She lived in a remote village in south Kashmir. She was shy and very adorable. Unlike the city girls, she never used those creams to glitter her face. She was good at studying and got enrolled in the University of Kashmir after graduating in Literature from the only Government Degree College located a few miles away from her picturesque hamlet.

This is the story of a certain day when she boarded a bus from the railway station to the University. The bus was crowded, with people mostly men, which is as common as the sunset in Kashmir.

She was standing exactly in the middle of the bus, her hands on the cylindrical black pole, her left cheek glued to it like that mountain woman who takes a breath after continuously smacking the pepper with a long wooden pole in her front yard.

There were five men around her. One of them was very old, apparently rickety. Two of them were as young as her and other two were older than her but quite younger than the rickety old man.

She was alone lost in something and surrounded by these five men. One was old, two as old as her and two older than her but very young as compared to this old rickety man. She was thinking, still inwardly and happy. She was an alone woman standing on the bus. She was thinking, maybe, about her Mom who had been empathetic and friendly to her all the time. She was probably missing her but she was happy nonetheless.

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It was the last week of December. In Kashmir, Chillai Kalan (forty harshest days of Winter) had arrived and it was ice-cold outside the bus but not so cold inside the bus. She was there standing in the middle of the bus surrounded by these five men. One was old, two as young as herself and two fairly as old as her father.

She was feeling the chill of Chillai Kalan. Her toes, her beautiful nose and her ears were stone cold.

“Hello, you,” said one of the boys who were about her age. She said nothing in reply trying to ignore his inquisition. “Hello again, I am Rasiq from Rajbagh,” he said, after a minute or two, with a smile on his face.

She looked at him through the corners of her eyes and didn’t reply to him. Rasiq got angry by her coarseness and silence and didn’t say anything afterwards.

After sometime when she was looking through the dusty glass window of the bus, she felt something crawling very slowly up and down from her left sole to her left calf. Up and down. Up and down, slowly and carefully.

Now, this something was making uneven circles around her calf. Her left leg was emitting some unnatural heat and was hotter than her right leg. In a very odd way, it was a relief from the sharp biting cold of Chillai Kalan. Then, it stopped and the same thing had started crawling on her right leg. She was becoming hotter and hotter as if Chillai Kalan was done fighting her. She was sweltering.

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Now, she felt something moving slowly and pressingly on her back, like a blunt pencil. The bus was cramped. There was no room to move. She was standing in the middle of the bus, holding the black pole with her hands and surrounded by these five men. She was squashed and squeezed against the black pole.

She was devastated, hot and full of dread like one of those Kashmiri kids who would get trapped in an encounter site every so often. She was dead sure it was Rasiq groping her and was unable to do anything at all. She was hot and sweltering and could easily hear the snorting from the backside. And suddenly, the bus stopped to drop some passengers.

Now, there was enough room for her to move and the first thing she did is to smack Rasiq fair and square on the face. Rasiq didn’t say anything and lowered his gaze and to his surprise, he saw her bottom cloths on the backside absolutely damp.

It was not his doing, he would think. ‘Shame, shame, shame,’ he said to himself. He knew who this guy was. Not the old rickety man, nor the guy who was of his age. It was this guy who was about her father’s age who did this to her.

After a short while, the bus reached the university and she entered the university gates to attend her classes.

Postscript — The story is a work of fiction.

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