With or Without You (Series Title: With or Without You)
The euphoric crowd flooded the hall like an uncontrollable flow of water over the banks of the river at the time of high tide. Despite its hugeness, the jubilant crowd reflected a single expression– a nervous appearance of enthusiasm – regarding who the winner would be?
With the entry of the anchor over the stage, suddenly there was a pin drop silence in the hall. The deafening crowd had become completely silent in anticipation of the winner’s name. The contestants standing at one corner of the stage could feel their heartbeats soaring high and they tightly gripped each other’s sweaty hands.
At that moment, the anchor’s voice echoed over the mike. The voice with forceful resonance reverberated right through the silence in the hall. This was followed by a cacophony of various sounds which hummed through the charged people in the hall – applauding, cheering, screaming, yelling, clapping, raising of hands and stamping of feet by the audience as well as the substantial excitement on the part of the contestants.
Amidst this tumult, Sara heard her name being announced. It appeared to be the most beautiful sound on this earth with the voice of her name resonating around her soul and mounting her emotions to a new height.
Before she completely realized that she had won the beauty contest, the other contestants of the beauty contest had started congratulating her. Some were patting her on the back and some were hugging her in turns. Sara experienced a spontaneous outburst of her feelings with a misty veil of tears forming over her scarred eyes. Her mind went wandering over the past in a split second.
She thought about Neil. It was all due to him…
This would not have been possible if not for him.
Sara slowly started walking towards the dais. As she entered the dais, she realized that everyone was looking at her and the big, bright spotlight was following her. She, however, was oblivious of the crowd cheering and shouting. No matter how hard she tried, she could not help but think about the series of events that had occurred in her life.
Though it had happened many years back, she could feel that warm fluid cutting through her skin like it happened yesterday. It was as if it was peeling out her skin, layer by layer. As the fluid spread slowly across her face onto her nostrils, she could feel its strong, sharp smell and a rancid taste. A few drops had managed to seep through the gap in between her lip into her mouth. Now, she could also feel blood seeping through the layers of her skin, a skin which had once been a picture-perfect.
The fumes were stinging her eyes and however hard she tried to keep her eyes open, the intense stinging forced her to keep them closed. Then there was blackness. Just plain black, not even a shard of color. And there was a pain, not only on her face and flesh but also in her heart. Her whole body seemed like it was on fire.
Everything appeared as a blur, a blur that twirled her out of reality. She realized that she was unable to maintain her balance and so she surrendered herself to the ground below and the sky above, both of which now appeared black to her. Soon she heard a soft thud as her body hit the ground and caused a plume of dust to move upwards. She felt down over the pavement where she had been standing. She remembered lying there, writhing in pain. She wanted to cry out loud. However, there were no tears. Her heart was tearing from inside. Raw flesh on her face, raw emotions in her heart, and raw tears….
When she regained consciousness, she realized she was lying on a bed. There was no dust, no liquid moving over her face, but there was pain and yes, the darkness. The last thing she remembered was that she had bit her tongue to keep herself from crying out loud. Then her memory became a blur. There were shreds of a vague memory, the voice of people who had gathered around her, the siren of the ambulance, the burning of her skin and the pain combined with the utter blackness.
From the conversation of people around her, she had realized that she was in the hospital. She tried opening her eyes, but still, there was only blackness. She tried touching her face with her fingers. There were bandages all over and a strange stinging sensation upon touching her face. On seeing her feel the bandages with her fingers, the nurse nearby gave her strict instructions not to touch her face.
She remembered asking the nurse to show her face in the mirror. However, she soon gave up the request when she realized that she would not be able to see herself due to her poor vision.
Her mind had become a ground of surging bewilderment. The blackness around her appeared to be enveloping her from all sides, swallowing all her hopes and dream. She desperately wanted to know what had happened to her. She tried asking the nurses and doctors attending to her. However, no one gave any clear answer.
In the face of growing anticipation, Sara had now started experiencing several panic attacks. Eventually, the doctors informed her that she had been a victim of an acid attack.
Though they informed her that her attacker had been imprisoned, Sara never felt satisfied. “Is it enough?” Sara would often think while lying helpless on the hospital bed.
“Would I ever get my vision and beauty back?” Sara often thought to herself. Ultimately, Sara had gathered enough courage to ask the doctor.
The doctors informed her that they were trying their best and that she would be requiring multiple surgeries for her face and eyes.
