Sheela was returning from work. She worked as a house-maid in a big bungalow. The pathway to her shanty had become muddy due to the incessant rains. She picked up her five-year-old daughter from Aanganwadi, and they both walked towards their home.
When it started pouring Sheela said, “Didi has given me an umbrella today. Let’s use it. You won’t get wet from now on.”
Saying this, Sheela took out an umbrella from her bag and opened it.
Deepa was amazed at the sight of the pink umbrella. It had white polka dots all over. The white and pink combination was giving her a royal sight. In her ill-fitted old attire, she felt like a princess walking under it. Staying dry in spite of heavy rains was an astounding feeling !
As they reached their shanty, Deepa started playing with the umbrella .
Sheela said, “Stop it Deepa. This is not a toy. If you play, it will break. Then you’ll have to get wet.”
Deepa understood immediately, and kept it aside.
Sheela lived the life of a single mother. Her husband had deserted them six months ago. He was rumoured to be living with another woman.
Sheela was better off being single. Her husband didn’t earn anything. His only job was to come home drunk, and torture her physically. Either through his violence or in bed.
Raju lived in Sheela’s slum area.
He once handed her a smart phone and said, “Take this. We’ll chat.”
Before she could respond, he had left.
They started chatting. Before she could realize, she was head over heels in love with him. She would talk with him for hours till mid-night.
One day Raju offered, “Sheela, let’s elope before your husband returns. My family will not approve of you, as you are a married woman with a child.”
He continued, “I have a friend who lives in a different town. Let’s go there and settle. I promise I’ll give a better education to your daughter. You deserve a much better life. You won’t need to work and will be treated like a queen. Your husband didn’t value you. But I am different.”
His words were enough to convince Sheela.
“Bring whatever cash you have,” Raju had insisted.
Sheela packed her belongings, fantasizing about a contented future ahead. She neatly folded her and her daughter’s clothes in a bag.
“Where are we going Ma?” Deepa asked innocently.
“We are going out of town. You can pack whatever you want to.”
Deepa picked the umbrella and said, “I want only this.”
Sheela smiled at her daughter’s innocence. For her, this was a prized possession.
Sheela reached the bus stand with Deepa in the evening. Raju greeted them with a wide grin.
Sheela was a bit sceptical about leaving the city with him. They had been talking for quite some time on the phone, but met each other for the first time. Till now, they only used to steal glances in the neighbourhood.
She boarded the bus with him. They sat together on two-seater, with Deepa on her lap. She felt uncomfortable when Raju kept his arm around her.
“Call me Papa,” insisted Raju to Deepa.
Sheela smiled and nodded when Deepa looked questioningly towards her.
They reached a remote hilly town in Gujarat in the wee hours. Sheela was asleep on Raju’s shoulder by then.
They climbed a hilly road for a few minutes. Raju led them into a mansion.
The house had a huge and heavy iron gate. A man opened the gate, and as they entered the compound, he immediately locked it from inside.
Sheela believed she entered the gates to her freedom !
Raju met the owner of the house and addressed him as ‘uncle’. They were allotted a room.
Sheela was awed at the size of the room. It was a huge room with an attached bathroom. She had never used a toilet.
When she opened the bathroom door, Deepa asked, pointing at the toilet, “Ma, what is this?”
Sheela explained, “This is called a toilet, dear. Now, we won’t have to go to the open fields.”
There was a window in their room. She opened the window and let the fresh air come in. She inhaled her newly acquired freedom and dreamt of living a beautiful life with Raju. She had bid a good-bye to her torturous past. The morning sunshine promised her a bright future.
Her room was on the ground floor. She could have a perfect view of the compound. It had a mango tree, small shrubs and also the gate. A big lock adorned the gate. The gate was covered by climbers which grew relentlessly. The plants seemed unattended. The greens on the rustic gate gave her a new hope.
Far away, she could see hills. The sun rising behind the hills gave a spectacular view. Wherever her eyes could reach, she could see only greens.
Raju asked for cash which she had carried, and for her earrings, on the pretext of selling them for acquiring an accommodation.
She gave away and said, “I don’t have anything else.”
He promised to buy her another pair of earrings once things settle.
Sheela believed him.
Raju went out in search of an accommodation, and came in the evening.
Till then, Sheela stayed in her room with Deepa, as advised by Raju.
Deepa played with the umbrella all day and by evening, it broke.
She cried, but Sheela consoled, “It’s ok. We’ll get another one.”
At night, Sheela couldn’t sleep peacefully. She was nervous as well as excited about how things were unfolding in her life.
She got up in the middle of the night and heard someone whisper. She realized that Raju was nowhere in the room. She got up and tiptoed near the window. She saw him talking in a hushed-tone on the phone.
Curious, she pressed her ears against the window-sill.
She overheard, “Fifty thousand is too less. They are two. Mother and her five-year-old chick. I want one lakh.”
Sheela got the shock of her life ! She couldn’t believe her ears ! He was striking a deal !
Raju had betrayed her. She had trusted him more than anyone in this world. He had promised to make their life better. But instead, he had brought them here to sell them off. She had run from one hell to another !
Shattered, she looked at her daughter. Their lives were at stake.
The peaceful face of her daughter gave her courage. She had to break open the gates of this captivity.
I can’t let this happen. I have to do something.
With tears, she kissed her sleeping daughter.
She caressed her forehead and promised, “I won’t let this happen.”
She eyed the broken umbrella which Deepa had clinged in her arms.
I am as torn as this broken toy of yours.
When Raju came into the room after sometime, Sheela wiped her tears and pretended to sleep.
I have to think before dawn.
Funds. She had secretly kept some cash in the folds of her clothes, in case of an emegency.
Flee. The gate was a major hindrance. She’ll have to act when the gate is open. For that, she will have to keep an eye on it from the window.
Overwhelmed by the natural scenic beauty, she had spent most of the day beside the window. She tried to recollect when the lock of the gate was open that day.
The first time it was open for a few minutes when ‘uncle’ had left for the temple. The gate had remained open till he had returned.
The second time, it was opened again in the evening, when a maid entered the mansion.
The rest of the time, it was locked.
By morning, she was ready with her plan. Sitting near the small window, she continuously eyed the gate.
While Raju was still sleepng, she saw someone unlock the gate, as ‘uncle’ left the mansion. She knew, she had only a few minutes.
She opened the door. Sqeak.
With groggy eyes, Raju got up.
When he saw Sheela escaping with her daughter and bag, he yelled, “Hey, where are you going ?”
Without wasting a second, she hit him with the only weapon she had – the broken umbrella. She hit thrice on his head. Whack. Whack. Whack. While Raju still had to decipher what happened, she ran out with Deepa.
She ran out of the gate, quickly shut it, and latched it from outside.
She kept running down to the bus stop which was a few meters away from the mansion.
She boarded a bus without knowing its destination.
Two days later, she reached home.
She filed a police complain against Raju, so that he could not play with any other girl’s life.
After a month-long search, he was traced and arrested.
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