A Balm for the Soul

by Archana Desai

Eira’s shrieks woke up Arnab in the dead of the night. She was sweating profusely and appeared very scared. Arnab poured some water in a glass and gave it to Eira. She lay down, tightly holding Arnab’s hand in hers, resting her head on his shoulder, with his hand caressing her head. Within minutes she was peacefully asleep. It had been two years since Eira woke up at midnights with such shrieks. At times these shrieks just lasted for few minutes and at times they ended in tears which refused to dry till the wee hours of the morning. But the last six months saw a lot of improvement in Eira’s condition.

Eira and Arnab were childhood sweethearts. Their families were best of friends and what started as a close friendship between them, eventually blossomed into love as years passed by. Both the families had readily accepted this relationship on the condition that their marriage will only be held after each had pursued their post graduation and taken up jobs respectively. Since both were quite focused towards their education, they had no problem whatsoever agreeing to this condition. 

Graduation over, they got engaged to each other, before Arnab left for the States to pursue his post graduation. Eira got busy with her post graduation too. It was during the final year summer vacation that she and two of her friends had decided to take a three day trip to Puri. This would probably be her last girlie holiday before her marriage. Both set of parents readily consented and Arnab was really excited for her.

The girls had decided to travel by Puri Express which was an overnighter.  The journey was comfortable and they sat up chatting the entire night. The three days were over like three hours and it was time to board the train for return. Unfortunately their seats were not in the same compartment. Two seats were together and the third one was in the neighboring coach.  The girls decided to do dinner and sat up talking, post midnight. Eira volunteered to sleep alone in the other compartment. Her friends saw her off. She went to the washroom thereafter and prepared her bed and fell asleep in no time. An hour into deep sleep Eira felt someone touching her. She suddenly sat up and before she could scream for help she saw two figures in the dark reaching out to gag her. That’s all she saw. The men then lifted her slowly from her lower berth seat number 47, near the exit and swiftly moved into the first AC coach, bolting the empty coupe from inside. They raped her till dawn.

 There was a flurry of activity as the train was reaching Kolkata. Eira’s dad was to receive them at the station. Once the train reached Kolkata Eira’s friends got down with their luggage waiting with her Dad for Eira to come down. Ten minutes passed; there was no sign of Eira. Everyone panicked. Eira’s Dad and her friends went back into the train and went up to her seat. Her luggage was there and so were her bedding and her stole, but her handbag was missing. Their hearts sank further when they called Eira’s mobile phone and it was switched off. They checked the loos, but they were empty. Just then they heard a feeble voice calling out to them. It was Eira’s voice coming from somewhere close. They turned around and what they saw had their heads reeling in shock. Eira’s face was bruised with blue patches on both her cheeks. Her lips were swollen and the corner of the upper lip had a cut which was bleeding. She was dragging her feet to reach them when she abruptly thumped to the ground.

That night changed Eira’s life. She became like a living dead, she developed a phobia for the night. Each night she would sit up shrieking, scared, watching blankly at the ceiling for hours together and to fall asleep for a few hours at dawn. The daytime would be spent with counseling who were trying to help her come out of the tragedy. She had stopped going to the college but since she was just a month away from her finals, her family and friends had coaxed her into studying at home and appearing for the same.

Owing to the social stigma attached to a rape Arnab’s parents had decided to call off the engagement and conveyed their decision to Eira’s parents. It was decided by both the parents that Arnab would not be told anything about the incident since he was just a week away from his finals. Once he got back, they would sit with him and explain the entire situation to him. Since Arnab was very busy with his studies he hardly got time to speak with Eira. It was understood between them, that if anyone of them was busy with the studies or exams they would refrain from whiling time on chatting.

Meanwhile Eira’s phone was tracked down by the police and on further investigations it was established that, the rapists were the attendants of AC two tier and AC first coaches respectively. They were drinking in the cabin of the AC two tier attendants when they saw Eira’s friends walking back after dropping Eira to seat no 47. Both agreed to their crime. Eira’s handbag was also recovered from them.

The bell rang in Eira’s house at 9am in the morning, the time for one of the counselor’s visit. Eira’s mother opened the door to see Arnab standing there. She was stunned to see him. Arnab had decided to give a surprise to Eira and both the parents and had not informed anybody of his landing. He gave her a bear hug and ran into Eira’s room. He stood there in a shock, when he saw Eira. This was not his Eira. Her hair was unkempt and she had dark circles under her eyes. Her skin was looking dull and those eyes had lost their sparkle. Seeing him, Eira ran and hugged him weeping inconsolably. He felt his blood curdling. At once there was both a concern and anger, concern about Eira’s state and anger about being kept in the dark about something that had occurred in his absence. Eira did not let him leave her even for a minute. He sat beside her without murmuring a word, just warmly moving his hand over her forehead, his fingers combing her, till she fell asleep.

On hearing the story over lunch from Eira’s dad, Arnab was horrified. He felt as if someone had just pulled the earth from beneath his feet. His head hung in shame when he heard that his parents had called off the engagement, without even bothering to ask his opinion. Eira’s dad on his part tried to comfort Arnab by saying that he would not feel hurt if Arnab also agreed with his parents’ decision for the same. He explained Arnab his reason to say so. The counselors working with Eira had seen little or no improvement in her situation. Somewhere within her she had given up the wish to live and with her engagement off, things had become worse and that was precisely the reason she had not let Arnab leave her side even for a minute. The trauma of the rape along with a broken engagement had completely shattered her. It had uprooted her confidence completely.

The next morning Eira’s dad received a call from Arnab’s father saying that they were ready for the marriage and once Eira’s condition improved they would set a wedding date. Arnab actually convinced his folks by asking them a simple question- what would have they done, if the same incident would have occurred post marriage? His parents had no answer to this and seeing Arnab’s conviction, they had no choice but to give in.

Arnab worked the first half of the day and visited Eira everyday post afternoon and stayed with her till she would fall asleep. He would feed her, tell her stories, crack jokes and coax her like a small child into doing things. He helped Eira with her studies and it was because of him that she agreed to sit for her finals. He took special permission from the Dean of the college to wait outside her class, while she was writing her paper, on all the exam days. Eira’s counselors could not believe her speed of recovery. Never once had Eira felt any difference in Arnab’s love or his behavior towards her.

Finally a date was set for their wedding and both were married in simple ceremony with the blessings of all the near and dear ones. Six months passed by and Eira was back to normal, except for those midnight shrieks which doctors and counselors said would take some time to recover.

Eira’s recovery was almost magical like a fairytale. Arnab’s love, care and warmth healed her wounds, speeding her process of recovery. Within a year of her marriage, Eira set up an NGO along with Arnab to rehabilitate rape victims. Both the attendants were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The wounds have not healed,

Tears have not dried,

Heart bleeds,

Nothing comforts, nothing shields!

Shadows in the dark,

Voices that bark,

“Ruined” dignity,

Smothered peace!

Humiliated body,

Mutilated soul!

Shaking and shivering,

In those midnight shrieks!

Shards of thoughts,

Piercing the mind!

Difficult to erase,

The creases left behind!

The body cleansed off the dirt,

But, the soul…………………

Will it forever dwell in that hurt?

 

In case of Eira, her soul did take a lot of time to heal but the love of Arnab worked like a balm, soothing the hurt and helping her rise again leaving the gruesome past way behind.

Editor’s Note on A Balm for the Soul

A Balm for the Soul is not Archana Desai’s first piece in Eastlit. The following pieces of work have appeared in earlier Eastlit issues:

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