New Hori­zon

Af­ter the heal­ing touch.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Susheela Menon

hreya phoned her mother and said, “Mummy, I’ll be a bit late to­day.” “Why?” “Boss wants me to com­plete cer­tain work to­day it­self,” ex­plained Shreya.

“It’s al­ready 7 pm. Try to come as early as pos­si­ble.” “Okay, mom.” Shreya worked as a pro­gram­mer in an IT com­pany in Con­naught Place, New Delhi. By the time she fin­ished her work and reached the bus stop it was 9 pm. Af­ter a long wait a bus go­ing to Moti Bagh ar­rived. Shreya got in and luck­ily got a seat also. Af­ter buy­ing a ticket she placed her hand­bag on her lap, closed her eyes and tried to re­lax. But she couldn’t! An ear-split­ting sound she heard al­most made her jump from her seat. Next mo­ment the bus came to a halt with a big jerk. When Shreya looked around she saw the driver check­ing the tyres. Af­ter a while he an­nounced, “Tyre burst. The bus won’t go fur­ther,” and non­cha­lantly walked to­wards a nearby tea shop.

Be­ing the month of De­cem­ber it was quite cold and dark out­side. The pas­sen­gers willy-nilly stepped out and walked to­wards the nearby bus stop. When Shreya came out she thought, ‘If I go on foot I can reach home within 20 min­utes. Bet­ter I do that than wait for an­other bus’ and started walk­ing along the main road. Af­ter a while she turned right to take a by­lane. It was dimly lit and wore a de­serted look.

he eerie sur­round­ings scared her. She in­creased her speed to cover the lonely stretch as fast as pos­si­ble but be­fore she could reach the other end, some­one grabbed her from be­hind and sprayed some­thing on her face. Shreya lost her senses in­stantly. Soon she was taken to a car parked in a se­cluded cor­ner and shoved into the back seat.

The eerie sur­round­ings scared her. She in­creased her speed to cover the lonely stretch as fast as pos­si­ble but be­fore she could reach the other end, some­one grabbed her from be­hind and sprayed some­thing on her face. “Mummy, I’ll be a bit late to­day.” “Why?” “Boss wants me to com­plete cer­tain work to­day it­self,” ex­plained Shreya. “It’s al­ready 7 pm. Try to come as early as pos­si­ble.” “Okay, mom.”

“Don’t get up­set un­nec­es­sar­ily. She’ll be here soon,” con­soled Shreya’s fa­ther.

They waited for her for al­most an hour. Then Shreya’s mother sug­gested, “Per­haps, she must be at the bus stop. Let’s go and pick her up.” “Then get ready.” Shreya’s par­ents might have cov­ered al­most a kilo­me­tre when her mother yelled, “Stop... Stop.”

“Why? What hap­pened?” asked Shreya’s fa­ther glanc­ing at her.

“I saw a girl ly­ing by the road­side,” replied Shreya’s mother in an ap­pre­hen­sive tone.

Soon they came out of the car and walked to the spot. As soon as Shreya’s mother saw the fig­ure she cried, ”My child!” and plonked down be­side her daugh­ter. Next mo­ment, when she no­ticed Shreya’s di­shev­elled hair, torn clothes and pale face, she could not con­trol her emo­tions. She wailed, “Some­body has spoiled my girl. Her life is ru­ined,” as she fondly stroked her daugh­ter’s hair.

er hus­band stood watch­ing her for a while. Then he spoke in a se­ri­ous tone, “If you go on wail­ing like this peo­ple will soon come to know of it. In­stead let’s take her home.” She just nod­ded.

