TW: Sexual violence, abuse
The day had begun so gently. Deciduous bougainvillea flowers fell softly as the tropical morning breeze scattered all their bright shades of pink across my room, the mild fragrance wafting in with them. The unforgiving heat that was typical of April in Sri Lanka had yet to oppress us. It was a Saturday and I had decided to blissfully revel in my indolence. Blessing my ears with the sound of Al Green’s voice, I vowed to stay in bed with my beloved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, (my mother’s 1974 edition copy, with its loose pages and tattered pale yellow cover, making Harper Lee’s name only barely visible on its spine).
“Epa, please Epa!”
At first, I couldn’t make out the words. It must have been some animal, a cat perhaps, or some other unfortunate creature that had met its fate staring into the flashing lights of one of those monstrous buses on the main road. My curiosity led me to my balcony where I stood scanning the long tar road for the pitiful creature. Re-entering my bedroom, I thought it must have been my subconscious playing tricks on me, like that moment when you thought you heard Ammi shouting for you to come downstairs.
The scream grew louder. Its animalistic pain found its way back to my ears—desperately attempting to draw my attention away from Al. They continued, each scream more painful and anguished than the one before. This time I was certain it couldn’t have been my imagination. Sometimes I think back and selfishly wish I had continued to believe it was. At least then I wouldn’t have to live with the haunting knowledge I would soon acquire. It was unbearably real. The disconcerting voice of what I assumed was a middle-aged man, followed.
“You bitch… Stop screaming girl, your mother… she knows… the same… slut like her,” I caught fragments of his vile Sinhala speech. Never had I heard my beautiful mother tongue; the language I had grown up so infatuated by, marred by such violence and malice. His revolting words still resound, while her voice grows smaller now, mirroring the way he made her feel. I hurried back out onto my balcony, frightened of what I had yet to discover, and searched frantically for the voices that had felt so dauntingly close. I realised for the first time that I could see past the thick wall of bougainvillea, into the rundown parking space of the house next door. I watched, revolted, as he took off his belt and slashed it against her delicate body, pressed mercilessly against the silver Toyota. The man’s jarring voice and grotesque body appeared incongruous in every way with the innocence of the girl whose life he would haunt forever. I stood in horror, paralysed by what I was witnessing. His curses grew louder now, not in retaliation to her desperate cries that he had successfully overpowered, but a perverse sadistic instinct. He pushed his face against the long black hair plastered across her face, soaked in sweat and the congealed blood from the cut above her eyebrow. She let out a final cry as he thrust his odious self inside her, ramming her face against the hood. A face that could never again enjoy its childhood innocence. Her body writhed and shook violently until his wicked belt came down harder. He had resorted to kicking her. Her body was not her own but an object yielding at his mercy, flung carelessly across the filthy space like a soiled cloth that could no longer serve its purpose. As she staggered forward, an insignificant bud fell from the wall of pink that protected me into the small pool of blood from the tears that collected around her. Looking up to search for the origin of the fallen flower, she finally caught my eye. It was the kind of spark of eye contact that left you blinded, completely helpless and devoid of any belief in humanity.
It was her eyes that released me from the overwhelming paralysis. Her eyes, defeated and pleading for some ounce of compassion, shook every cell in my body, forbidding me to remain in my shamefully passive state. Distraught and confused, I called for Ammi.
“We have to call the police!”
“What? What happened, Baba?”
“Call the police now, Ammi!”
“Just calm down and tell me what’s going on,” she said.
“Ammi, there’s a girl… I don’t know… she’s hurt, Ammi. He’s doing something to her. She’s hurt.” I struggled to lead her to the balcony.
The girl’s body had been left on the dirty cement floor devoid of any trace of life, like a beaten corpse.
“God…” Ammi paused. “Do you know this girl?”
“No but we need to call the police now!”
“Are you sure about what you saw? Even if they do come, what are you going to say?”
“What do you mean if they come?”
“You know how they are Baba, the police don’t take these domestic cases seriously.”
“Ammi just call them”
After what felt like hours, two disgruntled policemen knocked on our door. While leading the reluctant pot-bellied men to the house next door, I watched in horror as the silver Toyota came bounding out of the dingy parking space and disappeared onto the main road. I ran in disbelief to find the rusted tin door wide open and the space left deceptively empty. Innocent.
“What to do, Puthe” one of the policemen said, without much remorse. “Maybe if you had called us earlier, we could have done something.”