Nobody's Daughter

The clouds still climb up that mountain, in my heart. I see it all. The grey and the green and the fertility and the moisture from the jungle below.
The wilderness is still stalked by wild beasts there. Like the beast that took my auntie’s face. A bear swiped it off, you said.

I wonder now if that was yet another lie. Looking back at the pictures in my mind it looks like an acid attack. But I know these things now. Acid attacks are common now. They must’ve been common then.
Another lie, I realize.
Why would you lie to your favorite?
I was always your favorite, wasn’t I? I was your second chance, your do-over life, your precious accessory, your excuse, alibi and plaything. We were such a team, you and I. Until we weren’t. Do I deserve an acid attack for growing up, too?

That one time. That one time when we went to visit those friends of yours. To the east, towards Calcutta. Hundreds of miles away from home. From my mountain and my river and my clouds.
Two white women, travelling with two brown girls – it is presumed they were their daughters. On dirty busses full of dirty, lustful old men.
In some town, somewhere in the province of Himachal Pradesh, you absolutely had to have your drugs. Had to. You convinced your friend to leave the five year olds in the bus. Drugs mattered. Cravings mattered.

I started to tremble, when you got up. An animal feels danger, even when no senses allow it to detect it. With closed eyes, we can sense a tiger in the room. With closed eyes, I sensed that this could mean my destruction. There are two common stress responses we employ to get out of danger. Fight or Flight. There was nowhere to run. There was nothing to fight.
A child’s response kicked in. The response of an infant in pain. I screamed. I never before and never since have screamed so much. You disappeared nonetheless, flashes of white skin, meandering through the dirt and the dust and the busses. My lungs gave out and I slumped to the filthy floor of the bus, smelling dirty cocks. Why I knew the smell at five years of age, I cannot remember.
The last glimpse of whiteness vanished, replaced by the colourful kaleidoscope that is any road in India. Red and blue and yellow and green, a feast for the eye of the wandering tourist. A feast for the eye of that inevitable photographer, documenting this still unexplored El Dorado of contradicting facets of the human condition. A child in a bus, screaming.
The bus is put into gear. I saw stars, as my heart raced so fast, even in my childish mind I knew it cannot sustain this pace for long. Surely, I would die here. Preferable, perhaps, to any other fate.
The bus jolted forward. Ever so slightly. Just a yard, perhaps. A death sentence.
The old men looked on, bemused, as two little girls sat there, on their own, one of them screaming, the other in silent tears.

We had been abandoned. Those white women must have grown tired of their brown playthings. I screamed. The bus kept moving forward, inching it’s way through the traffic. Maybe stuck behind one of those iconic cows?
What did I care. I screamed.

I heard laughter, then. I saw a flash of white skin. Your reddish hair peeking from under your headscarf. You laughed as you saw my ashen face, cowering in front of an old man, kneeling in the dirt. You laughed again, as I whispered, asked you why you would abandon me. You were my mother, were you not? Supposed to protect me? You laughed again, when I coughed and my dry throat caused me pain. You called me stupid. Told me not to make a scene. It was only a smoke.

I screamed in my head for hours. I don’t think it ever really stopped.

About the Author

Ronika Merl

I am living in Dublin, Ireland with my two boys and partner, but have lived in India and Austria before that. By day, I spend my time doing admin work in an office, but by night I write short stories, essays, and of course that ever-elusive novel.

Read more work by Ronika Merl.