This personal essay was first published Esthesia Magazine.
TW: Grooming, Sexual Assault
Ammachi liked him but not enough, made him omelettes with round chillies sprinkled on them, but his sweat bothered her. He was huge, tall and wide, a dark face with pores at the edges, hair silky and round fingers. Sometimes he shaved his beard, sometimes he grew it, and in between the growth, there was thick dark stubble on his cheeks. I assured him, his beard, his stomach that everything looked good.
He would tell me, “I can lose weight if I want to” and I would reply, “Of course you can”. Sometimes he would go on fruit diets, and I watched the pomegranates go rotten, the banana peels turning black.
When Ammachi visited us, she would say that she likes him. He is paavam but his sweat, “He is always sweating, and he leans on the sofa with his sweaty back.” We would dismiss her, saying that she was too judgy. But he did sweat.
He and I bullied Mathew together. He let me choose his iTunes playlist – we changed them every two weeks. He taught me to download songs from the internet, to ride the scooty, and to eat Maggi with bread.
We talked about how much we loved Chennai, spoke the language, laughed at Mathew for mispronouncing the words. He supported CSK and we swore by RCB. Mathew liked Kohli, so I liked him too.
His love for Dhoni is the only thing that we didn’t share. We snuck out to eat bajjis, ate the mashed dough for cutlets, and bit on peppers inside the vada. We spoke about beef with the same passion, the small coconut chucks, and the aroma.
He said that he liked me because I was a foodie. I ate all the time and spoke about the food that I wanted to have. When I complained about me still being stick thin, he joked “Your soul should be pure for the food to be absorbed by your body.”
I prayed that my soul would become pure.
We all dearly loved him, he was fun, he was charming among the cousins and I loved the fact that I was important to him. He confided in me, asked for my opinion and I gave him mine with the purest intentions.
He kissed my neck like how he kissed his girlfriend’s neck, he held my waist and walked through the streets after lazy dinners at Andhi Kadai and pushed me away as we neared our house.
When I gathered enough courage to ask him as to why he did that, he told me, “Your parents will misunderstand, they won’t get what we have.”
And I answered, “Yes, you are right.”
He asked about my friends and listened when I spoke. He picked me up from school sometimes.
He told me sleazy jokes but yelled at me for singing songs in which girls in short clothes danced seductively. He said that it will paint the wrong picture of me.
We waited for Mathew to fall asleep, to talk. He slept in my room because we could not afford to run three ACs every night.
He lied down on the rajai, next to my bed, and placed his hand on my bare stomach. When his hands couldn’t reach me, he asked me to come closer. He would then lift my top and draw circles on my stomach, or rub them.
I lied there every day on my bed, waiting for him to stop, listening to him talk, and staying mum. Sometimes he would take longer than usual to stop, on those days his hands threatened to slip down or slide up. I would shift uncomfortably.
I didn’t know why he did that. Sometimes he asked me to pat his head or run my fingers through his hair. And I obliged.
He woke up every day as if nothing happened. I didn’t know if I should have told my parents. I knew I should have, but then he would have to go. I feared that I would no longer be important to him.
He built the city for me, and I liked his version. The beaches were more serene, the music beats were peppier when we hummed it together. We shared a love for the hot atmosphere and the spot in the terrace where we stood and pointed at trees.
On days he wanted the iPod, he gave me his old phone with buttons. I could never sleep at night, so one day I went through his gallery. In a file named Rebecca, I saw a woman walking naked in her room, it looked like she was going to take a shower. She was thin, dusky, tying her hair while examining her face.
I didn’t know if she knew that she was being filmed.
A week later I asked if he knew a girl named Rebecca, he said yes.
After that, I was careful when I went to take showers.
Everything was fine until he said that he would bite my lips till they bled, or at least I thought things were fine. He did bite my lips, I don’t know if they bled. His tongue pushed through my teeth and drew inside my mouth, and I sat there still.
After he kissed me, I rolled to the other side of my bed, far where his hands could not reach me. He said he was sorry, that he could not believe what happened.
This time I didn’t say that it was okay, I didn’t agree with him.
I wanted to pull out my eraser from my blue pouch and erase this whole scene, for a better part of my life I did erase it. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a distinct memory of how the next day was or the day after. I still don’t know what happened. After some time, he went to Mumbai to work under my uncle.
I was glad that he didn’t bring it up but I still expected him to.
He called me every week, thirteen-year-old me still felt responsible for his problems. His weight gain, his dreams, his boring work, his theory on why he was unsuccessful. I listened, calmed him down, said that it was going to be okay.
The rajai still irks me, my belly is still sensitive to touch, for the longest time I didn’t let anyone hug me while asleep. Sometimes, I still don’t. These were just my things, my body.
But I didn’t know what to do or how to stop the things we shared. How do I watch a Gautham Menon film and not remember that we mouthed the dialogues, how do I pass by Mami Kadai and not picture us standing there and gently blowing at the hot vada?
He was and he is in the city. I find myself unable to remove him from the streets, the food, the mall, the station.
We spoke regularly, nothing had changed, except when he visited us I did not let him sleep in my room. He got me my first phone after I completed 10th grade and recharged its data.
When I went to Bangalore for my undergrad, I finally caught on to what he did. He naturally exited from my life, it didn’t matter like I thought it would.
He is married and has a baby boy. His life is pretty much the same, weight gain and unemployment.
It took me eight years to understand, to finally dislike him. It happened in a psychology class when the professor screened the movie Trust for us. She explained what grooming was, and the answer to why I could not simply hate him. Why I was not allowed to hate him!
It was harder than I expected. It was not relief, it was embarrassment. I was wrong about me, I was not the strong girl who I thought I was, I did not react to him the way I would have expected me to do so.
As time passed by re-creating the city in my version seemed doable, but I still cannot look at Amma’s cutlets without replaying how we stood next to her mashing the potatoes, watching the oil heat up, and then passing the ketchup bottle.
Memories still sting me, trying to look past them feels like erasing a couple of years out of my short existence.
I pat myself for not letting him sleep in my room again, I pat myself for cutting all ties with him, I pat myself for not wanting to be important to him.
The answer is not hating myself, the answer is not hating him. Hate only brings me back into the loop, where memories constantly rewind and replay.
It’s a lot of love, care, blind trust, and caution that is stuffed inside me, sometimes floating around aimlessly.
And one day I shall be able to measure and arrange them perfectly, in neatly lined bookshelves, in my kurti’s pockets or the pickle jars at home, the palms that I will hold on to later or staring at an old photograph chanting to myself to let go, to heal, to forgive.