by Roudri Bandyopadhyay
The first time I got my nose pierced, my body rejected it. The body’s first reaction to anything alien is usually to reject it. People’s bodies reject blood or medicines; mine rejected a piercing. It was gold, supposedly suitable for my skin. My skin doesn’t react violently to gold and yet when the metal meddled in my body’s personal business; pierced through the skin, the cartilage, and sat round on my left nostril, my body rejected it.
My body has a weird knack toward rejection. It violently lets me know that it doesn’t accept what it has received. In August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, when my roommate and I were moving, we had to stay at a friend’s place for 10 days. My body rejected his house. One morning I woke up with intense pain in my stomach. I ran to the bathroom while my stomach knotted. I puked my guts out. It felt as if I puked the first rice fed to me when I was seven months old.
My roommate heard me and tried to take care of me, but nothing really helped. Even though the medicines put my stomach at ease, a deep sense of disgust and rejection rose from my gut each second that I spent in that house. Earlier that day, I had seen him mashing eggs and boric powder to kill roaches and spread it across the house. His entire kitchen was in the dirty living room, while his kitchen was sticky from oil, and the slabs had masala stains. Random roaches and their babies crawled all over the place; including his utensils. I knew I was triggered, but I thought I could manage for a couple of more days. But much to my disappointment, my body revolted during my stay. I couldn’t be at ease until I moved into my new apartment, my new room.
The first time I was touched without consent, my body rejected it. I was on a bicycle, on my way back home from a friend’s house. I had a pink bicycle with a black flower basket. I used to pedal my way around the town on it. During my summer holidays, every morning I used to cycle far from home to pick fresh flowers for my grandmother’s morning prayers. The same cycle took me to school and brought me back home. Those were my preteen years. I must have been 10 or maybe 11. My hair was small, cut neatly in a bob cut. I wore a thin black hair band to keep the fringes away from my face. My mother insisted on me having fringes in order to cover my broad forehead.
“Fringes go well with your face,” she always said.
“I anyway look like a boy, Ma. Fringes won’t make me pretty” I protested.
I wanted to wear my worn-out blue jeans with a random top to visit my friend. My mother insisted on me wearing a ruffled purple kurta and white salwar underneath. She always pushed me to quit dressing “like a boy” and start dressing “like a girl”. I always protested a little but then gave in eventually.
It was early evening, and I took the curvy road by my school. Both sides of the road were lined with trees, and behind the dense foliage on my right, I could see the government quarters. I grew up in a defense colony within the army cantonment. People sat in their verandas, enjoying evening chai; some kids were running around their front-yard. There were a few empty yards. I assumed those living there were probably napping. On my left, there was a small lake surrounded by a footpath. Evening strollers were not yet out. The next minute, there was a man on a bicycle, or was it a boy, next to me; he was trying to keep level with mine.
There was something about his presence next to me that urged me to escape as soon as I could. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what, but in the pit of my guts I felt something wrong. I began to pedal faster, but so did he. The more I increased my pace, the faster he would get. And in no time, he would be right next to me. This went on for some time, I thought I should check who this person was. What if it’s someone I know?
I turned to see him but before I could see his face, his hands were on my right breast. I did not have breasts then. Those were the years before I had set my foot on the menstrual cycle. The only cycle I knew was the bicycle. His hand was on my not-has-happened-yet breast. I could feel his hard fingers digging deep in my flesh. He pressed it hard; as hard as I would press a tiny slice of lemon to squeeze the last drop of juice out of it. A sharp twinge of pain pierced through my skin, and guilt knotted my stomach. I wanted to puke. Not very lady-like to have your non-existent breasts pressed by an absolute stranger.
My body rejected his touch. I could feel my skin burn; burn with shock, guilt, and fear. I could feel the disgust and humiliation in my bones. My eyes grew warm and warmer until they began to burn like my skin. A lump developed in my throat; I couldn’t speak. Tears began to form but they evaporated in the heat of my eyes. I couldn’t cry. If I cry, people will ask what happened, then I will have to tell them what happened because I cannot tell a lie since telling lies is wrong and if I tell everyone what happened, then what will everyone think!
What just happened? Who was he? Why did he do this? Did anyone see it? I am so scared. Why does this feel so wrong? What did I do so wrong? This hurts. I am in pain. I want to go home. But Ma will know. I don’t want anyone to know.
I stumbled and fell on my left, next to the footpath. Skin peeled off my elbow and knee, and my salwar was torn. I could see blood dripping off my wounds. My white salwar got stained in red. But my yet-to-develop-breast hurt more. I could still feel his bony fingers on my body.
