“Which road is this? I said GDIC college. Is this some sort of a short cut to the college? Please get to the main road, I am already running late”. She was answered with silence. “Uncle, I am talking to you, which road is this?” “This is an alternate road to the college. The main road has been blocked due to some construction work going on”. “What? But it was fine just yesterday. There were no signs that any construction work would commence from today”, saying so Indu whipped out her phone and opened google maps to gauge how far is her college from her present location. But, she was met with a searchlight icon on a blank background indicating no internet access. The time read 7:25. “Do you expect the city corporation to announce on big banners that they are gonna close the road for construction work? I am an auto driver, I travel that road regularly, do you expect to know better than me?” “Look uncle, it’s already late. I should have reached the college by now. Please get to the main road and if it’s blocked like you are saying, then I’ll walk the rest of the way to the college. Where are we?” she looked around to see if she could spot some signboards. There were none. “What will you do with the name anyway? You want to reach GDIC college right? I’ll make sure that you get there”. By then, Indu was trying to call her friend to ask if the external examiners had come or not and if they had, then to make some excuse for her. But, there were no bars in the tower symbol on her phone. “You won’t get any signal here” he was looking at her through his rear view mirror.
And suddenly it dawned on Indu the exact nature of the situation she was stuck in. They say that one’s intuition kicks into motion the minute one is in or perceives that one is in danger. Like the feeling one gets, when the silence of the night is disrupted by the loud sound of the landline ringing (which in most cases do not carry good news). Deep down, Indu had felt that intuition the moment she had looked up from her book and didn’t recognize where she was. But her brain had refused to give in and was trying to go through all the logical explanations. Now that her worst fears were confirmed, terror gripped her and she slipped into panic mode.
“Get to the main road now, I’ll walk the rest of the way”, she was beyond caring to be polite now. With her left hand clutching the book, her right hand wrapped around the femur (thigh bone) tightly, she was trying the hardest to not sound scared. “And I told you that I’ll get you to your college” “There’s no need. Stop the auto now, I want to get down” her eyes were taking in her surroundings which looked deserted, save for a few houses here and there, and prickly bushes lining the road. Not a soul was in sight. He increased the speed of the auto in reply. “I said, stop the auto now. If you don’t, then I am gonna call the police” she failed to mask the rising panic in her voice. He laughed in response, saying “Go on, try it”. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her fingers from gripping the femur too tightly. She looked down and the next second, she lifted the bone and whacked him on the head with all her strength. Yelping in pain, he slowed down the auto. Indu seized her moment and jumped out. She landed on her knees and rolled to a stop in the prickly bushes, feeling a searing pain in her left forearm where a jagged stone tore through her skin. Without sparing any thoughts on her injuries, she got up and started running in the narrow lane beside the main road fearing that he might come after her.
Suddenly, a car whizzing out of an adjacent lane halted to a stop in front of her. Indu, who was still under the adrenaline rush, raised the femur, ready to strike anyone who came near her. “Are you ok?” a female voice floated towards her. A young woman of around 25/26 years was seated behind the wheels. “Are you ok? Do you need help?” she enquired again. Registering no threat from her, Indu lowered the femur and tried to get her breathing under control. With her saree in shambles, blood gushing out from the wound on her forearm, scratches on her face and hair in disarray, Indu looked like she had been to hell and back. Her clutching the femur like her life depended on it wasn’t helping the matters either. Taking pity on her, the young woman asked if she could drop her to a hospital. The question suddenly made Indu aware of the exam that she was yet to take. Accepting the offer, she limped as quickly as she could to the passenger side only to see that there were heavy books already occupying the front seat. Smiling apologetically, the woman asked Indu to sit in the back. When Indu opened the door, it was to find that the back seat was not empty either. There was a young man around the same age as the woman, sitting behind the driver’s seat with a book in his hands. As soon as Indu sat down, the woman started the car.
“To which hospital do you want to go to?” “Actually, could you drop me off at GDIC college? I have an exam today” “I guessed it right then, that you must be a medical student from that femur in your hands, though I thought it odd that you would be carrying it openly. Anyway, my name is Ananya, and the boring guy sitting next to you, buried in his book is Atharv. We are first year Medicine PG’s (post graduates) at the Girivana hospital. What’s your name?” “Indira”. “Ananya, where is your first aid box?” Atharv asked, looking at the gushing blood from Indu’s injuries. “It’s in my seat’s back pocket. And Indira, do you live around here? How did you get injured? Did you had an accident? Are you sure that you don’t want to go to a hospital first?”. Seeing the color drain from Indira’s face, Atharv said, “Being snoopy as ever Ananya? She’s not our patient. Let her calm down before you barrage her with questions”, saying so Atharv opened the first aid box. “No it’s ok. I, umm…actually, that is…I was walking briskly since I was late for the exam and didn’t see where I was going and fell down. And the injuries are not that serious, I’ll have them looked at after the exam” said Indira, skipping the question about her whereabouts. Atharv looked at her, as there was no way that she could have gotten her injuries from a mere fall but kept silent. Ananya said, “Oh, you poor thing. These exam days are damn stressful. I remember when I was in the first year, we…”. But Indu, looking out the window was not listening. Her eyes were taking in the city waking up to a new day but the curiosity to see the city spring to life was not there in her eyes, her ears were hearing what Ananya was saying but her mind wasn’t processing the information, her forearm was cradled in Atharv’s hands and her wounds were being cleaned and dressed, but she wasn’t registering the stinging pain that the process elicited. She was numb to all feelings and sensations.
