burped the gas and allowed to escape through her nose. Felt satisfied. Rested for few minutes and continued her journey. When she reached her destination, she felt exhausted and thirsty again. She remembered the satisfaction from the cold coke. She ordered for another cold coke again from the nearby kiosk. The kiosk owner knew her very well. They all did their business in the same vicinity. Mariam sold fruits –bananas, oranges and any seasonal fruit. Her fruit stall was hardly 2 meters away from the kiosk. She had never ordered cold soda. The kiosk owner enquired twice whether she needed cold or ordinary.
Soon after she settled to her business, heavy rains started pouring. The rainy season was long due but rain was late that time. When the dusty, dry roads were suddenly watered with the heavy downpour, the earth’s surface started evaporating, giving out the typical strong earthy smell. It usually gave her a suffocating sensation.
The rain continued for quite sometime. Near their stalls, puddles of dirty rain water had started collecting. Customers avoided the stalls near the puddles. The day did not look good for business. Moreover she had to walk a long distance back home again.
Luckily, a middle aged lady passed by and bought a lot of fruits from 4-5 stalls including Mariam’s. At least the day was not a complete lost. She closed her stall early and headed home. On the way, she started feeling mild chest discomfort with dry cough. She knew at home she had enough drugs in stock for her asthma.
The next day, she was still feeling uncomfortable, but as she had started taking medicine, she thought it would subside by itself. She went to her fruit stall to continue with her business.
Two three days passed, no sign of improvement. She had to visit the doctor. She was told she had chest infection. She was given some colorful antibiotics and was told to rest for few days. She realized her body needed the rest badly but resting meant no income for few days. Her daughter, the 15 yrs old girl had just completed primary school and still a baby to her. She would not be able to do much to supplement the income while she was recuperating. The little saving she had might last at least a week without difficulty. She requested her neighbors in business to help her sell out the stocks she had kept while she was getting treatment from the doctor.
Three days had passed. No sign of improvement. She had to go and see the doctor again. She was prescribed more medicines. She had to pass by her stall and see how things were going. Was disappointed to see her merchandise getting rotten. She asked her daughter to collect some of the still healthy looking fruits and try to sell out at home or nearby places.
Fatma tried to sell the fruits as her mother instructed. She was excited in the beginning. When she could sell 2-3 fruits, the money she got made her feel good. To her it was money coming in. She did not realize that her mother spent money to get that fruit. The profit was meager. As long as it was not a lost, Mariam did not mention anything to her daughter.
Fatma thought she was doing great. She wanted to sell more and more. She had met some girls who sold also fruits. One of them suggested that they should go and sell near the railway station. There, the number of customers were more and they had money. Fatma went ahead along with her new friends.
The first day at the railway station Fatma had a good sell. She came back very happy and asked her mother to give her the name of the medicines so that the next day she could buy her the medicines. And she did.
Mariam was worried about her daughter : suddenly how her daughter managed to get the bumper sells! She asked her daughter and later she regretted that she asked. She heard the word she despised to hear “railway station”. She had never talked to her daughter about her past life and she was not going to talk. But she had to stop her from going to the railway station. She gave her a stern warning to Fatma not to go to the railway station ever again. She could not explain why. She simply told her there were a lot of bad people around the railway station.
The next day Fatma was not planning to follow her friends. But when she met them, they convinced her to come. One of the friends asked her how she felt when she bought the medicines for her mother the night before; if she would have not gone to the station, from where she would have got the money to buy the medicine. She knew it was true and she would love to continue serving her mother. She needed her mother to be well so that she could start preparing for her to join secondary school. She joined the friends and lied to her mother- now that she had been selling the fruits for few days, so she got the experience and sold better. Mariam believed her daughter.
One evening Mariam found her daughter late to come back home. She started getting worried. She tried to control herself but the flashes of the long forgotten memories were appearing again and again in her minds. She tried to shake it off. Pretended to be busy by keeping herself occupied with cooking. She felt the burning smell of oil in the pot on fire. But her mind was far in the railway station being sexually molested again by the fat station watchman. She took out her anger on the burning pot. She lifted it with her bare hands and threw away the hot pot. Her fingers got burnt but she did not feel it. She sat down in the corner, remembering the train of her painful past life.
She was the same age of Fatma-15 years old. But she was more naive than her daughter. The village life was simpler and sweeter 15 years ago. There were not many people in the neighbourhood. The railway station was not crowded. Only thrice a day, the train passed there-one passenger train and two goods train. The railway workers, passengers were very good and cooperative. In cases of trains getting delayed because of one or the other reason, the villagers would make the stranded people comfortable without thinking of taking advantage of the situation.
