By Rajes Bala
Usha looked around her.The bus was empty except for the old man sleeping on the corner seat. The bus Conductor looked at her questioningly. She could not have answered if he had asked where she needed to go.
She had no idea where she should go.
After making sure that this is not where she wanted to get down, the conductor rang the bell and the bus took off once again.
If no one got in at the next stop and the old man got down, the black conductor is sure to ask her about where her stop is going to be as the bus nearly going through its last mile.
No one noticed her in the crowd. No one cared enough to notice her troubled, anxious eyes. Now she was almost alone. She had been right. This was the bus which goes from east to west London. Bus number 53 would always be crowded. That was because tourists who came for a film at Piccadilly Circus, those who come for ‘something’ else, those who come for shopping at Oxford Circus…
……Who would be out at this time of night except for cinema goers?
Usha got out of the bus. It had been very warm in the bus. Now cold air was biting in to flesh like needles. Usha could see Piccadilly Circus bright and shining in front of her. The proudly lit bulbs, numerous shops, beautifully dressed up women walking around and men who looked at them with various ideas. All of these were new to Usha. She had been in London for twelve years and yet Piccadilly Circus was new to her. Her mother had brought her once or twice to shop at Oxford street and Regent streets. She had not been to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus, which she had glimpsed through the bus window on her way to the zoo at Regent street was now in front of her.
Where to go?
Whom did she know here?
Whom should she ask for the where about of a women’s refuge?
A policeman was looking at Usha intently.
Should she enquire from him as she passed? Usha was terrified. How could she ask the police man?
First thing he would do is to inform her parents of her whereabouts.
Their thoughts disturbed her. Tears stung her eyes from the thought mother. Although she had emptied her tears in the past few days, reminder of her mother brought fresh tears to her eyes.
She took out a paper tissue from her coat pocket and dries her eyes, blew her nose and turned around to throw it in the bin behind her. Then she saw the police man who had passed her moments ago nearby ‘Peter Lord’ staring at her.
Where should she go?
Tears started to cloud her eyes once more. Her English friends were going sightseeing to Europe by themselves. Usha had not been given permission to go anywhere without her parents and her siblings. She had grown up in her mum’s shadow.
She walked forward slowly. Her eyes roamed everywhere. They looked around for the name of any ladies hostel.
It took her a bit of walking and some disappointing minutes to realise that there would not be any hostels alongside cinemas and shops. She felt uneasy to check out the corner roads at Piccadilly Circus. She felt anxious that some people were staring at her. Usha had only seen the world from outside her window!
What would her parents will be doing at home?
Would they have realised that she had run away from home?
Her mother would be crying her heart out in front of the Krishna statue .
Would her father beat brother Yogesh in his fury?
Her little brother Dinesh would be wailing at the state of the household.
He was now six years old. But her wails like a baby.
“Dinesh how am I going to live without you?”. Usha wanted to cry out. Few hours after Dinesh’s birth her mother had struggled for life. It was many months before she was well again. Usha was the one who mothered Dinesh during those days, when she was only eleven years old. She had learned to prepare his formula milk from her father and taken care of Dinesh.
“Dinesh why did I have to leave you all like this?”
Her steps slowed down a bit.
How long can she walk without a purpose?
She saw the Piccadilly Circus underground in front of her.
Should she go there? The underground entrance looked as dark as a cave.
Either it was less cold. Then, should enquire the women coming to London for a ladies hostel. Its possible that her father could notice her walking about like this if he comes looking for her.
Then he would take her home, beat her and go ahead with her wedding which is supposed to take place in a couple of days.
Only last week they had come to propose for Usha. Groom had been imported from India.
Her mother had been talking of this for the past three years.
Usha had listened to the talks of how she should be a well behaved Hindu girl. She was not argumentative and chatty like her English friends. Her parents had told her that they do everything for their children’s well being. Her father had worked hard day and night to buy two houses in London.
They had told that they were doing the right thing for their children. Usha had never argued with her parents. Her mother had almost cried when she had expressed a desire to go and see and English pop star her friends had been talking about. She had said that the English girls minds are being polluted by watching all these dirty stuff while she applied oil on Usha’s hair.
Usha hadn’t said anything in response. Her father allowed her to watch Walt Disney’s Mickey mouse cartoons with her brothers. She also watched the news sometimes. Her mum had lectured her of how a woman should behave lengthily during those nights.
The mild sound of dew falling at night and her mothers speeches used to lull her into sleep. She was surprised when her friends had said that they could not remember sleeping along with their mothers.
Sometimes she had a desire to ask for her own room. But the house was filled with tenants. They brought good income. Her father had said that her was able to care for the family in a good way by that income.
