Warning: Not for children under the age of 13.
April 27, 1990
“Don’t go anywhere, Ann. I’ll be right back,” the tall, tanned man with a mustache says to his chubby five-year-old daughter. The little girl nods obediently and sits on the park bench, her short legs dangling a foot off the ground. Her father, on his small girl’s request, goes to get an ice-cream for her from the ice-cream man.
“A double-strawberry cone, please,” he says to the pudgy vendor, remembering his daughter’s fondness for everything pink. Beaming, he returns to the bench where his daughter was sitting, the delicious-looking ice-cream with a cherry atop it held firmly in his rough hand.
The smile quickly turns upside-down. The ice-cream melts in the blazing sun, leaving a pink puddle near the man’s shoes.
The bench is empty.
April 27, 2000
Ten years. Precisely ten years it has been since he lost his daughter. The tears will never stop, it seems, as long as he lives. They used to come years ago, and they come even now, a decade after that fateful afternoon. Even now, he is full of regret and self-blame. Those monsters will live inside him forever, breaking him, eating him from within, down to the very last cell. “Why, oh why, did you ever have to leave her alone?” they whisper in their throaty voices, words sharper than a knife stabbing at his heart continuously.
“Why, oh why, did you ever have to leave her alone?” they whisper in their throaty voices, words sharper than a knife stabbing at his heart continuously.
A knock on the door interrupts his personal moment. He wipes his tears away with his sleeve, putting on an invisible mask to hide his grief, and answers the door.
A girl, probably around fourteen or fifteen, stands in the doorway with dark lines on her face, which suggested that she’d been crying recently. She would’ve been pretty, if not for her shaven head. Somehow, she seems familiar to him, although he’s sure he’s never seen her.
She says nothing, apart from a single word. “Father.”
After a very teary reunion, the man’s daughter starts narrating to him her life in the last ten years. Ten years is a long time, but the man listens to his daughter with patient ears. Her life had been a terrible one, one the man could never even have imagined she’d have.
“That afternoon, father, when I was sitting alone on the bench, a tall, fair man came up to me and said that you had sent him to get me. I believed him then, father, for I was only a naÏve child. And then he put a fragrant handkerchief on my nose, and I must’ve fallen asleep after that because I do not remember much. When I got up, I saw that he had taken me inside a bungalow, with at least fifty rooms peering down from the balustrades. And what a bungalow it was! Chandeliers dangling from the dome-shaped ceiling, bathing it in a soft red glow, floors covered with rugs so velvety that my feet sank into them, and curtains of mirrors, and rhinestones, and sequins hung outside every room.”
“The man told me it was my new home. The next seven years went by in a blur of enjoyment. You were with me every day, father.”
“But I never visited such a place, dear child,” the man replies, flabbergasted.
“I came to know that only when I turned twelve, father when you- the man posing as you- peeled off your- his- face and showed me who he was. That day was my worst one. They- they sold my body. Every night, father.”
The daughter chokes into tears. The father gasps, now full of more regret than ever before. He wished he didn’t hear this. He hopes all of this was a long nightmare from which he’d soon wake up, and find his daughter, with her hair intact, sitting beside him. Alas, wishes do not come true in this unjust, mundane world of ours.
The man consoles his daughter and begs her to continue.
“They made me… made me sleep with men more than twice my age, father. I scrubbed and washed myself every morning, hoping I would be clean someday. But oh, I was never clean, never clean, father.”
The girl can’t stifle her sobs anymore. “They gave me… gave me things to make myself beautiful, desirable. I learned at that time, what a curse beauty can be. Once I rolled my bed sheets into a rope and tried to escape from the window, but they caught me and threatened to… to stick an iron rod inside me, father if I dared do it again.”
“They gave me things to make myself beautiful, desirable. I learned at that time, what a curse beauty can be.”
The man can’t console his daughter anymore. He can’t even console himself. A rape threat to his daughter is not even the last thing a father would want to hear. But the girl is stronger this time. She is just coming to the part where she escapes, and that gives her strength to comfort her weeping father.
“But I wasn’t to be crushed so easily. The day before my fifteenth birthday, I had an idea. I was no use to them unattractive. So I made myself so. I shaved my head. It broke my heart to sacrifice my hair, but getting away from that terrible place was more important to me. So I let go. I traded my hair for my freedom. And when they saw me with a bald head, they kicked me and slapped me and tried to injure me with all sorts of things. But I wasn’t bothered. Sticks and stones couldn’t break my bones anymore; the lust for freedom had ensured that. And then, they kicked me out. I had never thought as a child, father, how good being thrown out could feel. I had always thought it would feel unpleasant. But oh, it was the most pleasant feeling in the world, being kicked out from that Bungalow of Nightmares.”
The girl pauses for a moment and smiles at her father. The man tries to smile back, but his smile fails him. He can’t yet forget the horrors she had had to endure for three long years before she performed her exodus.
“It’s over, father, it’s over now. I’m back, and I am never leaving you again,” she says, when she sees how distressed her father looks.
The man smiles this time and hugs her. “Neither am I.”
So I wrote this one because discussing things like these is considered taboo by the society, and that is the reason why the plight of sexually harassed children remains behind the curtains and the seriousness of child abuse is not understood. I sincerely hope that my humble effort to bring this issue to light does not go unnoticed, and the necessity of urgent action is recognized.
P.S. I don’t usually write my stories in this formal language, but somehow it seemed the right style for this one.