Shreya re­mained in a dazed state for a cou­ple of hours. When she re­gained con­scious­ness her thoughts went back to the pre­vi­ous night. ‘While re­turn­ing home some­one had caught hold of me and sprayed some­thing on my face. Then?’ She pon­dered for a long time but could not re­mem­ber any­thing. The ques­tion haunted her con­stantly. As days passed she be­came quite with­drawn and aloof and re­mained in her room most of the time think­ing about the in­ci­dent. Her strange be­hav­iour wor­ried her par­ents. They watched her for a fort­night and then took her to a psy­chi­a­trist.

fter three months of coun­selling Shreya re­cov­ered from trauma and de­pres­sion and started lead­ing a nor­mal life. That day, while re­lax­ing in her room, snatches of con­ver­sa­tion from the ad­join­ing room fell on her ears. “Didi, you know quite well that Shreya’s life is now al­most ru­ined af­ter that night’s ghastly in­ci­dent. But have you thought about the fu­ture of your two other daugh­ters? Do you think good al­liances will come for them if Shreya stays in this house?” asked Shreya’s mausi who had come from Chandigarh.

Her mother replied in an an­gry tone, “Don’t for­get that Shreya is also my daugh­ter. The poor girl is slowly re­turn­ing to life. And you’re af­ter her.”

“Please don’t mis­un­der­stand me, didi.” Then her mausi ex­plained, “What I was go­ing to sug­gest was let Shreya take up a job in a dif­fer­ent city and stay there.”

“How can I send my girl away? That too all alone to a new place?” replied Shreya’s mother in a wor­ried tone.

“I know it’s dif­fi­cult but you have to do it to over­come the present sit­u­a­tion. And the ear­lier you de­cide on it the bet­ter it is for all of us,” said Shreya’s mausi can­didly.

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to their con­ver­sa­tion Shreya sat think­ing, ‘Mausi’s words in­di­cate that some­thing un­to­ward had hap­pened that night. That is why she says that my stay­ing in this house could ham­per the fu­ture of my two sis­ters.’

hreya pon­dered for a while. Then she phoned her friend and said, “Hello, Ran­jitha! Are you free tomorrow morn­ing?” “Yes, my dear.” “I have an im­por­tant mat­ter to dis­cuss with you. Can we then meet at the cof­fee house near your home around 11 am?” “Agreed.” While hav­ing cof­fee, Shreya men­tioned the pre­vi­ous day’s con­ver­sa­tion be­tween her mother and mausi and then said in a chocked voice, “I don’t want to bring dis­grace to the fam­ily or spoil the lives of my sis­ters. Hence I have de­cided to leave Delhi. But be­fore that I must have a job to sup­port my­self.”

“You mean you want to leave your fam­ily and go to dis­tant place?” asked Ran­jitha in a sur­prised tone.

“Yes. I have to do that for the sake of my fam­ily.

That day, while re­lax­ing in her room, snatches of con­ver­sa­tion from the ad­join­ing room fell on her ears. “Didi, you know quite well that Shreya’s life is now al­most ru­ined af­ter that night’s ghastly in­ci­dent. But have you thought about the fu­ture of your two other daugh­ters? “I’ll wait for you. But prom­ise me that you’ll call me reg­u­larly. That’ll give me the strength to sus­tain me till you re­turn and make me your own,” sighed Shreya.

And I need your help for that.”

“My help?” said Ran­jitha in an as­ton­ished tone.

“Ah!, Ran­jitha. Re­mem­ber, you once told me about your sis­ter work­ing in a se­nior po­si­tion in an IT com­pany in Agra. If you could talk to her about find­ing a job for me,” said Shreya and looked at her friend.

an­jitha pon­dered for a while and then replied, “Let me have a word with her. Last week when she phoned me she men­tioned about some open­ings com­ing in her of­fice and asked me to ap­ply but l’m not very keen since I don’t want to stay away from my par­ents.”

“I too wish to re­main with my fam­ily and work in Delhi but now every­thing is over,” sighed Shreya.

Plac­ing her hand on Shreya’s shoul­der Ran­jitha con­soled, “Don’t lose heart, dear. Every­thing will be fine.” But the next mo­ment when she re­mem­bered about Arun she turned to Shreya and said, “But what about Arun? He’ll be sad to know that you have left Delhi and gone to a dif­fer­ent city.”

