She takes a walk along her favourite road. It rises and falls with the dying swells of hill now replaced with asphalt and half-built shopping malls. She likes that even from kilometres away and despite the fog, she can still see her destination; growing taller in encouragement as she gains ground.
Today is different in a sense. For the first time in a long while, she’s aware of how quickly this road can turn. Four years ago, a young journalist was murdered here; on account of being female, some conjectured. Then two weeks ago, it was this road that carried a busload of criminals and two hapless victims to their dastardly fate – an outcome most attributed to one of them being female.
The volume is turned up on her music player but she can still spy the de rigueur obscenities hurled from rolled-down windows as cars speed away - so quickly that only she will benefit from the enraged middle finger she launches into the fog. In spite of the refreshing cold, she’s just not in the mood today.
A few yards ahead, a white taxi stops. Windows tinted (always illegal, even more so today), exhaust pipe vomiting black fumes. Two men stumble out. Not being pedestrian friendly, this road is often the next best thing to a urinal. Men Only, of course.
One of them doesn’t even bother walking into the bushes. He simply steps out of the vehicle and begins to unbutton, right in her path. Oh for fuck’s sake, she mutters, not today. He fumbles with his zip, whipping out his penis as she approaches him. He hasn’t even noticed there’s a person standing next to him.
“Kya kare rahe ho?” she yells, hoping to shame him into complying with the rules of decency.
He doesn’t move an inch. His eyes are fixed on his crotch. He still can’t seem to find his grip.
“Besharam! This is a public road!” she tries again. For someone doing the shaming, she’s beginning to feel awfully sheepish. And now scared, as he lifts his listless gaze to look at her. The man is clearly high on something.
He sneers, “Chal hat, saali.”
She takes a step back, speechless. Her facial muscles sag as she finds herself bringing her hands together, her palms joined in offering. It’s a platter serving up all of her: 30 odd years of living, loving, doing and being. 30 odd years of hugs collected from friends & family, souvenirs collected on travels, pats on the back, letters of appreciation, tears when a loved one – or a love – died. Money earned, savings made, taxes paid. Secrets kept and books read. Theories learned, experience gained. Exemplary traits, stubborn flaws, absurd quirks and every promise still to make good. Every time she felt strong. And every single time her body was up for grabs in a crowd, in an office, in a home, on a road. All up on a platter for this man wielding his penis.
To which he draws back his full concentration. She sidles past him. Looking back she spits out a filthy word. An insult born from the belly of misogyny, which, until the world changes, will continue to feel oh-so-good as it leaves her lips. She doesn’t wait for his reaction. She’s on foot and he’s got a white taxi with tinted windows. But she doesn’t speed up either. She’s just not in the mood today.
She takes refuge in the quiet aisles of a big & bright retail shop. Behind closed eyes, she makes her movie. In it, an enormous medieval cauldron filled with water is boiling over an insensed fire, flames slapping against searing hot metal. The bubbling of water is punctuated with theatrical splashes as rows upon rows of men are flung into it, naked as they came. Their wails of anguish & torture echo through her cranium and she takes in a long drag of air. “There will be a revolution,” she mutters, “and then they will kn- - - “
“Excuse, madam. Excuse, excuse.”
A tiny shopgirl gently nudges her to the side, impatient yet restrained.
She’ll have to move; it seems she’s been blocking the dandruff shampoo.