All Be­cause Of You

Lakxmi learnt to fight for her­self.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Tan­ima Das

Lakxmi smiled and nod­ded. She did not have the money to af­ford meat. She did not know why that made her feel so ashamed. Some­how shame is warped all wrong into hu­man blood and it is al­ways the wrong party who shoul­ders the bur­den of shame.

Lakxmi was care­fully up­root­ing the resid­ual hair from Zin­nia’s out­stretched right leg with the help of a starchy string. Zin­nia was obliv­i­ous to the pain and she kept on talk­ing with­out pauses. And Lakxmi lis­tened to her with wide eyed amaze­ment.

Zin­nia was cur­rently em­ployed as an HR pro­fes­sional with a big pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tion. She was born of rich par­ents who could never pay much at­ten­tion to her due to their busy work sched­ule. And thus Zin­nia tended to grav­i­tate to­wards peo­ple who pa­tiently heard her words.

Lakxmi was one such woman who al­ways lis­tened to Zin­nia and no, it was not out of po­lite­ness. The ex­cerpts of Zin­nia’s com­fort­able and seem­ingly se­cure world seemed to be like slices of a for­bid­den fruit to Lakxmi and she ab­so­lutely rel­ished that taste. Zin­nia’s fam­ily used to live close to the salon where Lakxmi worked and this bond had started back when Zin­nia was in col­lege. Al­though they had later shifted to a big­ger house at a dif­fer­ent ad­dress, Zin­nia made it a point to visit the old lo­cal­ity quite of­ten. Her sole at­trac­tion was the salon where Lakxmi was al­ways wait­ing ea­gerly for her tales.

Lakxmi was in com­plete shock when she heard the full story. Zin­nia’s boyfriend had been sleep­ing with an­other girl be­hind her back for a long time. When she found out and con­fronted him, he non­cha­lantly broke up with Zin­nia say­ing that he no longer felt any love for her.

“Did you set any­one on fire to­day?” Lakxmi asked. It was an in­side joke that al­ways made Zin­nia erupt into a mu­si­cal laugh­ter.

When she had first told Lakxmi that a part of her duty was to fire er­rant em­ploy­ees, she had paled in shock. Af­ter Zin­nia ex­plained what fir­ing ac­tu­ally meant, Lakxmi had smiled awk­wardly and added that it still seemed some­thing like set­ting some­one’s ass on fire.

“Well I might have to fire some­one very soon. We’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case of a se­nior of­fi­cer ha­rass­ing a younger col­league,” Zin­nia replied with a smile to Lakxmi.

“What did he do?” Lakxmi prompted at the hint of gos­sip.

“The girl had re­jected his ad­vances and as re­venge he de­cided to cir­cu­late mor­phed pic­tures of the girl. As soon as we have gath­ered all ev­i­dences, we will fire him.”

“Oh…so un­for­tu­nate for the girl. But lucky that she was born in a rich home; such an in­ci­dent in our fam­i­lies would have de­stroyed the girl’s life.”

“Why? You should protest against such be­hav­iour…noth­ing will change with­out protests,” Zin­nia said.

“No one will lis­ten to us, madam,” Lakxmi said as she started to slather an aro­matic lo­tion all over Zin­nia’s now smooth limbs.

“What is your hus­band do­ing these days? Still out of job?” Zin­nia changed the sub­ject.

“Yes…raghu is do­ing noth­ing all day and vent­ing his anger on me the mo­ment I get home, ” Lakxmi grum­bled.

“What? Why do you put up with that? I think bore­dom is freak­ing him out. Teach him to cook and tell him to get the chores done while you are away. It will pacify him.”

“Oh…come on,” Lakxmi brushed aside the im­pos­si­ble sug­ges­tion.

“I’ll share a very sim­ple ke­bab recipe…tell him to­day when you go back home,” Zin­nia kept on in­sist­ing.

Lakxmi smiled and nod­ded. She did not have the money to af­ford meat. She did not know why that made her feel so ashamed. Some­how shame is warped all wrong into hu­man blood and it is al­ways the wrong party who shoul­ders the bur­den of shame.

So­cial di­chotomy would per­haps not al­low de­scrib­ing the bond shared by these two women as friend­ship but we can still say that it was a very pre­cious bond of emo­tional de­pen­dency.

