Ishita stopped. The unruly bush along the sidewalk casting shadows, like the horns of the devil, grey with the winter dust raised an alarm in her mind. Looking far up the road, which gently rose to split into two opposite paths, bordered on the other side by the 7 feet wall of the Corporation, seemed familiar.
Deciding that she had only missed the bushes earlier, maybe preoccupied with regretting her life, cursing each day she had spent at the bar, she trudged on.
‘Like I do everyday’, she told herself.
She wrapped the long jacket around her tighter, the thin fabric of her shirt unable to fend off the chill of the darkening evening. Her skirt flapped with the wind and she cursed the bar uniform, followed by the bar owner who had decided upon it and finally the bar owner’s teenager son who had found it pleasing to his perverse nature that the female waiters not wear any leggings under their skirt even in the winters. And then a ritualistic routine commenced of cursing her life, her existence and the very existence of the entire universe.
‘It’s finally all connected. Something happens because something else happened and something will happen because this happened.’ She concluded. And then she went on debating with herself the validity of her idea, speaking both in for and against, pretending to be one of those fierce debaters she had witnessed during her college years.
‘College!’ she smiled sadly, the smile hardly showing up on her face. Those days of abundant attention! Classmates, seniors and even the professors! That lascivious frame she carried had always been the centre of many a men’s desire. Proposals and dates were plenty. Parties, wild ones. Wine, lots of it!
‘The sex!’ she smirked. ‘Regretted though, those were times I had enjoyed without the worry of a darned dime.’
A young couple sat holding hands at the front porch of the house on her right. They talked and laughed, choosing to be oblivious to the passing by.
‘The night I drank first’, her inner smile faded. ‘I was forced into it.’ She had always wished that her first drink would be with any guy she would be in love with. It would be all that royal. She would be shy at first. He would cajole her into it, hold up the glass to her lips and nod at her to go on. She would shyly take a sip, all the while looking into his anticipating eyes. Then she would stop and grin at him, a naughty expression as if the alcohol had taken hold of her.
‘But it had not been so.’ In her sophomore year there had been this booze party. It was late in the night when a female senior had turned her attention to Ishita who sat like a showpiece doll in a sofa in the corner. She had held a bottle in her hand, gestured her to drink it. Ishita had politely declined. The senior had called her names, hurled abuses and had called over her friends at the party who then proceeded to force Ishita to gulp down whatever was left in the bottle.
It burned. She felt humiliated. She had wanted to cry but her pride didn’t allow her to. She was already the most desired girl in her batch, in lieu for the title of Miss Fresher. She could not afford to lose the rep she had gathered so far with all the skill of her smooth talks. It was against her pride to let any other girl have it. She needed the seniors’ favor. She had not cried.
She had put out the fire in her heart with the very poison that had made it burn.
Nidhi felt like Nidhi only after walking out the gates, with the massive single-glass front of the Corporation building retreating majestically. The rest of her life was about being Miss Nidhi, Team Head at the Mobile interface designing department for a few softwares of the Corporation. Presently, she began her walk towards the Corporation Subway, a service especially for the employees of the mammoth enterprise.
The Corporation, the company that now had half of the world under its direct control, and the rest half indirectly. It had started out with a fifth generation search engine, replacing all the other pre-existing ones in a month’s clean sweep, and then had expanded foremost in real estate, quickly capturing the market and then had grown exponentially in all domains. A single Olympics later, in which it sponsored a whopping 147 nations out of the 228 that had participated, making an international acclaim in social service, it had an iron grip over the regime of several countries, often bending the laws to its benefits.
Its growth refused to slow down. And 7 years from its formation, its owner was single-handedly directing the course of humanity. It had the top researchers of the world working together under the same roof, the biggest thinkers debating the weirdest of human thoughts and the best technicians building things considered previously impossible, it did not come as a surprise when it announced the advent of the sixth generation of computers.
The dark was at the final phases of its descent when the lights of the subway gate far ahead, reached Nidhi’s eyes. This path, to the right of the Corp’s gate, was rarely used by the pedestrian employees due to its lack of lighting along it. And this was precisely why Nidhi loved it. Every evening after hours of higly polished professional flirting and masquerading, this short walk would give her a space to forget everything for a while and think about the one thing she never quite understood herself – life.
