She was only fourteen then. It was her ‘first valentine’ with her ‘first boyfriend.’ She had wanted it to be perfect. She had spent weeks picking out the perfect dress for their perfect date on a perfect day.
Her dress was pink – the colour of love. But she couldn’t leave the house – all decked up for her date. She lived in a joint family and each person in her family was more conservative than the other (it was as if there was a contest for the title, The Most Extreme); so she had surreptitiously hidden the dress, the shoes and the makeup in her school bag, which was easy since her school bag was empty. It was her first valentine; there was no way she’d waste the day in school!
She had to go to school as she couldn’t escape the ever-vigilant eyes of her cousin sisters…but she had a plan.
The massive iron gates of the convent had shut imposingly behind her; but that gate didn’t feature in her escape route…she had a better plan.
Before the morning assembly, she had quietly slipped into the restrooms situated on the playfield. She stripped quickly and put on her ‘date’ dress, before shoving her school uniform inside her school bag.
She was putting on the last bit of her makeup, when she heard a multitude of voices singing in unison…the assembly was drawing to a close. One of the things that a convent school really liked doing was singing. And as she herself was a good singer, the convent sisters had harangued her, to within an inch of her life, to join the choir. In the end, she had cited stage fright. Standing in front of the school and singing every day for the entire school life, was not something she wanted. She sang for fun and only when the mood struck, but the choir sang for the sisters and as soon as the chord struck.
She looked at the reflection in the mirror. She had tried her best to hide those ugly red pustules but they were all over her face. Hormones, she had been told but it did not make the situation any better. She was ugly! It was a miracle that she had found a guy who loved her and had looked beyond her face.
She smiled, as she watched her reflection; true love was rare to find. She reached inside her bag and removed a plastic bag. Inside the bag was a beautifully wrapped present – his favourite cologne (after all, her boyfriend Rohit Randhawa was in high school and was a ‘man’). Only she knew how she had managed to save up enough money to get him the gift. Even though she came from a well-off family, she never got any pocket money. She had tried arguing a couple of times, but all she accomplished doing was instigating an hour-long lecture on how money spoilt children. Her parents argued, why she needed pocket-money when her family bought her everything she asked for. There was no arguing with that.
In the end, she had resorted to saving her lunch money, preferring to eat a little from her classmate’s lunch-boxes. Oh…the things you did in the name of love…but it was all worth it. HE WAS WORTH IT!!!
She took her school bag and hid it in one of the underconstruction stalls. Her friends had been instructed to retrieve it after school and meet her exactly at 2 pm at the corner cafeteria. In school, matters-of-the-heart required careful planning and complete coordination. Now she was ready for her great escape. She had planned to slip out through the in-campus bank, which had two entry/exit points. The fact that she was in plain clothes would not raise any suspicion. Of course, she prayed that the bank teller did not notice the pearls of sweat, glistening on her head. If she had to be successful, it would have to be done in one fluid motion. She entered from one side and exited from the other…and she was free.
She was supposed to meet Rohit at the entrance of Cupid’s Corner, a restaurant which was frequented by couples. She had heard about this restaurant, her friends often went there. This would be her first time. Finally, she would no longer be the odd-one- out.
She got down from the auto and there he was, leaning on his bike in front of the restaurant. “Oh, he is so cool,” she thought as she sighed, “there is something about a guy on a bike.”
He waited as she paid the fare. She joined him and he took her hand and pulled her inside. They climbed two flights of stairs, until they were in front of a big wooden door. He pushed the door open. It was so dark that she couldn’t see a thing. It took her eyes several seconds to adjust to the darkness. She was still squinting when a young waiter led them to a corner table with a ‘reserved’ plaque.
She sat down at the corner of the upholstered sofa seat and waited for him to sit opposite her on the chair. Instead, he shoved her in and sat beside her. She was a little uncomfortable but she didn’t want to ruin it…after all, it was her first Valentine’s Day!
