by Kunal Nayak
The little salvaged cubes of vegetables danced maniacally in the boiling water. Vee extended her hands, inches away from the old vessel. The warmth was blissful. It made her forget all her problems. The fire that danced below the vessel was very pleasing. Even the cold could not deter her now.
She waited as the vegetables continued to boil. They would sleep tonight with food in their stomachs. It would be a sleep of peace; especially since she had found two moth-eaten but perfectly fine sheets of blankets from her work place. She smiled at the thought.
As she waited in the dead of the night for the dinner to cook, her mind wandered. Perhaps it was the cold, or perhaps it was the warmth. But old memories stung. And they stung hard.
It seemed like an eternity now but back in her youth, Vee had been rich. Filthy rich. Miles and miles away, she was sure that her old family, the lying and manipulative backstabbers, were comfortably enjoying their feasts. No pity for their only daughter, no sense of resentment… only shame.
She liked the fact that she was homeless now. Yes. She absolutely embraced it. She had no money; she had no friends. She had no conniving parents, no selfish siblings to scheme behind her back, no abusive husbands to leave scars on her body… she was happy. For once, she was happy. And for once, she felt protected.
She fidgeted around until her old, ragged but still good enough hoodie was covering all of the marks. They still hurt, sometimes. No, not physically. These were not the purple patches her husband had left behind. They were the scars that she would bear mentally for the rest of her life. And she would do it proudly.
She still thought back to the day, when she had left home. The hell house. This home was not the one where she was born, but the house where she had died. A place, where she had been driven nearly insane by controlling mother-in-law, her ignorant husband and their perfect son. The perfect shining knight that was supposed to make her feel happy and safe. The same son who was also a Dark Brute when she was with him alone.
She had promised not to cry. She had always told herself that she would move on. In spite of all the bad things, she had forgiven her ex-husband for all the problems he had given her. But somethings never changed. Be it the warm confinement of her bedroom, or the harsh cold night on the streets-tears still welled up in her eyes.
She had finally mustered courage and slapped her husband goodbye. It had been a wonderful day. She had paid, of course. But she had also left him behind. She had stomped on her husband’s foot and left her in-law’s in awe when she had run away. But she did not like calling it “running-away.” She rather called it as Moving on.
She had rushed home, and with a firm determination she did not know she had, had relayed the truth to her home. She was finally relieved, for the first time in months now that she was truly home. The same home where she had grown up, where she had been pampered. The same home that were now blaming her for her failed marriage.
She sniffled, but calmly controlled herself.
Her parents had yelled at her for leaving her husband’s home. They had refused to let her in. They had already called her horrible in-laws. Her siblings, her two younger brothers stood behind her parents, not giving a crap. They stood there, saying nothing. Doing nothing. Just standing, bored and cold. Her heart shattered into two. Her soul retched. She ran once more.
But where would she go? She had no one. Her friends, those “Selfie takers”, those humans that wore a façade, had abandoned her. But then again, her husband seemed like a golden boy to everyone but her. He had been the centre of social circles. He had always been the ideal husband.
Now here she was.
She had left the city. She was now on the streets. She felt lost. There was only one reason she had not gone back. But she still felt helpless. Her life was officially screwed. So what was she supposed to do?
She had no official degree in education. “Why study when your husband is there to provide?” or “Why worry when your father has all the money in the world?” were her mother’s automated responses. It felt foolish now.
She checked the vegetables for rawness, and they still felt undercooked. So she added more wood to the fire. It roared, providing her with waves of warmth. She closed her eyes to feel the heat on her face. Then she lost it.
She dare not scream on the outside, but her insides were burning. Her face was red with a mixed sense of frustration and sorrow. The step she had taken, of abandoning her family, her families, had been a big one. She had always known that there was no going back. But the warmth disappeared. Suddenly, just like her life, the heat had withered away. She could still see the fire, a perfect energy in front of her. But it gave no peace. It was a cold fire.
For a moment, she yelled. It was a soft yell that did not carry. But still, it made her feel light. She wanted to go back. She wanted to apologize. She did not want to live this life anymore. This freedom that was supposed to taste sweet was in reality bitter and unfathomable. She wanted her life back. She wanted it all back.
“Why should I not?” she thought to herself. The vegetables danced, the vessel steamed. “What does it matter if they hurt me? I can learn to not feel the pain. But at least I will be safe?”
She got up in a short moment of epiphany. She would learn. She would lead a miserable life, but at least she would be comfortable. At least she would be well fed and warm.
And then she realised why she couldn’t go back.
Her daughter, a four year old with an angelic smile, came running towards her. She had her three year old brother with her. They were laughing. They had just come back from playing with a couple of other street kids.
Her frown vanished. Her inner turmoil was wiped off. She could only see her kids. The same kids her two families had not cared for. The same angels that her husband had not bothered to take from her. The same kids she had run away from home for.
They had never known their grandparents or father, because they had been too small. But even though they did not have a roof over their head, even though the only thing that would be in their stomachs was a couple of carrots, potatoes and peas, they were safe. They were loved. They were her anchor.
She smiled at them as she served them dinner. They sat around the fire, prayed to God, and dug in. Vee knew now why she would be just fine.
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