My body rejected his touch. My right breast was sore, the nerves, or are they blood vessels, red and swollen. My entire body began to ache and that night I got a fever. 104, I remember.
“What happened all of a sudden?” worried my mother.
“Must be a bad nazar” my grandmother blamed the evil eye.
“Your girls are growing up. You need to ward off the nazar and keep them safe” she instructed my mother.
Back then, I wasn’t sure if they understood what happened. I thought my grandmother was superstitious. Everything was metaphysical with her. But now, as a 26-year-old woman, I feel, perhaps they sensed it. Women have a strong sense of sniffing an incoming danger. Years and years of narrow escapes from predators gives birth to this superpower. Sometimes, these senses can be misplaced, but near destructive experiences for years and years in life can prompt fear and pessimism to work hand in hand.
My mother had since that day instructed me not to travel alone anymore. She was concerned. I now assume perhaps she sensed it too. She asked my neighbor’s daughter Payal, who was two years younger than me, to accompany me everywhere. In return, I was supposed to accompany her everywhere.
She must have seen the fear in my eyes, for I know I had plenty. But they could not see that my right breast was sore; it felt red and swollen. Was it the nerves, or the blood vessels? My entire body began to ache and that night I got a 104-degree fever.
The first time I got my nose pierced, my body rejected the invasion. The piercing was red, sore, and infected. It developed a bump right above the piercing. It was filled with pus and blood. That night, I again got a fever.
It took weeks to heal, but even after that, it left a permanent mark night above the piercing. Only I can see the scar.
Only I can see the scar on my right breast. Nearly 15 years have gone by and I can still feel his bony fingers on my right breast.
Sometime back, I read it online that a particular judge from the Mumbai High Court in India said that it is not a sexual assault if no skin-to-skin contact was made. Groping a minor without any skin touching is not sexual assault. While hearing another case against a 50-year-old man who allegedly grabbed a 5-year-old by her hand, had his trousers’ flyer open, flashed his penis to her, pulled her into the room, and asked her to sleep next to him, the same judge said it was not a sexual assault.
The scar came to life again. The rejection came to life again.
I was 12 or perhaps 13 when I first saw an unsolicited penis. I was going for my piano lessons. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. I was with a friend. I seldom travelled alone anyway since the bicycle incident. We were in a secluded alleyway that led to our teacher’s house when, at a distance, I saw a man sitting and he was holding something. I couldn’t figure out what. Perhaps my gut knew, for I felt a strange knot in my gut. My legs refused to move forward.
I was 12, maybe 13, and my friend was 10 or maybe 11. She saw me scared and instinctively got nervous too.
“What is it?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say. I shrugged and asked her to keep walking and not to look at the man. I tried to keep my eyes away from him, but from the corner of my eyes I saw him walking towards us. I noticed he was holding his penis. Fat, thick, and disgusting. His hands were moving back and forth. I didn’t know what was happening. My friend and I froze as he walked straight up to us.
When he was a little too close, we ran. We ran like there is no tomorrow. We kept running even after we began to run out of air, and we couldn’t breathe. We kept running until we reached the crowded road. We didn’t look back, not even to check on each other.
What do we call it when an older man masturbates to two underage girls?
The day the Mumbai High Court judge gave the statement, I struggled to fall asleep that night. I could feel the bony fingers again, digging deep in my breast, purposefully trying to hurt me and derive sadistic pleasure out of that pain. I felt the same disgust I felt when I saw the man masturbating. My skin began to crawl, anger rose from the pit of my stomach, a lump began to form in my throat, and I started to shiver. My body began to reject even the scarred memories.
That night, I dreamt of an intruder trying to break into my home and hurt me. My body jolted me awake. I spent the rest of the night thinking of every time I had a narrow escape, and what would have happened if I couldn’t.
If my body didn’t know how to reject, be it a piercing or a touch, if it didn’t give me these signals, what would I do and where would I be?
My body has permanent scars from rejections. Rejection of medicine gave me scar on my right foot, rejection of henna gave me burn marks on my left wrist, rejection of touch gave me trauma all over my mind.
Sometimes my piercing still hurts. Sometimes my right breast still hurts.
I am Roudri Bandyopadhyay, originally from India but currently living in Norfolk Va, a current MFA Creative Writing Graduate from Old Dominion University. The story in consideration, “Rejection Scars”, is the retelling of my experience with sexual harassment that women experience across the globe. Feminism is often the running theme of my writings and are often braided with mythical tales or mythical women. I write not just to share my opinion but also to provide a clear picture on how I reached to a conclusion or how and why I became a feminist in order to serve my role as self-identifying feminist.