It was a strange morning! The colours seemed to have lost their essence. The reds, the oranges, the blues, the violets, all looked subdued and frightened. It seemed as if someone had reprimanded them for revealing their true bright selves and therefore they had to wear a veil to not let their brilliance show.
I was in a hurry to reach my classes on time, yet I didn’t fail to notice the change. Though the colours were pale, I felt as if the happenings of the world were clearer to me than ever before. While I was walking towards the bus stop, I saw several women walking around. They seemed normal until I saw their backs. Each had a key behind! They were clockwork women! I saw faces that resembled my friends, cousins, aunts, and neighbours. Was I in a toy land? I couldn’t tell! Everything seemed so real. I heard them laugh and talk amongst each other like always. The only thing different about them was the key on their backs. Was it always there and it was only now that I noticed it? Was it because of lack of sleep that I was seeing things? I had no way to find out. I was too late for my class to stop and ask them.
I couldn’t find a bus so had to walk to my class. I would be extremely late but that was no excuse to not attend it. As I was walking a sudden realization added absurdity to that day which had already been far too surreal. I could see and hear things through the walls. I could hear the silent murmurs coming from women around. I could see the keys of the clockwork women being wound up by the men of the house, sometimes father, sometimes brother, sometimes husband. Strangely, all these men had a tail coming out which made them look like some strange animal. The world was becoming increasingly bizarre.
These clockwork women could move only as much as they were wound up by their men. They were programmed to act in a particular way. They were not supposed to speak but listen. When their winding would end, they would stand in a corner with a plastic smile on their faces. When needed someone would wind them up again and they would perform their routine tasks. They were required to be dolled up all the time like a perfectly manicured garden which is a source of nighbour’s envy and owner’s pride. Soft and smooth skin, not a millimeter of body hair for which they would have to undergo long grueling sessions once in every two weeks and once a week for the more rebellious ones.
The clockwork women could not express their desires and opinions. They were either not programmed to do so or their winding ran out when they tried to do so. They were kicked when they deviated from their expected behavior and were not supposed to retaliate to the abuses. They had to bear it all with a silent smile. But I could see that their smiles never reached their eyes. I wondered if they had the energy inside to let go of the key and function on their own. I wanted to ask them these questions but I was getting late. They worked the entire day but were required to be properly dressed in their sarees and skirts. Some of them wore jeans too. Whatever be their dressing, they all wore the same sad smile.
Though I was late, my curiosity was intact. I tried to listen to the conversations between these women. Some of them talked about their men, some about their children. There were some who talked softly about the need to have a key. Some girls who had recently discovered that they had keys on their backs were being explained its importance by their clockwork mothers. Some were already planning to pull it and throw it away no matter how much it hurt. But they were scared as there were all kinds of stories circulating about women who threw away their keys and ended up paying for it by their blood. There was a general feeling of learned helplessness in the air which was stifling.
I discovered that I was perspiring profusely. Was it the walking or the strange happenings in my surrounding that soaked me in my sweat? I couldn’t answer that question too, just like I was unable to answer the reason behind the bizarreness around me. The perspiration had increased to the extent that it was forming poodles of sweat around me. I was going to drown in my own sweat. I ran as fast as I could but my clothes were heavy and offered resistance. I was drowning. Sweaty water reached to my neck. I could hardly breathe.
I opened my eyes and found myself in my room lying on my bed. I probably fell unconscious and someone brought me back. Or was I dreaming? I don’t know. But my body was still wet with sweat. It was a hot summer night and the air conditioning was not working. One of those frequent power cuts. I still didn’t know if it was a dream or was I saved from drowning and brought to my house by a noble soul. May be I slept through out and was woken up by the indomitable heat. I knew I had tumbled upon a truth which no one spoke about. It was almost an epiphany! Instinctively I touched my back to check if there was a key there. “Not as yet!” I thought. With that the air conditioner started working again and the room became cool enough to lull me into a deep sleep in the darkest hour of the night.