The Scent of Freedom

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story in which the same line recurs three times.... view prompt

12 comments

Desi Drama Inspirational

Saba's light footsteps were all that could be heard around the house. Everyone else was fast asleep, as should Saba be too. But she had planned an adventure for herself: one from which she didn't plan to return. Clutching the straps of her backpack tightly, she made an effort to keep the noise she made to a minimum. This was the night she had planned for the past year, and she couldn't mess it up now.

She had met Ajay four years ago. She remembered that day like it was yesterday. She had been walking down the main lobby of her college, trying to find her first class on her first day. Her anxious eyes had been alternating their gaze between the college map in her hand and the row of classrooms across from her. And then almost like an error made during a physics experiment: her eyes went to an outlier. The boy who had no idea she was watching him, was surprisingly acting like her. His eyes held the anxiety hers had clung to, till they'd moved on to watching him and found a strange peace.

But she couldn't forget where she was and why she was there. She had fought against the entire line of patriarchy in her house to go to college. And now she couldn't waste her time on boys like nothing was at stake. Because frankly, there was just too much. So she found her classroom and a girl to sit next to and tucked away the boy's image into a very often visited place in her mind. The one where she put everything she knew she would never have in this life.

But what if He Himself in all his glory had for some unknown reason looked into her mind? Specifically that place in her mind and seen more things than the insides of a Walmart, just gathering the dust of time and turning into regrets? If that's what had happened any sane person could tell that He would've had mercy on her and grant her at least a wish.

And so just a wish, or a wish to grant all other wishes, whatever He intended Ajay to be, walked in the same classroom she was sitting in and changed her life.

She still couldn't remember exactly how they got from speaking their first words to loving each other like soulmates. All she knew was how he made her feel now: like she had it in her to choose her happiness, and that she deserved it too. So she realized that the dream she had been dreaming wouldn't come true unless she made a hard decision. The decision to change her truth. The decision to leave her conservative family, and build her new reality with Ajay.

And that was exactly why she was standing at the bottom of the stairs with all her necessities packed in her bag, in the middle of the night. She was ready to leave the world that only adorned shackles to her dreams and defined her life against her will just because she was a girl.

She looked at her watch. There were still ten minutes before Ajay would arrive in front of her house. She stayed in the shadows to remain hidden. But for a soul who lived in the dark, she was all too visible.

"Saba beti?" Her grandmother's cane tapped against the floor, making Saba jump. "Is it you? What are you doing here?" Her grandmother came to a stop, a feet away from her.

Saba sensed the concern in her grandmother's voice, but she noticed there was no anger in it. Perhaps she could tell her the truth. In any case, it didn't matter. A blind aged woman could in no way stop her.

"Yes, dadi. It's me. I, uh," Saba paused to think of a fitting response. "Uh-"

Before she could finish her grandmother cut her off, "You're running away, aren't you?"

She couldn't believe what she heard. How could she have known? But now that the cat was out of the bag, she decided to come clean. "Yes."

In the faint light of the old bulb glowing above them, she saw her grandmother's face closely for the first time in a long time. Fine wrinkles ran all the way from her forehead to the tip of her chin, pushing down her face at least a few millimeters. But that did nothing to hide her beauty. And the irony of it all was that her most beautiful feature were her doe like eyes. So beautiful, yet worthless. Just like the women in her family.

"Is there a boy?" Her grandmother kept her voice low, but it was still sharp.

"Yes, but I'm not doing it just for him." Saba let the determination in her heart soak her words. "I deserve better than whatever the men here have planned for me."

Her grandmother was at a loss for words. She knew Saba was right. And a part of her wanted this young girl to break free from the life she had given in to, when she was young.

"Promise me," her grandmother said after a minute, "you'll take care of yourself." Her voice broke at the last word and she sniffed in a cry.

