It’s dark when I hear the chain rattle outside. I freeze as the door swings open. Standing there is Ravi Lala. I’m cowering in the corner when he stretches his hand out toward me once again. “Get up” he says. I don’t move a muscle. “Get up,” he repeats more harshly. I put my hand in his and do as I am told. I consider trying to fight, but I am trembling with fear and know I won’t get very far. Ravi Lala is smart and there is nowhere to run.

“There is nothing to be afraid of, Heera,” he says. “We’ll take care of you. Good care of you.”

“I want to go home.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

I will not show this man my fear, I tell myself.


“Because you are meant for bigger things,” he says, and from the look on his face, behind his henna-dyed beard, he actually believes it. A man walks in bearing what looks to be a bowl of khichdi and a glass of water.

“Eat,” Ravi Lala says. “In 30 minutes, we’ll send someone to take you to the bathroom.”

“I need to go now.”

Ravi Lala looks at the other man, and then nods. “Take her.”

The bathroom is a few doors down. I try to get a look at my surroundings, and it seems as though I was right. I couldn’t be more than five hundred meters from my home. But I’ve never felt farther away. I hear voices now – the guard and another man that I don’t recognise as Ravi Lala.

“Door is open? Where is she?” asks the new voice.


“When will Raja be here?”

“In an hour.”

“He’ll take her today?”

“Not till we get the other one.”

“Suraj’s girl? Mumbai again?”

“Taj Mahal!”

My entire body flinches. The sound of their laughter echoes through the hall before Ravi Lala shouts at them all to shut up. My guard takes me back to the room and am locked in again. Alone, I wonder what to do. On the one hand, I’m famished. On the other hand, I’m sure the food has been drugged. Or is it the water? I don’t see that I have a choice. The drugs might make me sleep and I’d rather sleep than be beaten. But if I don’t eat it, I might have a chance to fight. Time is running out.

The chain outside rattles again. There’s a sound of metal on metal – the key turning in the padlock. And then that creaky hinge again. I take my stance. The cat stance. I bend my back leg to put my weight on it and let my front toe dangle down, my front knee bent and ready to kick. I form a fist and draw one arm close to my side, the other posed toward the front. I can see the silhouette of a man against the dim light outside. As the door opens, I swing a kick and strike his groin. He doubles over in pain as he falls.

One punch hard into his eye, which is now at the level of my fist. One hand automatically reaches out to protect the other eye as he yelps in pain, the other hand between his legs. I jam an elbow into his back and jump over him out the door. He lets out a surprised yelp. I slither into the small space behind him, even before he has time to straighten, and push him down again with a back kick. He lets out another sharp cry. I’m faster and nimbler than he can ever hope to be. I make up in speed and balance what I lack in size and strength. I jam the door shut on him quickly, bolting it from the outside. My body is covered in sweat. It’s all just a few second, less than a minute, but it feels like a lifetime. I realise I’m panting hard and try with all my might to quiet my breathing. I can hear him curse and kick the door, but I don’t look back. The door rattles. I know he’s about to start shouting soon.

There’s no one in the courtyard, so I run as fast as I can toward the boundary. But I can hear banging against the door, shouts for help. I hoist myself up the wall, but before I can clear it to the other side, I’m pulled back, down, down into the darkness. I kick and claw but now the tears start because I know there will be no more chance for escape. Ravi Lala hits me across the face, and I fly to the ground. The guard takes a step toward me, but Ravi Lala puts out his hand to stop him.

“Enough, you fool. You’ll only reduce her value.”

Excerpted with permission from I Kick and I Fly, Ruchira Gupta, Rock the Boat.