CREATIVE FICTION : It wasn't my fault by Rupam Sabharwal
The crescent of the moon looked beautiful, hidden behind the clouds. It was a breezy night, the roads were quiet. Mumbai looked different at 3 am- calm. But, there was an uneasiness behind the quiet; Rashmi was awake. Her brown eyes were tired but they wouldn’t shut to let her sleep. She didn’t want ‘the dream’ to haunt her again.
Gasping for breath she sat on the bed and wiped the sweat from her forehead. Her puffy eyes checked the other side of the bed; it was vacant. It was her decision to stay alone, but sometimes she wished someone could hold her.
She wore her chappals and went to the bathroom.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaa!!” She screamed as she switched on the light.
It took her a few seconds to realise that it was her own frightened self in the mirror. The splash of water on her face was invigorating. She tied her loose brown curls into a bun and went to the kitchen.
Rashmi made a quick cup of coffee and went to her favourite place in her apartment, her balcony. The cold breeze and the hot coffee were comforting.
Her phone flashed as she picked it up. It was 3: 30 a.m. She dialled a number and disconnected it hastily. Her fingers trembled; they wanted to dial the number again, while her mind told her not to. She chose the latter like always and put her phone aside. Sleep was gradually taking over her but she wouldn’t sleep yet.
She got her diary and a pen from her room and sat on the bean bag.
“It wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault! I was just 14……” the pen carved till she finally slept off under the cloudy sky.
The alarm on her phone beeped loudly at 7:15 am. Rashmi put it off and slept again. Her phone rang at 9 am; she jumped off the bean bag.
“I... I am on my way, just reaching, please cover for me.” It was her annual appraisal and she was late. She was ready in the next 10 minutes and reached office in another 20.
Mr Makhija , the Head of Marketing of Purple Creations was furious. At 55, he was the senior most in the office. He was snobbish with women and Rashmi didn’t like it. Last week his comments had infuriated her yet again, triggering a fresh wave of assault from her traumatic memories; he believed the clients were happy because she was a woman. Today she was at fault but couldn’t explain her sleeplessness to Mr Makhija.
Rashmi gasped for air as she rushed to Mr Makhija’s cabin. She adjusted her skirt and tied her hair neatly as she entered. She apologised for the delay but Mr Makhija frowned, his angry eyes greeted her, “The appraisal is over!”
“But, Mr Makhija…”
A visibly annoyed Mr Makhija continued, “Is this how you dress for work?”
She was numb.
“This is not how you dress Rashmi, wear your denim with a loose top. Don’t invite attention, you are a girl.” She could hear her mother speaking to a 14-year-old Rashmi.
She retaliated a few seconds later, “Why don’t you teach me?”
She wouldn’t leave without speaking her mind today and continued, “What bothers you, the length of my skirt or your eyes that keep wandering where they shouldn’t? Five years and my clothes speak more than my work. Before you tell me to leave, I am going to clear my desk!” An overwhelmed Rashmi banged the door shut as she left.
Mr Makhija was flabbergasted. He was never spoken to like this. A 28-year-old woman had insulted him. A WOMAN! How could a woman insult him? He could see Sagar at the door when Rashmi left his cabin. Mr Makhija felt ridiculed and must do something about it.
“Sagar!” he yelled.
Sagar had been in Mr Makhija’s team for 10 years. He was the one who brought Rashmi on board and knew she was the best performer in his team. His empathetic eyes followed her. Just then Mr Makhija screamed his lungs out, “Sagar! You hired this one! I had always told you women like her are a misfit. Did you hear what she said?”
“I will be right back Mr Makhija.” Sagar hurried away, agitating him even more.
He ran up to Rashmi and asked her, “Need some help with packing your stuff?”
Rashmi was upset; she had expected him to stand by her. This could not have been her reward for the sleepless nights she had given to this company. She had created the best advertising solutions for their clients. Her first tear dropped and the rest followed in an unbroken stream.
Sagar looked into her wet brown eyes and told her, “You are really strong, Rashmi. You were right, it wasn’t your fault.”
“It wasn’t my fault mom, it wasn’t my fault…” Rashmi could see her 14-year-old self, pleading.
“Guess what, you are not leaving alone, I am coming with you.” Sagar winked.
She was flustered. “But.. Sagar…Saaagar…” she called as he ran to Mr Makhija’s cabin.
“Mr Makhija, Sorry, I had to speak to Rashmi.” Sagar breathed heavily.
“Just take her resignation and tell her to leave as soon as possible. I don’t want to see her in my office! Women like her….” Mr Makhija was shivering with anger.
“Sir, WE are leaving.” He cut him as he spoke.
“Whattttt? Have you gone out of your mind? After 10 years here you should know where you belong. Don’t you know you are due for a promotion?” Mr Makhija sounded a little nervous and defeated.
“Thanks for the experience Mr Makhija; I know where I belong. I should have known that much earlier.” Sagar too banged the door of his cabin as he left.
After a few hours of paper work Sagar and Rashmi left the premises of Purple Creations, forever.
It had been an eventful day. Rashmi was tired and quiet. Sagar offered to drop her home as he started his car.
“I told you to stay away from men, you are a girl.” She heard her mother scolding 14-year-old Rashmi.
“Helllloooo!! Sagar waved at her. She nodded and got into the car.
“Umm… would you like to have something?” She asked him nervously as they reached her society gate. He agreed and accompanied her. This was the first time Sagar was visiting her place.
He was stunned by the beautiful earthen pots placed at the entrance. He picked one as Rashmi opened the door.
She smiled and said, “I paint these pots and wall hangings over the weekend. The next time you come over, you will see some more of these.”
She put her carton down one of the corners and went into the kitchen to make some instant noodles and coffee for them.
Sagar was awestruck; She had done up her house really well. The vibrant wall hangings that she had painted herself, the cushions and the curtains added colour to her beige and walnut coloured living room.
He walked along the wall and there were numerous photo frames at the corner. Each captured Rashmi with one or two more people.
“Is that you Rashmi? How old are you in this- 14 or 15? And is this your mom?”
“It wasn’t my fault mom, it wasn’t…” the 14-year-old Rashmi pleaded in her mind.
“Careful! Sagar rushed in to simmer the stove.
“Oh, sorry. I..I..” Rashmi’s voice cracked.
“It’s OK you sleepy one. You look such a kid in that pic, your mom looks beautiful.”
Rashmi forced a smile and headed out of the kitchen with the coffee mugs. Sagar followed her with the bowl of noodles. She lay the plates and forks on the table and Sagar dug into the couch comfortably. She sat next to him and poured him some coffee.
“I think we can start our own agency. Would you like to be my partner?” Sagar suggested as he sipped his coffee.
Rashmi felt elated. Sagar had been a good boss, but today she knew he trusted her too. She nodded in affirmation as she sipped her coffee.
“We have experience and we know the clients. But, it will come with some adjustment- no salary for a few months, may be years.”
That wasn’t a concern for her; she had her savings to take care of that.
He added, “You can save this rent too, your parents stay in Mumbai only no?”
“Noo!!” She was anxious. Sagar noticed this. She was quick to add, “I mean, I am so used to staying alone, I can’t stay with anyone now.” Rashmi was sweating.
“Are you ok? It isn’t that hot, why are you sweating?” Sagar was worried.
“No. Nothing, I think I need some fresh air.” She rushed to the balcony and lit a cigarette. Sagar was confused, something was odd, but he couldn’t figure what it was.
“I am sorry Rashmi, it’s been so many years, please come home.” Rashmi heard her mother again.
The sun wasn’t down, but it was pleasant. Sagar followed her to the balcony. She lit another cigarette; he took that from her and extinguished it. Sagar’s inquisitive eyes met her frightened ones. None of them spoke for a while, but there were words in their silence. Sagar knew there was something that was troubling her, but she didn’t speak at all.
“I will see you tomorrow then, day one for us.” Sagar patted her shoulder. Rashmi smiled and looked at the busy streets of Mumbai as Sagar went for the door.
Just as he turned, he saw her diary. He opened it and read, “It wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault! I was just 14……”
What could this mean? He flipped a few pages and read, “I can’t forgive you, mom. I will never come back…”
He flipped some more pages and read, “I hate you! You can’t haunt me. How could he do this to me? He calls himself my father. I was just 14. I was growing mom and it wasn’t my fault. I was not dressed right and papa could do ‘that’ to me. Once, twice… so many times…You were my mother and you told me it was my fault. How could you blame me, mom? It wasn’t my fault mom, it wasn’t...”
Rashmi snatched the diary from him. She was exasperated, shivering as she spoke, “How dare you? Get out of here, Sagar! It wasn’t my fault; I was just 14.” She broke down like a child.
Sagar was appalled; he had never expected a father to molest his own daughter. Rashmi had been dealing with this trauma for the past 14 years. He felt sorry for her, for every woman who faced this.
Sagar did something he had never done before. He hugged her as she wept in his arms. He caressed her and said, “It wasn’t your fault Rashmi, it wasn’t your fault.” In that moment a new friendship developed for life.
Sagar had to help Rashmi, she didn’t deserve this pain. He looked for helpline numbers and talked to people. He finally spoke to a therapist, Mrs Kapoor and started with the first step. He next spoke to the police officer and informed them about Rashmi’s trauma.Rashmi needed to be able to leave her past behind - it wasn’t her fault.
About the Writer:
Rupam Sabharwal is a Regional Manager, Artist, Traveler and Story teller.
She aims to visit every country and experience their culture. She is a creative soul who loves to paint and create 'Do It Yourself' things for her home and loved ones. Dancing gives her a high and she does that like no one's watching.
She loves reading and a cup of coffee with a book is her idea of a perfect break. Writing liberates her and is her passion.