The park was nearly empty this early in the morning… but for the girl.
She was sleeping on one of the benches. She lay on her back with her face was turned towards the back-rest of the bench. Her long, curly hair was hanging loose over the edge of the bench, the soft curls raveling and unraveling in the wind. She had a scarf over her face, probably to shield it from the insects and mosquitoes. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a red, loose shirt of some thick material. Her right arm was over her eyes and the left one hung at her side over the edge of the bench, almost touching the ground. Her skin was creamy fair. The body was well-proportioned with a vibrant feline grace, as attractive as that of a cheetah. A pair of expensive red stilettos were lying next to the bench. Her handbag- worn, leather and expensive- was under her head. Her feet was exquisitely shaped with a pair of silver anklets adorning them. They tinkled naughtily each time the wind passed over them.
There was nothing extraordinary about the girl- except that she had no business to be where she was.
Slowly, people began strolling into the park. It was comical to see their reaction when they came upon the soundly sleeping girl. There was censure, shock or leers on the faces. They walked on, casting unobtrusive glances at her. Nobody woke her. The girl slept, as if in the air-conditioned private comfort of her own bedroom.
Two young men came jogging. They stopped when they saw the girl. They forgot their jog… and began a hushed conversation.
First young man: Oh my God…! What a doll…!
Second young man: What doll..? Oh that girl…? What’s great about her…? She looks an ordinary girl…
First young man: She looks like a nymph of the woods. How pretty she is..! I wish I could see her face..!
Second young man: Yes, but what on earth could she be doing here..? She looks like she has slept here all night… how come she didn’t go home…? Those clothes and shoes look expensive. I am sure this is no homeless girl.
First young man: You really are so stupid..! Can’t you make out..?
Second young man: Make out what…?
First young man: Arre fool…! She is a pro…
Second young man: (in a hushed whisper): WHAT…?
First young man: Of course…! Would a girl from a decent household be sleeping on a park bench…? Wouldn’t her family be looking for her…? This one is surely a pro. I wonder how much she charges.
Second young man: WHAT….!!! You’re thinking of THAT…?
First young man: Well… why not..? That’s what she is there for isn’t it…? Lets go and wake her up… then I’ll ask her. Oh but… do you have any money…?
Second young man: What…! No no… I am not going to wake her up. I don’t want to be beaten so early in the morning. Moreover I have no money. You stay here making a fool of yourself if you want… I am going.
First young man: (Derisively) Chicken…! Don’t you want to have some fun…? Where are your b*lls man…?
Second young man: (Disdainfully) You seem to have enough for both of us. Are you coming or shall I go alone…?
First young man: Oh alright I’ll come…! But we’re not going to jog today. I am going home to get some money and then I’ll come back. Will you come with me…?
Second young man: You’ve gone crazy…! I never thought you were like this… what’s come over you…? This might be a girl in some trouble..! How come that probability hasn’t occurred to you…? You think of nothing but THAT…? Why don’t you think of helping her…?
First young man: Oh I have no patience with you…! When I see a scrumptious meal in front of me… I am not going to waste my time fooling about with a lot of vague conjectures. I’d wolf the food down before someone else comes along. I am very disappointed in you… never thought you were such a sissy…! Bah…!!
Second young man: You think whatever you want. But I know I would hate it if someone looked at my sister like that.
First young man: But you don’t HAVE a sister you fool…!
Second young man: Yes I don’t…! But you have…! And yet you talk like this…?
First young man: So…? Does that mean all delicious girls are my sisters?! You’ve got to be mad!!
Second young man: I am going… you stay ogling here if you want to.
First young man: Oh alright..! I’ll come too… but I am coming back with money… ALONE.
Second young man: Do what you want… I don’t care…!
They both left and there was silence. The girl slept on… oblivious to the obscene discussion she had triggered.
For almost 20 minutes, nobody came. Then two middle aged men came. It was obvious they were old friends. They were animatedly discussing something. As soon as they saw the girl though, they stood rooted to the spot, looking at each other in amazement. Of one accord, they moved on to the next bench on the other side of the path and sat down there, looking at her. One of the men was bald and stout, and the other was tall and thin.
Bald and Stout: (with I sigh) It is when I see things of this kind that I wish I was young again.
Tall and Thin: Well… who says we are old? We are only in our prime.
Bald and Stout: Oh that’s only to console ourselves..! You know very well we are old. Moreover, ever since my wife dies six years back, I seem to have become even more old.
Tall and Thin: No no…! Honestly I am not trying to console you. I mean it…!
Bald and Stout: But why would a pretty young girl like this even LOOK at an old fogey like me…?
Tall and Thin: You know young men. Don’t you find them so frivolous and unstable…? You have a grown up son and so have I. I know you think yours is a moron and I am none too happy with mine. Yours takes stupid decisions… and mine is too namby-pamby. Taking a decision would exhaust him for weeks…!
