Here is the second chapter of Aurat, titled ‘The Same Trip’. I hope you enjoy…
Every day for sixteen years Jaya made the same trip: leave home at four thirty AM with the empty pitch oil tin, walk along the main road for half a mile to the village standpipe, fill up the pitch oil tin and return home for another along the same route. She did this three times every morning, seven days a week, except for special occasions when she would be awakened at two thirty and sent out for twice the amount of fresh water needed to complete any and all domestic tasks. She never once questioned her routine, it simply was. The very morning she had gathered her clothes together and rolled out from under her new husband’s arm, she had been set to the duty and up till yesterday it remained hers.
Today however was different, for today her daughter would make the trip instead. At ten years of age she was more than ready to begin taking on some domestic responsibilities, after all in three years she would be married to whomever her father chose and she would need to know how to do these things so as to please her husband’s family and prevent the embarrassment of her own. Since her younger brother dealt with the gathering of firewood and her father saw to the animals and crops, and she was as yet too young to help her mother with the cooking and washing, she would fetch water each day before going to her aunt’s house to learn sewing and stitching till nightfall.
Jaya looked down at the sleeping child, curled up on the cot next to her brother’s on the dirt floor and almost wished she could let her sleep. A small smile flitted about her lips as she turned in her sleep, lost in a dream. Maybe she frolicked through the rice fields with her brother, as she was wont to do when no one was watching, or maybe she dreamt of angels and faeries. Whatever it was that she dreamt of, her face was the image of contentment. Jaya leant down and shook her awake, almost regretting her decision when the child’s sweet face contorted in protest. As she ushered her off outside to rinse her face and mouth from the barrel containing the last of the fresh water, she thought of her own childhood.
She remembered sucking sugar cane stalks with her brothers in the government’s fields, and of being chased through those same fields by the overseer when they were caught. She remembered how her mother would be stern and would even distribute a couple quick clouts amongst them for the overseer’s benefit, only to hug them to her when he left and laugh till tears came to her eyes. She also remembered the day her mother had called her to the wash stand, she could not have been more than eight, and told her in matter-of-fact terms that her father had arranged her marriage to a friend’s son from a neighbouring village and even though they would not marry for at least a few years she would need to learn how to cook, wash and clean. That day her mother had taught her how to wash the family’s clothes, and after a few days of explanations, impatient shouts and frustrated clouts, she had learnt.
Now it was her little girl’s turn. Her father had already begun enquiries in other villages for a suitable young man to be their daughter’s husband. He was so anxious that he should find a good match for her he had even sent requests and hand written copies of her birth-chart to villages in the North of the island, where he had heard Hindu boys were being sent to school like the white men’s children. As Sunita returned, Jaya gave her a folded piece of cloth to rest on her head and hoisted the pitch oil tin on top of it. Sunita looked at her quizzically, but all she said was come.
Sunita had always been an amenable and obedient child, so she followed her mother quietly, wondering what she had done that would cause her punishment to be so bad as to have to carry water. This was always her mother’s job. Ever since she could remember, she knew her mother woke even earlier than her father, who was up with the sun, and went out to fetch tins upon tins of water. Sunita hoped whatever it was she did would soon be forgotten, and she would be allowed to go back to her cot and sleep.
They made their way along dusty tracks, dodging bison droppings and water-filled cartwheel indentations in the dirt. The cane stalks were growing quickly, a lush green colour against the pale blue skies. Soon it would be time for them to be burnt and cut, and Sunita loved this time of year the best. She got to ride atop her daddy’s shoulders as he whistled his way to the cane fields. Once there, he would set her down with the other children and remind her to hide away their lunch where ants and other creatures would not find it. Her brother would come racing to meet them; having been delayed by the games of older boys along the way, and her mother would join the other ladies with grass-knives cutting a path through the cane. Her job, as with the other children, would be to weed away as much of the hard grass that grew around the cane as possible. She didn’t much like the work itself, but when pay day came around, she felt like an adult, lining up in the children’s line before the overseer to collect a big silver coin that she would save for a Christmas dolly.
As they reached the pipe-stand, her mother wiped her face with her sheer gauze orni and told her to put the tin down below the pipe and let it fill up, but not too much as she didn’t want any to spill over on the way back. As the tin filled, her mother began to explain to her that soon she would be married and she would have to learn all the things married women do to please their husbands and their families. As she continued to explain what Sunita’s new daily routine would be, Sunita stopped listening. The word marriage stuck in her mind like the time her ponytail got caught in the chair-plane, and she screamed and screamed for the pain ripping its way through her skull as the ride tried to take her whole body up into the air by her hair. She remembered such pain as she had never before experienced, a continuous throbbing, searing thing that echoed only her screams, until her daddy had come and helped the man directing the chair-plane to stop the ride and take her out, half of her ponytail in shreds. Her hair had since grown back, but the memory of that pain never left. She wondered if marriage was the same, and if her daddy could save her from it.
She knew instinctively, however, that he could not.