By Roy & Dee Kay
The local train rumbled into the destination station, amidst the huddle of the overcrowded platform in the morning rush hours. The train halted abruptly unbalancing me from my position and making me lean closer to the girl; my girl. The sudden proximity to her, out in the open, made me feel conscious of us just like the time when I had taken her on a date for the first time, five years ago. Due to my extreme alertness to all the imaginary eyes ogling at our tryst, I had completely forgotten to enjoy the closeness yet I still could not help myself from experiencing the same feeling whenever we got closer in any public place.
The grip of her hand tightened on my shoulder to prevent her from falling and with the other hand, she intentionally squeezed my fingers that lay entwined in hers. She always knew the extent of my consciousness from the closure and so that warm clasp of her fingers in mine was enough to replace it with a comforting relief. I smiled at her to which she curled her lips, seductively. How did I get so lucky? My mind asked. She was like the composed ocean, that could hide the internal mess beneath a calm surface while I was just like a rocky shore that never failed an excuse to get unsettled by an approaching wave.
The hustle of the crowd around us could no more draw me away from staring at her pretty face. With the clock ticking, the faster the moments slipped by, the firmer became the grip of our fingers. The closeness has its own language of acknowledging every feeling without requiring anything to be said out loud. At that instant, our entangled reluctant fingers, the soul gazing eye-stares, the momentarily flirtatious smiles, and the protective unintentional caress, exuded the immense care for each other while creating an everlasting bubble of love around us. I knew that in the next few movements I would have to let go of her. It was her station. This part of the morning was the moment I hated the most.
The train blared for its departure from the station and a few more passengers stepped out in the platform. She smiled again, gesturing me to let go of her hand. I smiled unblushingly, showing no intention of doing so. She shook her head. I imitated her action, making her laugh a little more while the last passenger rushed out of the train compartment.
“Let go!”, she finally spoke as it was my turn to shake my head and hers to imitate.
I set her hand free from my loving grip as she playfully giggled while disembarking the compartment.
“You forgot to say goodbye“ I shouted from behind, trying to concoct an excuse to change her mind. She turned towards me without slowing her pace only to reply with one of her sensuous smirks.
As she made her way away from me and towards the exit, I began to look for a seat to put myself in. I made myself comfortable in a nearby vacant window seat and looked outside the window, at the swarm of strangers yet searching for the one I called mine. Everyone seemed either rushing towards something or running away from everything. In the midst of the crowd, I saw a familiar figure standing still like a statue, immovable and affixed, just at a little distance from the train.
She turned towards me and the look on her face replaced my pulsating beats by a deadly pause. Her forehead cringed in nervousness while her eyebrows furrowed in sheer apprehension. The slow movement of her lips was calculating something, over and over again, only to reach the same conclusion. It was as if she had stepped into a minefield and the slightest of motion could result in a blast of embarrassment and shame.
She was petrified.
The familiar look, the recognizable expression, the usual fear, and the same bundle of unspoken emotions all those had been indelibly locked away in some unforgotten corners of my heart, waiting to be brought back to surface by the wheels of my unfinished and failed attempts. Now, I was there, staring at my girl, hoping to rescue her from the shackles of self-guilt.
The whole echo of noises around me began to fade away as those revealing eyes gazed through me, penetrating my soul, and dragging me into the past. Years before I knew her, years before my present relationship, years before when the first girl I got intimate with became my girlfriend.
That familiar look snatched me from reality and dropped me into my old apartment. I found myself standing beside the bed and looking at a younger version of me sleeping beside a beautiful girl; my first crush and love. All of a sudden, she woke up with a startle. She must have had a bad dream but the reality for her was much more than just a nightmare. I woke up to realize her standing at the side of the bed looking at the red drops that slowly were being soaked and spread over the bedsheet as I spotted it too.
Not just a stain on the bed but also on her self-esteem.
I watched her getting petrified to the fact that she was in her boyfriend’s room and her monthly cycle came unannounced. The familiarity between what is a natural occurrence and the taboo that the society has forced on her was hurtful. The younger-me sat on the bed confused as to what I could do but more as to why she had to feel such a pang of guilt.
I saw our eyes make contact for a brief moment before she ran outside and the young-me followed her. She hastily picked her handbag from the couch and rushed towards the washroom. He followed her with the same pace only to stop at the bolted door. I saw the utter helplessness in him. He rushed to help but she ran from shame. He wanted to tell her but she had been taught well by society to hide away. He wanted to scream that it was normal but she was forced to believe, since an early age, that it was far from acceptable.
