Bustling alleys crowded with vendors and the wafting smell of hot and steamy foods characterised a typical morning in this town. As I walked down the broken pavement on the sidewalk, all I could hear was lively shouting and the occasional blaring horns of autorickshaws busily speeding along. This was how every day began. I’d leave the house to buy vegetables and other miscellaneous items as required in the household. It was perhaps the most serene part of my day- where I got to walk at a calm pace and truly take in the world around me. I truly treasured these morning walks- they held a special place in my heart.
I intended to go to Manju’s cart that morning. Manju was the friendly vegetable vendor who usually had the freshest produce one could brag of in this town. I wanted to purchase a few carrots and some brinjals. I was dead-set on the brinjals… Those were his favourite! And today was a special day… Just before I arrived at Manju’s, I chanced upon a tiny clothing store. One article immediately drew my attention- a bright orange sleeveless short top. I loved clothes like that and wanted nothing more at that moment than to get my hands on it. “Iddhuku yevala, thambi?” I questioned the shopkeeper. The boy looked at the top, at me, and finally at the shirt again. He contemplated for a short while, before saying “400 rupees, akka.” I knew I could bargain it down, but what was the point? This wasn’t my money. I had no source of income. All I did have was from him. So, as much as I desired that top, his gaze stopped me.
More than the money, it was what he would consider too revealing for a woman to wear. He’d say it would attract unwanted male attention. Despite the fact that all the women he ogled at often didn’t need to be “skimpily clad” to be rewarded with his fleeting attention. Even if I saved up for this myself… No! I can’t even let myself imagine, his gaze stopped me.
Surrendering to that gaze in my mind, I walked to Manju’s cart, my very footsteps echoing defeat. I think my disappointment was evident, as I was approached by a complete stranger out of concern. “Neengu seriya irrukengala?” He questioned. I was taken aback by the show of concern from this unknown man. He looked about my age and was dressed smartly, like he was on his way to somewhere important. I smiled politely and was about to make conversation with him, before abruptly shutting my mouth. He seemed confused, smiled wide and raised his eyebrows, as if prompting me to stop being shy. I couldn’t, though, as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t even make conversation with a stranger. His gaze stopped me.
I hurriedly turned away and left the cart. I wish I had something to bring me some sort of joy in this world. Like some sort of cruel joke, that was the exact moment a smiling mother holding her daughter’s hand walked by me. Her daughter was skipping around her asking her for a chocolate. Despite all the hardships I knew raising a child would bring, I craved the feeling of parenthood. I always cherished time spent with innocent children and would have loved to have my own. Yet, it wasn’t a possibility, to conceive a child with him. I couldn’t even think of adoption. His gaze stopped me.
I pushed these thoughts away and continued walking towards the general direction of where I lived. I couldn’t even call it my home, it was his. When I was a few metres from the main road, a tennis ball rolled up near my feet. I looked up and saw a group of children indulging in a playful cricket match. As I stood there watching them, I was transported into another era- the era of my childhood, where I’d played these games with all my friends during the scorching afternoon heat. What amazing memories… they may still be some of the best memories of my entire life. What I wouldn’t give to go back there… I’d always loved the sport, but gave it up when I got married. I’d always considered taking it up as a hobby again, especially since people had often told me I was a naturally gifted player. His gaze stopped me.
Brushing that aside, I continued making my way home. I was pretty breathless by this time. Albeit calming, it was a lengthy walk to the commercial area from where I resided. Often, I found myself wishing I knew how to drive. We had an old grey Santro parked in our lot. No one else really used it so I could have put it to good use and made my chores more efficient. I could have easily learnt how to drive. His gaze stopped me.
I finally made it to the house and pushed the gate open. I stalked up the stairs and took a deep breath. It was a big day after all. I pushed upon the heavy door and the first thing my eyes made contact with was his gaze. I stared back and a wave of fear washed over me, just like it always did when he was really here. It was just as pronounced when I stood there, looking at his gaze through that photo of his, the last photo we had taken of him, before he passed away. His obituary continued gazing at me, coldly and lifelessly, yet the fear lived on. As much as I trembled at his gaze, it wasn’t just his. It was my in-laws’ as well, who were waiting for me in the hall, to mark the occasion of his 6th death anniversary. It was the gaze of society at me for being a woman, a widow and of a lower caste. A gaze which I got another glimpse of when I turned back to shut the door. I just can’t seem to get rid of all these gazes.