Trigger warning: This article contains details of sexual abuse.
It was the Awadh Assam Express.
Don’t ask me why I remember the name of the train though. And why it is the first thing I mention. I was a kid then. Sitting on a window seat. Enjoying the passing trees, houses, shrubs, and buffalos.
There was a man in front of us, my father’s age. On the bulkier side. He was friendly, too friendly. He and my father had developed a quiet camaraderie in no time – which two souls share, when they are too tired of the world.
They were busy in an intense discussion. About things we talk about when we find strangers on trains. A socio-political issue. Rising prices. A current item of news. A politician. Cricket.
I don’t remember the topic. I wasn’t paying attention. Outside, a bloodied sun was setting while the world ran. That was enough for me.
I remember counting the number of bogies of a freight. It passed us limpidly while our train stood at an empty platform, waiting for the green signal. It had 89 bogies and took a solid four minutes to pass. The longest for me till then.
Darkness came. We had dinner. Puri sabji, which my father shared with the man. Uncle offered chiwda his wife had made for him.
After a while, everyone went to sleep. Even my brother did. We didn’t have smartphones which could keep us awake. Though for me, there was the train.
And I guess that’s the background of the story.
It is well past midnight. Everyone is asleep.
A boy of 11 sits by the window. Staring at the dots of light shuffling by. Feeling the wind crash through his hair. And listening to the clickety-clack of the train that resonates with his heartbeat.
Delhi. That is where he is headed. To spend his vacations. He is thinking of nothing and everything. The homework he has to complete before the end of summer vacations. And the broken roads he would walk on, in autos and buses, while visiting every uncle one by one.
He would eat well-made food, grade it, and get bored… because most of his cousins are not like him.
Useless details. But they need to be put on paper. Writing is not about entertaining an unknown reader. It is about healing. And some memories need to be made more tangible before they can be annihilated.
Suddenly it happens. Something cold, something warm, something with a grating feel to it, like leather, like charcoal. It goes inside his pants. And touches his thing.
That was the moment – I guess – I gave in. Not to apathy, or displeasure, or defeat. But to a fate thrown at me.
Initially, I didn’t even know what was going on. I didn’t resist, and he continued doing what would haunt me forever.
Details? There are no unusual details. His hands explored the inside of my pants. I didn’t resist. I don’t know why. Then he put his hands on my chest too. My nipples.
His hands felt cold as the midnight wind of the fretful train slapped at my naked insides. True, I had a hint that something terrible was happening to me. Someone deep inside me was saying – this should not happen. But I didn’t stop him.
Why? Don’t ask me. I have been asking it ever since. And I don’t have an answer.
For five minutes – was it an hour? – I didn’t stop him. But when his fingers started pinching my nipples, I did. Or was it an hour?
No. Only five minutes. But they were enough.
And in one or two years, I would develop man-breasts, which my aunts would make fun of. And I would hate it when someone touched me.
I would never have a meaningful relationship with anyone.
I would hate my father. I would hate every man who tries to protect me from himself. And I would never be able to sleep properly.
Nachi Keta is a neurodiverse writer from New Delhi whose work focuses on mental health, oppression and the absurd in social and personal. He does not tweet here @KetaNachi.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty