She said she was not a prostitute. "Look, if I were a whore, do you think I would be dressed like this? Do you think my breasts would sag?"
Mona came into my life with a loud curse. In the dead of a summer night, I spotted her in a bylane, hurling abuses into the uncaring darkness. I was scouting around for interesting people for a night story. She was looking for some food. I bought her a meal and we got talking. It hadn't been an easy life. Childhood lasted till the age of 10. After that, she was physically abused by her brother and brother-in-law. She was from a well-placed family. Soon, her soul was torn to shreds. She lost faith. She lost sight of where she was going, and found her way into the streets.
When I met her, she was angry; there were needle marks on her hands. Then she took me further into the lane, muttering all the while, "I have a baby." There, lying on the footpath was a black child.
In less than an hour, I had tried to capture a life. Before I left, she asked me my address. I scrawled it on a piece of paper. She kissed my hand, "You are my friend," she said.
The story was published, with Mona as the grand finale. Two days later, she turned up at the office, sozzled, screaming, "I'll kill her!" I wasn't there. The next day, I made it a point to be around. It's not everyday that people want to kill you. When she arrived, I took her to an inside room and asked her what the problem was. She was misled by someone who couldn't read straight that I was out to get her. I brought out a copy and read out every word, explained what it meant. I repeated her quotes to her, including this one: "I don't sleep around with men. I don't need sex. I only need to feed my baby and myself." And she had spoken all this in perfectly intelligible English. Now she merely nodded and again took my hand, Though she refused to admit she was on drugs, she agreed to get herself cleaned out.
I called up a friend who was working at the rehab centre. But Mona was not interested anymore. "It's boring," she said. Her manner became difficult. Once, she insisted I take her into another room. She was in pain. She took off her clothes and showed me all the bruises, "They beat me up, they do it all the time."
Somewhere along the way, work and concerns got mixed up. She became another woman. She could have been in my place, I in hers. How would I have responded? What could my expectations have been? Isn't it possible that all she wanted was someone to talk to, and her aggressiveness was merely a means of getting my initial attention, accustomed as she was to being treated as just another other drunken hussy?
Yet, how could I put myself in her shoes?