From the next time, Sara listened to the nurses and did not touch her face again.
She remembered those days she had spent in the hospital. She had lost count of the days. She could not last remember when she had smiled.
As the days passed by, her vision had slowly started returning and she remembered seeing her face for the first time after the incidence. The reflection in the mirror did not appear to have any resemblance to her at all. It appeared to be someone else with a swollen face, which was plastered with uncountable bandages.
After that day, she never wanted to see her face in the mirror again.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the loud applause from the audience and she realized that she had been standing near the entrance of the dais. The stage anchor came forward to receive her and helped her climb the stairs to the stage. He then introduced her to the audience, especially emphasizing the fact that she had been a fighter all this while, surviving through the heinous acid attack. Sara thought about the time, when she hated being introduced as an acid attack victim. Now, she had grown above these things and they no longer troubled her. Today, she was rather proud of herself at being introduced as an acid attack survivor. She had a sudden reminisce about that time.
Those had been the worse days of her life. As the anchor started giving her citation, she remembered about how that sour rancid fluid had seeped inside layer by layer into her tissues. It was as if the acid was creeping into her whole body, including her mind and soul eroding it, burning it and destroying it. She had aspired to be a model since she was a small girl and the acid had destroyed everything – her skin, her face, her eyes and her beauty…
With each stride she took towards the podium today, she felt absolutely in charge of her mind, body and soul. Though pain had devastated her from the inside, there was no emotional scars today, just complete self-control.
Over time, she had been responsible for creating her own destiny.
“Life is not easy, but is definitely worth it,” she remembered her father telling her. Her father’s words had encouraged her to emerge as a true warrior and she had found her newly-found courage as the remedy for her wounded soul.
She realized that she had to rise above her pain and emotions to join those million pieces together into which she once had been crushed. Sara again thought about the effort it took to join those pieces together bit by bit and fulfill her childhood dream, to discover herself as “a model.”
It involved rigorous hours of plastic surgery and even more time in proving to the world that she could be a model despite her scars the surgery had left on her face.
She still remembered the look on people’s face when they found out that she was still aspiring to become a model.
Once, Sara had been felicitated by the chief guest, the anchor asked her to give a speech about her achievements.
Again she thought about Neil, the love of her life. Amongst the loud thunderous applaud of the audience, Sara painfully thought how Neil’s memories continued echoing her heart and her soul similar to the cobwebs brimming the curtains.
Sara took the mike in her hands and said, “This could not have been possible without Neil. If I had been with him today, I probably would have discovered what true love is.”
“So he is the love of your life and he is behind your success,” eagerly inquired the anchor.
Sara was a little reluctant in giving an answer.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to share,” thoughtfully replied the anchor.
“My face is scarred, but my soul and spirit are not. So I have nothing to hide,” quietly replied Sara.
“No, he is not my love anymore. He once was,” Sara continued to say.
And then he betrayed me, unhappily Sara thought in her mind and restrained herself from saying it out aloud. She recalled how Neil had thrown acid on her face because he felt that she had not been faithful to him. I had tried to give all kinds of explanations, but he would not understand, sadly thought Sara.
She realized how the invisible scars had formed over her heart and soul. Though many years had passed, sometimes the wounds felt as raw and painful as they felt years ago.
Over time, Sara had realized that she alone had to be responsible for healing these wounds. She strongly believed that with determination, they can be reduced to a scar and fade over time.
Despite all this, her heart and soul were continuously haunting her with the question, “Why? Why did Neil do this to me?” She thought he had loved her. All this while, she had unconditionally loved him, and wondered why he did this.
There were times when the throbbing pain in her wounds would become difficult for her to handle. Sometimes her pain would cut her right through, bruising her mind and stinging her skin with every breath she took.
“But today, because of him, I have rediscovered myself and my strength to rise above my problems and leave behind something which never ever belonged to me. The more I thought of him, the more my wounds ached. So I decided to lead my life without him and come out of my pain. So today without him, I have discovered my true self,” cheerfully said Sara with a look of determination in her eyes. “And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I am extremely proud of myself for the choice I had made,” said Sara with a genial smile plastered on her face.
This story is a tribute to all the women who have suffered from acid attack or any other forms of extreme violence. As per the statistics BBC UK, approximately 500 people were attacked with acid in the year 2016. Many of these women have overcome the handicap and troubles, and emerged victorious. This article is a token of the accolade for their courage, determination and mental strength.