It was 4.30 in the evening.Nivedita was folding the clothes she brought from the clothesline. She heard a scream from the next apartment. She knew it must be from the young girl living there. It troubled her mind and she heard no more screams. But this was not new as it had happened earlier too on many days mostly around this time. Though impelled to go and enquire, she was hesitant to meddle in others affairs.
The adjacent apartment was occupied by Sundari and Vanita her thirteen year old daughter. Sundari had lost her husband when she was in her early thirties. She worked in a large departmental store in the mall Shiva a major who had retired from the army worked in the same mall as security in charge.. A tall and well built man nearing 50 he had a good physique and was single. They both fell in love and married. With her life turned rosy, she virtually doted on him and had spoken of him with great pride to Nivedita on a couple of occasions. She generally returned around 7pm.Nivedita had seen Shiva coming early on many occasions and leaving for work in the evenings. There were no regular timings for him it seemed to Nivedita.
The next day as Nivedita was returning from post office, she met Vanita coming back from school. She smiled at her asked the young girl” Vanita,I heard a scream yesterday from your home. It must be you. I had half a mind to come to your place. Since your dad was there, I did not come. I hope everything is fine”
“I hurt myself when I was cleaning dishes. Sorry” she replied
“It is okay. But yesterday was not the first time. I have heard you scream earlier too on different days”
She did not reply but hung her head down. After a few embarrassing moments, she said “Aunty, can I go? I have lot of homework to do.”
Nivedita felt something was not okay but did not know what to do. To tell her mom about the screams seemed inappropriate. She knew her class teacher well and long while back she remembered her telling that Vanita was a bright student though not a topper and well behaved. The teacher specifically said that she took a liking for the girl.
A fortnight later Nivedita heard a commotion outside and rushed out to see an ambulance with some men carrying Vanita in the stretcher. Her wailing mom followed her with her husband in tow. Nivedita was shocked when someone in the crowd told her that the girl had left a note that she was taking her life as she was not able to cope with her studies. Nivedita thought this queer as her teacher had mentioned that she was good in studies
Nivedita did not know what to do. It was past school time and her thought of meeting the teacher was out of question as she did not have her address or telephone number. She preferred to wait till next morning. The body was still in the hospital. The step father seemed influential with police may be due to nature of his work and she had seen earlier many couples in police vehicles dropping in for social visit to their flat. Nivedita could not sleep the whole night and the girl’s scream on a few occasions haunted. The thought that she had not probed in depth made her feel guilty.
The next morning she learnt the girl’s body was expected by noon and the cremation would be over by evening. She rushed to the school by 9am and asked to meet the teacher. Nivedita was told that the teacher was in the class consoling the agitated students over Vanita’s tragic end. She sent word that she must meet her immediately on a very urgent matter.
When she came they went to the lawn and Nivedita came to the point directly “I suspect there is something more than what meets the eye in Vanita’s suicide. You had mentioned that she was good in her studies but the note she left behind says something contrary. I often used to hear her scream when she was alone with her step dad but when asked she was not forthright. I could discern certain fear in her eyes. They are planning to cremate her by evening. Do you have anything to throw light on? The girl was close to you “
The teacher in a whisper that was almost inaudible said “I also think something was amiss in her house. It was only two days back that I chanced to see bruise marks on her body and a trace of bite mark on her nape. When I put probing questions, she was not forthcoming initially. When I asked her to tell honestly whether she had broached her problem to her mom, she nodded her head in affirmative. When I persisted to know her mom’s reaction, she said that her mom got angry with her for slandering about step dad and beat her. She was in no mood to listen despite the marks on her body of cruelty What I could gather was that manic was troubling the young girl to submit to his lust and when this girl let out a scream, he retreated it seems. She started sobbing and asked me whether I would take her in my custody as she was terribly afraid of remaining alone with that beast.
I promised her I will find a way out within a week and meantime cautioned her to threaten him that she would tell the teachers and neighbours.I do not know what precipitated her to take this extreme step. May be the brute succeeded in spoiling her” she said as she wiped her eyes.
It did not take seconds for Nivedita and the teacher to decide to go to police station and tell the authorities the sordid background. It was a poor comfort for the loss of a promising young girl that the stepfather was sentenced to a long period of rigorous imprisonment. The mother was let off to regret for life her foolishness in not heeding to the girl’s pleas.