It took Aanya eleven years and four months to understand thoroughly the meaning of abhorrence, disgust and grief. It is too young an age to be exposed to the gravity of these dark emotions but life doesn’t give us much of a choice sometimes. Even she wanted to live in the fairy tale world for a very long time, wanted to keep her knowledge of grief limited to scraped knees and scolding received for not finishing the homework, wanted to keep her innocence intact but if only it were in her hands. Sitting in her room and studying intently for her Biology test, she lost huge parts of her innocence and cheerfulness that day, parts which never found way back to her again.
‘Meiosis’ and ‘Mitosis’, she scribbled on the white board. Having spent the past five minutes recalling the differences between the two types of cell division, she got restless and flipped open the Biology book. ‘Mitosis is a process of cell duplication, or reproduction, during which one cell gives rise to two genetically identical daughter cells ‘, ‘Meiosis, on the other hand, is a division of a germ cell involving two fissions of the nucleus and giving rise to four gametes, or sex cells, each possessing half the number of chromosomes of the original cell.’ Then suddenly, that word struck her- ‘sex’. She had heard girls talk about it in hushed voices, she never participated in those conversations though. Somehow, a part of her disapproved those conversations; quite another, however, yearned to be a part of them and decipher the reasons behind the giggles and the smirks.
‘Sex must be having something to do with reproduction’, she wondered. Then, gradually all the thoughts about ‘meiosis’ and ‘mitosis’ and the biology test were driven off her mind and all that remained was this three letter word ‘sex’. Curiosity was killing her. She flipped open the Oxford dictionary and looked for the word ‘sex’, to find ‘sexual intercourse’ as one of meanings. She quickly scanned the pages and looked for ‘sexual intercourse’, and there it was- ‘insertion of the penis into the vagina’.
She stood still for some time trying with all her might to shrug the meaning off her mind. She couldn’t keep it off for long, though. The meaning took refuge in her head and stayed there, refusing to move out. The dictionary dropped down off her hands and she fell down on her knees trying desperately to fight back the tears. ‘No, it could not be this’, she tried to assure herself. However,they kept coming back to her-those scenes from childhood; the different places he played that ‘game’ started flashing in front of her eyes.
White pleated skirt. Washroom of her old house. He told her that he will teach her a new game that day. He asked her to lift up her skirt as he unbuttoned his pants.
‘I don’t like it.’
‘This is how the game is played darling. You will start liking it gradually.'
'Promise me you will not tell anyone about it. The game is cursed. Another kid told her sister about this game, a week later her parents died.’
Aanya shuddered at the thought of it. She stayed quiet, never told anyone about this ‘game’. ‘Regret’, she had memorized this word only two weeks ago as a part of the class assignment. Little did she know then that life itself would teach her its true meaning and so soon at that.
Golden frock. Brown bed. Waking up feeling uneasy. Creases on the part of the bed where she wasn’t sleeping. Smelling of something unfamiliar, something dirty. Hurried footsteps right outside her room. The sudden urge to get up and check on those footsteps. A part of her suppressed that urge. It was probably afraid that she may come in terms with the cause of that uneasiness. She let that part win. She denied the confrontation. She chose to live in ignorance. She was scared, scared of the reality that she kept denying to herself. Regret!
Yellow pajamas. She was sitting at the study table. ‘Hey, Aanya. Mummy left you all alone. Let me take you around my new house. Come’, he said. She did not want to go. She was not bold enough to say a blatant no. She resisted the proposal.
‘I have a lot of pending homework. I will come some other time.’
‘No, it will just take ten minutes. You should take a break, you have been studying for too long, anyway.’
Then, he leaped forward, lifted her onto his shoulders and carried her to his house. ‘You’re my little princess, aren’t you?’, he said as he put her down and placed a kiss on her cheek.
‘You love strawberry shake, don’t you? I’ll make it for you. You can watch Tom and Jerry till then.’
‘No, I am full. Can I go home?’
‘I make the best strawberry shake in the world. You’ll never want to go home once you taste the shake.’
‘Now, be a good girl and watch television.’
‘Maybe, it will be fine this time. I think he has changed. Maybe, he will not play the ‘game’ with me. I do not like the game,' she thought to herself as he prepared the ‘best’ strawberry shake in the world.
‘And here it is. Did anyone tell you that you’re the most beautiful girl in the world?’
She smiled awkwardly. She took the glass and started having the shake. She sipped in as slowly as she could. Something told her that that was the longest she could push it. The shake finished off eventually.
‘Let’s play something.’
‘I don’t want to play; I have homework to do. Please.’
‘It’ll just take five minutes, I promise. Let me help you.’
‘I don’t like it. Let me go.’
‘Okay, okay princess.’
‘See, that was all.’
She let him do it again. She still didn’t tell anyone about it. Regret!
Magenta parallel suit. It was so much in vogue those days.
‘Honey, I’m going to the market. Bhaiya will help you out with the sums. Please take care of her, okay? The food is in the fridge, warm it for a minute in the microwave if she feels hungry,’ mom said.
‘Don’t you worry Aunty, she’s my little princess.’
‘You’re always such a help, darling. Aanya is one lucky girl.’
It ended with ‘Don’t tell anyone about it. That kid who told her sister, her parents died a week later’, again. She let him do it, again. She didn’t tell anyone, again. Regret was pinching her like a thousand sharp needles being punched into her body. It pained immensely but she embraced it. she felt that she deserved the pain, each bit of it. Weakness meets pain and deservedly so.
Scenes after scenes flooded the room. She was in all of them; different coloured dresses, different rooms but they all ended similarly, creating the same suffocating feeling in her chest. She wanted to scream, cry and rebuke herself, all at the same time.
Tears kept falling down her cheeks for what seemed like a very long time. She stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth to dampen the sound of sobbing. She slapped herself repeatedly for being so weak that she could not put her foot down and tell him to get lost. She drowned in the pool of regret for not telling anyone about it. And, finally she pitied herself for the remainder of night. She felt sympathetic about the fact that she let her body be used by someone and guilty for letting it happen.
There are many Aanyas around us, stuffing the handkerchief in their mouth to dampen the sound of their cries. We need to hear more intently. There are many Aanyas who lose their innocence, their pink rosy childhood, a little too soon. Let us talk to the children in our family; educate them about the right and wrong touch, about sex, about physical intimacy. Let the tears be there only for the broken toys and not broken souls.