Saba couldn't help it then. She hugged the old woman with more strength she had ever used on her. And to her surprise, she hugged her back with equal force. They said their goodbyes to each other. Saba shifted a little to turn around and meet her destiny who had arrived outside in his car, but her grandmother pulled her in for what Saba thought was another hug. Instead her grandmother brought her face close to her ear and spoke in a voice that was scared and omniscient, "Don't look back."

And Saba didn't.

The next day as the family erupted into an atmosphere of chaos, Saba's mother wept tears of joy clutching her goodbye note that she had left in her mother's cupboard. She intended only her mother to have that closure. A closure letting her know that her daughter would be alright. And that she loved her and would miss her, but that she also knew that's what her mother wanted her to do as well.

Her mother brought the piece of paper close to her tear stained face. She closed her eyes and thought about the first time she had held Saba. She remembered that day like it was yesterday. A day filled with happiness yet piercing sadness too. She had held her beautiful arm length newborn daughter and thought about how much she loved her. And how much her love will grow with each passing day as her daughter grew. To watch a girl grow old is perhaps one of the greatest joys to ever exist in this world, that she knew. But she had also thought about how her daughter would hate her, for bringing her into this family where all she would ever get is pain, and control disguised as concern.

But now she knew Saba would never hate her, that she never hated her. And that she would be happy.

She kissed the paper once and then pressed her nose on it, as if to smell her daughter. Instead, she smelled freedom which brought a sad smile to her face. Saba was gone. But Saba was free.

And the scent of freedom also lingered in her grandmother's room. She was huddled in a corner, deep in thought. Last night's events had pulled up the memory of a certain day in her old mind. A very special memory that had a special place in her heart. She remembered that day like it was yesterday. The day she had decided to take the very same path Saba took. But her story had a very different ending.

She made the mistake of looking back and seeing only the security her prison had provided. And so she had walked back home from the train station, but not fast enough so she could be home before anyone found out. Her marriage was fixed the very next day, as punishment. End of story.

But end of her story. Not Saba's.

And in a way, not hers either. Or Saba's mother's.

Saba broke free and a part of all the women who couldn't, went with her.

And she will live her freedom for them. She will hold her daughter and not feel guilty about bringing a girl into this cruel world. She won't look back, she will choose her freedom.

She will wear whatever she wants, study as much as she wants...........

July 09, 2021 22:12

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12 comments

Dr. Mamta Sharma
06:00 Jul 11, 2021

I really enjoyed reading the story - perfect ending.

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17:45 Jul 11, 2021

Thank you so much, Bullu Maasi! Your words mean a lot to me.

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Alex Sultan
11:39 Jul 10, 2021

Interesting story. I liked the ending to it, very emotional with how it is written. I also like your use of italics in this piece - it adds a good flow to it.

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18:29 Jul 10, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words! Really appreciate it.

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Jayati Banerjee
13:38 Jul 21, 2021

Great work...!! Writing style is simple yet captivating. I couldn't put it down till I reached the end. Feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it's about changing the way the world perceives that strength. Nidhi, you have taken it a step forward ..very inspiring move. Keep it up..!!

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19:42 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you so much, Moni!! Yes, I was trying to give a new angle to feminism and I am glad you liked it.

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12:32 Jul 11, 2021

Extremely gripping flow, and clarity of expression. Well done!

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17:45 Jul 11, 2021

Thank you, Ma, as always for supporting me!

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12:02 Jul 11, 2021

Very lucid style of narration. Simple yet gripping. Enjoyable just like a painting being made in front of you.

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17:46 Jul 11, 2021

Thank you, Papa. Your kind words mean a lot!

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Divya Sharma
06:57 Jul 11, 2021

This story made me feel the silent yet incredible power of having undying hope. Despite having lived a life within boundaries, the three generations of women remained empowered through their hope, which ultimately set them free. A must read! Well done.

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17:48 Jul 11, 2021

Thank you so much, Divu! Such a detailed comment really touched my heart.

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