Salma’s father shivered with cold as it was raining outside. He wore a tired look and lazily stroked his unkempt beard. Seated on a wooden bench he began biting his fingernails.  When called in by the doctor he signed the papers with his trembling hand and marked the date (1/12/1991) under his crooked name and waited in the corridor of the hospital, his head hanging low. A cheerful couple came. They greeted Salma’s father and sat next to him.

“What did the doctors say?” asked the woman, rolling up her umbrella.

“God knows better. But they said the case will be normal.” Salma’s father said dully.

“May Allah safeguard both their lives.” The woman and her husband said in unison.

Half an hour later, Salma felt the first piercing pain in her stomach around 3 o’clock. Squirming on the bed, in the dingy labor room in Srinagar hospital, she murmured some verses of the Quran when pain coursed through her whole body. She clenched her fists and craned her neck sometimes right, sometimes left. She knew that, though the pain was sharp, it would relieve her from the longest pain. The longest pain that had been crushing her from within since the day the doctor declared her pregnant. For the last few months Salma had been living as a benumbed soul. But now the sharp pain snapped her out of her deadness and reminded her, for a moment, that she existed.

Salma welcomed the labor pains with a sense of relief. She could hardly wait to get rid of her burden, this child growing in her womb. This child that she considered as a bullet lodged in her chest. She had helplessly wanted it gone but could not get that done. Only pain was the constant companion of her existence through these last months.

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The pungent smell of phenyl in the room was nauseating for Salma who was turning and twisting on the lonely bed. She felt dizzy and her body ached. It seemed to her that she was swelling with every minute. Running her right hand over her gravid stomach, she sighed and sobbed.

With every second the pain grew sharper, Salma thought that she would die in a few seconds. It was not only the body that troubled her but also the memories that this physical pain triggered that tormented her. The horror of that dreadful winter night flashed across her mind: The smell of the rum and the chewing tobacco. The expletives the men mouthed and their merciless laughing, her own useless cries and the pain which lasted around an hour. These residues of her devastation which she had not been able to forget. Neither could she forget how desperately she implored them for a breath of air.

As the doctors entered and locked the door from inside, Salma shrunk.  She shivered in fear. She remembered that less than a year earlier those men also locked her room from inside. A tremor of fear shot through her. She quivered and winched… but the presence of a cheerful nurse in the room soothed her.

The seeds of the present throes of pain were sown during that equally painful and soul-shattering experience some nine months ago during that wintry night. It was pain then; it would be pain now. But Salma could distinguish between the two. They had pounced upon her like beasts then, but these people are humans here, in uniforms, her assailants were oppressors, these are saviours, Salma thought to comfort herself. For a moment, the train of her thoughts stopped but the physical pain didn’t relent. She continued to writhe in pain and cried louder and louder.

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