POETRY : My 7 commandments to not get raped: Feat-Autorickshaw by Fiona Kezia Winston

There’s a party in my auto rickshaw this night. 
In yellows, greens, grays and whites, all the lights filtered from street corners,
Motorbike heads, shop windows and a full gray, thanks to the moon-this could very well be twilight.
The boy who I knew from school just left, made me promise I’d text him once I reached home,
My whole body reverberates with a sense of numbness taking over, as the auto swerves other autos, jumps over ditches and drops into plops of semi-plastered roadside puddles,
I whisper my holy seven softly into the lights,
I remember my lessons very well, thanks to several years of auto-rickshaw-taking and auto-rickshaw-drivers-assessing: 
  1. Get into the auto. Check for emergency exits from where you can jump through from a moving vehicle (without having your knees broken, if you’re lucky). 
  2. Make a fake call to dad. “I’m coming home in this road, xyz Colony..oh! You’re just a street away from me? That’s nice.” Just me, casually seat belt buckling myself into the only safe man in my life, my airbag for a night of potential head-on clashing.
  3. Pretend like I know the map of these lands like the back of my hand. “Oh Alwarpet. Take a left, a right, a left. I know this place. Am I sure? Yes I’m sure.” (Am I though? No I’m not. Obviously.)
  4. Never make eye contact with the driver. Both direct and in the rear view mirror. Avoid his eyes like the plague. Some eyes hold secrets, some hold vengeance. Sometimes for my short skirts, for my top that has ridden a little over my midriff without my knowledge, for an accidentally exposed thigh, for my made up face, for my lips: both lipstick-painted and raw. “Don’t give him reasons to be preyed upon”, I say, in my mother’s voice this time, over and over in my head till I drown out my own voice that squeaks to a hurt halt.
  5. Keep your eyes on the streets. Look for allies on the street as they buzz by you, lost in their own cynosure of vehicle smoke, sweat stained bodies, tired eyes and tiring tires that go round and round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town.
  6. Do not smile even if he makes a joke that tugs a smile. Think of the girl that was shredded from inside the walls of a bus and thrown to the streets like a ragged doll. The doors on the bus go open and shut; Open and shut; Open and shut. The doors on the bus go open and shut; all through the town. Does that ring a bell?
  7. If the auto takes a different turn, think nothing, speak nothing, see nothing. Just JUMP through the escape route figured out in commandment 1.

The holy seven commandments run through my head as I slip my hands into my pockets and count the loose cash.

I shoot a swift glance at the rear view mirror, thereby breaking commandment 4.
I cuss softly into my handkerchief as I avert my eyes from red rimmed bloodshot eyes that look back at me.
There’s a party in my auto rickshaw this night. 
In yellows, greens, grays and whites, all the lights filtered from street corners,
And in the grays I see him turn towards me,
A sliver of cold runs through my spine as I gather my backpack in my arms and brace my body for the jump, for the possibility of the broken knees, teeth and an elbow if I’m not lucky,
He smiles and I freeze to my seat.
When he turns around to face the road again, my insides don’t seem to exist, all I can see is the bus that runs parallel to my auto, its wheels going round-round-round, a cold bloodied rod, a naked rag doll on the streets, my insides churn, I choke a little as he turns around to offer me his fingertips and gasoline-stained half empty Aquafina bottle.
I pretend to drink, as I break commandment 4 again and watch the rear view in case he’s watching me.
He’s not.

I place the bottle at my feet and my sigh heaves loud when my house grows from a dot to a fist, in the distance.
A slice of the chrome street light falls on my face, a fragment of the night, in yellows, in the colour of “I can finally breathe again”, as I step down and hand him the counted cash, balled into a wad in my pocket.

I run back into my house, my heart pounding “round-round-round” in timed syllables till I close the door behind me and suppress an urge to cry.
Tears lodge behind my throat as a loud rasp in the door tears through the night.
My house rings back an echo. Empty houses do that, just like empty hearts, I try not to think that as I bite back a sob.
I prepare for the worst, my hands in a fist as I unlock the complicated locks specially designed for single women in unsafe localities. 
Twist once-round the dial, twist twice, round-round-click! Swipe, press, let go, the clasp of the handle falls heavily about with a creak.

My town is a hotmess of unsafe happenings and my newspapers are filled with more gore than news, but I can think of nothing, as I open the door to see him standing at my doorstep, a smile that stretches across his face.
Eye to eye,
One corner of his face to the next,
Dimple to dimple.
It might’ve been sinister if the chrome street lights threw him a ray of light from a different angle, but no lights fall on his face and he looks more like a man I used to know when I was young than the Hannibal Lector I had imagined his face would be like, up close.
I watch him pull the lever of his stubborn auto gear twice and then leave into the night with a puff of gasoline smoke behind him.
If I noticed carefully, I might’ve seen the party in his auto rickshaw this night.

But I see no lights when he leaves, only the crumpled 100 rupee note in my hand and the “you gave extra cash Mam” in my ears ringing like a rhyme, overlapping the round-and-round-and-round in my head, 
As I type out a message: “I reached home” to the boy I met before, and hit send.

About the Writer:
Fiona Kezia Winston is a Spoken Word Artist, Published poet, Writer, amateur boxer and PhD scholar from Chennai. She has authored 3 books till date and is currently working on 2 more. Fiona believes in the power of words and passionately hopes to change the world, one word at a time.


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