Story theme : Flashback
A flashback or involuntary recurrent memory is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience.
These experiences can be happy, sad, exciting, or any other emotion. The term is used particularly when the memory is recalled involuntarily, and/or when it is so intense that the person ‘relives’ the experience, unable to fully recognize it as memory and not something that is happening in ‘real time’.
A literary flashback is an interjected scene or point that takes the narrative back in time from the current point. Flashbacks are scenes from a time period that precedes the primary story arc.
Flashbacks recall scenes of emotional power. They replay memories that haunt the characters, although they can also be intensely happy moments.
Flashbacks explain why characters behave in certain ways in the story. They bring out essential details or crucial moments from the past that has a significant bearing to drive the present psychologies or decisions of the characters in the story.
No! Not here, not again…! Ayesha inhaled a deep breath.
‘Inhale. Exhale. Inhale . Exhale. Slow…concentrate…concentrate only on your breathing…’ Ayesha tried to imagine the stoic voice of her yoga instructor to soothe her hassled mind.
‘Breathe…’ she told herself. ‘You are 14 years old. You have control over yourself…You will not throw up. You can’t throw up here. You cannot throw up here!’ Ayesha allowed her mind to issue strict instructions to her digestive system to settle down, even as it threatened to spill the contents of her evening snack and coffee, all over the sparkling floor of the air conditioned bus. She thanked her stars for being the only passenger at this time of the night…the last thing she needed was an audience to her spectacle of disgust...
But the smell! That horrid stench of rotten eggs that assaulted her nostrils with the intensity of a raging tornado…she knew there were no eggs here…not here. Not in this spotless vehicle of one of the cleanest cities in the world. After all, Singapore was legendary in its strict upkeep of cleanliness.
But, her insides heaved again as she struggled to keep the rising bile from blasting out of her throat unto the black floor of the Volvo. Why had she stayed up so late at the University? She could have completed the project tomorrow…but then, she’d been caught up in the tempo of editing those HTML codes…
Besides, there was absolutely no fear of travelling alone, at all times of the day and night here. After all, Singapore isn’t touted to be one of the safest countries in the world for nothing.
‘Please, la’ she gasped as she gripped on to the railing near the Malay man in white uniform, who drove the vehicle.
He turned sideways to give her a small glance before he turned his attention to the road.
‘What la?’ he asked, without looking back at her. ‘Are you okay?’
‘No, I want to throw up…, please stop the bus!’ she gasped, patting her chest in a downward movement, just like her mom did, whenever she had these bouts of nausea...
‘Oh, cannot la, I cannot, rules…’ she heard the driver say with conviction, even as she tried to blink away the haze of tears that now pooled around her lids, in her breathless attempt to hold back her churning stomach.
Maybe the dumbass didn’t understand her English, she realized. This, despite the fact that she spoke the local version of English or ‘Singlish’, complete with the tag ‘la’, an equivalent of the Indian version of ‘yaar’.
‘I am going to vomit now, stop the bus, la!’ she gasped, as she felt the pungent odour of semi-digested Kwetiau goreng, her favourite flat noodles meal rise up towards her throat.
The next instant, her chest heaved violently and she retched. The light brown fluid exploded out of her mouth and all over the front seat, behind the shocked man.
Five minutes later, she got off the bus at the next stop, although it was nearly half a mile away from Jurong East, where she resided. The driver didn’t question her, although he knew it wasn’t her stop to get off.
She would never forget the aghast look on his face for a long, long time. All she wanted was to get away from the stink that she had raised within the previously spotless vehicle.
A good walk is what I need now to settle my stomach, she told herself, as she began a brisk stride towards Jurong, in the sweltering, humid night.
And the gory images arrived, as she knew they would, to assault the confines of her mind, even as that fateful evening flashed upon her unwilling senses.
How many more years would it take for her to forget that wretched incident, that happened two days after her sixth birthday?
She had loved the blueberry cake that Dad had bought for her. She’d loved the presents that all the guests had brought, lapped up all that attention like a sponge lapping up water through its thirsty pores.