The whole restaurant was plunged in darkness. “How do people eat?” she wondered. There was a single small light hanging above the table.
“I’ve got you something,” she said, handing him the beautifully-wrapped box. He tore it open and smiled at the cologne, before replying with a simple “Nice.”
“I’ve got you something too, to show just how much I love you.” He pulled out an expensive-looking velvet box. There inside the box, delicately placed, was a beautiful mother-of-pearl bracelet.
“Oh, this is gorgeous,” she said, reaching for the box.
“Allow me.” He took the bracelet from the box and placed it around her wrist. She was admiring the bracelet under the orange hue of the incandescent light bulb. It was magical…her first valentine gift.
He turned her hand over so he could close the metal clasp and lightly touched the inside of her wrist. She quivered at the tingling sensation. She thanked him when he did the clasp and started withdrawing her hand, when his grip tightened…
“Let me go,” she bantered playfully.
He was forced to let her go as a waiter approached their table and switched on the lamp. Rohit unceremoniously opened the menu and ordered the ‘Valentine’s Special’ menu – with an assortment of chicken canapés; the main course was pasta in red sauce; and strawberries, champagne and imported liquor chocolate for dessert.
Rohit withdrew a 500-rupee note from his wallet and handed it to the waiter as a tip. The waiter smiled widely as he nodded his head and walked away.
“There, no one will disturb us now,” remarked Rohit, as he switched off the overhead light.
Maya was panic-stricken, when she felt Rohit place his hand on her thigh. He shoved her further back into the corner. Before she knew what was happening, his mouth came down hard on hers. She felt pain when he bit her lower lip. “What was happening?” she thought as she attempted to push him away; her hands placed on his chest as she tried to increase the distance between their bodies. But he simply grabbed her hands and resumed the onslaught.
It was several minutes before he finally released her, his breathing heavy. Her lips were throbbing! She ran her tongue over her sore lips and could taste a salty residue. She wasn’t sure if it was the taste of her blood or her tears.
Rohit was lighting a cigarette while her eyes roved back and forth the room; she saw several couples across the room…making out. She could almost swear that she saw a girl, topless…with a dark head sprawled over her chest. She could gag!
She felt nauseated…she was going to be sick. She put a hand over her mouth as she started to retch in disgust. She could feel Rohit draw away from her.
She reached for a glass of water, while he sat there…fuming! Her retching stopped in a few minutes but she held onto the glass. She didn’t even dare look at him.
She heard him curse under his breath, “Stupid bitch.”
“I’m sorry,” she croaked, still unable to look at him.
“I got you an expensive bracelet, you bitch. And what do I get? This is how you repay me?” he said unkindly.
But wasn’t it a gift? She felt her eyes watering.
“What did you think? That you’ll con me and I will let you?” he ranted, every word spewing venom.
“But I didn’t ask for a gift,” she managed, in between breaths.
The ensuing laughter reeked of scorn. “When a woman accepts an expensive gift from a man, she knows she has to return in kind,” he carried on ranting.
Tears were now streaming down her face…He didn’t love her; he thought she was a whore!
“But I thought you loved me,” she pleaded.
The repulsion on his face drove a dagger into her heart.
“You think I can love you? Have you even seen yourself?”
She closed her eyes as fresh tears rolled down her face, like the torrential rainfall of summer.
“Do you know why I brought you here, you bitch? This is the only place where I could switch off the lamp. You think I could kiss you if I had to look at you?” He got up and left, while she sat there, hurt, angry, weeping; and now alarmed…how will she pay for the food he had ordered?
She got up quietly, pretending to walk towards the restroom. No one was watching her—the guards were busy enjoying the scenes at the tables.
She turned and bolted out the door. She had learnt an important lesson—“When a man paid ‘for’ you…you paid ‘to’ him.”
It was her first valentine slaughter.
She could hear voices in the distance, which drew her back into the present. She simply looked down at the bags that she was holding in her hand—her expression sombre. She had vowed to never ever let a man pay for anything for her—ever again!!!