I am not going to lie. I was freaking out. Who was she? Part of some Indian mafia? Was her family going to track her down and kill me? Or what if she herself is a mobster and is just trapping me.... Aaaah. Escape Escape Escape.
She caught the panic on my face and laughed. The first time I heard her laugh. Not a giggle, not a fake laugh it was a throw back your head and laugh from your belly laugh. The kind of laughter women were not supposed to partake in, in order to honour their stone-age sanskriti and parampara. Especially at night, with another woman and no man to protect!
She wiped her eyes, still laughing, and said "I am sorry, i didn't mean to laugh at you. It's just you look so terrified of me. But you don't know that I am the last person that will ever hurt you. How can I hurt you Nazreen?
This is not happening. She did not just say my name.
"Uh...Bharati...how do you know my name?"
"Why won't I know my own, beta?" she said, confusing me further.
Beta?! Her own? This is definitely the first time I am meeting her. I am not aware of any young aunty that I might have in my family. Did mother miss one out when she was explaining our family tree now?
I looked sideways at her and she was looking at me, a very gentle smile lighting up her face. Something about that smile calmed me down right then and made me trust her. This beautiful stranger, with her kohl rimmed eyes and her white kurta and jeans, was not going to hurt me. I was sure of that.
We resume walking when we hear the growing sound of bikes coming this way. As with every other Indian girl who was out at this time, my chest clenched in fear and my immediate reaction was to look down and draw my duppatta around me a little tighter, making sure everything was covered. Nothing should tempt these men to make me their object of lust and rage. I whispered to Bharati, asking her if she has a dupatta to cover herself.
"Why? I am not cold."
"No, Bharati, there are men coming this way."
"Are you new here? You should know that this area isn't safe for women. Especially at night."
"Nazreen, these roads and alleys are as much your as any one else here. You don't have to rely on a mere cloth to offer you protection from men. "
"But Bharati..." the rest of my reasoning was drowned out by the bikers now circling around us, whistling and letting us know very descriptively what they would like to do to us.
They would have gone their way had Bharati not spoken up. "Kaise mard ho tum jo aurthon ko ched kar apni mardaangi dikhathe ho." Great. She questioned their masculinity and insulted the male ego.
They stopped circling us and got out of their bikes.
I was sure that this was the night I was going to get raped.
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