They were made to sit at the bright spacious room on the first floor of the three floor complex. It was her first time there. Never in her imagination had she thought she would be sitting in a police station. The police station was different from what she saw on TV. She expected lock ups and benches with the walls painted in a bright red brick pattern. It was nothing like she had imagined. But her company was depressing. She looked at the other women in the hall with her. They were chewing betel leaves and spitting out as they waited for the officer to arrive. She hated when people were late. Especially in such situations. It was disgusting to sit beside a woman with red tinted teeth. The woman reminded her house help in her native before they lost everything.
It had been a rough journey for her. Her father died when she was eleven years old. He left as usual in the morning to the rubber estate they owned only to return as a corpse at night. He was beaten to death in a toddy shop. They arrested the man in three weeks. Before she could recover from the shock, her friends gave her every single detail of her father’s death behind her back. His father had an affair with one of his female estate workers. The husband had caught them in action and beaten her father to death with the club he got to hold. She didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to curl up in her room with her bible and not venture out at all.
Her mother was a beautiful woman. It was heartbreaking to see her when she heard the news. More than the death of her husband, her inability to keep him in the house for his physical needs hurt her much. She had had a little education. The only way people remembered her was as a beautiful woman. She was also kind and helpful to their workers. Now her mother started doubting it all. She wondered how many other women her husband had molested. She had always given everything to her husband even when their daughter was at the door of puberty. She had even added sedatives in small doses in her daughter’s milk, just to make her husband happy. He loved to hit and shout when he did it. Perhaps that got him killed. She didn’t want to think any more about it.
Her mother turned her attention to God. It was her escape route. She didn’t want to deal with the fact that she was now a single mother. Their estate was in dispute with her husband’s family. Prayer and churches turned out to be her only solace. Soon there were visits from the kind priests. The second floor of their house became a prayer hall. Most of the women who came were their own estate employees.. They praised her mother for being their moral support. Little did they know that her mother was not there for her. Her mother was always found with a bible.
“Take refuge in bible dear” her mother said to her when she demanded her attention, “There is nothing like it.”
Soon her mother made the prayer room as her place. She rarely came down to the house to look after her daughter. The ever smiling pastor of the church had been too kind to her mother. After all the abuse she had faced in the hands of her husband, the pastor was nice and mellow. Though it didn’t look like she was his first, he had promised so. They were careful. But the muffled moans and occasional were too loud for the lonely, insomniac twelve-year-old. She felt that her mother was sinning more than ever. She despised her mother to have a talk with her. In her own way she started despising God too. What kind of God would allow such things? If what she had read was true, he would have caused the whole house collapse with a single thunderbolt.
She had no friends at school. Their mothers had asked them to stay away from her. It was a small town and her mother’s affair with the pastor didn’t take long to spread. They were also worried about their husbands’ sudden search of spirituality. She was left alone at the lunch hour. Her teachers treated her indifferently. When she attained puberty, the pastor became kind to her. On her mother’s insistence she took part in some church activities. She stopped it after a pastor tried to run his hands up her skirt when they drove to a distant village to spread God’s word.
She didn’t have any trouble getting good grades and getting into college. She chose to be away from home. She didn’t want to be around her mother. With all her beauty drained now, her mother had no visitors and God has become less kind to her. She chose a college in a different state but at the border of her state which made sure she could visit her mother in an overnight journey. Frankly, she didn’t care to visit. She wanted to get away from her mother, the sprawling rubber estate, and the churches. She finally had a reason to do so.
It would have been good if she had a shoulder to lean on. She couldn’t believe that she was sitting in a police station. She wished Sabu was there. But she remembered it wouldn’t have any different if he was there. He was hardly there. Even if he had stayed in her life, she wouldn’t have got the comfort she yearned. But at least she would have gotten used to visits to police station.
Sabu was from her state, spoke the same language and he was charming.. She was wary of all men. She couldn’t say if it was her age or his charm, slowly she was attracted to him. When she noticed that he was looking at her, she spent extra time on her makeup, even though her makeup was talcum powder and kajal. But she spent an extra five minutes to make sure that her talcum powder doesn’t cake in the back of her neck or her kajal run down at the side of her eye.
They started meeting after college hours. He had strong opinions on everything and leaned left. “The only thing I hate about you is your background” he would say, pointing the rubber estates which she had left behind. Little did they knew that her mother had written every inch of the land to the church. She finished college with distinction and Sabu continued to work in the college.
Thanks to her mother’s influence in the Church, she was offered a teaching role in one of the schools ran by the missionaries. Even though the people who ran the institution left a lot to be desired, the schools served its purpose. It took the downtrodden families and supported them by giving free education to their children. For a brief moment in her life, she felt helpful. She visited her mother now and then, who had become fragile due to old age and also because of a disease which was killing her from inside. She didn’t want to go to a doctor. “Who better than the great healer? I have given myself to him” she said.
