In the Middle of My Buddy’s Relationship
All I wanted was a cup of tea
Note: This essay includes details of domestic abuse.
“But why can’t I stay?” asked Pia, “Why do I have to go back?”
“Because I want to do right by them,” Abdul responded in a stern tone.
“They will never agree, Abdul. My parents are proud Hindus. They will die but won’t allow their girl to marry a Muslim boy. Why don’t you understand?” She pleaded with him, her hands folded and tears starting to roll down her cheeks.
“Don’t be selfish, Pia. Running away is not a solution. What if something happens to your parents? Think about your younger sister. No one will marry her. We will ruin her life.”
“What about us? What about me?” She yelled hysterically; what was a drizzle from her eyes had now exploded into a downpour, making it difficult for her to breathe.
Nitin fondled her handbag in a hurry and handed her the asthma pump.
Abdul moved to her side as she rested her head on his shoulders. He caressed her back, whisper shushing to comfort her.
Who are these people?
Nitin, Abdul, and I have been sharing a four BHK apartment for the past couple of years with Bhuto. We were work colleagues, all in our early twenties.
Pia, a call-center consultant, met Abdul at a birthday party for a mutual friend. They had an instant connection and were dating for over a year. Everything was hunky-dory until that doomed day a week prior.
Pia’s father saw her with Abdul in a shopping mall. It was one messy scene, Abdul told us later. Her father dragged, literally, a crying Pia home. He threatened Abdul to stay away from her, or he will report him to the police.
Things had been going downhill since; Abdul and Pia hadn’t seen or talked to each other for a week. Pia got house-prisoned by her parents, her phone, laptop taken away. She had to resign from her job. She got beaten by her father whenever she tried to talk about Abdul.
But she managed to sneak out that day. Her father was traveling out of the city.She pleaded to her mother to let her go and see her soon-to-be-married friend. Her mother agreed.
Pia called Abdul from a public telephone. She also informed her friend not to pick her mother’s call if she called her.
Abdul brought Pia to our apartment.
Back at our apartment
“Okay, I have a plan. Take this mobile phone and keep it safe and hidden. I won’t call you but, you call me when you can,” Abdul instructed her, handing over a Nokia 3310, “But the day you get caught with it, just leave home and come find me.”
“What are you doing, man?” I interrupted, “They are abusing her already. Have you seen the bruises on her hand? Do you have any idea what they will do if they find this phone on her?”
“This will give one thing I need — time. My parents aren’t supporting either. Where will I take her? What if they make a kidnapping report to the authorities,” Abdul roared, “And maybe-just-maybe her parents will understand and give us their blessings.”
“Stop daydreaming,” I roared back.
Sensing tension developing between the boys, Pia chimed in.
“It’s okay, Bhaiya (elder brother like). We don’t want to put any one of you in any trouble. Abdul is right. I must go back. We can’t do this to my sister. I will try to convince my mother, and maybe she can talk to my father.”
“Are you sure? It’s not going to be a walk in the park.” I reminded her.
“Yes, I am sure Bhaiya.”
“Okay. Promise me that you will run away and come here if you get in trouble again. Maybe call the cops with this phone if you can’t get away. But, don’t you suffer in silence anymore.”
She nodded, Abdul sighed and, Nitin gave me a confused gaze — his eyes saying he wasn’t sure if we were doing the right thing. None of us were. Sure.
Two months down the line
It was a cold December. As usual, I spent the entire Friday night in my bed watching TV. As I stretched to pick up cigarettes from the side table, a glimpse of the yellow alarm clock had it dawn on me that it was already 5 AM. Worse, I had smoked my lungs away with another pack. To find an empty cigarette carton was my biggest peeve.
I shook the empty box a couple of times, pessimistically, hoping another one would somehow fall magically. I patted the mattress, looked under the pillow, the bed, and the entire room in search of a stray, but nothing. It was time to accept the defeat. A detour was needed from the movie marathon to go to Howrah railway station for a new pack and a cup of morning tea.
The sun was peeking behind the clouds, but it would be another hour before it would come out in its full glory. I started my bike, a 2002 Hero Honda Passion Plus, with an engine quiet enough not to wake up the sleeping watchman at the main gate.
Kolkata is a quiet city in the morning, more so in winter. Besides a couple of runners, a senior- citizen on a walk, the news hawker distributing the newspapers, and a milkman cycling through the colony taking frequent stops at each house, it was a ghost town.
As I slowly drove past them and took a left turn to join the main road, a light yet cool breeze gently slapped my face, and a chill ran down my spine.
A young girl, sobbing, bare-footed, hair messed up and in a white night-gown, was wandering like a lost cub searching for her den. Even though I was driving only at ten km/hr., I squeezed the brakes so hard that the bike came to a stop almost instantly. I put it in on the stand and ran towards the girl.
“Excuse me, miss. Can I help you?” I called from behind.
My heart came into my mouth as she turned, and my eyes fell on her face, half-hidden behind bruises all over and blood oozing down the forehead.
“Pia, is that you?” I screamed in horror.
To be continued….