The girl stretched her hands and stood upright, wiped the beads of sweat as her skin dazzled in the scorching sun. Time was running out. Bending down, she continued digging again- her passage to freedom.
She looked towards the gate; she couldn’t see anyone there, yet. The heat was stifling; her black clothes didn’t help either. The shovel was now slipping from her sweaty hands. She touched her dove tattoo, and with a new determination, began digging.
Three months before
The girl woke up with a pounding headache and found herself on a hard bed. She tried to sit, but her body ached.
The door opened and a tall, slovenly woman entered. “Oh, you are awake.” Her voice was hoarse.
“Wh…what is this place?” The girl managed to croak. She couldn’t remember anything. Not even her own name. She found herself dressed in a long beige tunic with a sash.
“This is the city of dreams, sweetheart.” The woman gave a toothy grin and offered her a glass of water. “One of my kids found you in a park, not far from here. He came calling for me, and when I saw you, I knew I had to bring you here. You’ll be safe now.” She did not know that the woman’s ministrations were not out of kindness.
The girl stared and took in her surroundings. It was a small room, with a cacophony of sounds coming from outside. She stood and as she saw herself in the mirror, she gasped. Her brown waist long hair, her light skin, her huge blue eyes; these were quite different from the woman in front of her. A tiny tattoo of a dove adorned the hollow of her neck. Although she looked puny and had no recollection of her identity; she did have an inkling that she didn’t belong here.
At that moment, a swarthy, pot-bellied man came into the room. He looked at her, licked his lips and said in a gruff voice, “Aasman se tapki, Kamathipura mein atki…”
The woman gave a high pitched laugh at the blank look on the girl’s face, “Looks like she doesn’t remember anything. Good for us.”
The man came closer to the girl, caressed her face and took in the smell of her hair. A sinister laugh escaped him. “You are my Pari.” He said, and clutching her tunic in his rough hands, looked at the woman, “This needs to go.”
Pari’s legs buckled and she fell. She had no idea what was happening to her. After a while, she was scrubbed, dressed and taken out to another room.
The man grinned looking at her and bit her ear, “Perfect.”
Pari took a step back, but they grabbed her and took her out. She squinted in the bright sunlight. She shut her eyes and felt her skin pricking all over. She had never experienced this kind of heat before; of that she was sure. She halted in her steps, but the other two dragged her.
After walking a few narrow lanes, they entered another house. “This is your new home.” The woman snarled. “Don’t ever try to escape, or we will kill you.”
Pari wanted to protest, say something, but her body refused to obey her. She went inside; it was a dingy room, where another man waited. “Five thousand in advance, imported hai…” The woman thundered. She pushed Pari in.
The man touched her all over and thrust into her. Pari knew he was hurting her, yet she did not feel the pain.
This became her life. Every day, numerous men came to her and she lay there, devoid of any feelings.
People goggled at her wherever she went, and she was accompanied everywhere. But once the novelty wore off and the woman was sure Pari wasn’t going to run, she was left alone. The woman gave her wads of notes, once in a while, saying they were her earnings. Pari stashed them under the mattress of her bed.
She tried hard to remember her roots, but her memories failed her. Yet, she couldn’t get used to the life in this place. She longed for something else, something that she couldn’t put her finger on. This yearning kept her from being like the other people around her. She could neither laugh nor cry.
Whereas the girls and women around her sang, danced, went shopping and watched vivid images on their smartphones, a sense of ennui encompassed Pari. The laughter of the people around her made her yearning grow stronger, so much, that she stopped going with them. Instead, she bought books and read about different places in the world. May be this will help me remember.
What am I even doing here? She wondered, one morning, when she heard a child scream. Something stirred within her and she hitched her breath. She went closer to the source and peeped inside. A woman was trying to calm a boy, not more than 6 or 7 years old.
Pari entered inside and caressed the boy. He looked at her in awe and Pari felt a similar stirring again. He rubbed the tattoo of the dove in the hollow of her neck and an image flashed before her. It was of a little boy with brown hair and grey eyes laughing alongside a girl in a long tunic with a sash. The shock of that image made her yell and she collapsed.
She woke up back in her own room to see the woman looking at her in concern.
The gruff man came in due to the commotion and thundered at the woman. “Take good care of her. She’s special, don’t you know?”
“Did you remember anything?” The woman asked, as if sensing Pari’s thoughts.
Pari herself wasn’t sure, she didn’t say anything. The woman narrowed her eyes and left.
She lay down again and thought about that image… it felt so familiar. Who were those people? She touched the tattoo and rubbed it again. A few more images appeared. Many houses… palanquins… scriptures… a park… a lady with a crown reading something… a boy running behind her shouting, Nivi..Nivi…
Pari opened her eyes and sat up with a start. “Mother… Diro…” She whispered. There were tears in her eyes. My name is Nivi. She repeated. Diro was her little brother who adored her and she, him.
And when she looked around the place, her mouth went agape. She realised she was trapped in hell; the hell aboveground that sinners from Elysian Land, her home in the belly of the earth, were banished to.
She stood up and drank some water. She missed the sparkling water from home. The clamour of the street made her miss the sanctity of her land. They were peace loving people and prayed to the Creator. Their only aim was to live a pure life, away from the sins and become as close to the Creator as possible.
Elysian Land was an oasis with fresh rivers and beautiful gardens. She knew she was from the Ruler’s family. Hence, the dove tattoo. It was designed using a special ink prepared by the alchemists and unleashed a power to govern their people. They had only one punishment for the sinners- banishment to the hell aboveground. There was shaft in one of their gardens that led here. She knew it deposited the sinners at different places aboveground. Usually, the shaft was guarded by sentinels, who made sure that no unsuspecting person was sucked up through that. How did I end up here then?
