FIREFLIES IN THE BACKYARD
Minoti always dreamt of a having a good husband who would bring her things like new ribbons for her wavy, black waist length hair, bangles in rainbow colours for her supple hands, matching bindis for her dusky forehead and occasionally bring a new blouse from a nearby town, care for her and love her in bed. She, in return, would make food for him, and would adorn herself with those things for him to make him want her. Every evening after dinner, she would sit on the threshold of her house, a hut with walls made of bamboo and cane as the skeletal support plastered with muddy red earth and soggy cow dung from their cowshed which, she or her sisters would mop once a week without fail and imagine about her future life with her husband. Her eyes would gladden like the fireflies in the backyard when she imagined how it would be after she got married. She loved the late evening time after dinner when all the rest of her folks would either be in bed or like her father may be out on work and she would be all alone and gaze at the stars in the sky and the fireflies that would flicker now and then. She compared the fireflies to the stars, believed that mother earth was telling the starlit sky “look, I also got stars like you and so I am no less than you.”
She was longing to get married but being the youngest of the five sisters, she had to wait long after she had her first periods and was ripe for a man. So, she waited till one day her father Girdhar told her that he had fixed her marriage to Ratan, a truck driver from a village called Telahi about eight-ten miles from theirs. Her father, Girdhar worked as a watchman at a college in the nearby town of Raha. Minoti was very gladdened that finally, she would also be married and blissfully settled in her husband’s house like her other sisters. She was also, in particular, happy about getting married to Ratan as he was a truck driver who would travel a lot and maybe would even take her on one of his trips and even, if he would not take her, he would at least bring her new bangles and blouses from much bigger cities and towns than Raha. And so, Minoti was married off to Ratan when she was about nineteen and ripe.Ratan had no siblings and none of his parents were alive so that was another good thing about him as Minoti did not want any commanding mother-in-law or troublesome sister in law. Ratan’s hut was about the same size as her father’s, only more messy as she expected, he being a driver on the move and no womenfolk at home. Now, she would cook and clean for him and make it more habitable and organised. Their first night, the day after marriage for which Minoti had waited for long, went off without much talking or anything. Ratan came home drunk late at night after he went with his comrades in the afternoon. So, Minoti waited for the next night. She got up early morning, bathed, milked the cow, did the household chores, cooked for Ratan and wore the new mekhela-chador, which her elder sister gifted her for marriage to impress him. Ratan did not speak much to her, maybe, he was shy, she felt and neither did she as she was expected to speak less as a newly-wed bride. He again went off somewhere without telling her and came back late but not drunk this time. He brought a lipstick from the local market and scented white loose jasmines for her which she wore on her bun for the night. She waited for him anxiously and once he came in, her heart thumped even harder, making her nervous and weak, wanting him to hold her. She noticed that he had broad shoulders and strong hands as he undressed his clothes. Then, he pinned her to the bed and went down on her roughly and harshly as if he was waiting for this moment for long. He undressed her with urgency, almost ripping off the new blouse. She found him rough and forceful with his hard beard piercing her supple skin. She was like a pigeon who had been pounced upon by a menacing cat. And she closed her eyes like a pigeon does when it knows its end is near…..Then, he aggressively shoved into her…..Minoti felt severe stabbing pain down there. She hated the pain but knew she was helpless and just wanted it to be over. But she did not feel angry towards Ratan as he was her man! Maybe this is how it was to be on a first night……..
The next day, she woke up early like she always does, dusted and swept the house and the courtyard, milked the cow and bathed. She missed her mother who died when she was very young, as she knows she would have been more prepared about nights of her married life with good input from her mother had she been there. Ratan got up very late and drank the tea she made for him. Neither of them spoke much as Minoti was still scared and under shock and pain from the night before. Ratan broke the silence by mentioning that he needed to go back to for work from the following day. He had a long journey driving the truck from Guwahati to Rajasthan. She wasn’t expecting him to leave so soon but she did not say much. She prepared an early dinner for him as instructed with fish curry being the highlight which he bought from nearby town. He ate his dinner and then went out when one of his friends from the village called out for him from the courtyard. She finished her dinner and waited for husband to come and fell asleep. Later, she was woken up by him as Ratan shook her, he smelled of cheap local liquor made from fermented rice and gourd by the tribals in the adjacent tribal basti of Telahi. He commanded her to take her clothes off but she hesitated. He told her that she had to do what he wanted; after all she was his wife. But since she did not comply with his commands, he grabbed her by her hair and forced himself on her. She protested but he slapped her hard and ripped her blouse. She felt tired and drained giving good resistance in the beginning but, could not hold further as he was stronger. He became enraged by her defiance and violently forced himself on her, bruised her. She could not protest anymore against him as he was a strong man, he raped her forcefully and violently cursing her at the same time. After the act, Ratan went into a deep sleep tired yet contented by a triumphant night. Minoti lay awake in her bed, face swollen, torn mekhela and blouse, physically exhausted, abused, battered, raped and mentally shattered…… All her expectations about a blissful married life had shattered. Perhaps, this was her destiny for which she waited so eagerly. Maybe Ratan was right, she being a woman, needed to obey his commands. After a while, she also fell asleep, tired by a brutal and abusive night.
