Amidst the Red Darkness
Written by Priyanshu Pokhrel, who secured the third position in a recent story writing competition conducted by Insipid Board in a collaborative workshop on storytelling.
My vision blurred at the sight of the last grain of rice left on my plate. It has been five days since I’ve seen my family: the longest I’ve stayed away from both my parents. Ironically, I’m just a meter away from the house I have lived in for the past 11 years. It seems that I am here because of myself, but I didn’t choose this — hell, I didn’t even know what was happening to my body.
Five days ago, I returned home from school with my white pants stained red. I didn’t realize anything was flowing out of me until my friend mentioned the stain. People around me called it ‘means’, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. I’d seen numerous girls my age walk around with their cardigan tied up to their waist every time they had a small stain. I used to think it was red ink, but, contrary to my belief, it was something I never imagined. My body hurt like never before. One could see my pain as the vein in my neck bulged out while I told my mother what was going on. As a 12-year-old, I expected comforting words embracing me and lifting me while I figured out the unbeknownst. However, I was shut off.
Her words cut through my heart. My breath, getting denser with every passing minute, stopped when she asked me to move my belongings to the cowshed. I was amused. I didn’t know why, and she didn’t know why. She just kept repeating the word ‘tradition’. A tradition of sending menstruating women to cowsheds, caves, or isolated spaces so that they are away from the sight of other people. I wondered if this alleged ‘tradition’ was exclusively in my family. My friends undergoing menstruation attended school, so how did they conceal themselves in the light of the day?
I had no choice. Mother told me that I would be cursed by the almighty, if I didn’t live in the cowshed for the next five days.
"It can't be that bad", I told myself as I pushed myself through the wall into the area filled with cow dung.
There was a sweet spot beside Pooja, the white cow I had befriended over time. I lay beside her with the hope of going back to living my old life. My mother visited me at dawn and dusk just to push a plate of rice mixed with lentil soup. I didn’t see her face either.
Days passed and the voice inside me grew stronger. Why was I being punished for something inevitable? I would choose not to undergo this if given a chance. There was no warning and certainly there was no precaution to be taken. My eyes welled up when I brushed off the momentary thought that justified all of this. I had never seen my brother imprisoned in the cowshed. If this is a tradition, why is it just me who has to be a subject to this atrocity?
I can sense the weakness growing on me. Every thought in my head screams and cries for the reason of this cruelty. I could walk out of here but the consequence would be terror too. Even if I died here, no one would really know.
I grew unrest, my heart took a load and it was getting harder to breathe. I wanted to fall asleep, but these thoughts rumbling in my head made it worse.
It is the fifth day today, and it feels like an eternity. I will be out of here tomorrow morning. I counted each second until I ran out of numbers I could count. How will this memory be perceived later when I grow old?
I don’t know.
The one thing I do know: just women bear this. This wound is treated with not a cream of comfort, but with grains of burning sand and salt. As I close my eyes in this hell-hole, I tell myself how much I loathe myself for condoning this and accepting this act of prejudice with no resistance.