Shraddha stood by the window, for her favorite pastime, to catch a glimpse of Karan, her neighbor. She must’ve had a crush on him for more than over a year since her family moved into this house. She drooled over his curly locks, brown eyes, and that vicious smile. It was a teenage romance for her, though he must’ve been at least ten years elder. That did not stop her from flirting casually with him as they passed each other at times. They had become sort of friends, at least in her head. Her gaze fixated on him as he stood in the complex talking to his friends, unaware of the eyes on him.
The doorbell broke her spell and she realized she’d have to get that door. She was used to staying alone at home. Her parents left early in the morning and were usually home by six in the evening. The face on the door was a familiar one but not a friendly one. It was Rajesh. He lived in the same building. He was a close family friend, but Shraddha detested him. He often misbehaved with her, touched her inappropriately when no one was looking and passed lewd remarks. She tried to avoid him, but he was very close to their family. She couldn’t tell anyone either as she felt no one would believe that a man in his forties was abusing a teenage girl. She also feared that somehow people would blame her for this, and it would make life more difficult for her.
To see his face behind the mesh door sent a cold shiver down her spine. He came under the pretext of borrowing the newspaper. She refused to open the door saying there was no newspaper that afternoon. He insisted she let her in as she wanted a glass of water. She put a brave face and asked him to leave but her face had already turned pale of fear. He fed on that fear and came closer to the door warning her that he would make life miserable for her. She shut the door and ran to her room clenching her pillow and screaming into it. She felt unsafe. She felt helpless.
Her phone was constantly ringing in the background, it was an unknown caller. Unwillingly, she answered the phone. It was Rajesh, with his lewd comments. She disconnected the phone and immediately blocked the number. Another call from an unknown caller. She knew it was him and blocked it without even answering the call. Then followed a barrage of abusive messages and nude imagery. She kept blocking every number, till the rain finally stopped. She felt numb and scared to the bones at the same time. This was the first time she could gather any courage of some sorts to fight back but she felt unsafe in her own home.
She looked at her phonebook in a desperate attempt to find someone to call, just to keep her company, but her brain froze. It was a good time to tell someone, anyone, but what if her parents got to know. She belonged to a very conservative family and if they got to know about it, they might restrict her at home. She wouldn’t be able to go to college or meet her friends. Worse, they might even get her married. She dismissed the idea of telling anyone. But then something in her made her call Karan. Maybe it was the helpless situation she felt she was in or maybe he was the one person she felt she could tell. She told him everything and within the next ten minutes he was with her.
She felt safe. He comforted her in a weird sort of way. Just by being there. In a way, she forgot what she was going through, momentarily. Karan asked her, why had she not told this to anyone yet. She gave a typical response. She was scared. It can be difficult to call out your abuser. It can be scarring, he told her. But it was important for her, to stand against the abuse. It was more important for her to build the courage to let her family know, so they can be with her and find a resolve. She should not have to do this by herself. She felt weak in the stomach just listening to all this and he could see it on her face. He hugged her, and apologized for the situation she was in. Tears rolled down her eyes. Stay strong, he said. She looked up at him and couldn’t take her eyes off. He looked at her pale face as she leaned towards him. He took her face in his hands and kissed her. It was a gentle kiss, at first, and grew intense. She felt a different kind of weak in the stomach. She couldn’t believe what was happening. They were making out and she was floating on a cloud. She felt breathless for a second there but did not want this to ever end. It had to. She looked at Karan, who had stepped back and now had a tinge of regret on his face. She didn’t know what to do next. So, she said what she believed had to be said in such a situation – ‘I love you’. He replied – ‘I love Neha’. She stood there dumbstruck, unable to understand what had happened. He tried to explain but she asked him to leave. She no longer felt safe with him. She felt helpless.