It was when they were traveling on the main road and Indu saw the intersection near her college, with no evidence whatsoever of a construction taking place, that she jolted awake and the memories of the incident rushed back to her. “STOP” Indu yelled. Ananya, who was halfway through explaining her exam experiences stopped and looked at Indu in her rear view mirror in alarm. “Stop the car, please stop the car” “But the college is still about 2 minutes away. I’ll drop you in front of the college”. “No, stop the car now! Please stop the car”. Seeing Indira panicking, Atharv placed his hand on Ananya’s shoulder and squeezed gently signalling her to stop the car. The moment the car braked to a halt, Indu flew out the door neither looking nor saying anything to her helpers. Atharv’s “…..wound is big…..requires stitches or it may leave a big scar……..” were lost on her. “Strange girl. At least she could have thanked us for giving her a lift. No basic manners in people these days” grumbling so, Ananya turned the car to go to the Girivana hospital. As he was placing back the first aid box, Atharv’s eyes lit upon the femur on the seat next to him. He looked back thinking of returning it to her if she was still there, but she was nowhere in sight. As he ran his hand over the bone absentmindedly, his fingers found a big crack in the head of the femur (the part of femur that forms hip joint with the pelvic bone). Tracing his fingers over the crack, he looked out the window, his mind filled with thoughts of Indira.
By the time Indu limped to the college and reached the practical exam hall, trying to fix up her appearance as much as possible along the way, she was late by 45 minutes. The PG guarding the entrance, took one look at her and without saying anything allowed her inside. She was directed towards the last table on which anatomy specimens were placed to be examined and to be questioned about later by the examiners. The whole day passed by a blur. She received strange looks from her classmates and examiners, but no one had any time to question her about the huge bandage on her left forearm or the scratches on her face.
It was 6pm by the time Indu came out of the Histology exam hall finishing her last viva. When she went to the side room to collect her belongings, her friends surrounded her and bombarded her with questions on her injuries and with invitations to go out and celebrate finishing first year’s exams and with questions on her holiday plans. Giving some vague excuse of tripping and falling being responsible for her injuries and mumbling something about having a splitting headache to escape the dinner plans, she excused herself and left.
The exam anxiety had acted as a blanket muffling the protests from her body. Now that the blanket had been lifted off, the pain from her injuries came out in full force, forcing her to hold onto the staircase banister tightly so as not to tumble down the stairs. When she reached the college gates, she couldn’t bring herself to climb into any of the autos parked at the entrance. With shouts of ‘Where to madam?’ following her, and her body protesting with every step, she limped her way back to the hostel.
It was 7pm by the time Indu reached her room. Not switching on the lights and dropping her bag on the floor, she swept away the bones still lying on the bed from morning’s study session onto the ground, and collapsed on the bed exhaustedly. And then, the dam over the emotions that she had tried so hard to hold onto the whole day broke, the sheer force of memories of everything that she went through hit her so hard that she lay gasping for breath. “Is it my fault that this happened with me? Should I have walked till the circle to take the auto? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so immersed in reading that I didn’t even realize when he deviated from the route! What would have happened if I hadn’t jumped? If anything had happened to me, who would have consoled Amma and Appa? Is this my fault?”. Curled up on her side like a fetus, with her arms grasping her stomach, Indu howled in pain from the injuries inflicted on her physically and mentally. She alternated between sleeping restlessly and sobbing bitterly that night. The fear of ‘What might have happened’ had gripped her tightly. If only there was someone to have held her hand that dark night.
Drenched in sweat, Indu woke up. It took her a few seconds to get her breathing under control. Turning to her left, she saw Sarojini sleeping peacefully. As she ran a hand over her face, she realized that she was crying. This was the new normal for Indu, getting woken up at nights from nightmares and then being unable to sleep the whole night. She had lost weight and sported dark circles under her eyes, which her mother had attributed to spending too much time on the mobile instead of sleeping. Indu had not shared what had happened with her to anyone. Neither her best friend nor her parents were aware of Indu suffocating from bottling up her emotions. Though she had tried to share her woes a few times, something was holding her back. It was 2 months since that incident, but she was still unable to shake off the intense fear that gripped her sometimes when something reminded her of that day. Tracing her fingers over the scar that served as an ugly reminder of that fateful day, she looked out at the moon playing hide and seek with clouds wondering if she would ever be able to move on from that incident.
To be continued…