Soma had eaten her cake that evening. He smiled that charming smile at her before thanking her parents profusely for inviting him into the house to participate in her party.
Soma uncle was a kind, soft-spoken man. He gave her chocolates every other day, called her sweety, chocolatey, milk chocolate…oh the names he called her always made her laugh.
That’s why she’d agreed to accompany him to the shop to buy something.
It was strange, try as she might, to this day, Ayesha could never recall what it was that they were supposed to buy that day.
Soma had stopped the white Omni van on the road with parks on either side. He closed all the windows and switched on the AC in full blast.
‘Uncle, why did you stop?’ she asked, still licking off the remnants of the 5-star he gave her earlier.
‘To play, sweety. Let’s play a new game shall we?’ Soma smiled.
‘What game uncle?’ Ayesha was beginning to feel cold, the AC made the interior of the van frosty. But why was Soma uncle sweating so much?
‘A game where you do something to me and milk will come out, sweety…like magic!’ His voice was a croak now.
‘Magic? Wow, then let’s play uncle…’
But Soma proceeded to remove his pants down to his knees.
‘Shame, shame uncle…’ she cried in embarrassment.
A raucous laugh emanated from him then. That was the first time she realized that his eyes had taken on a different hue, a feral tinge…
He pulled out a dirty white towel that had turned yellow with age or maybe grime…and tied her eyes shut with it.
‘Uncle…why? What are you doing?’ Her little hands tried to pull the thin cotton cloth off her eyes. He held both her wrists in his huge grasp and pinned them against the upholstery above her head.
‘It’s a hide and seek game, sweety! You can see the magic afterwards, okay?’ His voice came in short gasps as if he couldn’t breathe, as he pushed her flat on her back on the rear seat.
‘Excitement, the bastard was excited that he would forcibly extract a blow-job from a six-year old child,’ Ayesha exhaled harshly, as the venom of hatred spewed itself around her mind.
She walked faster now, heedless of the beads of sweat that coursed down her face and back. How innocent she’d been! Tears threatened to pour down her cheeks, as she made her way on the red-tiled pavement. The ghastly visions continued, as if the flood had unleashed itself, with no way to stop its assault on her mind…
The stench had been unbearable. That horrid odor of rotten eggs assaulted her tiny nostrils, even as she felt something slimy being forced into her mouth. She gagged then, and wanted to retch the 5 star, the vaangi baath, the orange juice she’d consumed after returning from school…she wanted to throw up everything. But, he didn’t allow her to.
She heard the church bell go Gong-Gong-Gong in a gruesome, unholy rhythm as the organ in her mouth went in & out, in & out, as if to match the holy call of the divine…
Hard fingers grabbed her head in a rough movement and tightened around her hair, she tried to scream in pain when a black shadow descended over her senses…and then, there was nothing.
Cold water. She felt icy cold water on her eyelids and opened them into blurry upholstery, before focusing on him. A raw agony hit her then, with the force of a sledgehammer being driven into her gullet. She closed her eyes shut in dreaded horror, but yanked them open when two rough hands grabbed either side of her head, crushing her little ears against her scalp and turned her face into…those eyes! Those dilated pupils that reminded her of the ruthless hunger in the gaze of wild animals on National Geographic channel.
‘He wasn’t human, he never was…he only wore the mask of one,’ thought Ayesha in suppressed fury, as she gave a vicious jab on the push button that allowed pedestrians to cross the road at the traffic light. Cars whooshed by like tornadoes on fire, as she shifted from one leg to another on the pavement, waiting for the green pedestrian light to glow. And the images in her mind continued their gruesome dance…
‘Don’t tell anyone! Anyone, understand? You know what I’ll do to you, if you tell anyone what happened here?’
His face was so close to hers, she could smell beedis and something else…sickly sweet and nasty…on his breath. She tried to shake her head to indicate that she wouldn’t, but he held on in a vice-like grip, his nails digging painfully into her scalp. She could only stare in terror at this new face, this glaring monster she didn’t recognize anymore.