The next day, Minoti went about the household chores as usual but there was no longer the girlish excitement and expectations. Ratan went about his daily routine, getting ready for his long journey, with no remorse at all. When he left he just told her that he will be back after ten days or so, and that he would bring her a new blouse next time, maybe as a compensation for his brutalities. Minoti was rather, relieved that she would be left alone for at least a few days now, her aspirations and expectations shattered anyways.
Minoti was feeling very forlorn as she realized Ratan could never be the husband she expected or dreamed of. She felt the need for some support from someone. She was not that close to any of her sisters and moreover, they were all married and perhaps happy in their marital lives and their own little world. She also had very few friends except for Rewati. But Rewati also got married two years ago and last time she came to meet her, when Minoti was still not married and lived with her father, Rewati was evidently very happy. Her husband was a mechanic, made decent money and was nice to her. She also shyly said that he treated her well in bed too. Minoti longed to meet Rewati, maybe to discuss her plight or maybe not. Maybe it was in her destiny. When the night came, Minoti was scared of the stillness of the air and silence of the night and her own loneliness. The fireflies in her backyard glimmered, breaking the starkness and vastness of the brutal, lonesome night. She yearned to be a firefly. She wished she could spark like them and end the darkness. The darkness of night, the darkness of life, the darkness of human nature…..
Ratan did not leave much money with her. He also did not like her going out from the house anyways as he gave her certain instructions like not to talk or entertain neighbours, especially the men folk whom he said would try to take advantage of a solitary woman at home. Minoti did not venture out at all; neither did she entertain any neighbours. They all looked at her curiously since she was a new bride, a new entrant in their neighbourhood and wanted to get friendly with her, especially the men folk. Maybe they all knew her vulnerability, being alone when Ratan would be out most nights driving trucks. She avoided them. Some of these men folk were Ratan’s drinking partners. One of them who lived few houses from Ratan’s would look at Minoti when she swept the front courtyard or milked the cow. Minoti felt violated by his constant gaze and avoided eye contact with him.
Four days after Ratan left, that evening someone knocked at her front door which Minoti always kept locked. Minoti was very scared as she knew it could not be Ratan as he would not return so soon.
Minoti asked from inside “Who is it? My husband is not at home.”
“Nabau, it is me, Naren, Ratan’s friend.”
“My husband is not at home. He will return after few days.”
“I know. Please open the door. I wanted to ask you something. Just open the door for a minute.”
Minoti opened the door. She had a lantern in her hand as there was no electricity as was the case for most nights in any average Asomiya village due to shortage of power every year during summer months. A dark figure was standing at the door. And Minoti realized that this was the neighbour who always gazed at her while she did her household chores in verandah or courtyard. She felt vulnerable and anxious. He smelled of cheap country liquor and made her more nervous.
“Ratan is not at home. He won’t appreciate if he knew you came here when he was away. What brings you here?”
He was so drunk he could barely stand. He stammered “Do not worry. He will not know. I just wanted to know if you needed anything. Tomorrow I am going to Jagi Road Town and wanted to know if you had any requirements.”
“My husband will bring whatever I need. I think you should go home now. Your wife will be waiting for you.”
“Don’t hesitate anything. Just tell me. Ratan is my friend, my best friend. I want to help him. He always helps me. So, tell me what you need. Let me come in.”
Minoti’s heart pounded hard as she feared he might try to come inside the house. She wanted to close the door but he was holding the door and rather leaning against it. She tried to close the door but was unsuccessful. Naren was trying to get in and she was pushing him away. At that moment, another man who must have overheard the conversation and saw the scene, appeared.
“Naren, what are you doing here? Why are you bothering Nabau?”
Minoti felt better that some man had come to her rescue.
“Who is this?” Naren muttered and cursed. He was Anil, the neighbour’s young unmarried son and younger by age to Ratan and Naren and was probably of Minoti’s age. He caught hold of Naren and pulled him back. “Let’s go home. Your wife is waiting for you.”