There was a thud on her left. She stared into the darkness, wondered if she had imagined it. It was unlike her to have hallucinations, the fact, which made her more confident that she had not been imagining things. ‘The darkness does things to the human brain,’ she remembered one of her professors telling the class. ‘I’ve studied psychology,’ she told herself, as if her degree was the only proof of her sanity.
‘There was this guy in the class’, she recalled. He would always try to scare her, popping out from behind the doors, writing scary messages on her bench, sketching things in her books and some more creative nonsense. ‘And now there must again someone silly like him…’
She thought of calling out but then restrained from it in order to not give the prankster, if there was one, the pleasure of having scared her, which he hadn’t.
Doubt seeped slowly into her thoughts and a while later she decided upon no immediate alert from the thud, if there had been one, and if there had been one caused by some living soul. She looked ahead, the lights of the subway entrance slowly fading away as the mist settled in.
‘Better be quick,’ she breathed to herself.
It was with a strange warmth in her legs that she resumed her short walk, wondering about her own self-induced fears and the possibility of her having hallucinations as a part of growing older.
‘Enough of being Mahendra uncle,’ she chuckled. ‘He would be by now betting on ghosts and alien theories to that sound!’ If there had been a thud.
A cold wind blew, making her nose cold and she compared it to a dog’s wet one. But she liked the winter, the winter wind, the winter mist and everything about winter. It was with all the happy thoughts about winter when her pace finally calmed into her daily peaceful walk. And it was then that she felt the approach of someone behind her.
The Corporation gate, a dull grey structure composed of cuboidal blocks of various dimensions, came up as a surprise to the lonely traveler. Ishita’s pen of doubt put down the period. She had taken the wrong path.
‘Great,’ she sighed. She would now have to go back, with the chilly winter wind blowing at her bare legs, which by now were starting to shiver. The guards at the gate looked at her intently, following her movements. She felt uneasy. Though the faces remained passive, she could feel the eyes of the guards feasting at the sight of her feminine form, the yellow light of the guard cabin making her skin glow golden.
‘All men are alike.’ She murmured. This wasn’t the first time she was looked upon hungrily.
Going back wasn’t much of an option. And she had no idea of where the two paths, one on the left and the other on the right, led to. But going back, in this state of clothing wasn’t at all an option. On instinct, she decided to walk on the left. She could feel the stares of the guards at her rear while she walked away from them.
A few quick steps later she felt that there was someone else on that dark road. No, not one, but several. At least two, for she felt she heard the footsteps both from behind and the front of her. She looked around for approaching figures, but the veil of darkness disclosed nothing. The footsteps behind her had stopped. She walked faster, being able to mark a direction to the footsteps ahead her, which were relaxed, as compared to the suppressed footsteps behind.
There was a figure up ahead now, and though scared, her pace quickened, just to see if the person could be a safety option. She suppressed her footsteps and walked up behind the person, realizing on the way that she was a lady, a Corporation employee, by the uniform. She was about to call out when something fell from the lady’s hand.
Stooping quickly, realizing an opportunity to talk to her was through this item, she picked up and stared at the Identity card. A Corporation employee, yes, but the name and photo on it, left her without breath.
She stood paralyzed, the memory of the night clearer than ever since she had left college. Suddenly, two pairs of hands gripped her from behind. She did not scream. She stood, insensitive to the hand pressed tightly over her mouth to kill her screams, the other hand of the attacker holding her head, while another pair of hands was busy tying up her wrists and yet another pair lifted her clear off the road.
She was drunk that night. From the corner where she lay, she had witnessed the emptying of the room, unable to get up from the sofa, drunk beyond her sense of fear. There were 4 of them, the boys, seniors, and that girl…that girl who had forced her to drink. They had been eyeing her for a long while, now they approached. She had a faint notion of the urge to get up and run, scream if possible, but she couldn’t. The alcohol had made sure she stayed there, pinned to the softness of the sofa, unable to even resist when they poured the remains of the champagne on her torso amidst laughter.
The men, she recognized them as the guards, gagging her, carried her towards the guard-room. Once there two of them went out, shutting the door behind them, while one of the guards stayed, and did the final rites of stuffing her mouth with a handkerchief and tying her to a chair in the tiny cabin. She had not yet protested, the surprise of which showed clearly on his face. Satisfied with tying her securely, he lifted her skirt all the way to her waistline with an evil grin on his face.