The returning memory was draining her off her energy, so she decided to rest for a while. For the first time in months, she felt her lips curve upwards into a small smile.
After a fitful sleep, scattered with images from her life below, she woke up to the horrible knowledge of what happened to people who were banished here.
“They lose their memory, they are stripped of all feelings and they live a listless life, in spite of all the luxuries this place has to offer. They constantly yearn for a different place, but it eludes them. Eventually, their soul withers leaving a shell of a body.” She said out aloud. She regained her memory only because of the tattoo, or she would have met the same fate as the sinners.
She stood up, dressed and went to see that little boy who had been instrumental in triggering her memory. But, she was stopped by the woman outside.
“I want to see that child.” She pleaded.
“No, he is gone. And you need to rest. You have a client tonight.” She clucked her tongue and pushed Nivi back in the room.
Nivi couldn’t sit still, she touched her tattoo again and tried to remember the prayer they said.
O Creator… Bless us… Peace is what we desire…
Argh! She stomped her feet, when she couldn’t recollect. But, they brought back another set of images.
She saw herself with Diro, in a palanquin. They were going to the riverside. On the way, she spotted the shaft. It lay mid-air, with mist swirling below it. She tried to spot the sentinels, but to her horror, she saw them drinking ale. She stepped out of the palanquin and went to confront them, not realizing Diro was following her too. “Gluttony!” She yelled.
Shocked, the sentinels begged, “Forgiveness, Princess. Please…”
Nivi went closer to them, “I will see you punished.” Before the sentinels could reply, Diro shouted, “Get away, Nivi.” It was too late before Nivi realised that she was being sucked up through the opening, that was now unguarded. Diro’s screams were the last thing she heard, before her world changed.
Nivi sat on the bed, sweating. She was here because of an accident. She didn’t deserve this. She squeezed her eyes shut and furrowed her brows to concentrate; she knew there was a way back. She had read about it in the numerous texts. But she also knew that no one had ever returned, once banished. Nevertheless, she wanted to try. She wanted to be free from this hell. And then the words came to her.
The entry is at the exit, find it if you have the grit.
When the sun is above, you go below and let darkness ensconce you
Then you shall find what you seek, taking the name of thy Creator as you speak.
She knew in order to go home, she had to solve this puzzle.
The entry is at the exit… Could it be the place where I was found? It had to be.
“I’m feeling sick. I need some air…” Nivi told the woman outside her room. “You can come with me too.” How else would I find the place?
As they began walking, Nivi looked at her with imploring eyes, “Could you please show me that park where you found me?”
The woman raised her brow at this strange request, but gasped when she saw Nivi smiling. Hypnotised by her beauty, she took Nivi to a small park that was at the intersection of two lanes. It was shut; opened only early mornings and evenings. She told her where they had found her; right behind the slide.
The pit that she had dug looked deep enough. She jumped inside, but couldn’t fit completely. She heard the crinkling of the gate and stayed within.
“Pari… Pari… I know you are here…” The man’s voice had turned strident. Nivi stayed put and closed her eyes.
She had loped to the park in the morning. There were kids playing on the swings, but they paid her no heed. Her heart was thundering in her chest; she had spotted the place. A small burrow lay there and Nivi was eager to start her work. She sat on the bench and waited for the park to empty. As the watchman had signalled for all to leave, she hid behind some bushes. She had observed one of the boys looking at her, may be he had told the man.
Once the park emptied, she started to dig with her bare hands. But, the ground was unyielding. She found a stick nearby, but that didn’t help either. She had tears in her eyes; she couldn’t give up so soon. She ran around the park to find anything that would help, and that’s when she spotted a shovel, behind one of the bushes. Sighing in relief, she grabbed it and started her work. The ground became softer as she dug deeper.
It was mid-morning. She had a couple hours to accomplish the daunting task.
Now, when she was sure the man had left, she risked a glance. There was no one at the gate. She began digging again. She was sure of one thing; today she would either be back where she belonged, or die. Either way, she would be free.
The man was at the gate again, “Pari… What are you doing? You wait there bitch. I’m coming…” He shook the gate violently.
Nivi’s hands were trembling and she was soaked in sweat. She wasn’t used to this kind of activity. She dug for a few more minutes and when she saw the man with the watchman, she jumped in once again.
This time, she was completely inside. She wrapped the black dupatta around her like a shroud and touched her forehead to the ground, with her hands and legs beneath her. She could hear the gates of the park crinkling open. Oh no.. She fingered the tattoo and began to pray.
O Creator, Bless us. Peace is what we desire… she paused and took a deep breath… peace is what we cherish. Keep us away from sins, keep us close to you. O Creator, Bless us..
She kept on repeating it, fervently, while footsteps grew closer to where she was. She continued her chant. She had no idea where she would be, the next time she opened her eyes.
The girl opened her eyes to a pounding headache and found herself on a soft bed. A lady dressed in a tunic, with light skin, brown hair, and a crown perched on her head, touched her lovingly. “Nivi, my Nivi. I’m so glad you’re back.”
Nivi stared at the woman and tried to sit up. As she did, she saw herself in the mirror that was exactly opposite the bed. She looked at herself; her tanned skin, her dull hair and clouded eyes. Though she couldn’t remember anything, she had an inkling that she didn’t belong here…
Aasman se tapki, Kamathipura mein atki: Dropped from the sky, landed in Kamathipura.
Imported hai: She’s imported.
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
Prompt: The protagonist stretched his/her hands and stood upright, while the beads of sweat as his/her skin dazzled in the scorching sun. Time was running out. Bending down, the protagonist continued digging again- his/her passage to freedom. Take the story forward.
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By MJPS
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