A Helping Hand

A Helping Hand

Dust motes danced in the air as weak sunlight filtered in from the chink in the curtains. Dawn had finally broken, ending the horrors of the night. 

Sheila winced as she pulled down her nightgown to cover the red, angry welts on her legs. He had taken great pleasure last night in punishing her for her transgression of being five minutes late from her evening walk.

She limped into the kitchen, where her mother-in-law, Shanti, was already preparing the morning tea. Looking at Sheila’s withdrawn face, she gently pushed her into a chair and placed a cup of herbal tea in front of her. Sheila grimaced at the bitter taste of the tea but swallowed it, knowing it would help her heal faster.

Shanti placed a document and pen in front of Shelia. Shelia stared at the document. It was not the first time she had seen it.

“Sign it,” Shanti said, steel coating her soft voice.

Shelia shook her head as her eyes brimmed over with tears.

“Sign it,” Shanti insisted.

“I can’t!” Sheila sobbed.


“What will people say? Who will marry my younger sisters?’ Sheila replied.

“People stayed quiet when a young, happy girl transformed into a scared, battered woman. They have no right to object.”

“But I have no money, no degree. How will I survive?” Sheila protested.

Pulling Sheila into a warm embrace, Shanti said, “Just sign, and I will be there to help you.”

Taking a deep breath, Sheila picked up the pen and signed the papers.

Six years later 

“Sheila! We are getting late!” Shanti called, knocking on the bedroom door.

“Just a minute,” Sheila called.

The door opened, and she stepped out, barely recognizable in her new avatar. 

Shanti looked at Sheila and felt her heart swell with pride. The long plait had been replaced with a chic layered cut, the printed cotton sarees with an elegant salwar-kameez. The biggest transformation though was the way Sheila carried herself. She now walked tall, with her shoulders back, exuding confidence.

Shelia came closer and gave her some papers.

“Sign it,” Sheila said. 

“What are these?” Shanti half-laughed in surprise.

“Papers appointing you as the director of our women’s help centre. If that day, you had not gone against your son and made me sign the divorce papers, I would not be here, getting an award for creating safe spaces for women. You stood by me when even my own mother left me to my fate for the sake of society. You sold your jewellery to pay for my MBA and gave me seed money for starting the centre. I would not have achieved all that I did if you had not made me take the first step towards freedom. Let me repay your debt.”

Shanti hugged Sheila and replied, “I only did what I was supposed to do, help another woman.”

“And now, you can help many more. Sign the papers”. 

Shanti smiled as she picked up the pen and signed the papers.  

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