She burnt her shabby hut with her dead father’s freezing corpse inside it, slowly embracing flames. Consumed in the fire and turned into ashes, not just the flesh of the dead and the wooden chips, supporting the old dilapidated structure which was her home for 20 years, but even her very existence was burnt inside today.
The last 6 years were a constant battle, fighting her father’s ailing condition, dealing with a cancer patient and dealing with being a girl, dealing with incompetency and faults and flaws and everything else that surrounded her life.
Poverty and diseases and ailments and their cure, she thought never go hand in hand. You could either be poor or be sick, but never together. Mother-less as she was at the tender age of 3, her world, good or bad was her father.
The bread earner’s sickness caused more hardships than she had ever contemplated. As his visits outside the hut reduced, the common and uncommon stares of hungry men on her increased. She was bored. Bored of the fact, that how every story, every incident that she had experienced or was experiencing or had heard always and always have had an angle where the physicality of a human being or in other simpler words, the fact that someone is a girl, will change the whole story, or at least play an important role in it.
He was a Rickshaw puller, didn’t beg but wasn’t that upright or honest either. He was human, like all of us are, manipulative but only because we had to be, and when you have nothing clinging in your pockets, you tend to forget what’s taught in school and in cases where schools were absent, values sound expensive and tricks are all you have to tend to your needs.
As her father consistently fell in the arms of death and the rickshaw choked in equal amounts with the factors of erosion, begging, borrowing and stealing took over the little savings they had. And that day, nothing, not even the men who owed this dead man money and favours were of enough help to aid in the last funeral rites of this dead man.
She sat there in a corner wiping the last of tears and rose with nothing but the surety of change, whether good or bad, the nature of it, was not her concern, not at least for that moment. She saw the corpse for the last time now, brought in 2 buckets from the hand pump in the nearby vicinity, poured one on the frozen and lifeless body and the other bucket’s water, made its way down her body, drenching her enough to awaken in the chilly December night.
Then she took a razor, split it into two and shaved off her eyebrows, not accustomed to the right way of doing it, she cut herself in the process. The wound was left unattended and she quickly proceeded to chop off her waist length hair, and chopped them till her scalp was covered with prickly hair strands and a few bleeding scratches from the razor. Her oval faced shaped lost all desired feminity. She then removed all wet layers from her body. She stood there admiring her naked body for the last time now, and then she pulled out strips from a worn out bed sheet, and wrapped them tightly like bandages over and around her breasts, till all her curves vanished into a flat landscape. Lastly she burnt a small piece of wood stick and slapped it against her face, forearms and legs, hard enough to create abrasions that would never go and that would never make her attractive. All these things she did were like a modern woman’s pepper spray or the art of self-defence taught in fancy schools or like the hefty security guards and gunners who are paid by rich parents.
She saw the puddle of mess which mostly had her identity in it and walked past it, took her father’s old shirt and wore it and did the same with some old trousers. She did not look like a man but she was nothing like a woman now, at least she hoped that and she wanted men to believe that if not herself. There was no trace of any ornamentation on her body, nothing that was the same now, nothing like earlier. Lastly she took that burning stick and with one strong jolt threw it in the pile of wooden shavings.
In the beginning it looked like a warm fire that made the hut comfortable for the deadly December night but it soon became monstrous and rose high flickering like a wild beast engulfing almost anything that came its way and as she saw her plan working fine enough she moved out with no fear or pain. She left everything behind, she left her old identity behind burning in the pile of other non-existent things.
She unchained the rickshaw and removed the various locks guarding the rusty body and drove it in the direction of light.
The abrasions were her guardians, her new identity was her protector and her old and new self together were fighters. Beyond the gender and beyond the sex of Homo sapiens lies the will of living, over and above all other instincts.