The vibrant, sweet teenage girl was selling fruits, sometimes boiled maize, sometimes sweet potatoes; anything her grand mother gets hold of in their own yard. The railway watchman who himself needed to be watched, had fancied Mariam. He was always drunk His cloths were always greasy and soiled. Daily he used to buy something or the other from Mariam. One fateful day he came to buy fruits from Mariam. He looked sober on that day. He took the whole bunch of banana but said he forgot to take his wallet with him. So he asked Mariam to pass by his place and get the money from there. He had made a home in one of the abandoned wagons near the service track.
Before it became dark, Mariam decided to close her business and go back home. On her way back, as she was told, she passed by the watchman’s wagon. She called out announcing her presence. A voice from inside told her to come in. Without a second thought, she entered. The man told her to sit down and eat the biscuits which he offered her. He asked her about her whereabouts, about her parents and many other questions. Mariam felt very good about the concerns he showed. “So, there are few good men also in this world”-she thought. She didn’t have to wait long to prove how wrong she was.
The man started stroking her hair, softly touched her cheeks. He took her hands and told her that her tender, soft hands need to be engaged with delicate works only, not to dig the earth, tilt soils and so on. Mariam looked at her hands and found that they were roughened really because of the works in their house. She had to help her grand mother in cultivating; she had to cut firewoods with the machetes. Sometimes her hands used to get blisters from the works. She nodded her head agreeing with the comments of the man. She looked at the man with the eyes asking the question “but how”. Answers to her questions were there. The man told her that if she could pass his place everyday he would give her many things.
He did not wait for her approval. He pulled her towards him, hugged her, squeezed her, kissed her, molested her, and raped her till she lost consciousness. She did not remember how long she was lying there, when she gained her conscious, it was already dark. The moonlight filtering through the windows and holes in the wagon made her see her surroundings. There was nobody near her. The abandoned wagon was empty. The watchman had abandoned her. She wanted to scream, but had no energy. Just a moaning sound came out. All her body was bruised and aching. Her body was naked, the crumpled skirt and blouse thrown on her body was soiled with blood. Slowly she gathered her memory and strength, supported herself on the broken steel chair and started thinking about ways of escaping from there. She realized she was raped by the monster. She had to leave before the monster came back.
She pulled herself towards the heavy steel door; it opened with a loud creaking sound. Nobody was there, even if they were there, she did not see them. She put on her skirt and covered her body with the blouse. She did not bother to look for her underwear in the dark. When she stepped down from the wagon, the cold breeze hit on her face. She felt better. Got more strength. Without looking back she ran away from there.
On her way back, few blocks from their house, she met her grand mother coming back after fetching water. Usually it was Mariam’s job to fetch water, but as she was late, her grandma had to do it. She could not believe her eyes when she saw the ghostly appearance of her granddaughter.
She pulled Mariam aside, took down the bucket of water from her head.
“ Did somebody hurt you”
Mariam could not answer, she exploded. She curdled herself on her grandma’s chest and cried. Blood was trickling on the inner thighs of Mariam. Quickly, the grandmother poured the bucket of water on Mariam’s body. Quitely she consoled Mariam and warned her about the dangers if any of her uncles would see her in that condition. She pulled Mariam aside and gave her a bath on the roadside itself. She made Mariam change to the shawl she had and came together to their house. Luckily nobody noticed the look of Mariam. After putting her to bed, the grand mother went back again to fetch water.
With the fear that they both would be chased away from the house if the other family members come to know about it, Mariam and her grand mother had to keep the secret only between the two of them. Every day at night, Mariam was raped again and again in her dreams. Days passed. Mariam’s wound healed but left a permanent scar.
After about 6 months from the ill fated day, her grand mother noted the signs of pregnancy in Mariam. She took her to the dispensary of the neighbouring village. Her doubts were confirmed at the clinic. She took Mariam to one of their far relative, single, elderly lady. Mariam had to work hard day and night. One day while she was in the field, helping the old lady to reap the ripe paddy from the field, she went into labour. She delivered a healthy baby girl with the assistance of the old lady. She named her Fatma.
At that tender age when most of her age mates did not even know how to take care of themselves, Mariam had already two helpless dependants- one, her infant daughter and another, the elderly lady.
When Fatma was 2 years of age, the old lady passed away and Mariam had to come back to her grand mother, but she was not welcomed by her uncles. She had to live on her own. She did all the odd jobs to get a living. She went from door to door asking for work in exchange for food. After struggling for nearly 2 months, one day somebody sent a message for Mariam to go and see her.
