Safe

She tries to ignore the pounding raindrops on the cobbled sidewalk. The rain is coming in hard, like a hell-hound on a mission. Despite her best efforts, she is not able to drown out the steady drip of water into puddles. She tries to discern the other sounds of the night. Willing the desolate street in the dead of the night to give something away. It’s still the rain, big drops plonking on stony ground

She relished the smell of the first raindrops on scorched earth. It brought out the romantic in her. The passion of 2 lovers reunited after the horrific summer. The pitter-patter was the proclamation of their love

A shadow flits in front of the solitary lamp post in the dingy alley and her reverie breaks. She starts walking faster, her nerve ends taut, sensitive to every impulse. The night is dark, foreboding; the clicking of her shoes the only sound for over a mile. She increases her pace. The shadow moves again behind her, she can sense an ominous presence and starts to run

It all started in the morning, her foggy brain informs her. She had finally bagged the biggest client for her company. Months of sacrificing sleep, food and any inkling of a social life finally bore fruit. The clients were glowing in their praise and quite upfront in their greed to bring her on board as an employee. Her employer sensed impending doom and the rewards were swift. The youngest director in her field, a corner office, considerable salary bump. The promise of a less arduous journey ahead. Exactly the things she needed. Her marriage of 10 years to her college sweetheart was showing the signs of frailty. Her self-destructing commitment to work stretching the marital bond. This was an opportunity to rediscover the love of the years gone by. Her husband had been supportive, but even a patient man has his limits. This promotion had come at the right time for her to stop testing those limits

The celebration party was in a cosy bar very close to her house. She was in a good mood, letting her hair down, drinking a bit too much. She wanted to forget the hard work that had brought her here and bask in the glory. That’s where things turned for the worse.

Among the admirers who wanted to see and touch the rock star, also lurked the jealous. Her partner on the job had been way too happy to let her take the bulk of the work. He was now too pissed with the adulation. His words of admiration were more of a jibe- calling her a princess who has it all and the bitch on wheels. All meant with malice, disguised as jest. He also patted her backside when she went for her speech and tried to kiss her. The stench of alcohol on him disgusted her to her very core. She felt nauseated and rushed to the washroom. Security had to remove him. The mood of the party became sombre. She was in no mood to enjoy anymore. She wanted to go back into the loving arms of her husband and relish the victory over the creep. She made an excuse and snuck away

The creep was outside, waiting for her. He apologized and offered her a ride home. She refused and started walking away. He tried to hold her hand but she pulled it away and started walking faster. He started following her, she yelled at him and that seemed to stop him on his track. She walked away, her mind troubled. After 10 minutes when she turned back and there was no one, she rested easy

She has been running for almost 10 minutes now. The heels are sending stabbing pains across her whole body but she labours on. In the days of her college, she was the type who would have stopped, fought him back. Now she is a dignified director of a company and 35 years old. The years of work have taken their toll. Her leg feels as if made of lead

She stops to catch her breath, her lungs grateful for every gulp of oxygen. In that moment while she gasps for air, she catches the same stench of alcohol. A hand reaches out from the dark and grabs her saree. She swings her bag, loosening the grip. Kicks away her shoes, the hand still has a strong grip. She starts to struggle, her pallu tears off and she is away, running like a woman possessed. She can hear footsteps now, the rain has subsided. She increases her speed, adrenaline numbing the pain in her legs. She sees her apartment building approach. She sprints towards the big gate, banging it like a demon. The sleepy watchmen rubs his eyes, aghast. He fumbles for the keys, the footsteps approach nearer. She sends out a silent prayer to every god whose existence she had laughed about at the party. The gates open and she takes off, sending a silent thank you to the colleague who had booked a place near her house. Galloping up the stairs three at a time, she reaches her door and bangs on it. Her husband opens the door, she flies into his arms and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

In a minute though, she recoils. It’s not the same warm touch. Her husband is drunk; an empty bottle of whiskey rolling on the floor. He mumbles about how a bitch at work had put him down in front of his superiors. She coils back a little. He is abusing her, calling her names she never thought he knew. Asking her if she is fucking someone from the office, because of which she is always late. The venom in his words hit her like molten lava. He comes closer. The same stench of alcohol in his breath. He grabs her and starts kissing her. The nausea sweeps over again. Forceful, hurting her, she tries to push him away; pleading with him to come with her to the bedroom. She wanted to hug him and sleep, safe from the world ensconced in his embrace. He slaps her, hard across the face. She falls on the sofa, dazed.

He comes over her, she tries to push him away, but there is no strength. He has an animal strength that she never knew existed. Her gentle, loving, caring husband has become a brute. He starts tearing her clothes away. Her cries of anguish falling on unloving ears. He gets inside her, hurting, asserting his manhood. It pains, like a needle; ripping her existence to shreds. She tries to get away, but he holds her down. The pain now transcends her body, the anguish paralyses her whole self. She looks towards the sky; Happy Promotion! the roof proclaims, staring down at her with a twinkle.

She closes her eyes