It was six thirty in the evening. The incessant monsoon of Bombay caused delays that led to overcrowding of local trains. That day when Sara boarded the north bound train at Victoria Terminus, she was clueless about what the future had in store for her. She had left her present family to go back home.
At every suburban station, the train stopped and added more people to the already overflowing carriage. Sara was squeezed into the crowd and pushed towards the side of the carriage as people swarmed in. Their hands touched hers as she held on to one of the support columns. Tens of feet were already on hers, pulling her chappals both ways. The human touch that brought her utter disdain since the last four years continued to stalk her.
Overcrowding had made her suffocate. Sweat dripped from her forehead and stained her cheeks with kohl and smudged her face with dark red lipstick. Her tattered clothes, dusty brown face, long unkempt curls made into a half-bun gave her a rather swag like appearance.
When Sara looked at fellow commuters, some pretended to sleep; some looked out of the window when their eye met hers. Some groped her; some tried to peek inside her blouse. Some who seemed worried about her reached for their pockets for small change.
As the train slowed down at the last station with a loud metallic shriek of wheels, a middle-aged man stood aside her waiting to get down. When the train reached the platform, he was pushed by the crowd behind. He lost his grip on the door and was about to fall. Sara took a leap of change. She grabbed his hand firmly and helped him land safely.
As they both settled on the platform, he reached for his wallet and walked up to Sara.
“Here, take this my child.” he extended a ten rupee note.
She was immediately thrown back in time. Those were the days when twelve-year-old Sara used to accompany her mother to sell fruits and vegetables in a busy market on Linking Road. Since she was the most educated in her family, she helped her mother with the transactions and tendering exact change to customers. One thing she had learnt from her mother was never to beg. She could borrow or earn but never beg. But life took a sudden turn when Rashid Uncle, who used to frequent their stall, lured her to his room and laced lollies with sedatives. When she woke up in a dingy shanty, she could feel the intense pain biting between her legs. It didn’t take long for her to realise that she was sold to Rani Madam, the local pimp queen. Since she could work every day of the month, she became hot favourite among customers and in turn became Rani’s hot property. A couple of years later when the customers demanded fresh stock, she was sold again.
She traded multiple hands and was forced with a multitude of customers in red light areas for over four years. Some of her handlers even pinned her to the bed and administered testosterone shots to accelerate her hormonal growth. When one of her customers developed an affinity towards her, she gathered courage to confide her story and seek freedom. He was kind enough to plot her fake suicide during one of his visits and convince the pimp that that he would dispose of her body without a trace. He asked for a large sack that would fit Sara’s body, put her inside the sack and left. The next morning, he dropped her to the train station. She spent a week on the platform, living on leftovers and dropped coins, trying to muster courage and contemplating to take the train and go back home.
“Why are you giving this to me?” she asked looking inquisitively at the currency note. ”
“Thank you for holding my hand. I could have fallen into the gap.”
“You were peeping down my chest instead of looking at the platform”, she grinned.
He hastily buried the note in her half open wrist and dashed away.
The human touch no more felt disdainful. She was back in a world where flesh did not touch flesh only to satisfy sex starved perverts. She was back in a world where money was earned in return for goods or services, as a gesture of goodwill, or given as a donation, and not for illegitimate services. She had started to thrive in the world that she had seen from a tiny window. She wanted to live this moment.
Outside the station, she walked up to a food stall and ordered a cutting chai and a vada pav. She felt the soothing breeze in her hair. Unknown of the fact whether she will find her home again and if she does, will her mother recognise and accept her? The sky rumbled. She spread her hands like a bird wanting to take flight and welcomed the rains. Her tears were joined by the raindrops to create small streams of happiness flowing through her cheeks.