Trigger warning : descriptive and disturbing account of trauma.
Isn’t it amazing how kids remember the shape, sound or characteristics of a thing or incident, without knowing it’s importance, or what it stands for? Like, your three year old toddler who can’t even read yet, can use your phone to download their favourite game with no help whatsoever, and can unlock your phone with ease. Anya was one such kid, but this quality, she would one day realise to be the last thing she would ever want.
Anya woke up at odd timings each night due to one particular nightmare. It was a white room where Shambhu, her childhood driver, stood and looked at her with a certain kind of expression that made Anya’s skin crawl with uneasiness. There was no door, no window, not one ray of sunlight. Just a plain white room having only a table made of wood with a white marble top and a painting of some kind having the words “NAMO” written across it in big, bright, and bold red letters. She always dismissed the dream and convinced herself every time that the only reason she woke up was to either drink water, or go to the loo, but she somehow always felt unexplainably nervous, vexatious, and fearful.
One day, Anya woke up from her post-dinner power nap to her mother calling her and asking her to hurry up. In a frenzied and hasty gait she half-ran towards her parents’ room, only to see her mother laughing, clearly overjoyed about something. Annoyed, she asked “Amma why did you wake me up like that? I thought you fell or hurt yourself!”. Her mother replied saying “I found pictures of our old house on Alika street where we stayed till you were seven years old!!”. Her mother’s excitement was contagious which made it almost impossible for Anya to resist herself from checking out what the fuss was all about.
Her mother kept showing Anya the pictures one by one. Right from the living room where Anya took her first steps to the balcony where she fell and hurt herself for the first ever time. She could see tears forming in her mother’s eyes and a huge wave of nostalgia passing over her, personifying her emotions. She hugged her mother and she returned the embrace, dropping the pictures to the floor in the process.
Anya saw something. Her heart skipped a beat and she picked up a tattered old photograph labelled “store room”. With bated breath, trembling hands, and a certain kind of fear enveloping her, she saw it. A small, rectangular room with a wooden table having a marble countertop, and a big abstract painting with the word “NAMO” sploshed across the canvas in big, bright, and bold red lettering. Everything came rushing back to her. She started trembling and got up at once, walking slowly toward her room with that photograph clenched in her palm. She walked in, closed the door behind her, and sat right there on the floor.
It was him. It all made sense now. It all fit like pieces of a puzzle. Images started flooding in her mind, and it all came together.
She remembered that god forsaken day. Her parents were at work, leaving her under the apparent watchful and trusted eye of their driver of 4 years, Shambhu. He was like a part of the family. She called him “Shambhu bhaiyya”. Anya had woken up from an uncomfortable slumber, having another one of her migraines. She went to Shambhu, asking him to call her amma to figure out how to make it go away. He did as told and was asked to give her a dose of her migraine medicine, crushed and put into half a glass of water. Far too familiar with her migraine routine, six year old Anya picked up a tablet of her medication and gave it to Shambhu to crush. He said, “ Nahi, aapko ye wali leni hai ”, removing a round white tablet from his shirt pocket. She was unsure, but she agreed and had her medicine.
The next thing she remembered was waking up feeling exhausted, feeling sore all over, body stinging with pain, but her back being very cold. She turned her face to her right and saw a blurred version of Shambhu wearing his pants with a sinister, devilish expression and a smug smile, looking at which a chill ran down her spine. She felt increasingly nauseous by the minute. He left the room and she got up in a daze to see herself completely naked. There was blood near her thighs. She looked up and passed out looking at the painting with the “NAMO” written across it in big, bright, and bold red paint. This incident continued not for a day or two, but for one whole week, making her weaker each time, making her more vulnerable to the abominable sins of the earth each second.
The store room on Alika street held the essence of Anya’s past.
Now she knew what her nightmares meant. Now she knew why she would wake up at night with her back feeling like ice, and why she occasionally woke up to herself shaking like crazy, lying on the floor with a cold sweat and a massive headache. Now she knew why she would recoil at every touch by a man, and why one look at Shambhu would make her shudder.
She was six years old when it happened. She was sixteen now, and ten years later she had found out the deepest and darkest part of herself, which was hell bent on not leaving her be.
That night, she didn’t sleep a wink. She stared at the picture with utter shock, disbelief, and hatred, and she cried. She wailed like banshee, bawled like a newborn and felt like trash. She felt like she was taken advantage of. Her childhood mercilessly stripped from her, like her clothes and her esteem, like her dignity. She felt unclean and went and sat under the shower, rubbing herself with soap over and over again to the point where red marks started emerging over her epidermis, that she now wanted to abandon and climb out of. She was ashamed of herself, of her own skin.
She came out of the shower feeling numb, and saw a shadow. The shadow was her father’s, but looking at it gripped her with something more than just fright, or anxiety. It gripped her with terror. Absolute terror.
It is amazing how kids remember the shape, sound or characteristics of a thing or incident, without knowing it’s importance, or what it stands for. How one picture could end up shattering someone’s faith and trust, making them question their sanity when they least expect it.
That was the story of a survivor, a fighter; and now my question to you, dear reader.
In your own special way, aren’t you one too?
Author ~ Aryaa Shah Editor ~ Zoyah Virani