He hardly ever came home before 10 at night. And it wasn’t work. The woman from the flat upstairs had reported seeing him in the street. His arms had been flung around another woman and he was nuzzling her neck.
“You must be mistaken,” she told the housewife from 303. “It must have been someone else.”
“It was your husband. I am not blind.”
“It wasn’t him,” she said. “He was at work.”
The two women stood and stared at each other.
“This is a warning sign,” said the upstairs neighbour. “Don’t ignore it.”
“Bitch!” she said and slammed the door in the woman’s face.
She shouldn’t have done that. The woman from 303 was just trying to help. And it was true something was going on. She had called his office yesterday and was told he had left at 6 as usual. But he hadn’t reached home until midnight.
“Dinner?” she asked.
“Had it in office,” he replied. “Busy day.”
“You are drunk again,” she said, helping him undress.
“It helps me relax,” he said, pointing to his forehead. “I need to relax.”
She moved away as he grabbed her breasts.
“Please, not tonight,” she said.
“Why not?” he asked, slurring.
“Please,” she repeated and trembled violently when he slapped her.
“Bitch!” he shouted. “Can’t even satisfy your husband.”
He left for work in the morning, without as much as looking at her. She sat on her chair, stone-faced for several hours. It wasn’t the first time he had hit her and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. If only she had done something about it when it started several months ago. She had suffered a black eye then but he was like an animal that had tasted blood. She knew then the beatings would never stop. And yet she stayed on.
She should have never married him. But her parents had insisted. He had a steady job and didn’t want much dowry. He drank a little. “Just a little,” her father had told her. “You’ll end up more drunk than your husband.” She had laughed then. Another warning sign ignored.
The romance lasted just a few days. She was nauseous and had told him she didn’t want to have sex that night. “Bitch!” he shouted, pulling her towards him and tearing off her clothes. “You are mine,” he said as he assaulted her.
And yet she stayed on. What could she do? She had to make the marriage work. Her parents would turn her away. She was nothing without him. She couldn’t run away. Or could she?
It was 10 when he returned.
“Listen, I’m sorry,” he said, offering her a box of sweets. “Take some.”
She didn’t want to eat it but he cajoled her into taking a bite. Perhaps he had realized he was treating her badly. Was there hope for her after all?
But there was something wrong. She saw it in his eyes seconds before she fell to the ground. She had ignored yet another warning sign. He was gesturing to someone in the doorway.
She struggled to keep her eyes open and glanced at the woman who had come in with a sack. So this is the woman who is going to take her place. As her life ebbed away, she had a prayer on her lips. “Let her not make the mistakes I made.”
[Are you a victim of domestic violence? Do not ignore the warning signs. There’s help at every step. The latest National Family Health Survey says 34 percent of Indian women aged between 15 and 49 experienced physical violence at home. Nine percent suffered sexual violence. Save yourself before it’s too late. Make contact now]