She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf.
A group of men was huddled together at her back. She could hear that they were discussing something in urgent important whispers. Despite talking in low voices, they had the attention of crowd of the café. Some of the lucky people who have managed to occupy a table were even standing to get a glimpse of the proceedings of the group. However, Itika was oblivious to the commotion.
Strings of the last slap were still vibrating in her ears. It had become a regular phenomenon since the day she has moved with him in the posh apartments of the locality. The year of courtship has felt the most beautiful year of her life. She has known how princesses of the world must have been living. How their wishes must have been fulfilled even by simple flutter of their eye lashes.
It must have been her clothes that have pissed him off. “Are all people from Rajasthan that beautiful?” She was told when she wore her favorite knee-length dress to their first date. She has stopped wearing short dresses that accentuates her figure. Most of them fit her so perfectly that every part of her body is distinctly visible.
“Why don’t you wear your blue printed dress you wore to my birthday party?” Her best friend at office quipped as they were discussing what to wear to tomorrow’s office party. “I have lost it while shifting.” She lied to her friend’s disappointing tut. She will not have to be scrutinized for dressing inappropriately.
She likes coming to her office as it takes away her mind from the issues at home. She cannot even discuss her problems with her parents anymore. They have not been talking to her ever since they got to know about her live-in relationship from her relatives. It cannot be accepted that she is living with a boy without getting married.
“But, we will eventually get married.” She pleaded to her mother.
“Then why not now?” Her mother retorted angrily.
“We both want to focus on our careers right now.” She said exasperated, knowing quite well that she would hear slamming of phone next. It has been two months since the phone call. She has not talked even once to them and they have also not bothered to call her.
Her office and its liveliness have kept her engrossed in the last few months. But, her issues at home have started to fade even her energy at work.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a long day at work.
“Come, I will drop you. I am going home too and it is not safe to go all alone at this time.” Her middle-aged boss offered. What if he sees that different men accompany her to drop her at odd times? She does not know what she will have to go through tomorrow. “That’s ok boss. I need to send out something. You go ahead.” She replied in falsely sweet tone.” I give you official permission to send it out tomorrow.” He said in his characteristic good-natured tone snatching her laptop. “I love Neemrana Apartments. I also wanted to live there but my wife’s office would be far away then.” He shared as he drove his white Honda through almost deserted roads.
“So, who all are in your family?” Boss inquired in a friendly tone.
“I stay with my partner.” She replied meekly. She caught a glimpse of his disgusted face in the front mirror.
The lights were already on when she returned home.
Danish has returned earlier than her today. It is usually her who returns to the apartment first. She did not realize how late it is as she was immersed in her work. He must be so angry. It was so foolish of her to not take note of the time and leave on time.
She was not sure if she has even properly hidden the cake in the morning. It was Danish’s birthday today. She wanted it to be celebrated perfectly like every year. They were to cut the cake at the home and then go for their late night coffee date at the nearby Starbucks.
She rushed to the lift and pressed the button for third floor. Her nose suddenly prickled at a sharp dingy smell.”Another to do: I should talk to society manager to get lift cleaned.” She thought to herself. Anxious, she rushed to her apartment that was to the left of the lift, flat number 302. As she entered using her key, she noticed that lights were on but Danish was nowhere to be seen. She rushed to check the fridge. The cake was there, just as she has left it in the morning.
“It was a good opportunity to get things in place while Danish was not there.” She thought excitedly.
She brought the knife and cake to the central table. As soon as she stood up after keeping the cake on the table, she noticed that Hamir was standing in her front.
“What are you doing here?” She started furiously.
But, even before words were out of her mouth, she knew something is wrong.
Their society guard, Hamir, was red-eyed and smelled strongly of mix of alcohol and vomit, the same smell she picked in the lift. Apparently, he has followed her since she entered the lift. He pounced on her, tearing the arm of her blue kurta and her blue scarf off her. It led to a scuffle between them as he was trying to pin her down.
He was also muttering something. Itika could catch some phrases like wear “such short clothes” and “roam around with men”. She gave him a slap on his face.
This further angered him. He grabbed the knife from the table and threatened to kill her if she does not to concede quietly to his attempts to rape her.
Itika could hardly move out of fear. Suddenly, the world started blurring around her. How much she has changed in recent months. She constantly feels guilty about talking to any guy, she does not want to wear “proper” dresses, and she feels abnormal when she emphasizes her choices. She wanted to break free just as an innocent person wants to be free from false allegations after years of legal battle.
On this thought, she shrugged Hamir off her with all her might. The knife cut her left palm in the process. But, Hamir also lost hold of her. She pelted to the door, screaming in pain.
Then, she just ran. She kept running down the stairs. She kept running through the society compound. She kept running on the road. She kept running till she saw green and yellow lights in the blur. She finally registered that there were people around her. Somebody said her name. She blanked out in the arms of Danish.
It turned out that Hamir has been keeping tab on schedules and conversations of both Danish and Itika. However, he got worried when Danish turned earlier than Itika. But, Danish left hurriedly for the Starbucks when he did not find Itika at home, thinking she might have already gone for his birthday celebrations. Incidentally, Danish forgot to switch off the lights. As soon as Hamir saw Danish leaving and Itika entering the flat, he took the chance he has been waiting for since the first day of their moving into the apartments. Itika has sensed his intentions on multiple occasions but she has started to reconcile with his predatory behavior as she was facing pressure of being a “girl with loose morals”.
Danish saw her torn clothes and a cut on her left hand. She has mentioned her suspicions about Hamir once to him but he laughed it away. Now, he could connect the dots. He called police to investigate his apartment while he took Itika inside the coffee shop.
Police could find a knife and Itika’s blue scarf and handbag while Hamir was nowhere to be found. They arrived outside Starbucks after their investigation as Itika came back to her senses.
They will be conducting raids at Hamir’s home to nab him during the night. They have already taken his fingerprints from the knife. It will not be difficult to prove the charges, they assured Danish and Itika.
“Honey, it is the time to go.” Her boyfriend tapped her on the shoulder.
The inspection team took charge of the knife, blue scarf and handbag as they have got convinced of them belonging to Itika. They would still need them for investigation. A tough-looking inspector gave Itika an encouraging smile as he collected the evidences.
“That was very brave of you.” He said politely.
She did not reply. She was too numb to register that she has just gulped coffee. Danish wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she cried. She has wanted to cry ever since the day Hamir pressed her hand while passing on the packed box but it took her that long. However long it might have taken her, she is happy to do what every woman must do.