“He’ll not only be sad but will also start de­test­ing me when he hears the whole story,” replied Shreya in a melan­choly tone.

Soon scenes from the past flashed be­fore her eyes. That day Shreya, as usual, boarded the 9 o’clock spe­cial bus for go­ing to her of­fice in Con­naught Place. It was al­most full. A few min­utes later she got a seat next to a young man busy read­ing a book. Af­ter a while he closed the book and was go­ing to put it in his briefcase when it slipped from his hand and fell on Shreya’s side. She picked it up and handed it to him. Af­ter thank­ing her he just smiled, “Work­ing some­where?” Shreya just nod­ded. Next day when Arun saw her at the bus stop he flashed a smile and said, “Hello.” Shreya re­sponded with a smile. Her charm­ing smile, beau­ti­ful eyes and tall fig­ure at­tracted him to­wards her. And their trav­el­ling by the same bus for go­ing to their of­fices and get­ting down at the same stop made things easy for Arun to be­friend her.

s days passed, Arun and Shreya be­came close friends. They of­ten met at cof­fee houses, restau­rants and parks and sat talk­ing about their col­lege days, hob­bies, of­fice work and fu­ture plans. Arun, man­ager in a small firm in CP, had al­ready done the ground­work to land on a job in the States. Shreya planned to stick to her job and do an MBA (part time).

That day when Arun en­tered the cof­fee house he was beam­ing with hap­pi­ness. “Do you want to hear the good news?” said Arun as soon as he saw Shreya.

“Got a job in the USA?” smiled Shreya.

“You guessed right. They want me to join within a month,” said Arun ex­cit­edly.

“Hardly any time left,” said Shreya in a de­pressed tone.

“I know.” Both re­mained silent for a while. Then Shreya urged in a melan­choly tone, “Why don’t you try for a bet­ter job here it­self?”

run looked into her beau­ti­ful eyes and said, “I know why you’re say­ing that. I too am sad to leave you and go to a dis­tant coun­try but to come up in life one has to en­dure such sit­u­a­tions.” Then he added, “But don’t lose heart. I’ll come on leave as soon as I’m set­tled there and we both shall fly to the States as man and wife.”

“I’ll wait for you. But prom­ise me that you’ll call me reg­u­larly. That’ll give me the strength to sus­tain me till you re­turn and make me your own,” sighed Shreya.

“I’ll do that,” as­sured Arun tak­ing her hand into his.

Ran­jitha’s words, “Hello! Are you here or in Amer­ica?” brought Shreya back to the present.

Two months later Shreya got a Pro­gram­mer’s job in Ran­jitha’s sis­ter’s of­fice in Agra. Shreya stayed with her for a month. Then she moved to a small rented apart­ment near her of­fice. As days passed Shreya started link­ing her work, the of­fice am­bi­ence and the city of the Taj Ma­hal.

Two years rolled by. Mean­while Shreya’s par­ents vis­ited her a cou­ple of times and spent some time with her.

It was a Sun­day. Shreya was leisurely hav­ing her morn­ing cup of tea but be­fore she could fin­ish it the door bell rang. Who has come so early? Won­dered Shreya as she went to an­swer the door­bell. As her eyes fell on the hand­some

“Arun!” ut­tered Shreya ner­vously. When Arun said, “Are you go­ing to make me stand here the whole day?” Shreya in­vited him in. While hav­ing cof­fee she asked in a tremu­lous voice, “When did you ar­rive from the States?” “Last week.”

young man dressed in blue jeans and black T-shirt stand­ing near the door a shiver ran through her spine.

“Couldn’t recog­nise me?” said the young man with a twin­kle in his eye.

“Arun!” ut­tered Shreya ner­vously.

When Arun said, “Are you go­ing to make me stand here the whole day?” Shreya in­vited him in. While hav­ing cof­fee she asked in a tremu­lous voice, “When did you ar­rive from the States?”

“Last week. Any­way, how does it mat­ter to you?” said Arun in a touchy voice.

