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Behind the wall

Behind the wall
I had just finished my dinner when I started hearing sounds coming from the adjacent flat, loud noise of things being thrown in anger, glass shattering into tiny pieces, a wooden object banged at the floor, sound of a body being hit- followed by a woman wailing and simultaneously repeating two words in photungua along with sharp cries of pain.

I could not comprehend what she was saying, but they were two distinct words. I assumed she was pleading someone to have mercy on her and stop the violence she was being subjected to. For the first time in all these years I felt at a loss of not learning Cantonese. And then I heard a huge thud, of something really heavy, falling or breaking.

 I looked at my husband several times while playing the part of the blinded audience. He knew I was restless, to break free of his rational dictum of not interfering in someone’s personal matter. But was it really a personal matter? For me it wasn’t, because a woman like me was facing abuse all by herself. My instincts did not allow me to sit in my living room and hear her anguished cries. For some time I kept pacing up and down, my fingers were trembling, my feet were going numb at the thought of what might be happening with her behind the wall that was common to our flats. I decided to open my front door a little to peep out. Their door was open and he was standing right in the front.

I observed him head to toe for the first time: extremely tall and robust, his fists were clenched and his expressions were teeming with anger. ‘How can any woman spare herself from his rage, unless she is a super woman knowing martial arts?’ I could listen to her cries loud and clear now as if she was standing right behind the door, the same words reverberating in the corridor. Surprisingly none of the six other doors opened.

I was asked to shut my door. I came back to the couch but my mind was there outside. Everything stopped all of a sudden, the wails, the thud, the shatter, every sound died. The silence since the past few minutes was alarming. I could no longer bear it and went to the kitchen to pick up the garbage bag. I wanted to go out and check her on any pretext. I opened my front door without a sound and tiptoed barefoot towards her door. There was silence and darkness in her flat. I could hear my heart pounding within my chest.

I came back inside and sat on the couch, not knowing what to do, feeling extremely helpless. After a
few minutes, I could hear a conversation in photungua. I knew that voice and opened the door immediately. It was our building’s security guard along with area security official. Seeing them, I somehow got the courage to go out and talk to her.

She was standing right at the centre of the living room, crying profusely as she was narrating him the incident. Her small eyes appeared smaller with the swelling, they were red with continuous crying, and the corner of her lip was bleeding. She could not talk much because of the incessant sobbing. She pointed at the broken bedroom door. The security official went inside and clicked a photograph of it.

‘So that must be the loud thud that I heard. She must have tried to hide in the bedroom, to save herself from his atrocity, but even the locked door could not extricate her, such was his barbarism’ I thought as I walked past the security guard.

‘Are you Okay?’ It was stupid of me to ask her this question but I did not know what else to ask, or how to console her poor wounded soul. ‘No I am not. My boyfriend hit me.’ She said, showing one by one each one of his blows her body was subjected to.

I was filled with regret. I should have gathered the guts to rescue her while he was thrashing her. Seeing me he might have stopped and gone away earlier. No matter how much women try and become equal of men, in kinship of mind and heart, in equality of finance and respect, there is something which makes me feel that women have a certain lack as compared to the male counterparts: The physical prowess, unless of course you are the living legend Mary Kom. I cursed myself for being the procrastinator that I was.

‘Have you called the police? Where is he right now?’

‘Yes. I called. He ran off to his parents house’.

‘Do you have anyone who can stay with you? Parents? Relatives? Friends?’, I asked.
‘No I am alone here.’

My heart went out to her, poor soul, bearing the suffering all by herself. She was half Chinese, half Portugese, into this live in relationship for the past two years. Her parents lived in Portugal. They shifted to the flat adjacent to mine about three months back.

I used to meet them almost daily in the elevator or in the corridor, and considered them to be husband and wife. A brown pup completed their perfect family portrait. They exuded the impression of a perfect couple and often I would tell my husband about how much they were into each other. Who could tell what was happening behind concrete walls?

I have been living in Hong Kong for the past four years, on and off and never before did I hear or see one case of Domestic violence. I guess I was living in my own cocooned space, where keeping to myself and my family was my only way to exist in a foreign land. Except for greetings in the elevator, I hardly interacted with any of my neighbour, till this incident happened.

‘Take down my number. Call me if you need me. If he comes back and troubles you, give me a call and I will be here immediately. Be strong.’ She gave me her number as well. I came back thinking that we all have our share of miseries, but some of us suffer greater than the rest.

Almost the entire night I tossed in my bed, woke up with swollen eyes that were a reflection of the suffering inflicted upon her. I kept thinking how one incident of violence can become the worst nightmare for a woman, for its consequences do not limit themselves to physical injuries.

They seep deep down into the psychological being, become enmeshed with the subconscious and keep reverting back to the conscious, inflicting a series of pain and sufferings on the bearer.

In the afternoon, I gave her a call. She said she was fine and thanked me many times for just being there when no one else was.

That entire evening I kept contemplating the fact that her physical injuries will heal within a week or so but how much time will it take for the scars on her soul to heal? Will they ever heal at all?

Ruchi Kokcha

Ruchi Kokcha

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