The printer gave out one last *beep*, as the last set of pages fell with little swooshes on the tray. I checked the time – “10.17 pm”.
‘So much for women’s safety’, I thought, and I might have even said that out aloud, but who cares, I was the only one on the entire floor! The perpetually running computer machines on the entire floor had stopped humming. Once you get used to listening to that sound all day it leaves sort of a deafening silence at this hour, when the office is a ghost town. All the lights were off save for the one in my area.
This last minute report generation had sabotaged my Friday evening plans; I even missed Jay’s birthday party, which he was so kicked about until he left at 9 pm. I didn’t want him to wait anyway, he had started to creep me out by sitting in my cubicle staring at me while I literally went all in on my keyboard to type the report out before it got too late. He had finally left after leaving this piece of cake he had on him for quite a long time, really, but honestly I didn’t care. I was starving and could just about even eat my computer mouse if need be. All this, after the successful presentation I gave to the leadership team this morning!
I looked out of the large glass windows on the glimmering skyline of the city. This hour is truly the hour of heavy partying, unlike the quiet sobriety of the suburb I live in. And I won’t be able to get back home if I wasted more time cleaning up my desk. I’ll do it on Monday. The incidences of crimes against women have gone up in the country, or at least the reports of the said crimes have. But I wasn’t oblivious to the rape of that girl who had come to the city to visit her parents last week. Wasn’t she from Delhi?
My gaze shifted below, scouting for a ride home. I’d clearly missed the office bus by a good 2 hours now, and my only saviour was probably this idling taxi right outside the office gate. I’ve to rush. I stuffed Jay’s cake into my mouth and was soon on my way out of my boss’ cabin where my report lay on top of all of his Monday morning stuff. If I’d sacrificed my Friday evening social life for this report he’d better appreciate it.
I clocked myself out of the office, and just happened to look at my ID card. I stared long and hard at the letters of my first name – ‘N A T A S H A’, then at my picture. Are all pictures on ID cards so horrible? Except for models, probably, but at least mine was better than Rita’s, at least I LOOKED feminine. The red light on the detector was a little fuzzy, and it took me quite some strength to push the door ajar. I walked to the lift, struggling to keep balance, and pressed the down arrow next to it hard.
The *ding* after the lift doors opening was so obnoxious and louder than usual!
After what seemed like eternity to get to the ground floor, my claustrophobia finally heaved a sigh of relief and I stumbled out of the lift. Why did I have to wear stilettos today?!
I was glad the taxi was still standing there. Was I really the only one in the entire building tonight? Pfft!
The yellow colour of the taxi blinded me. Why was this happening to me? Was there something in the cake? Was that why Jay was carrying it all along and was so hell bent on me coming to his party? I had rejected his advances at the New Year’s Eve party anyway, but was he not taking ‘No’ for an answer? How dumb was the plan! If I wasn’t in my senses how was I supposed to go to his party without any help? Or may be he had given up on me. I think I saw him frowning as he left my desk at 9.
With great effort I got into the taxi, stuffed myself on the back seat and almost broke off the door while shutting it. But my head felt so heavy as I sat down that I couldn’t manage even a ‘sorry’ before the driver asked me my destination. Was it the drugs in the cake, or was this driver really staring at me for long? I could barely mumble my area and suburb to him before the heat got to me. I shoved my blazer to the side and popped the top button of my blouse to get some air. Sweat trickled down from my temple onto my cheek and finally dropping on my blouse, and I sure hoped the driver hadn’t noticed it. But he had.
The rest of the drive was a blur; streetlights went past my heavy eyes in flashes and I finally understood the Doppler effect thanks to the honking and speeding vehicles next to the taxi. Or was the driver deliberately driving slowly? The heat was unbearable, and I might’ve opened another button involuntarily, and I think the driver caught that. The surroundings of the National Park made no difference, it was still hot as hell. I finally gave in closed my eyes.
This was my biggest mistake. The next thing I remember was being carried out of the taxi parked by a clump of trees, and being laid on the trunk of the taxi. He said to me in crude, and sharp words, “I’m going to cut your nipples off.” I saw the glint of a knife’s steel handle sticking out of one of the pockets of his dusty khaki uniform.
I felt a helpless surge of fear within, and my mind and body went numb after that fear died down in useless wails. I remember being roughly pushed further onto the trunk and his dirty teeth glaring at me, while his hands searched for my underwear below my skirt that he had hitched up. I wished I had lost consciousness so that I wouldn’t remember what was about to happen next, but sure as hell hoped that he’d not make it painful and cruel. But from the incidences that we’ve been hearing lately, I couldn’t dare to imagine what he would do after he was done with me.
My mind shut off for a while until I heard a rumble behind the madman. It grew louder and closer and then died off completely. Was I imagining things? Anything but dying a cruel death in the woods.
Unfortunately being this cognizant had given me a clear view of the taxi driver and what he was doing. A light shone bright behind him and then he just vanished from view after a muffled *thud*. In his place I saw a silhouette of another man, only taller. My thighs had been soiled, and it took me some effort to shut my legs, and get up. If this man was hostile too I sure wasn’t in any shape to fend him off.
I pulled my underwear up in a frenzy and slipped down to the ground. The other man held me and carried me away from the taxi, closer to the light. Was I dead? It can’t be. I didn’t remember going through the slightest amount of fatal pain. No coup de grace.
His touch was soft and caring, and he laid me on the passenger seat of another car. The car smelled of berries, and he smelled of a really expensive perfume, or may be it was just the smell of elation, elation of being alive.