Jhimki’s mom wailed, “Hai Ram*! What is happening around us?”
17-year-old Jhimki rushed out to the small cubicle in their shanty. Her mother was seated on the floor with her father and seemed upset. Jhimki looked quizzically at them both.
“Jhimki, remember Pooja? The tailor’s daughter? She had been missing for the last two days. Her body was found in the nullah* today early morning. Without any clothes. Brutally raped. The poor child. I curse the devils! It’s the third case in the last one month,” sobbed her mother.
A shiver ran through Jhimki’s spine. Pooja! The little seven-year-old who was often seen playing hopscotch with the neighborhood children outside. Jhimki bumped into her often while heading to college. The little girl in her school uniform and pigtails gave her a shy smile as they passed each other. And today, she was gone. Forever!
With a warning from her parents to be extra vigilant, Jhimki picked up her bag and headed out to college. The streets outside wore a deserted look. A crowd was gathered outside Pooja’s home and she could hear the sound of wails permeating from the walls.
Her eyes moistened with tears and she blinked them away.
The local police suspected three boys for the crime. Juveniles between the age of 15 to 17. Good for nothings who were constantly rounded up for petty crimes ranging from pickpocketing to stealing and hooliganism. This was a new one. With the local corporator’s connections, the boys were out on bail as there was no evidence against them.
The back road was deserted after 6 PM. Most people avoided it as drug peddlers and petty thieves abounded there.
Jhimki walked past the junked cars and dilapidated building. She knew they would be here. This was their adda*. Ahh, there they were with beedis* in their mouths. There was no one else around yet, the crowd would thicken in an hour when darkness descended. Her blood boiled. The Vermin!
As she approached, she heard the whistles. Her heart raced and she willed herself to calm down as Madamji had often advised. She knew what she was doing and geared up for what was to come.
As they circled her, she looked them in the eye. Fear gripped her, but she shook it off. It was time now. They had to pay.
Kaboom! Pow! Boom!
The sounds reverberated in the air.
The next day the local newspaper carried a snippet that the boys had confessed their crime and were placed in police custody. An anonymous video of the confession had made its way to the police and the media last night.
As the neighborhood heaved a sigh of relief, Jhimki smiled. Six months of free martial arts training which her college teacher had insisted on, had come in handy.
She had never told anyone about it.
It remained her secret. Her Mask. That had empowered her finally!
Hai Ram – Calling out God’s name
Nullah – Drain
Adda – Hangout
Beedi – A cheap type of cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves.
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