Sheela ~ A Short Story by Ravneet Sangha

Her name was Sheela. She was so shy that she just wouldn’t look up, it was as if she wanted to disappear into the ground and it be found. Her father had talked about the evening school that was being held, and everyone went there and that there were free bags, clothes and stationery given to the children. She teaches them well but ‘Seedhi hai “; she doesn’t know that they get free books from school. But kya farak padta hai.

Let the children also go and maybe Om can learn something and pass his board. That is all that is needed, and he can take up a job as a chowkidar. She was so happy that at least she would be able to learn something and maybe draw more.

Sheela didn’t mind carrying the books, that he gave to her carry as long as she was allowed to come for the class. The teacher was fun, lively, and she could do her homework, and sometimes she gave them time to draw. She even showed her drawings to the entire class! Sheela loved that; even if she felt so and could not speak up when they were clapping for her.

And next week, the teacher had planned a visit to the city, and it was for a general check-up. The first they would be having ever. It was in a private hospital, and they wouldn’t t be paying anything. Food would be given and something to drink. They had all made badges for themselves, and they’re where a list of instructions to follow.

The school was great, the class was brilliant, and it was ok to do the chores at home and then to press Pitaji and Chachaji’s feet. This was a century-old tradition, and it didn’t matter where you were living or what century or what time it was if they come back, it was her mothers and her moral duty to press their feet till they slept.

Bechara had worked all day long, and they were the breadwinners and were purush. It was followed in all castes.

The day came, and she was very excited. It was a field trip, and she was going to the city. She dressed in her long skirt and choli, took her chunni and did her hair in her trademark in red ribbon. That she loved, her hair in a plait and a fat red ribbon at the end…

Sitting in a bus and looking out and dreaming they reached the hospital. Sheela hadn’t ever seen such a huge building; it was bigger than the cold store also. The lurching of the bus had made her a bit queasy, but everyone around her was normal and were all joking. The girls wore bright suits and Chunnis, and some had the glittering pendant sold at the nukkad shop. All of them had worn eyeliner or Kajal. She knew she looked lovely.

They went in proper lines and started getting their first general health check-up. Teacher Ji had said she would get her eyes also checked up; her constant headache must be dealt with. Maybe she had a tumour, and that meant she would die.

Sheela was in the line for girls, and they were taken into the female ward. A doctor did their height and weight, and a quick prick o check her blood. This would help in knowing about the country, and they would give supplements to become strong.

Suddenly there was a commotion, and Ma’am came running. She asked what it was, a cacophony of voices was coming, and they all were talking at the same time. Ma’am, she’s fainted, she fell, she’d wet herself.

I was aghast what had happened. I had taken responsibility for every one of them, and I knew what was coming when I went back home.

The Gynaecologist took me aside and said it’s normal, she wet herself when the nurse asked her to remove the skirt, and she fainted when I explained that I was going to examine her. After much persuasion, I examined her. She is suffering from severe depression and has been sexually abused.

The day changed from light to dark. Everything became grey, and the sharpness of black and white went, and all that I had strived for was lost.

We came back, and all the kids were happy, and they all had medicines and further appointments and followed up. At least something went right, and all was not lost.

In my hubris and lack of finesse, I thought calling her parents and complaining about this would smoothen things. I wanted to protect and shelter and get her to talk. The shyness and the mannerism were all because of her being abused repeatedly, and her stance was all typical. The words rang in my ears, and I knew I had to help.

I called the father from work; after all, he worked for us. Why would he not listen? And he had to listen and fix this. Fathers are supposed to protect; they are meant to shield from any harm. I was all charged up and waited and fired up, geared up to fix this.

Evening came, twilight came, birds settled and it was dusk time. The father came, and I explained to delicately that I need to take her to the doctor for lady problems …

He said yes, I would end her; she will go to the doctor for sure.

I slept so well that night, thinking that I could save her and draw her out of her shell. Next morning, I sent our Man Friday, Panditji to get her so we may take her to the doctors for a private consultation.

The room was all empty, stripped bare, naked and all that was left was a red ribbon fluttering on the window grill.