“Ma, I woke up again last night, sensing the presence of someone in my room. I tell you, Ma, I am sure that I saw his shadow.” Told a 10-year-old worried Champak while Rani braided her hair.
“Champak beta, you might be imagining these things. We had pooja yesterday at our home, right? Remember you dozed off early and I had to carry you to bed, except you, everyone was there at pooja room. Maybe it was just a bad dream.” Rani tried to console her.
Champak opened her mouth to say something, but she gulped. She knew her mother was not going to believe her, but she was sure of seeing the same shadow which she saw last time when bhajan happened at their home. Champak was the eldest of Rani’s and Ranjan’s children. She was the only sister to her two brothers. Since they lived in a village where everyone knew each other, they used to address one another as bhaiya or bhabhi.
One day she was coming back from her school, holding Rani’s hand. She recognised a shadow which reflected on the ground. She hid behind Rani’s saree. Noticing her sudden behavioural change, Rani asked, “What happened Beta? Why are you hiding?”
Champak pointed towards the shadow. “It’s the shadow I saw last night, Ma.”
Rani looked at the shadow she pointed and started to make her way towards the person who was standing there. As she got close, she saw a familiar face smiling at her, and Rani was relieved. “Hey Champak, this is your uncle Shampu.” Shampu was their 25-year-old neighbour.
Champak’s eyes widened as she realised Shampu was the man who hid in the darkness. She kept quiet for she didn’t like him. Whenever he visited her, he used to bring her sweets and made her sit on his lap. She used to feel uncomfortable with that, yet, her Ma would say, ‘It’s your uncle Nah, give him a kiss Champak.’ Whenever she used to complain to her Ma, Rani used to say, ‘Beta, he’s your uncle. He doesn’t mean anything you say.’ Even though she was just an eight-year-old, she knew the difference between bad touch and good touch and what she received from Shampu was definitely not a good touch. She felt like dragging Rani’s hand and run, but it was too late as she saw Shampu already standing close to her Ma.
“Oh, Namashkar Shampu beta.”
“What brings you here, Bhabhi?”
“Champak had a nightmare yesterday, and when she saw your shadow, she got scared. For a second, I also thought it was true. But it was just you. She imagines stuff. Kids these days.” Rani laughed. Shampu knew something was wrong. His eyes fell on Champak, she seemed scared, unlike the other times, ‘Does she know?’.
“Oh, she might be having nightmares Bhabhi. Don’t worry.”
“See Champak; your uncle also thinks that you might be having a nightmare. We will ask the priest to do a pooja for you. Acha beta we are going home.”
“Okay, Bhabhi. I will be staying there tonight.” He shouted as Rani and Champak was on their way to see how Champak reacts. She turned back once, her face swollen up as she walked faster.
When she reached home, she ran to her Father’s room. He was mending his dirty shovel after his work in the paddy field. In half tears, she said, “Baba, I need to tell you something.”
Ranjan left shovel in the floor and took Champak in his hands, “tell me beta, why are you crying?”
She narrated what Shampu has done to her. “Baba, if you don’t trust me, use my room as your bedroom tonight. I heard him saying that he would be staying at our home tonight. I am scared Baba, and I am not lying.” She cried inconsolably. Ranjan got angry; his blood boiled to get him in his hands for what he had done to his little princess.
“Don’t cry, my little princess. He will receive what he deserves.” He had something planned in his mind.
Shampu arrived at night as he said. Ranjan was still cleaning his shovel. Rani was in the kitchen preparing dinner for them. Shampu’s eyes searched for Champak. “Bhabhi, where is Champak?”
“She slept early beta,” Rani responded.
He smiled devilishly. He had his dinner and told, “Bhabhi, I am going to sleep. I am so tired today.”
“Acha beta. Don’t forget to take a blanket from the shelf.”
He went to his room. It was clear that his mind was up to something. He didn’t sleep as he waited for everyone to fall asleep so that he could go to Champak’s room. He stood up from his bed by 1. He smiled as he made his way towards Champak’s room. Her room was placed in an isolated corner of the house. He entered her room and slowly brushed over her hand. and whispered, “Champak beta, I know you told everything to your Ma, but looks like she trusts me more. Beta, thinking about telling your Baba? I wouldn’t do that. If you utter another word to anyone else, I will kill them both and your little brothers. Now be a little doll and do what your uncle says.”
He tried to force himself on her; that’s when a hand stopped him. He realised that he wasn’t talking to Champak. It was Ranjan who slept in her room disguised as her. Ranjan lifted the shovel from the bed, “Ranjan Bhaiya!” Shampu exclaimed.
“How dare you hurt my little princess?” He smacked on Shampu’s head with his shovel not just once but till he got his anger out of him. Rani ran and came to Champak’s room as he continued to hit Shampu. Suddenly she realised her mistake. She should have trusted Champak, her innocent little daughter. She felt ashamed of herself for not trusting herself. Champak was hiding behind Rani’s saree. When she saw Ranjan hitting Shampu with the shovel, she stopped him. “Baba, please don’t kill him. I can’t let you go to jail for killing him. We need you. I need you.”
Ranjan knew she was right. He dragged Shampu and took him to his house. He knocked on the door continuously until Shampu’s mother opened the door, “Teach your son to respect women else he would end up dead. This is what happens when anyone messes with my little princess.” He threw him on the ground and said, “I promise you, he would never walk ever again in this lifetime,” and left the house. Shampu’s mother gulped and dragged him inside the house, continuously cursing him.
Early in the morning, Ranjan and his family packed everything and left the village. He didn’t want his little princess to grow up in a village where she has to meet many like Shampu every day. He wanted her to be in a place where no one could hurt her, where she can have a new beginning away from her past.