They had stripped off her gown, and while she lay in her undergarments on the sofa, the boys had sat around her, the girls sat opposite her on a table, all laughing loud while one boy kissed her and another rubbed his palm high up her thighs. They tugged on her underwear, pulling, pinching her, scratching her soft parts with their nails, eliciting little yelps from her sub-conscious.
He unzipped her jacket and then ripped the buttons of her shirt open in one single pull, he was no patient lover. There was still a human in him, which wondered, when there was not even a frown on her face when he placed authoritatively his hand between her legs, over the fabric of her undergarment, making a forceful rubbing motion over her womanhood. He searched for just one spark of resistance in her eyes as he slid inside her his fingers, groping wildly inside, trying his best to inflict pain. His animal desire not quiet able to establish itself over him, her lack of reaction to his invading, cruel hands struck a chord of oddity in his mind. He wondered.
She was on the table now. They were all around her, the girls cheering the boys while they robbed her of all her dignity. Her mind registered every motion, the lights, the song playing on the speaker at the other end of them room and the face of the girl..the girl who forced her to drink…as the girl readied a champagne bottle between her legs for another little fun show for the group. And then Ishita had screamed.
The guard chose to stand against the desk and observe her, not caring to conceal his nudity now, his part hanging limp after he had been done with her. His fellow guards had asked him to call them over after he had his turn. But apparently he was taking his time, staring at the lady he had forced himself on without a single squeak of protest.
‘What is her story?’ he was bewildered. ‘Is she some hooker? By her clothes, no…maybe working part-time. But then any sane girl would have turned this cabin upside down by now…’
He released her hands and legs. Took the gag off her mouth, motioned her to leave and went out. She slowly put back her clothes and got up, walking strangely, she moved out. The guard called up his two friends from their posts, and began a fierce discussion with them, apparently already on the weaker side of the debate. Ishita resumed her walk, the turmoil of repeated history burning inside her.
The sweat over her body felt chilled in the wind. The jacket was hanging unzipped. The wetness at the insides of her thighs which was utter discomfort. Behind, unknown to her, the guards had once more started running towards her, when she raised the gun she had stolen from the guard’s cabin, shot herself and fell. The image of Nidhi, the girl who made her drink the first time, clear in her mind, as she did one horrific torture after another at Ishita’s body.
“Hey!” a voice called from behind. Nidhi turned to face a beautiful girl, almost causing a déjà vu, her mind immediately rolling back into distant clouded memories.
“You dropped this,” the girl held forward Nidhi’s Identitiy card.
Taking the ID card, Nidhi racked her brains furiously for any recollections about the girl before her, poking wildly at some blurry long forgotten memory.
“Thanks…” she replied, slipping the card into her pocket.
“Do you know which way is the subway?” the girl asked.
“Walk along,” she smiled politely; the girl could use the subway at an extra public fee, still trying to put a name to the girl’s face. “Have we met before?”
“Oh no!” the girl made a wry face. “I took the wrong turn today.”
“Oh…” but Nidhi was sure she had seen the girl somewhere. Her intuition had always been good.
The subway entrance was a few yards ahead.
“Not a lot of people on this road, eh?” the girl chirped in an overtly girlish voice.
“Hmm,” Nidhi nodded. There was no point in telling this girl that she was a regular traveler, regular lone traveler on this road. Not until she had associated a name with this face…
There was a light rush at the subway. Going down the stairs Nidhi calculated the coach position where she could expect the least crowd. It was the last evening shift of the Corporation going out, the night shift would begin soon, and thus the number of incoming passengers was greater than those going out.
‘The girl would need to get a ticket.’ She reminded herself and turned to the girl.
The girl was not there. Nidhi looked upwards the stairs unable to spot her. Guessing that the girl must have slipped off to get the ticket, Nidhi moved to a nearby snack stall.
Ramesh, the stall operator, recognized her at once and smiling, went to prepare her combo of a chicken burger with a glass of soda. Nidhi leaned on the counter and looked up blankly at the television at the top of the cupboard on the wall opposite. The news channel flashed a ‘breaking news’. A girl named Ishita, had been found dead on the subway road, a few feet from the Corporation gate about an hour ago.
Nidhi’s hands flew to her trouser’s pocket and went inside without any resistance. The ID card wasn’t there. It was in that dead girl’s hand.