Summer of Wounds

Gaurav Bhatnagar

It’s arrival was confirmed the day Papa used to ask us to prepare beds for the night on the terrace of our house in Delhi. This was an annual ritual , when the small rooms of our government flat started to feel stuffy and warm, scaring sleep miles away from our eyes. As if on cue, just like us, almost all families in the neighbourhood used to start rolling their beds for the 18 stair treck to the roof.

That’s when we knew summer had arrived.

Our flat had a small cemented terrace, joined by a dozen more similar ones, separated only by a waist high wall. A sign of simpler times, when just that short wall provided all the privacy we needed. I think it was designed that way to encourage neighbours to come together and spend time with each other. And that’s exactly what we used to do. From lunch menus to movie gossips, and from political views to latest shopping trends; the conversations were always diverse and fun.

Two massive Peepul trees overlooked our neighbourhood on either sides. The Sun’s day long journey started from one tree and ended behind another. Who says the Earth is racing fast around the sun? It takes the Sun an entire day to go just from one tree to another, I used to think.

The numerous green yellow leaves of these trees appeared to be perpetually waving at me as the wind blowed in any direction it pleased. I used to smilingly wave back.

Those were the days of innocence, wonder and simple pleasures.

That summer also started like the previous six of my life. My father had different plans for me this time . “You will be going to the countryside hometown with your elder cousin brother for the summer and study with him”, he said.

There was never a discussion about what Papa decided. What was said had to be done.

This was my first trip without my parents, away from them. The cousin used to stay with us in Delhi to complete his senior schooling. He was friendly. We used to play cricket and other sports, and I was happy at the prospect of doing more of that in his hometown.

His house was in a small town outside Delhi. The house was big, but not airy. It was on three levels and sunlight barely used to reach the ground floor of the house. My aunt loved me a lot and took care of my needs like my mother. What I liked to eat, what I liked to play, she knew it all.

She knew I didn’t sleep without my mom next to me, and since she had a young child of her own, she asked my cousin to sleep with me on the first floor. She wanted to make me feel comfortable. I thought I will be.

Tired from the day’s journey, sleep engulfed me immediately that night; but only for a while, as I I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself without clothes. How, what...before any of this could be answered, I felt hands creeping all over me. These weren’t comforting hands, these were hungry hands that didn’t stop till they were satiated, and until I was scarred...forever.

The world outside that room was quiet and deep in sleep. Who should I speak to? What should I say? Is it my mistake? Should I run away? How much I wanted to run away, that very moment, run to my mother in the middle of the night not looking back. I screamed for my mother, I cried and asked for her to come and take me with her that very moment.

The silent screams are the loudest; they echo for an entire lifetime, only no one listens to them. It felt like my brain would explode with these screams, and leave me without the power to ever speak again. The scars were made open each night that summer as I lay robbed, shamed, scared and wounded. His eyes never acknowledged it. Nothing had changed there, nothing moved there.

A riot had started within me. Why did this happen to me; I kept thinking on my trip back home. I was angry and afraid. I couldn’t gather the courage to talk to him, to ask him, why? He was next to me all the time.

The Peepul trees were happy to see me. Countless leaves waved again at me. I didn’t wave back. The summer Hoopoe had arrived filling the air with nature’s music. I seemed to have gone deaf. Whose fault was it, was the only question that echoed in my ears.

Summer ended, and it was time to return to school. I left the house not looking back, as if never to return. I was running away from it; I was running away from the summer I thought.

I am still running, carrying with me the ever deepening wounds of a summer.

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