Sep 7, 2021, Bangalore
It’s 10:30 am. I park my car at the designated spot. I am waiting for N. The road is empty. A few straggly plots of land lying unkempt. A house, white and creamy, on my right. A bleary-eyed sky.
I am on the phone with my friend. I am shaking. “It’s ok,” she says. “You are brave,” she tells me a 100 times. I nod at her face on Skype, but I don’t believe those words. I want to run away from there. Yet, I don’t want to run away. I want to stay. This is where I choose to be. This date. This time. This place. Months of agony meeting in this hour.
“He has agreed to say sorry,” N had said a couple of days earlier. “I will call the p…ce from my phone,” she had added. N with her resources of ministers and officers – the one person who told me, “I will get this done for you,” when I had pleaded with her months ago.
This was it. This was that hour. What do you do when someone stalks and harasses you years ago? You forget about it? I did. You let it go without a word?
Yet, I hadn’t, my body reminded me, flinching every time I tried to take a call for the whole of 2021.
Irony: I have to take a call from the same guy to get an apology for calling me 90+ times without my permission.
N is late. I have been sitting in my car for 30 minutes when a black car pulls up.
I have to go, I tell my friend. I greet N, but no good mornings or courtesies from her. “Let’s get this done. That guy turned up an hour ago, and he has been creating a fuss that he wants to go.”
She pulls out her phone. I don’t have time to prepare. But then, I don’t think I will ever have time to prepare.
“Remember,” she turns to me. “He’s completely stoned and drunk. Don’t ask him questions. No cross-questions. Do NOT provoke him. In any manner. Just say your thing and nothing more.”
What’s my thing? I want to ask. But she is already dialing. I hear ringing.
“A?” she says. “Yes, N here. I am putting you on speaker phone.”
I stare at the phone in my hand. I lean against the black car. N is next to me. I want my friend. I want someone who knows me at this moment. I feel utterly alone in this world at this moment.
“Ya, hello?” a breathless voice asks.
I don’t remember much of what I say at this point. My voice is quivering.
“You found out my number and called me 91 times,” I say.
“91 times a?” he asks, slurring.
I am crumbling. I can’t do this. This guy is not contrite. He is reeking of arrogance.
“Yes. Because of what you did, I can’t take calls…”
“Ya, you deserved it. You were creating ill-will between my girlfriend and me,” he says. “What do you want now? I am very busy.”
“Your girlfriend? D?” I ask. He goes silent. The ‘pact’ he struck with the people who arranged this call was that he would say ‘sorry’ only if she never gets to know any of this.
I ask something. Silence. He doesn’t want to say anything more. I can’t find in me any words.
“Ok, what else? Bye I am very busy,” he slams the phone. I stare in shock.
“What was that?” I ask N.
She shrugs. “I told you. He’s stoned. He came with two friends early in the morning. This is the most he can speak.”
“But the apology? You promised,” I say.
Her eyes soften. N can’t say no to me. She never has. She sighs.
She calls the station again. “Sir, you told me he will say sorry. You must get this done for my sister, Sir.” I hear someone speaking.
“No Sir. I want him back. Please Sir. He has to say sorry,” she adds in Tamil.
“They have gone to get him,” she says.
I wait. I haven’t stopped shivering even though it’s hot. Her phone rings. This time, N just hands the phone to me wordlessly. “Fast,” she mouths.
“Hello,” I say.
“Yes, look, it was a misunderstanding ok. Sorry,” he says, in that breathless voice.
“It wasn’t a misunderstanding.”
“Whatever. I am very busy. I have a meeting, ok,” he says, even though I know this guy hasn’t been employed for years and has no meeting.
“That’s why you are in the p….. station, and I am here,” I say.
“Ya whatever, ok, bye.”
“Bye,” I say, numbed.
And just like that, I cry in my heart for all the women who wouldn’t ever get even this slurred, broken, half-ass apology.
For the first time, I know what brave means. This is being brave. Feeling really scared.
And yet, I walk.
Courage is just fear walking.
That was a year ago, and I am still walking, picking the detritus off my feet.
After that call, I hated myself for being weak. I didn’t say the right things. I froze. I allowed that guy’s bluster to get to me. Sometimes, when people harm you, you think they would also have a conscience. That’s what you like to believe in. You want to believe in a world that truly understands remorse.
You like to believe that people will be contrite. And most people are.
We harm. We hurt. But we also are beautiful souls who will take responsibility for the harm we cause others. In that responsibility lies the cosmos of our healing.
Most people are that.
Not all people.
I got a forced apology from A as above.
D, his girlfriend, and the person I thought was my friend, never apologized – believing that a carelessly thrown “sorry” 4 years ago is the same as taking responsibility for the damage. In fact, she believes it’s I who owes her an apology for daring to speak out, not that A ever did anything wrong.
When you meet people like D and A, you must remember that most people aren’t them. You must.
Because to think otherwise is a dark spiral that stretches that thin fabric of hope and renders it torn.
See, I am here. And you are here. And what matters is that since last year, my heart has floated balloons, stringing and dancing in an eternal sky of love, true friendship, connection, and the enduring power of healing.
That matters. Always.