Both were liv­ing peace­fully amidst the lit­tle sor­rows and joys of life till that fate­ful day when mis­for­tune struck them both.

On that day Lakxmi was not feel­ing well right from the morn­ing and had de­cided to stay at home. But Zin­nia had sent out a text in­form­ing her that she would come down in the evening and she sim­ply could not turn her down. Some­how Lakxmi man­aged to start for work. But around half an hour later she started to feel too dizzy and drained. Un­able to walk any fur­ther she boarded a rick­shaw to go back.

As the rick­shaw stopped in front of the bare-bricked bar­rack where she lived, Lakxmi got a rude shock. The wooden front door with peel­ing blue paint was left ajar. She paid the fare and quickly rushed in­side. It led to a dark and swampy pas­sage that had six doors on each side. Twelve dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies lived on rent in each of these rooms. Lakxmi and Raghu lived in the last room on the right. The air seemed to reek of an un­known crime as she pro­ceeded to­wards that door.

Reach­ing the door, she was star­tled to hear the sup­pressed gig­gles of a fe­male voice. As she peeped through the crack in the door, she saw Raghu un­do­ing the blouse of their neigh­bour Meenu as she ca­su­ally fid­dled with her hus­band’s curly black hair.

Lakxmi felt like pass­ing out as she wit­nessed the be­trayal. And then in a sud­den push she opened the door and stood fac­ing the pair in the throes of pas­sion. Lakxmi glared at her hus­band for a whole minute. Raghu showed no other re­ac­tion apart from go­ing flac­cid. Lakxmi stormed out and vom­ited into the ditch out­side the bar­rack. She felt very weak and tired but she still went to work be­cause stay­ing back was no longer an op­tion.

At the salon, the girls kept ask­ing Lakxmi what was wrong but she stub­bornly kept mum. She had de­cided to open up to Zin­nia in the evening. She was the only per­son who was ca­pa­ble of telling her the right course of ac­tion.

How­ever, in the evening Zin­nia came in with a pale face and sunken eyes. She had ob­vi­ously been cry­ing for a long time. The mo­ment she en­tered the pri­vate cham­ber re­served for wax­ing, she broke down into vi­o­lent sobs. And in be­tween her sobs she told Lakxmi in half sen­tences that her boyfriend had dumped her ear­lier that day.

Lakxmi was in com­plete shock when she heard the full story. Zin­nia’s boyfriend had been sleep­ing with an­other girl be­hind her back for a long time. When she found out and con­fronted him, he non­cha­lantly broke up with Zin­nia say­ing that he no longer felt any love for her.

Lakxmi held Zin­nia’s shak­ing hands tightly try­ing to sta­bilise her as she thought to her­self de­fen­sively that there was no girl bet­ter than Zin­nia any­where.

Af­ter an hour of cry­ing in Lakxmi’s arms, Zin­nia fi­nally no­ticed that Lakxmi’s tem­per­a­ture was too high.

As her thin fig­ure slowly dis­ap­peared in the dark, some­one told Raghu that he had done the right thing. Lakxmi’s pres­ence would have been detri­men­tal to the char­ac­ter of the other women liv­ing in the bar­rack. Every­one nod­ded in agree­ment and went back to sleep in peace.

“Do you have fever, Lakxmi?” she asked in a throaty voice.

“It’s noth­ing, madam,” Lakxmi whis­pered. There was so much more she wanted to say that day.

“Take this money and go home,” Zin­nia pulled out all the money from her purse at the sud­den st­ing of her con­science and gave it to Lakxmi. “Don’t worry about your pay cut here, this will cover your losses. Take rest for this week.”

Lakxmi tried to protest but Zin­nia sim­ply pat­ted her affectionately and left for home.

That day Lakxmi took a cab for the first time to go home. On her way she wracked her brains about the sit­u­a­tion with Raghu. There was some­thing that Lakxmi too wished to tell him but could not gather the guts. But in the end she de­cided that af­ter what Raghu had done in the morn­ing, he would surely for­give her as well and give their mar­riage a fresh start.

When she reached home, she found that Raghu was com­pletely drunk.

On see­ing her, he stood up and started to mum­ble apolo­gies.

“I’m sorry Lakxmi…i didn’t want to. That girl is such a whore…she came in and lit­er­ally threw her­self at me.”

Lakxmi qui­etly went to wash her face and hands. She then vig­or­ously washed some rice to boil for din­ner.

