It wasn’t when I walked in on him beating her to a pulp while she tried desperately to block the blows, squeezing herself tightly in a corner in the kitchen that I lost my innocence. And it certainly wasn’t that moment when I looked to the table and saw the unfinished task she had obviously been at before the attack started…the uncut tomatoes lying there and the knife looking at me as if it was the most attractive thing in the room, tempting me to use it for a whole different purpose. But I was only a child.
What could I have possibly known?
There I was, seated in the headmaster’s office…my homeroom teacher on my left and another man to my right. As if in a trance, we all watched and listened (willy-nilly) to this man talking on and on, some whitish staff even forming at the corners of his mouth. How he loved the sound of his own voice. He was bragging about what a great idea it was that the school administration had recommended his daughter to take an exam intended for grades two levels above her. He was like a man riding high on some yet to be manufactured drug. This man could have said I was the Messiah and I would have believed him.
DNA insists he was my father.
But it wasn’t when I felt the gnawing guilty for silently celebrating the praises coming from this man that I lost my innocence. And it certainly wasn’t when I realised there was a woman back home who had cried herself to sleep the previous night worried sick about the pressure that was being put on her little girl. Wasn’t it only the night before when she had come into the room I shared with my sisters, sat on the bed and took my hands in hers, her face ever so solemn. She had said, “I don’t want you to think that I have no faith in you my baby…it is just that I see no reason why they feel they have to rush you. I just want you to grow up like a normal child but your father won’t listen to me.” And right she had been. I was by all accounts scared. Without a doubt I know who this woman was.
She was my mother.
It was not when I stood at the train station and watched the scene unveiling before my very eyes that I lost my innocence. The images always appear to me as if they were a scene in a melodrama and yet they are as factual as nature itself wouldn’t have intended them to be. It’s my big brother and sister saying their farewells to the man. He says he is travelling to another city for business. I watch my two siblings hang to every comforting word he is throwing at them, eating them up like they would a lollipop. My big sister, like the cry baby that she has always been is holding on to his leg for dear life, begging him not to go and at the same time telling him what to bring for her when he returns. If innocence had a colour, it would probably shine as bright as her personality.
Ooh, my beloved sister…how she loved unreservedly.
But there I was, watching the scene unfold just a few feet away. I could smell the disdain dripping from my armpits, unceremoniously awakening the resting flesh on my forehead. He looked over at me. I could see the hesitation screaming from every visible part of his being. He knew what I knew. I might have been the youngest member of the family at that train station but I had the foresight of a well-trained ninja. That man was never coming back. But I was only a child…how I wish I had been wrong….
If only for their sake.
* * *
But It was not from a single incident that I lost it:
It was when I realised that with every little experience I went through from the time I was born to now…that with every breath I took, and with every birthday I celebrated I kept losing whatever innocence I might have had. Each experience, bad or good came with its life lessons. And as I keep learning, I keep losing a part of me. How much more innocence will I lose and how much more faith shall I keep struggling to hold on to as I grow older? With every breath I take…with each passing second…I see nothing but a silhouette of the innocence I once had, gliding by majestically to some place unknown.
* * *
It was when I noticed the old woman walking on the side of the road, tired and almost out of breath that I realised how much of my innocence had become corrupted. She stretched out her little wrinkly hand and waved for me to stop. My foot instinctively went easy on the gas as I kept getting closer to her. However, to my surprise, when I finally got to where she was, there seemed to be some form of miscommunication between my foot and my brain. As I drove the rest of the way home that evening, I was but a wreck of guilt. Why had I not stopped for that woman? If she was my mother or grandmother, wouldn’t I want someone to stop for her if she ever found herself in such a position? A few years back I would have never hesitated…but what exactly had happened to me to change me this much? The few times I had given lifts to strangers in the past year had also been such exhausting experiences. I remember one of them asking me, “…you are shaking so much…are you a new driver?” No I was not a new driver. I was scared as hell by my own imaginations of what the man might do to me. I had not even thought much about it when I stopped for him but the moment he strapped the seat belt on, every little scene from all the horror movies I had ever seen, every weird report I had ever read in the papers or watched on tele… and even scenes cooked up by my own brain danced seductively on my mind.
Who is this person I have become?
It was when I kept looking suspiciously at a certain man playing with his little niece that I knew my innocence was lost. I kept watching how he was playing with her, where he did and did not touch…and what he was saying to her. At what point in life did it become a sin for a man to play with his nieces and use whatever genre of baby talk he wished without someone looking at him suspiciously?
It was when I asked my sister to take a picture of the guy she had gone on a date with to text me his number plate and to keep me updated of all the places they would be going to. I even asked her to take a picture of him and send it to me! Even then I knew something was wrong with me somewhere. Instead of celebrating the fact that my beautiful sister had found herself a good looking and worthy guy, I sat up that night imagining all sorts of things that were likely to happen to her if the guy turned out to be psycho. I was petrified, not because of the crazy thoughts in my head, but of myself! As it turned out my sister came back home safe and in the good company of a hangover longer than the skirt she had been wearing.
It was while I was waiting for the traffic lights to change and a street kid (somewhere between the ages of six and 10) came to my window and I unconsciously (or consciously) checked to ensure all my doors and windows were locked that I started to question the nature of my mind. I was just about to look away and ignore the little girl when something made me turn back to look at her. A very pretty child she was but the state she was in almost brought tears to my eyes. Every bone in me wanted to reach out for my handbag which was now lying on the floor of the car.
But I didn’t.
The child was desperately trying to communicate something to me but I could not hear a thing because all my windows were up. A few years ago I would not have hesitated to lend a helping hand but somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything this time. Being a person who has been to hell and back when it comes to struggling in life, shouldn’t I have been in a better position to understand what she must have been going through? Just what exactly had experience taught me to turn me into this person I cannot recognize? How is it that doing something without thinking about it first has become such a challenge for me these days? An internal debate kept ringing through my mind and even though I had managed to convince myself that giving her money was not the right thing to do; the guilt would not leave me alone. That day when I stopped by the traffic lights again on my way back, my eyes kept searching for that child but she was nowhere in sight. What had happened to her? And most importantly…
What had happened to me?