“Leave me you motherf**ker!” shouted Naren.
“Nabau, Please close the door now. And don’t worry; I will take this drunkard to his home. You should not open door when you are alone at home.”
Minoti closed the door. Her heart was still pounding hard as she heard Naren cursing the other man while he was taking him home forcefully.
Minoti could not sleep properly that night. She was quite disturbed by the incident. And realized how vulnerable she was living alone. She was relieved that that the neighbour’s son came to her rescue.
Next day, she saw Anil passing by when she called him.
“Thank you so much for your intervention yesterday night, Anil.”
“No need to thank me, Nabau. It’s good that I was passing by so I realized what was going on.”
“In any case, don’t hesitate to tell me if you need anything as I am also going to the same market. And you can trust me I won’t come to scare you in the night.” He smiled. Minoti also suddenly smiled back at him. She did need some things like edible oil but she hesitated.
He asked again and this time she told him that she needed some things and gave him 50 Rs for the expenses. So, Anil came by next morning bringing all the things. He also returned the left over money. She offered him tea and he agreed and sat in the chair in the front courtyard.
She began to like Anil. He was a nice boy who respected her as he should as she was like a sister in law for him. She felt safe with him, she could trust him. She wished Ratan was like him. She liked him but did not entertain him much as she did not want someone to tell Ratan that she was getting friendly with Anil. Anil also knew the same thing and so he also maintained distance with her.
Minoti was glad for Ratan’s absence; at least she did not have to go through the subjugation, humiliation and violation she felt for being his wedded wife. After all, he never behaved well or communicated much or tried to win her confidence. He cared less as he was a typical male chauvinistic pig who felt that women needed to obey their husband’s, cook for them and give them what they demanded in bed.
Ratan came home after twelve days. He brought her a new blouse, some new packets of bindis and some essential items. He was glad to be home to take some rest and eat some proper meal after a week long journey driving through the highways, villages and towns and paddy fields and empty barren lands on the way. He and his handyman stopped by in dhabas, liqour shops and brothels in between their week long journey. Ratan knew where to find the brothels and such women as he was plying in these roads for last eight years. Ratan liked to visit the brothels to break the monotony of his tiresome and long trips and also, the fact that the women did whatever he wanted. And he liked the mature and experienced women, no protests, no hassles, just a few Indian currency notes.
Again that evening, Ratan went to the nearby tribal basti to drink smelly country liquor and returned late. Minoti waited for him to serve dinner and dozed off. So, when he returned late, he banged the front door shouting and cursing her for being late in opening it. Minoti woke up scared that what he would do next and hesitantly opened the door. He slapped her and yelled “You whore, whom were you hiding inside. I am sure you must have found someone since I was gone for all these days. I will kill that bastard, that bastard..…Anil.”
“No, No, He just helped me once.” She knew who must have told him. Naren was standing right behind him at the door.
“Shut up you whore, I know everything. Naren told me everything.” She wanted to tell him the real truth but knew he would not listen. She just let him in. Naren gave her a triumphant look feeling victorious that he could somehow hurt Minoti as he was angry with her for not entertaining him the other night.Ratan was so drunk he fell asleep immediately. Minoti was glad that he slept….
Minoti had lost her smile; she had lost her dignity, her innocence under Ratan’s atrocious conducts. She merely existed; earlier she had dreamt of a house with a caring husband and few kids of her own. Now, she does not even want to rear any children. She just wished this nightmare would get over somehow! But it did not get over. In fact, it got worse; he would call her whore, get violent with her and molest her in bed whenever he wanted a woman for his physical needs. So, as the days went by, months went by, Ratan would be gone for his work for about a fortnight and appear after that and again, would go back to work. Minoti felt much relieved in his absence and was always nervous and tense in his presence.
Days went by, months also went by. Minoti found out that she was pregnant. She was rearing his child. She felt maybe a child will change Ratan. When Ratan came after his long trip, she told him about her pregnancy. He did not appreciate it; he did not rejoice that he was going to be a father. He went off for his drinking session with Naren.
Late at night he came home drunk and shouted.
“I don’t want any child.I don’t want someone else’s child, you bitch! Do you get it? Just get it aborted.”
Minoti pleaded with him, telling him it was his child. Nobody has touched her ever. She wanted to bear this child but Ratan would not listen. In a fit of rage, he pushed her violently and her belly hit the corner flagstaff of the bed. Minoti fainted………. When she woke up, she found that she had blood in her white mekhela…..she had a miscarriage.
She was shattered, she felt a child would have made Ratan change a bit but he did not want a child at all. Perhaps, the future of the child would also not have been bright so god decided otherwise.