“See, Lakxmi…it’s your fault too. Why can’t you main­tain your­self like Meenu? You work at a salon and yet you’re get­ting older and uglier.”

Lakxmi was about to light the stove but the match­stick burnt out and she could not make a fire as she felt a wrench­ing pain rise within af­ter Raghu’s com­ment.

Throw­ing away the burnt stick she turned to her hus­band.

“I too have a lot to tell you too, please come closer and sit down,” Lakxmi started.

Her hus­band came for­ward ea­gerly; it seemed to him that his tougher tone had started to work.

“Raghu, I’ll for­give you but you’ve to for­give me too,” Lakxmi said. “For­give you for what?” “I found out a cou­ple of days ago that I’m preg­nant. I need your help…”

“Preg­nant? Wow! So are we go­ing to…” A smile was about to take shape in the tired and dirt-lined face of Raghu.

“It’s not your baby, I’m sorry,” Lakxmi blurted out in a hurry be­fore fear could stop her. “What are you say­ing?” “Very sorry…it hap­pened only once…please for­give me.” Lakxmi was slowly break­ing down into sobs.

“You slut…you tell me you go to work but all this time you have been just a pros­ti­tute.”

A tight slap landed on Lakxmi’s cheek. In a sin­gle mo­ment Raghu had earned back his right to be abu­sive to his wife.

“It’s not like that…i was tricked into it. Please don’t hit me,” Lakxmi was scared now.

But her cries only acted like a cat­a­lyst to her hus­band’s rage and now he held her by her hair and banged her head re­peat­edly against the brick wall.

“Mercy…please have mercy on me,” Lakxmi begged as she re­gret­ted her de­ci­sion of telling it all to her hus­band. Zin­nia’s speeches on equal­ity seemed to have no rel­e­vance in re­al­ity.

Lakxmi’s plea and ex­pla­na­tions did not work at all as Raghu turned deaf and kept rain­ing blows at his wife. Raghu would have killed Lakxmi that night with his bare hands had the al­co­hol not dis­si­pated his strength.

Lakxmi left the bar­rack in the mid­dle of the night. It was not that her hus­band had thrown her out but she left scared by Raghu’s fury.

The other fam­i­lies watched with sleepy eyes as a cry­ing and droopy Lakxmi some­how dragged her­self out while her hus­band de­scribed in the choic­est ex­ple­tives that she was ac­tu­ally noth­ing but a slut.

No one felt any sym­pa­thy for Lakxmi. The des­o­late si­lence of the nights is not sup­posed to be scary for a vile woman who sleeps around. No one thought about the un­born child ei­ther. The child of a pros­ti­tute is not to be wor­ried about.

As her thin fig­ure slowly dis­ap­peared in the dark, some­one told Raghu that he had done the right thing. Lakxmi’s pres­ence would have been detri­men­tal to the char­ac­ter of the other women liv­ing in the bar­rack. Every­one nod­ded in agree­ment and went back to sleep in peace.

Afew months rolled by and no one both­ered to find out about Lakxmi. Zin­nia too had for­got­ten her for a while. She her­self was strug­gling with her per­sonal cri­sis. Even­tu­ally she dealt with her prob­lems and solved them. Once she had risen above her own is­sues her thoughts turned to those who had loved her much. The first per­son she tried to lo­cate was Lakxmi but un­for­tu­nately she could not find her at the par­lour.

Zin­nia kept com­ing back to the par­lour but went back dis­ap­pointed ev­ery day. No one gave her any ex­pla­na­tion about Lakxmi’s ab­sence. It seemed to be a rather hushed-up in­ci­dent. Then one day as she was sit­ting be­low a tree out­side, com­pletely cam­ou­flaged by the shades of the night, she over­heard some girls talk­ing about Lakxmi. Zin­nia trem­bled in deep pain as she heard about the sorry plight of Lakxmi. No one knew where Lakxmi was and many had given her up for dead.

Zin­nia knew deep down that her friend Lakxmi was still alive…she would not give up so eas­ily.

Lakxmi was care­fully up­root­ing the resid­ual hair from Zin­nia’s out­stretched right leg with the help of a starchy string. Zin­nia was obliv­i­ous to the pain and she kept on talk­ing with­out pauses. And Lakxmi lis­tened to her with wide eyed amaze­ment.

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