‘I’ll cut you up! Understand?’
He let go of her head then. And moved his right hand over his left, in a chopping motion, like she’d seen the butcher do while mincing meat, the time she’d accompanied their house maid to buy mutton at Russel market, a few months ago.
‘I’ll cut you up into little, little pieces...chote chote tukde…chak-chak-chak-chak…and fill you in a bottle,’ he finished, as his lips twisted into a vicious smile.
Ayesha watched the hand go up and down on his broad palm; wide eyeballs followed the malicious motion in mute horror…chak-chak-chak-chak…
The chilly air had formed copious tiny droplets of water on the windscreen, but Ayesha only knew the intense heat of sheer terror, as her breath began to come in small convulsive gasps…
Darkness…the blessed cloak of darkness settled upon Ayesha then and when she did wake up hours later, mommy was cradling her, rocking her to and fro, a torrent flowing down her cheeks.
‘My baby, oh my poor darling…’ Mommy’s voice broke as she valiantly tried to hold back the sobs emanating from her abdomen. Dad was on the phone with someone, his voice barely recognizable with vehement rage…
‘Yes, inspector, the rascal worked here for four years, he drove our car, helped around the house occasionally…no, we don’t know where he could have gone, he lived somewhere in Murugeshpalya…’
She settled into mommy’s embrace to return into the soothing darkness.
She hadn’t known then, all those years ago.
She hadn’t known that she would throw up in any vehicle with the AC on, for years after that incident. Isn’t that why she avoided travelling by AC buses or even the famed Singapore MRT? But today, it had been late and she’d decided to risk it one more time…
She hadn’t known that she would be terrified of bio laboratories for life and avoid them like the plague, for fear of coming into contact with those display bottles…
She still avoided drinking from bottles and would go thirsty for hours on end, because all she ‘saw’ within those harmless plastic containers were pieces of pink flesh…with the whiff of putrid eggs…
She hadn’t known that the stench was the demon that would hound her, lingering just below the surface of her existence, to prey on her peace and sanity…all her life.
Dad even shifted his garment business to Singapore because the psychiatrist advised a change of scene for his lovely daughter. Had it helped? She’d never know, perhaps she didn’t want to know.
The wall clock cuckooed ten times as Ayesha unlocked the grill gate and then the teakwood door behind it, with her spare key-bunch. She stepped into the spacious 3 BHK apartment and called out in her usual gaily tone, ‘Mom…I’m home.’
Some portions of the above story are based on a chilling true incident, as recited to me by the mother of a girl, who turned 12 recently. The girl was subjected to recurrent sexual abuse by a plumber employed by her school, within the premises, when she was six. The trial against the perpetrator and the well-known Delhi-based school in Whitefield, North Bangalore is still pending in court. The names of the characters have been changed to protect the identity of the child.
The story uses the theme ‘flashback’, where memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment. It is possible for victims of sexual assault to feel like the experience is happening all over again. During a flashback it can be difficult to connect with reality. It may even feel like the perpetrator is physically present.
Child sexual abuse* can result in both short-term and long-term harm, including psychopathology in later life. Indicators and effects include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, somatization,sleep disturbances, and dissociative and anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.
A statement released by Loius Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India states, “It is alarming that too many of these cases are children. One in three rape #victims is a child. More than 7,200 children including infants are raped every year; experts believe that many more cases go unreported. Given the #stigma attached to rapes, especially when it comes to children, this is most likely only the tip of the iceberg.
According to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (#NCRB) for 2015, 8,800 cases of rape on children were registered across the country under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (#POCSO). In 2,227 cases, or 25.3 per cent, the offenders were found to be employers or co-workers.
In the case of children, the data reveals:
· Neighbors were the biggest abusers in such cases in 2015 - 3,149 (35.8%).
· In over 10 per cent of cases last year, children were subjected to #rape by their own family members or relatives.
· In 94.8 per cent of cases, children were subjected to rape by someone known to them.
· 14,913 cases were registered under #POCSO in 2015.
*Sourced from Google.