Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault
Delhi—the capital city of India—is a very busy place. Mitty worked here for a short period in a very successful MNC. This was the first time Mitty ever stepped out of her hometown. She stayed with her eldest sister, Sara, who was already living there. Delhi was some kind of a big deal for Mitty, a small-town girl who was not very ambitious and pretty complacent in a metropolitan city for her first job. She had always seen Delhi as an alien land with people who were completely different than those that she had seen or met till now. She mostly imagined people living in Delhi to be ‘bad’ people; it was kind of weird that she had built this image of a city that she had never lived in, and it never occurred to her that she should challenge that negative unfounded notion.
Mitty hated the city for no good reason till now. She was being treated well by her colleagues in her first workplace and had cool roommates. But Mitty tried too hard to fit in, she had problem navigating, she was too cautious, she had tied herself in a cage of her own limitations, perceptions and guidelines.
And then, like she did not hate that city enough already, this happened to her.
Mitty was heading back from work in the evening. It was the usual rush hours with the entire city all over the place; people were in some kind of rush and now Mitty too was rushing for no particular reason except that you seemed totally out of place if you were not constantly running like other people. It was like a whole bunch of people were always headed somewhere and an equal amount people were always headed towards you. Suddenly Mitty’s breasts felt being groped and pressed, and in about two minutes it was gone. Mitty stood there nonplussed, trying to understand what had just happened. She thought for once that maybe she was imagining things. There was no sign of anybody who looked back with a crooked smile towards her or someone who would want to grab her somewhere else; people were just rushing like they always did. Mitty’s eyes filled to the brim with tears of embarrassment. She couldn’t feel her feet for a minute or two. She wanted to hide in some place where no one would be able to see her, not that someone had any time to watch her but Mitty felt so uncomfortable. The feet that were too weak to carry her few minutes back began moving fast now. Mitty ran to her room, held her tears till she was sure Sara had left for her night shift; Sara was gone. As she let her tears flow free now, she locked her room and the night went by with copious crying, leaving her with a strong headache in the morning.
Mitty did not go to office for the next two days and spent all her time in her bed and ate nothing. Sara was worried and tried talking to Mitty but she did not speak a word. She left back for her hometown in a week with all the hatred in the world locked in her heart for the beautiful city.
Eight year had passed. Mitty’s eldest sister, Sara, had moved to their hometown after getting married and Mitty was quite a different person now. She travelled a bit to open her mind and heart to the world, met a lot of people and socialized passably. But Mitty was still used to living her life in her comfort zone. It took too much to pull her out and it happened when her mother, Maera, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in its third stage. All their lives changed drastically to a constant hustle for the next year and a half. It ran at an unrecognizable pace with infinite uncertainty. It was a double whammy for Mitty that Maera’s treatment was decided to be done in a research hospital in Delhi. Mitty managed to convince Sara to handle those compulsory visits to Delhi and she would assist with all the work at home with her another sister, Nuna.
Things started taking a difficult turn for Sara at her work when the workload in her team increased and her boss started asking her to work extra hours and not take leaves for some time. Keeping the job was very important for all of them to keep steady flow of money to manage the finances for Maera’s treatment. This time Sara could not take Maera to Delhi; thus, Mitty and Nuna had to take Maera to Delhi for her regular check-up.
Owing to Mitty’s hatred for Delhi, she tried avoiding this travel by telling everyone that there was too much to be done at home and only Nuna should go to Delhi while Mitty could stay back to help at home. But this time, Maera’s tests would take longer and they needed to rent a place near the hospital and stay back for a week or two. This would require two people, one to assist Maera at the hospital and the other one to handle things related to Maera’s diet and other chores in the rented room. Back to square one, Mitty had to leave for Delhi with Nuna.
After just three days of their stay in Delhi, coronavirus struck and the whole world went under lockdown. Mitty, Nuna and Maera thought that the lockdown would be for few days and they would still be able to return home as scheduled. But it all went for too long. Mitty was devastated when she realised that she would be stuck in the most hateful city of her life alone. Nuna would stay busy with Maera in the hospital and Mitty would handle the chores at the rented home.
Mitty thought to herself several times that Delhi had only left scars on her soul; this was just another one of those scars. She had extremely negative feelings for the city. Owing to this, Mitty saw every help or kind feeling that came her way with suspicion. The apartment they had rented was on the second floor and the lady that lived on the first floor, Ms Sufi, always tried to check on Mitty to see if she was doing fine as she was alone and new to the city. The concern also came from the fact that the lady knew about Maera’s medical condition. The more concern Ms Sufi expressed, the more uncomfortable Mitty felt. Mitty knew somewhere in her heart that Ms Sufi’s concern was genuine but she could not help but suspect Ms Sufi’s intentions.
Ms Sufi would often make special dishes and share these with Mitty when she was alone, and when Maera was home, Ms Sufi would bring in convalescent meals for Maera. Mitty would always criticize Ms Sufi for being over-friendly and Nuna and Maera felt almost scared by Mitty’s unusual behaviour. Mitty would never suspect people’s intentions back home; in fact, she would trust people too easily. Thus, this behaviour was very weird for Maera and Nuna. Ms Sufi also asked them to not worry about grocery shortage due to the lockdown and said that she would arrange all this kind of stuff; she did actually take care of every such thing for them.
One night Maera suddenly felt more unwell than usual. Nuna and Mitty wanted to take her to the hospital immediately but it was midnight and Maera was not in a condition to walk to the hospital. Mitty rushed downstairs to see if there was a rikshaw or any other conveyance to take Maera to the hospital. Mitty walked hastily a long distance in the hope to find some conveyance but to no avail. She was about to give up when a dim light began approaching slowly; it was a rickshaw. Mitty started running towards it to reach it as quickly as possible.
As she approached the rickshaw, she slowed down a little and then overtook her feeling of suspicion seeing a dozy, bearded and masked man who Mitty suspected to be high on weed or something.
Mitty did not have much time to let her suspicious feelings affect her. She jumped towards the rickshaw and began blabbering about her situation. The man stayed shut this whole time listening to her attentively. When Mitty was done, he said, ‘madam, please relax. Sit inside and I will drive you to wherever you want. This is my job. Don’t panic, please.’
The rickshaw driver waited at the hospital till Maera got admitted to the hospital; he came over to Mitty after this and offered to help if such situation arose again in future; he gave his phone number, and an alternate number, and requested to contact him no matter what time of the night, or day for that matter, it was. Thereafter, he was there instantly for them every time they called him throughout the lockdown period.
Then there was Ms Sufi who would come over to the hospital to speak with Maera and never forgot to bring her meals that she would prepare with so much love. She took care of her, Mitty and Nuna like her family. Gradually, Mitty began to feel at home even in Delhi. Mitty didn’t even notice when her negative feelings for the city had dissolved into oblivion.
In the last days of her life, Maera was being treated in Delhi and she had her family beside her which included Ms Sufi and the rickshaw driver. A lot of things had changed for Mitty and one of these was her feelings for Delhi. The place was now her second home and the people her second family. For once, to Mitty, the world seemed to be a place with different people living in the same family. Her relationship with the city changed along with her perception for the world in general.