“Why do you say so?” coun­tered Shreya.

“Be­cause you didn’t re­spond to my phone calls or e-mail for the past cou­ple of years.”

“I couldn’t. I was un­well for a while,” said Shreya in a sub­dued tone.

“What hap­pened?” asked Arun, his voice mel­low­ing a bit.

“I was un­der treat­ment for de­pres­sion.”

“How come? You were quite okay when I went to the States,” said Arun in a sur­prised tone.

Shreya sat think­ing, ‘Should I tell him about that in­ci­dent? How will he take it? But how long can I hide it from him?’ She then turned to him and spoke in a se­ri­ous tone, “Arun, I just want to tell you that the Shreya sit­ting in front of you is not the same girl you knew be­fore go­ing to the States.”

“What are you talk­ing? I don’t un­der­stand,” said Arun in a con­fused tone.

“I don’t want to give you more de­tails since that would spoil your mood.”

“Shreya! Please stop talk­ing in rid­dles and tell me every­thing in de­tail,” said Arun in an ir­ri­tated tone.

Af­ter a brief si­lence Shreya took a deep breath and then nar­rated in a ner­vous tone about the ghastly in­ci­dent of that night; the de­pres­sion and trauma she went through there­after; the coun­selling she un­der­went to over­come them and her leav­ing Delhi to take up a job in Agra.

he shock­ing rev­e­la­tion stunned Arun. “What are you say­ing?” said Arun shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief.

“It’s true, Arun,” said Shreya as she wiped the tears flood­ing her eyes.

“But you didn’t tell me about it all these days,” com­plained Arun.

“As I told you, I was in a pe­cu­liar state of mind af­ter that hor­ri­ble in­ci­dent. Later on when I re­cov­ered, my con­science whis­pered, ‘You know your life is doomed af­ter that fate­ful night. Then why do you hang on to him?’ “I pon­dered over it for sev­eral days and fi­nally I de­cided, with a heavy heart, to dis­tance my­self from you,” ex­plained Shreya in a voice choked with emo­tion. Arun sat still look­ing into the dis­tance.

Af­ter a while Shreya added, “I have done that for your good. It’s my wish to see you marry a vir­tu­ous girl and lead a happy life.”

“Thanks for your noble thoughts,” said Arun turn­ing to her and got up to leave.

Shreya fol­lowed him to the car. Be­fore he left she said, “Hope you’re not cross with me?”

“Not at all,” replied Arun curtly and left the place.

“You look quite tired and de­jected. What’s the mat­ter, son?” asked Arun’s mother as soon as she no­ticed his gloomy face.

“Just the long drive, mom,” replied Arun and went to the toi­let to freshen up.

Arun’s mother was aware of her son’s af­fair with Shreya and his de­sire to marry her. So when he came to the draw­ing room she of­fered him a glass of fresh juice and went and sat by him on the sofa. She then asked, “How is Shreya? I still won­der why she left Delhi and took up a job in a small city like Agra.”

“Some­thing dread­ful hap­pened which com­pelled her to leave Delhi,” replied Arun with­out look­ing at his mother.

“Some­thing dread­ful?” re­peated Arun’s mother and looked at her son for more de­tails.

Af­ter pon­der­ing for a while he re­luc­tantly told her about the ghastly in­ci­dent and the reper­cus­sions Shreya faced af­ter that.

Af­ter hear­ing the story, Arun’s mother sat think­ing about the in­ci­dent that hap­pened in her life two decades ago. She and her hus­band were re­turn­ing home on their scooter af­ter watch­ing a late-night movie. When they reached an iso­lated stretch, two peo­ple on a mo­tor­bike came from be­hind and blocked their way by park­ing the bike hor­i­zon­tally in front of their scooter. One of the fel­lows then held her hus­band while the other hit him on the head. When he fell un­con­scious on the ground they caught hold of her and tried to mo­lest her. But luck­ily he was saved in the nick of time by a mar­riage party pass­ing that way in a van.

run’s voice, “Mummy! What are you think­ing so deeply?” brought her back to the present.