Usha had not known if she would ever be able to have her own room. With husband once she got married, with kids when they were born………
.Now they had finalised her wedding. They had told Usha only last week. She had not argued against it. She had dressed beautifully for her groom. She had had the urge to run away somewhere alone and cry. Her groom, sat with his big moustache. They were a well known rich family in India and it was said that anyone should be lucky to be related to them. His mum had been talking proudly. They wanted to open a shop in London. They had deposited a large sum of money in Usha’s name. She had sat through all this In silence.
She had sobbed in front of her mother that night. She had said that she did not like that groom. Her mother had been startled. She had jumped out of the bed to switch on the light and had stared at her crying daughter. She had never seen her daughter cry like this.
“What’s wrong with the groom? He is only ten years older that you. So what? Your father is about sixteen years older than me. These are common in our society. Yes. Yes, your future husband Ramesh doesn’t know English. There’s nothing wrong with that. You know Hindi. You can employ and English speaking Indian in the shop”, her mother rattled on.
Her mother did not leave any space for argument. Her parents had a response ‘ever ready’ for any arguments she had put forward.
When the groom and his family informed that they liked the bride, Usha’s parents had hugged her and praised her for being a lucky girl.
Her father discussed with his friends about what to do with the gift land they had received from the groom in India. He had given a shop in London and they had given a land in India in return.
How lucky for parents to have a daughter in London?
When they had openly discussed that people were ready to give anything to get a bride and come to London, her father had ignored her tear filled eyes. What would they do now?
She would not return home now no matter what.
Usha looked around her. Could she stand in this underground station like this for the whole night? She could see the American fussing to close his ice cream shop.
Her surroundings seemed to grow less busy by the minute.
She came out of her dream world and looked ash the youth standing in front of her. He didn’t look like a bad person. He looked smart. He has fair complexion. kind of brown eyes cat’s eyes and Negro hair. He was a mixed race man with a friendly smile.
Yet, since she had no experience of talking to strangers, her face went red.
He still stood there smiling. She glanced around her without answering him. What should she do?
“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked.
If she said yes then he would leave her. She nodded her head.
“I’m waiting for my friend too”. She could see his white teeth flashing in the dark. So that means he was going to stand there. He might stand there till the train service ends for the day. What is she going to do standing there for so long? The crowd had receded outside. It was nearing eleven in the night. She could get caught if her father comes looking for her.
She came out of the station determined to look for a place to stay. Almost everyone who got out of the train were men. How could she ask them about a ladies hostel? She felt like crying.
A wedding which had brought her into such a situation; her parents who had arranged the wedding, the world which cared for only money…
…..tears started to roll down her face. She drew another tissue from her coat, blew her nose ad dried her face.
“If you stand crying on the road, police would take you away”. She turned startled. It was the same person she had seen in the station. He was standing behind her with the same smile.
She suddenly felt scared of the outer world. Why is he following me? She glared at him in anger.
“ if the people you came to see didn’t turn up, it is wise to go back home. It is not a wise thing to stand crying on the road at this time of night.”
For the first time he spoke seriously, his smile vanished. Go home?
“I’m new in London. I’m looking for a ladies hostel.” She told him.
He glanced at the sky and said, thoughtfully rubbing his cheek, “Its hard to find one at this time. And it’s dangerous to walk around Piccadilly circus.”
Although she agreed with what he said, she was terrified at he thought of going on a taxi or car.
“Why don’t you ask the policeman?” he asked and peered at her.
Her expression changed suddenly. “No, we’ll ask someone else”, she said.
“Why, did you run away from home?”
She did not understand that this was a question based on his experience. How much should she reveal? Tears started gathering in her eyes. He could see her chest heaving with sorrow.
“Now you have come. If you changed your mind, go and tell the police and they will see you safely back home immediately”, he said, his eyes never leaving her face.
“I’m not going to return home”, she answered in a choking voice. Her mind conjured a picture of her groom waiting for Usha in readiness for their wedding. “I’m not going back”, she repeated.
“If you keep roaming around Piccadilly Circus during night time, the police would take you back home without you having to ask”. His sharp eyes were appraising her. How old? There was a delicate beauty to her eyes regardless of them being puffy and swollen with heavy crying.
“you can go to your boyfriend’s place”, he suggested.
She looked at him startled. “I don’t have a boy friend”, she snapped.
He smiled a relieved smile. She did not notice the smile coming and going in his face.
‘I’ll walk a little and see if there are any lodgings”.
Even though she did not like to walk alone with him, she did not have any choice. Where have I come now? She did not even know where she was standing. Even if she changed her mind and decided to go home (which was highly unlikely) she had to rely to him to show her the way
Who is he? He has been walking around with me all this while. Didn’t he have a house to go to? He had said that he was waiting for someone. What happened to the friend he was waiting for?
Thousands of questions chased around in Usha’s mind. She had to find a job before she ran out of cash. What will her parents do? Would they have informed the police? Her photo might be in every police station. How will she be able to go out for a job? She have to be careful until her parents have almost given up looking for her. She could understand the pain of loneliness. She did not have any friends to whom she could go to.
