She stood waiting, unsure whether to sit. It was an empty room mostly; a green, old and worn-down sofa, a chair with a broken back, a small table. A small, grilled window looked out to the busy street; a lot of noise. But she did not hear the noise; the turmoil inside her was too great in itself.
It had been three years since Maya had last seen her father. A small time, really, but she had lived a whole new life during that time. Resentment, anger and shame had filled her in those initial days. Now, it was replaced by dread. She had a thousand questions for him, but no words.
The door opened and her father entered. He had not changed much, nothing that struck her. It was almost too easy; there was no shock that is usually present when you see someone after a long time. It was, as if, a continuation of the past, as if no break had taken place. It scared her more.
He shuffled over to the sofa and sat down with a grunt. She was somewhat hurt. Had she hoped for some change? Had she perhaps expected an apologetic behavior, awkwardness mixed with sorrow? Shame? Remorse? It bothered her that even after such a long time, this small act by her father affected her so much.
Positioning herself on the chair, she looked resentfully at him. She had thought that time would heal the wounds, or would at least make her detached enough for this meeting. But she was still so trapped into all those emotions. She wanted to get up and run away. She wanted to hit him. She wanted…anything, anything that would release that burden that had been making her shoulders, head, her entire body, ache for three years.
He broke the silence.
“Maya… You’ve been well…?”
Such a cursory question, something that she would have answered immediately at a social gathering; Yes, very well. Thank you! But she wouldn’t answer today. She hadn’t come here to have pleasant chats about the weather, ignoring the elephant in the room. She had come to…to… Why had she come here? She asked herself again. She still had no definite answer.
“You have been well?” she asked, unable to keep her tone less accusatory.
“Ah, yes, well… The neighborhood is nice.”
A silence again.
He stood up and shuffled inside. A minute later, he came back with a glass of water and a plate of biscuits.
“You liked these ones… Marie biscuits…” he ventured.
A pain had now settled in her heart. This was difficult, more difficult than singular hatred for somebody.
“Daddy! Look what I brought!” Maya shouted with glee, holding the trophy in her hands.
She burst into the house, but her father wasn’t in the drawing room. Impatiently, she ran back to the kitchen garden; her father was very big on home-grown vegetables.
Kitchen…Living room…Study… Maya rushed upstairs to find him. The door to her parents’ bedroom was half closed. She pushed it open. He was there…
The maid came running at the sound of the glass shattering.
It had shaken her, that she was still so possessed by old nightmares; incidences that she had thought to be buried. She wasn’t ready to do this, wasn’t ready to look into her father’s eyes.
The ride home was uneventful. Her taxi passed through familiar streets but she was lost in a whirlpool of her emotions.
She regretted her decision.
The girl was too scared to scream. And she was so tiny; she couldn’t have battled a man of her father’s size alone. In fact, both of them together could not have made a difference either. But Maya’s father stopped on seeing her enter the room. He didn’t say anything. Maya would not let him. She could not stop screaming. The girl rushed to Maya as soon as her Daddy’s hands loosened. She was trembling with fear and still couldn’t say anything. Maya couldn’t say anything coherent either. It was all a jumble of words; accusations and disgust.
The taxi came to a stop at her hotel, and broke her flow of memories; memories that she had locked deep within, and which were now open and unwilling to be subdued easily. She still shuddered to think of what would have happened had she not reached her house in time. More than that, she shuddered to think what would have happened had she stopped screaming and allowed her father to talk. Her father was never at loss for words. He was a lawyer; he would have made such convincing statements. And she knew she would have believed him. Like she had all her life.
She returned home the next morning.
Sitting in her psychiatrist’s office, Maya could not help remembering the faint memories of her childhood… how Daddy used to wink at the waitresses, and then laugh innocently when he caught her looking…how he would stare at women who passed by them every morning while they went for walk in the park. Had he always been a pervert? Had she just been too trusting or too preoccupied to notice?
Her father acted as if nothing was wrong, as if the very basis of all relationships with him hadn’t changed. Her mother had been too ashamed to speak to her. The girl, her father’s student, hadn’t made any complaint. A lot of money was involved.
Why did her mother choose to turn a blind eye towards his follies? What happened to all her teachings about truth and pride? Why did the girl not speak up? Maya could not decide whose behavior troubled her more.
She promised herself that she would return again some day; when it would be less painful, less humiliating, less … personal. She would then return as just a researcher, merely curious to know the mind of a criminal. Till then, this story would remain broken.