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from Hiren's Journey by Rebecca Onkar

Chapter 5

Maybe things won’t be as bad as I’ve imagined, Hiren thought as she leaned against the building behind her and soaked her aching feet in the warm water. She could feel relaxation sinking into her body like water into soft earth. Tension, her constant companion, was slowly leaving her and sleep threatened to overtake her as she cooled off in the shade of the building.

I must not sleep! She thought as she snapped herself upright and fixed her eyes back on to the man and woman attending her. Her terror of an hour before when the man had tried to lift her skirt was mostly gone, but not far from her. Her eyes found it hard to leave him for long for fear that he might come at her again.

Even so, it seemed to Hiren that there was something different about the man’s eyes. She could almost imagine she saw kindness there. Turning her attention once again to the old woman she wondered who this person was who could so gently touch her filthy feet. The woman’s skin was so thin and so fair that Hiren could see blueness beneath it. She felt the urge to reach out her hand and touch it, but held herself back.

Hiren distracted herself by taking a closer look at her surroundings but after only a moment she was overwhelmed by the newness of everything and her body had not yet fully adjusted to being on land. Closing her eyes against it all, Hiren felt bitterly alone and she longed for Manju. How I wish she were at my side now, whispering to me what to do.

Manju is dead! Hiren sat straight up and her eyes flew open. No! She couldn’t bear to think of it again but the images of that terrible day haunted her every waking moment.

It was after Hiren discovered Manju in the dark with Baldy that he started to spend more and more time beneath the ship and in the girls’ presence. It was Manju who noticed that he was looking at Hiren more intensely, staring at her for what felt like hours. Sometimes he would walk near to her and brush against her body. The girls tried to avoid him, but they had nowhere to hide in the small galley of the ship where they were held. They felt like caged animals awaiting their execution, or something worse.

Hiren and Manju huddled together at night and held each other closely, neither of them able to sleep but so exhausted that they had to rest. A few times Hiren was awake when Baldy came and called Manju away. During those nights she would bury her face in her blanket and plead to the gods to allow her to die.

The gods, ever against her, took Manju’s life instead.

Hiren imagined that it must be her destiny to evade death even when she wished for it.

Then suddenly Baldy stopped coming. Manju and Hiren spoke of it often, wondering if he had died and imagining the ways they hoped it had happened. However, their dreams were shattered one night when Hiren awoke to feel a hand groping at her legs and pushing up her skirt. Another hand covered her face, and held her down. She managed to scream and she fought against the force on top of her but she realized it was too late and she was too weak and she felt defeat sink into her body. Hiren’s attacker must have felt it too because he tore at her more fiercely, but only for a moment, and then as suddenly a...

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