Bald and Stout: Yeah yeah… you are right..! But still… all young men are not like our sons. There might be other young men who are good. A lovely girl would naturally go for some hunk… not a dried up prune like me.
Tall and Thin: In my experience, young girls prefer men who are established and stable. As for the ‘dried up’ aspect… (laughing) you can always resort to the wonder drug of the millennium… the hope of ‘young’ men like us.
Bald and Stout: You know very well that I don’t have the guts to tell my son or daughter that I want to marry again. More than them, my MIL would never let me hear the end of it. As it is she tells me that I killed her daughter.
Tall and Thin: Who is talking about marriage…? This one is a pro I am sure. You can just keep her on the side, with no one the wiser. You surely can afford her.
Bald and Stout: Pro…? You think she is a one..? She looks decent… looks well-bred. Those clothes and shoes are expensive.
Tall and Thin: Well… who told you pros don’t have good taste…? A girl with expensive tastes surely needs someone to take care of her.
Bald and Stout: Who knows, she might be a girl from a good family and in trouble. Don’t you think it is possible…?
Tall and Thin: Have you ever seen a girl from a good family sleeping on a park bench before..? Wouldn’t she go to a friend’s house or something…?
Bald and Stout: Yeah what you say is logical… but are you sure…?
Tall and Thin: Of course I am sure. She probably didn’t manage to get a customer last night and must have fallen asleep here. She must have thought she’ll get someone from the morning walkers and joggers.
Bald and Stout: Will you do me a favour..? Let’s go home now… and you come back after a while and talk to her. You know my position well, negotiate with her. But please set it up for me. I’ll give her my farm-house to stay in. As it is no one goes there. Will you do it…?
Tall and Thin: (laughing) Yes yes… I’ll see what I can do. And maybe I can come and stay at your farm-house too sometimes…? (winks)
Bald and Stout: Ha ha… you rogue..! Don’t eye my things… get your own…!
Tall and Thin: Already possessive about your little bird are you…?
Bald and Stout: Ha ha ha… Lets go. But you’ll come back won’t you…?
Tall and Thin: Yes yes… I’ll come back.
The two men left. The girl slept on…
Ten minutes later, the first young man came again. The girl was sleeping still. He grinned in pleasurable anticipation and went over to wake her up. He shook her shoulder… feeling almost faint with the sensation of touching her. She didn’t move or stir. He didn’t dare to remove the scarf from her face. He shook her a little more firmly. No reaction.
While he was still trying to rouse her, the tall thin man returned. He gave a start when he saw the young man. The young man had his back to him and didn’t see him. Moreover he was too busy looking at the girl.
Tall and Thin: Tarun…! What are YOU doing here…?
First young man: (whirling around in dismay) Papa…!! You are here..?
Both are equally taken aback. Instinctively, they both know what brought the other.
Tall and Thin: Don’t tell your mother…!
First young man: Oh yeah…? Why not…?
Tall and Thin: Because it is not for myself I came you fool. It is Sinha uncle who asked me to talk to this girl. For him… NOT for me…!
First young man: I don’t believe you…! This is just a story you are making up…!
Tall and Thin: How dare you speak to your father like that…! I tell you it was for Sinha… not for me. And btw, what are YOU doing here…?
First young man: (backing down and speaking lamely) Well… I just thought I’ll ask the girl if I could help her or something.
Tall and Thin: Ha ha ha… you think I am a fool…? Help a girl… yeah… as if you ever would…!
First young man: Anyhow… what’s to be done now…? Lets wake her up first… and we can decide who will take her later.
Tall and Thin: Yes… let’s wake her up..!
Tarun shakes her once more. She doesn’t move. His father too tries. They both grow uneasy and take the scarf off the girl’s face. When they see her face… both of them stare are her in shock.
First young man: Tanvi…!!!!
Tall and Thin: Beta Tanvi…!!!!
The girl opened her eyes. It was obvious that she hadn’t been sleeping at all.
The Girl: Ahh…! Good morning Dad…and Tarun….! This is a pleasant and instructive morning isn’t it…? What’s the matter…? Cat got your tongue…? But I remember the many many words you both had in your mouths the day I told you I want to live alone. What was it you both said…? That you wouldn’t let me go because you want to protect me from bad men…? Can you now say my home is a safe place for me…? I am afraid, I cannot agree with you after what I have heard today. Why don’t you say something Dad…? You were pimping me beautifully to your friend. I mean the way you went about it was like you were born to it. And Tarun… you want to have some fun…? I am a delicious girl am I…? I heard every word you both spoke to your friends. I know that deep in your hearts you have no respect for women. What is worse is that you project your own corruption on other people and turn them into monsters. I hope God will protect other girls from men such as you. I am leaving home today. I hope you worthy gentlemen will have no more objections…?
Without waiting for a reply, Tanvi collected her bag, put on her shoes and walked off.
In a few strides, she left the corrupt stench of hypocrisy behind.