It had been a rough day at work, but Deepika was not complaining. She was going home after a gap of one year and nothing was going to spoil her mood. Her train was at 10.30 pm. it was quarter to 9 now. She stepped out of the office campus and hailed an auto rickshaw.
She looked at all the lampposts they passed, golden light spread like a curtain around the city. Cars sped by on either side of them. The lights and the noises did not bother her. She would be home by morning. Suddenly, the driver turned into a small dimly-lit lane.
“Why have you turned away from the main road?” she asked. It was not late, and she wasn’t really worried; merely curious.
“This is a shortcut, madam,” he replied.
He lowered the rexine flap with one swift movement. At the same time, a man jumped into the auto and put a knife to her throat and covered her mouth with his hands.
“Not one sound! Or this knife slices your throat. Clear?”
Deepika was paralyzed with fear. It was a brain-freeze moment when she could not think or respond. She would not have screamed even if she could. She did not even nod. She looked at the bloodshot eyes of her assailant. If she could think rationally at the moment, she would’ve concluded that the reason why he did not cover his face was that he was counting on her fear paralyzing her. This was also why she was being attacked at an hour when the main road parallel to this one was filled with traffic.
But she did not think any of this. She only saw the driver’s grin in the round mirror. She only felt her attacker’s rough hands, and heard his voice when he said to the driver, “You got a good one this time. The boss will be pleased.”
“Haha! If you like her so much, why don’t you steal a little taste before the boss eats her up!?”
“Well, don’t mind if I do!”
Deepika pushed him away with all her strength and clawed at him with her nails. “Arrrghh!! Don’t play, girl!” and the knife was pressed a little harder to her throat. The steel glint kept her voice and screams buried in her throat.
The rickshaw stopped in front of a house and she was ordered to enter quietly. Once again, she did as she was told.
“You!” her voice finally found her when she saw who was standing in the hallway, surrounded by a circle of drunk-looking men.
Mahesh was her work colleague and one of her closest friends. He was a member of the anti-harassment support group in their department and often said men who harassed women were weak-minded ones with low esteem. Seeing him here, as the man they had referred to as “boss” brought out a confused rage in Deepika.
“Look who we have here! Boys, this one’s all yours,” he said with a grin.
Deepika tried to run, but was grabbed by her earlier assailant and another man. She heard laughter around her. She was overwhelmed with rage and fear and disgust. She knew what was happening to her, she felt the pain, yet could do nothing about it. It felt alien, like it was happening to someone else and she was merely watching.
When she woke up the next day, she found herself in her hostel room, badly bruised. Her phone was ringing. It was her mother. “Sorry, I couldn’t call. Something urgent came up at office, and I missed my train.” She lied.
Later that day, she got a call from another colleague informing her that Mahesh was found dead in his house. He had hung himself.