Sabu stopped going to work and was busy with his party work and helping the poor when they came to know her mother expired. There was nothing left for her in her own town. The rubber estates were taken over by the churches and her relatives were not ready to take her in, because of her mother’s bad reputation. Sabu married her in a subdued ceremony. She continued to work in the school and he continued to work for his party, organizing rallies and getting arrested now and then. She thought he would settle down. But his routine became more erratic. He became violent without any reason. He would disappear for days together. She was six months into the pregnancy when she came to know that Sabu was killed in one of the ‘operations’ of the police, for his alleged connection with Naxalites. She was hounded by the police
Her house was turned upside down several times. Only the school management and few parents of her students stood with her during that time. She badly needed a support system. She wanted to turn to God. But she had started to despise him even more. She had lost her mother to God and her husband to the ideologies which he thought as God.
She got transferred to a different town. She had no help when she delivered her son. She didn’t know if she was elated or scared when the kid resembled Sahu in more than one ways. It was hard to discipline him. The absence of man in the house was very clear with the way he treated her. They scraped through with her meagre salary in the school. Soon she was promoted to be the assistant headmistress and was allocated a small one bedroom house inside the school. Things got better as her son grew up. Or so she thought.
She was now in the police station to bail him out.
It took forever for the inspector to come to his seat. His eyes were red and tired. She had stood up in an involuntary action as he had entered the room, like her pupils in the class do when she entered her classroom. Suddenly, the betel leaves chewing ladies started crying. She didn’t know if she too should follow the suit or just wait and see what was to happen like she did all through her life. The inspector was unmoved by the scenes that were happening in front of him. He gulped down a whole bottle of mineral water before he raised his hands, which shut up all the noises in the room except for the faulty ceiling fan.
“What is the issue?” he asked the sentry.
“We caught few boys trying to buy cocaine. We arrested the peddlers as well as the buyers”
“Only one boy sir. The others ran away. He was caught red handed” She knew they were talking about her son.
“Bring them” the inspector ordered. That was when she saw her son first time in the evening. He was stripped off his shirt. A long cane mark on his back told her that he was not treated kindly. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He got mixed up in the whole situation. He would have done nothing wrong. Along with him were three other men who looked like college students but there was no life in them. They looked like skeletons wrapped in skin. They moved like robots without a sense of purpose or direction or perhaps the familiarity of the whole process. The ladies started crying even more when they saw their children. That was the only moment she was able to relate to them but couldn’t join them. Her son was not looking at her but the ground, probably feeling embarrassed by the whole situation.
“Did you do it?” the inspector looked at their direction and asked to no one particular. They all nodded their heads. She couldn’t believe her eyes when her son nodded. For a split second, he looked up at her and returned his gaze to the ground. The inspector ordered the sentry to take the other women out of his office and the men back to the bench in another room. His son should have been terrified, she thought. When the sentry came back he was ordered to buy dinner for the inspector. Only then the inspector gave his attention to her.
“And you are?”
“I am the.. He is my son”
“Who? The school kid?”
She nodded. The inspector asked her to take a seat to which she obeyed. He was scrutinizing her with his eyes which wandered to places which made her uncomfortable. “Where is the father?”
“He is no more” her throat felt dry. She didn’t have the courage to ask for the water.
“Oh!” the inspector paused for a moment “This is going to be a nasty business. I am sure the media had got the scent of the arrest. Your son’s face will be all over the TV and newspaper tomorrow. We haven’t registered a FIR yet. What is his age?”
“He turns 15 by this April”
“Very young to do cocaine”
“Please, sir. I will do whatever it takes to discipline him. He was not supposed to be like this. I am a single mother and gave all my attention to him. But he didn’t seem to realize that.”
“Addiction is beyond reasons. All of us have addictions. Some try to keep the beast under control, some couldn’t. But I have to do my duty as a police officer.”
“Please… think about his future. For this mistake, his entire life will be ruined. Our life will be ruined” she said fighting her tears.
“Yes. Few moments have the power to change the life. Sometimes if we let go few minutes of our life, we can get his life back on track”
It was late at night when she woke up. She was naked and the inspector’s arm was around her. He had promised to release her son the next day morning. She tried to reason with him, refuse him but her son’s future came before everything or her life took the last priority as usual. The tiny bulb in the prayer room illuminated the figurine long haired, benevolent person who was crucified for other people’s sin. She closed her eyes and let the tears flow.
Is this what he felt when he suffered for other people? She found God, but she was not sure whether she liked him.