Charu’s nervous fingers held a small book tightly close to her eyes. From a distance she looked motionless lying sideways on the bed, like a kid who faked study by mischievously holding a book close to her face while she slept. A moody yellow light from the light above fell softly on the thick locks of hair that covered her forehead.
She clutched her mobile tightly and sat next to the table on the floor, her knees pulled to her chest and arms around her knees.
It was late at night and the chatter of crickets was distinctly audible through the open window. A tube light flickered from a distance, lighting up a muddy path intermittently. A lone spot of light approached slowly from behind on the mud track and a faint sound of an engine followed. The rider had tightly fastened an oversized aluminum milk can on the rear seat of the motor cycle that left very little space for him. He drove clumsily on the dirt track and the noise from the motorcycle engine interrupted an otherwise calm night.
“Haan!" Charu woke up to the terrible motor cycle noise that whizzed past her window.
She was indeed sleeping.
She got up in a sudden reflex and her eyes turned towards the noisy motor cycle disappearing slowly into the darkness of the night. Charu suffered from insomnia and even the slightest noise disturbed her few minutes of slumber. Most nights she stayed awake lying on her back staring at the rickety ceiling fan making slow revolutions reminding her of her cyclical moods.
One night a lazy old lizard had crawled up on the ceiling which freaked Charu out of her wits and she had run directly towards Mani’s room. She stayed in his room for a few days only to be reprimanded by the hostel warden. She warned Charu of expulsion the next time she pulled-off another stunt. Her reputation to be mercurial and impulsive gained increased attention even with the members of the Dean’s office. The Dean, an elderly man with values and attitudes from the sixteenth century had read her Facebook post and the comments it had elicited with great concern that he shared his anguish on the erosion of Indian values at the latest academic council meeting.
She continued to stare out of the window disoriented from being rudely awakened from sleep that had become a rarity. She wore a loose white t shirt that generously exposed her left shoulder and miserly covered her ample bosom.
“Crap! Another miserable night," she said and stretched her arms wide casting a V shaped shadow on the wall behind her.
In a quick move she jumped from the bed onto the floor, knotted her long hair into a bun and lazily opened the door to the toilet. After relieving herself she threw some water on her face. The mirror above the wash basin had patches of large dark spots where the polish had worn off. Charu had to move closer to one end of the mirror to get a clearer look of her face. The dark circles around her eyes were much in contrast to her flawless skin. She took several turns to examine her eyes in the mirror and sighed deeply.
The lazy fan cast wide rectangular shadows which filled the entire area. After a measured survey of the room from outside the toilet she moved towards the side table next to the bed. The mobile phone blinked blue, a notification on Facebook messenger, a new message.
Her eyes opened wide with fear on seeing the message. She clutched her mobile tightly and sat next to the table on the floor, her knees pulled to her chest and arms around her knees. The floor was unexpectedly cold but that did not interrupt her sudden paranoia. Charu stared at the window and rocked her body back and forth muttering something incoherently.
The phone beeped again.
“Nowhere to escape sweetheart! Things are going to get worse! Watch it," read the message on Facebook messenger.
A photo was attached to the message. It was a picture of Charu lying on the bed with her cleavage generously exposed. The photo could have been taken earlier that night.
“Was it the person on the motor bike? Why? Why me? How dare he? It must definitely be someone through the window. Who? Sam? He has no fucking guts. But who? I am scared! What do they want? I don’t know? Why me? Who are they? Is it a prank? Should I call Alex? Maybe it is Sam, should I confront him?" Charu asked herself a volley of questions in panic.
Charu unconsciously rocked her body back and forth with more and more vigour.
“How is it possible to take a picture of me in this angle? It would have been difficult to take it from the window. Is there a camera set-up in this room?" she looked up, briskly got up and surveyed the room.
Why has life always been mean to me? I have always had to go through so much pain and suffering at every stage of my life. It is tough God. Are you there? God I know you are the only one looking out for me, but I am tired.
“What is it there on the lamp shade? Holy crap! I think this is it, how dare they? This will surely teach them a lesson. Let them know who they are messing with," she now spoke loudly. She climbed on to the table to reach the rear end of the lamp shade.
“Yikees! Fucking lizard, oh my god, oh my god," she screamed. It was not a camera but a baby lizard which fell ‘phat’ on the floor. She stayed put on the table, closed her ears tightly with both her hands and stared at the walls trying to escape the sight and sounds of the lizard. Charu was afraid of anything that crawled.
She slowly sat on the table and opened her eyes. The blades of the ceiling fan made distorted shadows on the floor.
“Who is doing this? What do they gain from this? Cowards. Is it a much larger operation? Perhaps there are more girls who are targeted like me. But why me? Is it because of that random post in Facebook? It’s unfair, very unfair. That was an innocent post; I don’t deserve to be crucified for this. Are my photos also posted on the Net? Oh my god, oh my god. That would just ruin me, ruin everything. What other photographs do they have of me. God, fuck, fuck. This is so screwed up."
“How dare they do this to me? How? I will show them who I am. Losers. Cowards. If you are courageous come show your face. Bastards, stop hiding behind your mother’s saree. Come in front and fight like a man. It is definitely a man, a perverted man. Only he is capable of such vulgarity."
She took the phone and investigated the picture closely. “From the angle of the picture, it seems someone must have taken it somewhere close to this table from inside the room. How is that possible? Not possible. No way. I locked the door from inside."
Charu began to cry silently. “Not fair. Not fair," she was loud now. Her cries were louder.
“Shut up," she gave herself a tight slap, “shut up! You will not be weak. You are fearless. You will not cry. You will face the beast eye to eye," she pledged and slapped herself again. And again. Charu then jumped from the table briskly and dashed into the toilet.
She turned on the shower and stood under it silently with her clothes on.
“Why has life always been mean to me? I have always had to go through so much pain and suffering at every stage of my life. It is tough God. Are you there? God I know you are the only one looking out for me, but I am tired. Very tired of fighting. What have I done so cruel that people are hounding me? Not fair. I just don’t know what to do. Just don’t know whom to ask for help. I feel lonely, very alone. Why me, please why me? Who is targeting me? Just not right," she cried aloud under the shower.
Charu began to feel smothered and was unable to breath. She felt dizzy and light headed.
Her eyes suddenly moved to the stains on the ceramic tiles on the wall. She went closer to investigate. She removed all her clothes, picked up the cleaning brush, liquids and began to scrub the tiles. The shower still flowed. She began to take deep breaths but continued scrubbing the tiles.
Charu’s eyes were now wider than normal and she tried hard to snap out of the whirlpool of fearful imagery and thoughts that were drowning her at break neck speed. The questions and images were on a time lapse in her mind screen in a manner that she could never have prepared.
The scrubbing lasted for over ten minutes; she stopped, slapped herself harder this time, sat down on the bath floor, rested her forehead on her knees and wept loudly. She remained in the same place for a little while.
“I am hungry," she said and got up in one brisk motion from the wetness and damp. She then calmly wrapped her body in a dry towel, dug out a cup of yogurt from the refrigerator, mixed two spoons of sugar, sat cross-legged on the stool and ate its contents slowly with poise.
The fear, panic and paranoia that had eclipsed her had faded away and an unnatural calmness masked her anger to hunt down the predator.