“What are you thinking?” he asked. What could she say? She walked silently. Her eyes were darting around the road, trying to find a place to stay.
Her legs were frozen from the cold. She was experiencing hunger pangs. She had not eaten for the past two days. Her mother had scolded her for being silly. Yet she had been too busy with the wedding preparations to bother with her.
“Shall we eat something”, his voice was kind. She did not refuse. They descended down a flight of stairs and came to a dimly lit place where people were eating with soft music playing around them. It was crowded. They sat to eat. She was not used to eating out. She had eaten fried potatoes and eggs last year when they had come to do shopping at ‘Selfridge’s’.
“What would you like to eat?” he asked
“Something with vegetables. I’m an egg vegetarian”, she answered taking out her purse. She was not prepared to spend a lot on food. She only had limited amount of funds to get her through until she finds a job.
He ordered chips and eggs for her and pork and baked potatoes for himself. “What are you going to do if you can’t find a place to stay?”
She sensed a dark world behind his question. She bent her head and scratched at the table.
“Why do you want to suffer like this? Why don’t you return home? If you can’t afford to buy your ticket , I’ll pay for you. If you go now you’ll be able to catch the last bus”. The kindness behind his voice made her sadder. Why couldn’t everyone be as kind as him?
“I will not return home”, she said adamantly.
He did not ask why. Both of them started to eat.
“Just because we were born to them, how can parents torture us by making us do whatever they want”, she said while eating. Even though he hadn’t asked, she felt like telling him about herself.
“Mostly parents do what is right for their children”, he answered with difficulty, while munching on his piece of pork.
“What, forcing you to marry someone you don’t even like, what is good in it?” He straightened at her question.
‘Oh! That was the problem, so that is why you ran away from home’, said his look.
“I have done my O/Ls. I’ll get a job. I never thought that I would have to marry someone I didn’t like. How can you live your whole your life with a person you dislike?” she explained to him.
She prepared to pay for her meal. She took her purse. He shook his head as if to say no. She felt uneasy to eat on someone else. She was also scared to argue the point with him.
Those at the next table were giving curious looks at their silent drama. Some were giving them looks as if to say “ a new couple”. The road was almost empty when they came out.
“Where are we now?”
If he also left…….her eyes started to tear again. He saw a policeman walking towards them and said, “If that policeman asks anything tell him that I’m your boyfriend.”
She was startled.
“My name is Colin Hill, what’s yours?”
Say he is my boyfriend? She was terrified.
“The police will ask undignified questions if they see a girl walking alone at this time. What is your name?
Usha hesitated. The policeman was walking towards them with an intent look.
“My name is Usha”, her voice quivered. The policeman passed them with an assessing look at Colin.
“White police don’t like us coloured people. They are always on the lookout for a reason to arrest us”, Colin muttered. She did not understand his anger.
“Now then, we’ve been looking so far. What do we do now’? She asked meekly. If she saw another policeman, she would die.
I don’t know if you’ll like it. I know a place. It’s not a very well off place. And I don’t know if there will be place at this time”, he said hesitatingly.
“What is there to like. Please take me to that place”, she asked happily.
He thought about it for a moment. “It’s very far. I’ll call and find out first if they have a place. It would save us travelling all the way without use. Wait a minute”, he walked to the telephone booth nearby.
What a good man.
Who would have a heart to help like this? Usha’s parents did not allow talking to any black men. They have said that those people were lowly than us. Now she know who was lowly?
Her father had bee selfish enough to marry her off to an unknown man for his own good and Colin was ready to help out a girl whom he didn’t even know. Her heart filled with gratitude.
“You’re lucky, they have a vacant place. You can stay there for a few days”.
She felt happy. He saw a smile come into her beautiful lips for the first time since she had met him. They walked a little further and found a taxi.
They were travelling in the taxi. There were still some women walking around, accompanied by men. How many of them had run a way like her?
Why does life have to be like this for girls like us?
Her friend Linda had said once, that she had seen a documentary on TV about Indian women who ran away from their houses.
What is the use of showing them? How many business dealings like this were given the name of culture……..? What did I ask them? Only to let me study for now and I didn’t like this wedding. Why couldn’t they understand my feelings? Do they take me for an unfeeling log?
Usha, this is that lodge! I have talked to them on the phone. Drop the idea of finding a job and rest for a couple of days. I’ll come and see you”. He sat in the taxi, looking at her walking inside after thanking him.
“You have been picking up old stock for the past few weeks. An Arab, who is coming to London in a couple of day, is asking for a virgin girl. We would get a few hundred pounds if we get him one”. Colin’s business partner has said these words earlier today.
They would now have a few hundreds in a couple of days.
(A fictional story )
(. This story had written 42 years ago.Many issue around Asians women have changed now. Forced Marriages is illegal in UK , since 2012.
Addressing a black man ‘negro’is illegal too.)