The lady was a primary school teacher, a single parent of a little girl, same age as Fatma. She had been looking for a helper to take care of her daughter while she was working. Mariam accepted readily the offer and moved in the house of the teacher. Together they had a smooth life; the two children also grew up together like sisters.
The teacher had a small farm where she used to cultivate bananas and cassava. She did not have enough time to take care of the farm. With Mariam’s help, the farm produced more than enough food for the four of them. They sold the surplus and divided the profit equally. Mariam had learnt a lot in her life. She was already a mature lady with a lot of bitter experiences. She stayed with the teacher for nearly ten years when the teacher was given a transfer to the district head quarter. Mariam bought the small farm; built a small cottage and started living an independent life.
When Mariam saw her daughter Fatma, she saw her own image of what happened to her,15 years ago. Fatma’s cloths were torn; blood stained and she did not speak a word. Mariam did as her grandma did to her. She helped her daughter to wash herself and consoled her daughter. When Fatma had calmed down, Mariam just asked one question to her daughter “ It is the fat railway watchman, isn’t?”
Fatma looked at her mother with surprise-“how did she know”
Mariam succeeded in comforting her daughter, but the decade long rage burning inside her heart started catching fire anew. New fuel had been added. She excused herself for few minutes from her daughter; she told her that her neighbour friend was supposed to come and collect some money for new stocks of fruit for her stall, but with the condition
in the house, she would prefer instead to go and give the money herself.
Mariam took the small kitchen knife, her favourite handy knife for peeling the orange rinds for her customers. Because of using several years for that purpose, the delicate, thin knife had been eaten up by the acid of the fruits. The blade had a semilunar form.
She proceeded straight to the railway station towards the abandoned wagon. No one was there. She looked around. She found her fruit tray in the wagon and her daughters rubber slippers thrown near the door. She collected them all. She had to find him. She would wait till he appeared.
At the far end of one of the rails, she noticed flickering lights. The beam of the light from the source of the light was constantly changing direction. She realized it was coming from a light held by an unstable hand, most probably a swaying person. It could only be him. Nobody walked on the rail tracks with a torch. Mariam had seen him several times before while he was on duty walking along the tracks. She walked towards the direction of the light. When she was about 50 meters from the light, under the moonlight, she recognized, the huge swaying figure coming towards her. Her chance was approaching. She would not allow this time to slip away. She had to do it at least for her daughter’s sake. She forgot all about her sickness. Suddenly she felt so tall and so strong. She gripped the knife tight and plunged it on the abdomen of the huge figure. The knife bent and could not go far.
Mariam did not realize it. She stabbed him again and again with the bent knife. With the impact of Mariam’s force, the huge, swaying man lost balance and fell backward on the rail track, hitting his head. The lantern he was holding fell off, the chimney shattered and the light blew off. Mariam saw the man lying without movements. She had accomplished her revenge. She moved out from there with satisfaction and hurried back to her daughter to give her the good news. She was in such a hurry that she did not see the headlight of a train approaching from far in the darkness. She did not hear the engine sound also.
By the time the engine came to a screeching halt, Mariam was long gone. The train head had hit an animal, the train driver thought. Usually in that particular track, only trains with problems pass for servicing at the garage. So the driver was relaxed and did not notice the figure on the rail in time. The train stopped about 200 meters from the spot where it hit the object and the object was carried along under the carriage.
The alarm siren was blown and people around came to the spot. They managed to free the huge man from under the carriage. Instantly everybody recognized him from the uniform he was wearing. In his trouser pocket, there were sparkling glass pieces from the broken Konyagi bottle. Only the bright orange level of Konyagi was intact. Alcohol smell was felt even from far. His face was smashed into pieces. His uniform was torn at places and while the rescuers were trying to pull out the body, they tore it more. The huge belly was ruptured, intestine was crushed, contents smeared on the cloths.
The railway staff and security guards came unanimously to the conclusion “fallen drunk, and passed over by the passing train”. For formality sake, the body was sent for post mortem, the result came, word by word confirming the police report”.
Mariam found Fatma still moaning with pain and shame. She embraced her daughter and told her everything- ……he raped me also; he is your father. The whole night they remained awake.
“ Now that fat man will not disturb us any more. I have sent him where he belongs”- Mariam told Fatma. She told her that she was ready to go to jail with smile when the police come to arrest her. She did not need to hide.
After that day, Mariam improved tremendously. She was back into her business again. Everyday she waited for the policeman to come, anytime. But nobody came.
Months passed. She had managed to send Fatma to secondary school.
Pre admission medical examination declared Fatma fit and healthy.
Both mother and daughter vowed never to forget the railway watchman and stay away from men of his alike.
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