“It was never going to be an ordinary day. Ordinary days do not exist in the lives of those living in conflict zones marred by war and if you are a woman belonging to a certain ethnic group then life’s ordinariness lies in it’s not being ordinary. “
She suddenly leaped out of the chair and began to pace.
“We can do it some other day if you wish”, I said.
She waved her hand, poured herself some water and settled again. That is when I noticed the two missing fingers on her right hand. A chill went up my spine as I imagined the kind of atrocities she must have faced.
A lifetime of internal dialogue and struggle was clearly visible on her face. Her deep-set eyes were pools of pain and suffering that she had endured all her life and especially in the last few months. I had thought her to be middle-aged on their first meeting. She certainly didn’t look in her mid thirties.
I was filled with a certain respect for this woman who had transcendent her fear to bare her soul despite the trauma it would cause her to open the wounds which were finally beginning to heal.
“The separatist struggle had taken a toll on all of us. I was just one of the many women who were maimed, raped, killed, tortured or dumped in jails to face the atrocities by the authorities there. We lived in perpetual fear all the time yet convincing ourselves that these things will never happen to any of us. That we will survive but today out of the five people who were rounded up that day only I am left to tell the story.
“Have you ever seen a body of someone you love split in half and the heart exposed to splatters of blood, smoke, gunfire, bomb and grenade blasts? Seen your best friend brutally molested, beaten and left naked on the streets to die? Seen the fear, hurt, humiliation and pain in the eyes of a five-year old boy watching her mother in that state?
I have. I saw it all that day as I stood rooted to the ground on that chilly winter morning. Rape in a war is not merely a matter of chance; it is rather a question of power and control. My friend suffered because she belonged to a certain ethnic group. Her rape humiliated the entire community. It was masterminded to totally encapsulate the defeat of men of that community in protecting their women, to humiliate, degrade and terrify them. It is good she died or else she would have been rendered invisible by her own people, left to fend for herself, suffering from one mental disease or the other like so many other women there. Each woman there suffers from anxiety and unrest. Just that, the degree of suffering varies.”
Caught in a maelström of emotions she closed her eyes. I could see her hands trembling as they clutched the bars of the rocking chair on which she was half-reclining.
“I watched in horror knowing it was my turn once they were done with others. Everything fails when you are faced with terror. All my education, training in sports, presence of mind evaporated in thin air. I felt as if I was carved in stone but something kept telling me to fight till the end, to take that chance. I didn’t want to die like an animal if I could prevent it.”
The evening sun was peeping through the huge trees and the cool breeze made the curtains shadow dance on the floor. She watched them intently for some time.
I decided to record the rest of the conversation on tape and took my seat on a sofa in front of her. She looked up and I felt a slight smile at the corner of her mouth but the gash on her cheek made it impossible to judge that correctly.
As if she read my thoughts and ran her fingers over it.
“The scars inside are deeper than the ones on my body. The wounds are still in process of healing. I put up a fight when they tried to get their filthy hands on me. When a man turns into an animal there is no limit to what he will do. May they be forgiven for what they have perpetrated, she mumbled softly.
“They were four of them. Severely beaten, I drifted between life and death but could make out that I was tossed into a vehicle and taken away. I remember a voice hissing in my ears. “We like to play with our pray before the kill the thrilling the chase and hunt, the better it is. The sound of their laughter still echoes through my mind.”
She winced and began to rock the chair. I looked around for help, suddenly scared for her. She had been in medical supervision since past few months and wasn’t stable enough to cope with the world outside. The doctor observing from the corner of the room nodded at me to relax. The attendant brought a tray with coffee and biscuits. I poured a cup for her. “Lots of milk and sugar” She said without opening her eyes.
“I like it that way. It helps me cull the deep black darkness inside me.”
Then she opened her quiet eyes and looked at me. “They should have sent someone seasoned. You are still too raw to brave such experiences”.
I fumbled with some words in support of myself but failed. She kept looking at me.
“We seem to be of same age though I am sure you thought me to be twice yours”, this time she did smile and I realized how beautiful she was, radiant even in her fragile state.
I mustered a smile and offered her some cookies. She carefully selected one with sprinkled sugar and began to nibble it.
“I have lost the count of how many times and by how many people I was raped and beaten. They broke my fingers and gave me wounds with a dagger one of them had, kicked and shoved the butt of the riffle in my abdomen. For hours I lay naked, body, mind and soul in that small room while they drank. My body was just a sack of pain and bruises but still I kept thinking of a plan to escape. It is strange that they did not kill me or broke my legs or hit me on the head. I never lost consciousness once though pain made me delirious. It was unimaginable to think I could escape alive from them.
The chill of the night made my body stiff like a log. I did not feel parched or hungry even after twenty hours of starvation. In fact I did not feel anything.
Sleep took over as I stared blankly into nothingness that filled the dark room.
When I opened my eyes I was in a hospital in the city. They said I had slept for more than two days. My wounds were stitched and dressed but my body still felt like a log and even the slightest movement shot a streak of pain through it.
I tried to find out how I managed to get out alive from the clutches of those beasts but got no replies. I guess it is better this way, maybe for someone who must have dared to save me, for I had no strength left to carry on. I do say a silent prayer for that person for giving me another chance to live.”
My heart warmed at the words. . On the way back from the village where I was sent to investigate the killings, miles away where the woods began, I had found her huddled like a bundle among the trees. I had stopped my jeep and along with a friend managed to rescue her to the city hospital and then to this private one, away from the turbulent environment.
Of course, no one told her anything. They weren’t supposed to.
I realized that she had dozed off in the meanwhile. The half eaten cookie rested nestled in the fold of her gown. I walked over and placed it in the plate. The doctor told me to withdraw.
She needed rest and most of all peace.
What happened in the last few hours and how she managed to reach the road remains a mystery but it would certainly have taken immense courage to escape alive. All her people were dead. Village burned to ashes. Curfew imposed in the area.
All that remained was the mist that slowly enveloped the small mountain village like a shroud.
Silently I closed the door and look a last look at her through the glass window. She was a survivor, a brave one and she had a beautiful smile of a child.
The curtains of the large window swayed to the night breeze while the crescent moon kept a watch on her as sleep caressed and healed her ravaged being.
In the still moonlit night I too said a silent prayer for the woman who braved it to live a life she held too precious to give up even in such dire circumstance.
There was a new life waiting to blossom buried under the heavy layers of snow. Soon the spring would come.
Hundreds of women like her go through similar or more horrifying experiences each day and succumb to the fate, unnoticed, uncared between the conflicts of power and rule. Human life is ravaged and torn to shreds at the altar of political tug of war and dies in oblivion. The universe watches quiescent.
It wasn’t an ordinary day for me and henceforth no other day would ever be ordinary.