Ratan left the next morning. Ratan did not return as expected this time. Two weeks have passed since the day he was supposed to be back. Minoti did not know whom to ask or what to do. And then one day, a taxi stopped in her courtyard. She saw a short and slim man come out of it.And she saw Ratan sitting inside. She moved towards the taxi. The short man told her that Ratan had met with an accident. He asked for the taxi driver’s help to take him out of the taxi. Minoti waited with bated breath. She was getting tense. Ratan had an over-grown unshaven beard besides his thick moustache. He looked at her as he came out of the taxi with their help. His right leg was plastered. His left leg has been amputated. He had become a handicap.
Ratan changed a lot. He did not speak much, remained sullen and frustrated. He was dependent on Minoti for everything. Minoti had to bathe him every alternate day, help him to go to lavatory, change his clothes. Minoti did everything like an obedient wife would do. Naren would come by to visit him and occasionally both would get drunk in Ratan’s house. Ratan never saved much money and the compensation amount was over after three months or so. And then he had to take money from Naren. Soon, Naren wanted his money back. Ratan did not have any means to pay him back. Naren knew this would happen and he knew what he wanted in return. Ratan also began to know what he wanted. He began to visit Ratan more often, bringing with him country liquor which both of them drank night after night. Minoti wanted to stop all this but she never tried to as she knew Ratan would not change his ways. Since both Naren and Ratan knew that Ratan had no means to repay back the loaned amounts, Naren began asserting his wish indirectly to Ratan. And so, one night Naren stayed back till late at night. Ratan had fallen asleep in the living room after a heavy drinking session. Minoti had fallen asleep in her bedroom. And she woke up when she realized someone was touching her. She realized the dark silhouette of a man trying to fumble with her blouse. She wanted to scream for help but he blocked her mouth with his hands.
“Do not fear me. I will take care of you. Ratan would not mind. He is my best friend you know.”
She wanted to protest and fight him away but he pinned her down. And she closed her eyes waiting for another brutal act to begin, helpless like a pigeon pounced upon by a ruthless cat. But, his soft probing fingers were much different than from rough hands of Ratan’s. His soft kisses became enjoyable unlike the ruthless and violent love making of Ratan. She began to relax and respond to his caresses. She did not protest any more. ….
All three people knew what happened the previous night. But nobody said a word. Naren got what he desired. Ratan got his liquor and Minoti got food to eat and feed her husband. And so, this ritual happens every now and then. Naren was also a truck driver like Ratan. And soon he came back with more men, mostly truck drivers and acquaintances, who began to visit Ratan’s house in the evening and spend the night over while on their journey onward. Some of them brought small gifts like a red ribbon for Minoti besides a liquor bottle for Ratan. And more importantly they gave money to her which kept her kitchen fuel burning. Minoti accepted this new way of life as she had to sustain herself and she did not care much now. All her expectations of a husband has already been shattered and she did not expect much from other men except that they pay her for the night they spent with her. Ratan also changed his attitude towards her. He began to give her respect which he never gave earlier. He knew that she was the man of the house now. And he never tried to touch her ever again.
Minoti became more confident about herself. She did not bother much about what Ratan would think or say. As a handicapped man, he did not have enough power or means to assault or abuse her anymore. She liked Anil and began to interact with him more openly. Ratan did mind but could not do anything about it. He knew that he was dependent on Minoti.
And then one night, Anil visited her. Ratan would sit in the backyard or front yard during such nights when she had some visitors specific to her. Mostly they would bring a liquor bottle for him too. Anil however, did not bring any bottle. Minoti took him to her bedroom while Ratan went and sat in the backyard pondering his fate in life…
Anil was very gentle and caring in bed with her. Anil was bit shy but she undressed herself and later helped him undress himself gradually. And they made love………she enjoyed every moment with him as much as he did. With other men, she just did everything mechanically and waited for the act to be over. But with Anil, she wanted it to last longer. She responded to him as much as he loved her that night. She had good feelings for him so the act was enjoyable……..
And, so more and more men began to visit Ratan’s house. Minoti began putting on local make up which Naren brought for her so she looked attractive and appealing to the men. Ratan would drink heavily and pretend nothing happened. Anil also visited occasionally but she never charged him. It was a special night for her………..
Sometimes in the night, Minoti would be sitting in her backyard gazing at the fireflies that flickered and glowed in the darkness of the night. She would spend hours gazing at them. She wished she could be a firefly…….She became jealous of them. She was jealous as she knew they could flicker and glow and eliminate the darkness. She wished she could also be a firefly and eliminate and extricate the darkness in her life……..
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