The back of his hands made a clean sweep of her face and she felt her head hit the adjacent wall before she fell down limp on the floor. Warm blood trickled down her forehead where it had kissed the wall. She bit her lips trying not to scream, swallowing her pride with the pain. She tried to grab the legs of the chair in an attempt to get up, but he pushed away her source of support, kicking her abdomen with the tip of his shoe. He felt a sense of pride like a footballer who had just landed the ball in the net, surpassing the goalie. He kicked her few more times, his shoe landing on a different goal each time, till she could bear no more and let out a howl; an ear piercing scream that threatened to curdle his blood.
The scream kind of terrified him because he left soon after, leaving her alone in the room. She lay on the ground but she needed to get up quick. A wave of nausea had begun to sweep over her and she felt the muscles of her stomach loosen and transfer its contents to her mouth. Unable to get up, she puked on the ground. The blood in the vomit scared her and the putrid smell made her nauseous again. Gathering herself, she trawled to the washroom, and slowly tried to stand up holding the wash basin for support.
The face in the mirror seemed to ridicule her. A neat reddish-blue bulge had formed on her forehead, the blood had clot after having trailed down her ear. She splashed water over her face and the icy water felt like tonic on her wounds. Her lower lip looked like it had been bitten by a bug, red and swollen. She stared at the face in mirror.
She could see a young girl, the parting of her hair smeared with deep red vermilion Her gold and red veil that had covered her head during the wedding rituals lay on the ground. A fresh cut adorned her lips from which warm blood oozed out and her cheeks looked flushed and red; not with the shyness of a new bride but with the imprints of a palm that had just landed heavily on her cheeks. She had been too shocked to react and too young and new to complain.
And today she stood here again, before this very mirror, and as on that day and every other day after that. And all she was doing was washing her face off the blood, like she always did. No wonder the face in the mirror seemed to ridicule her. Why hadn't she stopped it right then? Why hadn't she stopped it after that? Why had she silently borne his abuse through the years? Why had she been in denial?
She remembered the first time it happened. A new bride, she had coyly brought him a glass of hot milk that her mother-in-law had given her. The milk had apparently been hot and he had lost his temper when it burned his tongue. That was the first time he hit her, not even bothered that she had just stepped into his life. She had felt that she deserved it. How could she be so careless? He had been apologetic soon after and she had been more than happy letting him lust after her.
The silliest of reasons had been enough to turn him into a monster. But she had never accepted that it was actually abuse. Maybe he was just drunk, maybe he’d had a hard time at work, maybe he didn’t mean what he did, maybe some patience and love would change him. She could accept any explanation but this. And again, didn't he always come back to her at night?
Surprisingly, no one had ever asked her about her visible wounds and her mother-in-law had told her in hushed tones about how men will be men and how she has been patiently tolerating her husband since she had been married. Having children will change all that she had assured. Nothing did change after two children and she had been plain lucky not to lose her children during the nine months, when she carried them in her womb.
The face in the mirror seemed to ridicule her. She looked away and let tears flood her eyes.
Her closest friend had tried to counsel her, telling her to put an end to the abuse, and it had taken a lot of time to come out the emotions that her mind seemed to be caught in and accept that what was being done to her had to be stopped. As much as she would have liked to take her friend’s advice, she felt trapped financially. What would she do if he were to disinherit her and her children? She was dependent on him for everything. How would she survive alone?
She stumbled out of the washroom to the kitchen for a glass of water. Her eyes were blurry with tears and she did not notice her children walk in. The terrified look on their faces said it all. They were growing up and what happened to their mother had terrified them. They held her hand and wept unable to convey what their little hearts felt. She could feel them trembling with fear.
What years of abuse and months of counseling could not do, the look on her children’s faces seemed to achieve. What example was she setting for them, she asked herself? Her son would eventually learn that it is his right to abuse women and her daughter would learn that it was OK to be abused. She couldn't let that happen. They needed to know that a woman has to be respected, and if she is abused, then she would not tolerate it. If as a mother, she couldn't teach them that, no book on earth ever could.
She heard her husband calling out her name, demanding a cup of tea, as if nothing had happened. She put the kettle on boil and poured out the tea in a cup. As he stretched out his hand to pick up the cup, she snatched it and splashed the contents across his face. ‘Did it pain? Are you hurt?’ She asked, as he screamed in agony, trying to grab her arm. ‘Know that it pains when you hurt me, don’t ever dare to do it again’ she said as she led her children away even as he hurled expletives at her. She wished she had done that with the first glass of hot milk she had brought him as a bride. Better late than never, she thought as she saw her children let out a feeble smile. Though in pain, she walked up straight, shoulders pulled back, as if she had just come back from battle.
She didn't know what this action of hers would lead to, but it was a day of victory for her, however small that might be.
A victory over her own fears.