“I was just think­ing about Shreya. This is the time she needs the love, care and sup­port of her fam­ily,” said Arun’s mother in a con­cerned voice. “By the way, how’s she man­ag­ing all alone in the new city?”

“Just pulling on but she has be­come quite elu­sive and with­drawn. I had to try hard to get her talk.”

“Af­ter such in­ci­dents girls usu­ally be­come more cau­tions and alert,” said Arun’s mother.

“She feels guilty and blames her­self for what­ever had hap­pened. And her self-es­teem has plunged so low that she feels she is un­fit to be­come my life part­ner.”

“And what is your plan?” asked his mother in a se­ri­ous tone.

“Seems the hap­pen­ings of that day – the de­lay in leav­ing her of­fice; the break­ing down of the bus she was trav­el­ling in and

Af­ter a brief si­lence Shreya took a deep breath and then nar­rated in a ner­vous tone about the ghastly in­ci­dent of that night; the de­pres­sion and trauma she went through there­after.

was des­tined to hap­pen hap­pened. But do not brood over the past and spoil your health.”

“I try not but some­times…”

“I can un­der­stand your feel­ings. That’s why Arun and my­self are plan­ning to take you back to Delhi,” said Arun’s mother throw­ing a glance at Arun sit­ting on the op­po­site side.

“To Delhi? No aunty, no,” pleaded Shreya ner­vously.

“Don’t be so scared. You’ll be safe and well looked af­ter in our house,” as­sured Arun’s mother.

“In your house?” said Shreya in a con­fused tone.

“Ah, Shreya. We al­ready had a talk with your par­ents and they have agreed to our pro­posal. Only your con­sent is re­quired,” said Arun’s mother turn­ing to her.

Re­al­i­sa­tion soon dawned on Shreya. She threw a quick glance at Arun and then replied to his mother with a sigh, “Af­ter that aw­ful in­ci­dent I have stopped think­ing about my life. But I wish to see Arun lead a happy mar­ried life. And I have al­ready told him about it,” and got up from the chair.

But Arun’s mother made her sit and spoke lov­ingly, “Like you, Arun too wishes to see you lead a happy life. And it shows that both of you, in spite of the ad­verse hap­pen­ings, care for each other and love deeply and sin­cerely. Then why are you hes­i­tant to agree to our pro­posal?”

hen Shreya re­mained mum, Arun’s mother said, “Well, all know that what­ever had hap­pened was not due to your fault. It was just the com­bi­na­tion of events of that day which had led to such an un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent.”

“But how can I...?” said Shreya tears flow­ing down her cheeks.

“I know it’s dif­fi­cult to for­get such a dread­ful in­ci­dent and start a new life but you can do it by ig­nor­ing the un­pleas­ant thoughts and by think­ing about the happy events of the past,” ad­vised Arun’s mother.

Shreya sat lis­ten­ing, her eyes fixed on the floor.

A few months passed. That day Arun, as usual, got ready to leave for of­fice. When he reached the front door, he sud­denly stopped and called out, “Shreya, my car key.”

As Shreya came out of the kitchen to fetch the key, her mother-in-law, sit­ting on the sofa, com­mented in a lighter vein, “Hurry up. The ab­sent-minded pro­fes­sor is wait­ing.”

Shreya re­sponded with a light smile and rushed to get the key. We

But Arun’s mother made her sit and spoke lov­ingly, “Like you, Arun too wishes to see you lead a happy life. And it shows that both of you, in spite of the ad­verse hap­pen­ings, care for each other and love deeply and sin­cerely. Then why are you hes­i­tant to agree to our pro­posal?” Arun’s mother throw­ing a glance at Arun sit­ting on the op­po­site side. “To Delhi? No aunty, no,” pleaded Shreya ner­vously. “Don’t be so scared. You’ll be safe and well looked af­ter in our house,” as­sured Arun’s mother. “In your house?” said Shreya in a con­fused tone.

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