There were millions of things he wanted to say as his thoughts shot all around from his heart to mind, with the speed of light. He wished to say that he understood her position…that it was alright if she did not know how to react…that all he wanted was to make her open the door so that he could hug her and tell her that it was okay…
I wanted to show that his heart only wanted to restore the belief that her period was as natural and pure as his love was for her. But all he could say was,
Finally, she unlatched the door and stood facing him with a teary smile. The young me took her at once in an embrace. She broke down in his arms. He just held her tight and secure, assuring her with his silence that those drops are what that build self-esteem and not the other way round. It’s not a vulnerability rather nature’s way of showing how stronger it created a woman to be.
It is hard to fathom why a man does not have to be sorry for being a man but a woman has to feel guilty for being a woman. I was content to see my younger self to give her much-needed courage in her weakest moment. Yet it was within those four walls, safe from the ever-judgemental eyes of society. I kept thinking how I would have pacified her lest it were to happen in a public place while being pulled away from the old bedroom and back to the seat of the local train, by the wheel of time.
With a little push, the train moved and so did my mind into the memory lane. I was back in the existing time and my eyes continued staring at my girl’s face. The train gained a couple of centimeters as I saw her moving away while my gaze was fixed at her face; her face that was now drenched in sweat and tears. Every tear has its own story and journey. Some are of joy and happiness that make their way over the mountain of cheek bestowed by the smile from ear to ear, some are of anxious nature as they make their way speedily before anyone could see, and then there are few of fear and sadness that hit the plains of the face caused by the disheartened feeling inside.
I have known those tears for a long time. Those tears are not of pain or sadness but rather of fear, as my thoughts took me back into a school bus. I stood looking at my teen-self sitting next to my best friend. She was scared and had tears rolling down her face as I was struggling to help her. Why was I not able to do anything? I asked myself with no answer to this question. I couldn’t see her cry and I did not know how to help, either. I took out my handkerchief and gave it to her. She looked at me with her droopy eyes in confusion. I did not know what she would do with it but all I wanted was to be of some help.
I felt a push as I came back to the present yet my thoughts were stuck in the past. My hand unintentionally went into my pocket as I touched my handkerchief, realizing how an inept handkerchief had the power to transform into an immense token of strength and support.
I took a deep breath as I saw her diminish away on the platform while the train gained more distance. The last thing I could see of her was the trembling hands as my mind recalled the first experience with that situation. The wheel of age churned again, hauling me far back into my childhood.
I saw my 7-year old version running towards the washroom on hearing the cry of my sister. Rushing towards the door, he saw his sister standing inside looking scared with eyes full of tears and trembling hands. Then a drop fell on the floor as I noticed the blood stain on her skirt and the blood slowly trickling down her leg.
I was scared and shouted for our mother who came running inside. She accessed the situation and asked me to go out yet I did not want to leave my sister in this situation. I did not understand what was happening but I was the man of the house so I had to protect her. That was the promise I made to my father on his deathbed.
“Go out.”, maa’s patience ran out as she held my hand and pushed me out, closing the door behind her. I bang on the door and pleaded to her to let me help. I did not know how but I just wanted to be of some help. Minutes passed as she came out and looked at me. I was crying and, why wouldn’t I? I just saw my elder sister in a bloody state. I asked her if my sister would make it out alive or will she too join dad in heaven. Maa looked at me with a smile as she wiped my tears and kissed my forehead. Then she said something that stayed with me even after so many years, she said
“A girl has to offer some blood every month to the gods so that one day she too can have a kid like you.”
It didn’t make much sense to the 7-year-old me as I questioned the God who was asking for blood so that I could make him/her stop this. My mother smiled and told me that one day I would understand it.
Yes, I do understand this now but I still do not understand the taboo around it. I noticed the train slowly gaining speed so I pushed a few people around so as to get back to my girl. Many shouted and screamed as I finally made it to the door. I looked at her still frozen at that spot looking in my direction. I wish I could make her understand that I do not want her to be fearful of those stains because I was there to protect her from all those unwanted stares. Just as I was trying to come up with things to say to her someone pushed me while I was about to step onto the platform from the moving train. I fell on the floor and saw her flinch a bit but she couldn’t move.
I got up and slowly ran towards her. I could see in her eyes the fear of the people and their stares. I could see in her eyes the embarrassment and shame she felt not because of who she is but rather cause of the environment we humans have created around this. As I came closer to her, I removed my jacket and leaned in to give her a kiss on her cheek as I wrapped my jacket around her waist. She immediately scummed into my embrace as I, for once, was able to help someone before they crumbled due to the immense pressure of the social norms. I was happy as I protected her from the stares of the people so lost in their definition of acceptance that they have forgotten that periods are natural. She looked at me with her big teary eyes as I said,
“You don’t even know how to say goodbye to your boyfriend.”
Dedicated to all the ladies around the world
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