Trigger Warning: sexual assault
Akshay tapped gently on Kaya’s shoulder to get her attention. Before he could say anything, Kaya violently jerked his hand away and shouted angrily, “Hey! Don’t touch me without my permission!”
Akshay was mildly embarrassed at such a reprimand and more so because everyone working around had turned their heads curiously to see what had caused such a reaction from Kaya.
Akshay immediately apologized and said, “Sorry to have caught you by surprise. I just wanted to ask; shall we go for lunch?”
Kaya immediately felt guilty about her outburst and said, “I’m so sorry, Akshay. I just don’t like being touched by anyone. Yes, let’s go have lunch! I’m starving.”
Over lunch, Kaya was unusually quiet and kept mulling over what had happened. The guilt now doubled as memories of another such recent outburst flooded her mind. At an office outing two weeks back, she had lost her temper on Vineet from the Technical team and would have even slapped him if Akshay hadn’t intervened. The reason? In the game of tug of war, Vineet had accidentally fallen on top of her after losing his grip on the rope. Despite Vineet’s constant apologies, Kaya had lashed out at him angrily and things would have gotten way out of control if not for Akshay’s quick thinking and decision to take things into his hands.
Every time someone touched her without her knowledge or consent, it triggered similar or worse reactions which were now getting out of control. She felt guilty about lashing out so harshly, but it was something involuntary. The minute someone lay a hand on any part of her body, her mind would go numb and her only thought was to get the hands of that person off her.
She knew the cause but did not know the reason; and even if she figured out the reason, she did not understand how she should stop herself from reacting this way. So, life went on for her, and she maintained a physical distance from anyone and everyone around her, including her parents and elder brother, and even her closest friends.They too, in return, kept their distance from her, because they’d had been on the receiving end of her angry outbursts more than once.
It was most difficult for her parents as they were those, she spent the most time with. Being around her, they could never keep their guard down. She knew their guarded behavior was because of her. Her mother had even tried being forceful about hugging Kaya once or twice, but Kaya had ended up crying so hard that her mother never touched her again, even by chance.
So, today was just another episode like that. However, Kaya knew Akshay was different. He took care of her as no friend or family had ever done so far. It was obvious to Kaya that he was going out of his way to ensure her comfort every time they were together. From ensuring he never touched her to make sure things did not go out of hand if someone else touched her, he was like her constant protector and savior.
Kaya wasn’t stupid; she knew this meant he cared more than a friend. Even she liked him a lot, in fact, if she were honest with herself, she could see herself building a future together with him.
However, the one thing that bothered her most was that, if things got serious, she knew there would be expectations of physical intimacy coming into the picture at some point. How would she handle that, and more importantly, will be able to accept her without that? She decided to accept and handle things as and when they came.
She was mulling over these thoughts while waiting for her work pick-up. It was the company cab, but she had somehow missed the all-female pick-up and had to take a cab with some of her male colleagues. From the minute she had realized she would have to share space with men, she had been a nervous wreck. She even considered calling in sick and taking an off. That was the level of discomfort she had with physical proximity around humans!! However, if she needed to progress positively with Akshay, she realized she would have to begin somewhere, and this felt like a good start.
As luck would have it, she ended up sitting next to Vineet from IT and both of them avoided each other. The ride to work was a good half an hour to forty-five minutes and the discomfort between these two was palpable. Kaya kept herself busy, scrolling through her phone or looking out of the window. While trying to get his phone out from his trousers pocket, Vineet’s hand brushed against Kaya’s thighs and she gave him an angry look but chose to say nothing. In terms of growth, she had made two leaps today, she thought to herself and gave herself a mental pat on the back.
She felt positive after that and the rest of the ride was uneventful. As they reached the office gate, she opened the cab door and turned to get down from the cab, when Vineet’s hands grabbed her buttocks and there was a definite and hard pressing by both his hands. However, before she could turn around and react, he had gotten out of the cab from the door on the other side and was on his way inside the office building. She was paralyzed and couldn’t move from the spot. She felt disgusted and cheap. That one moment where his hands had pressed her buttocks, a long-time forgotten memory had come rushing back to her mind.
She remembered being pressed against a wall, as her childhood best friend, Sanam, with his other free hand moved his hands all along her back, thighs. As he pushed further, he got his mouth near her ear and whispered, “This is our little secret. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
She had been so terrified and thinking it had all been her fault, she never said a word about it to anyone. After that incident, Sanam soon moved out of the city, and over time Kaya forgot about him and that episode completely.
Today, Vineet’s touch had brought that haunting experience back to her mind. She broke down in the cab itself. Luckily, Akshay was getting out from another cab, saw Kaya crying, and immediately rushed over to her. This time, Kaya was the one to grab hold of him and hugged him tightly as she got out of the cab and he helped her over to the side. As he patted and consoled her, she told him everything, about how Vineet had touched her today and also about that black day from so many years back.
It became clear to Kaya what made her the way she was and why she held back from physical intimacy. Now that she knew the reason, she had broken the barrier already by allowing her body to get comfort from Akshay’s calming touch. Her body would surely learn over time, the difference between forceful and consensual touch, if she let it.
However, more than that, because she now knew what had led to her being the way she was, she was determined to speak out against Vineet and then even confront Sanam if she could. The way to move ahead and get out of this vicious circle was clear in her mind now and she decided not to punish herself and those who genuinely cared, because of predators like Sanam and Vineet.