The pitter-patter of raindrops overwhelmed her in a manner it overwhelms people after the sun has been too hot for too long. It was not a drizzle and it was definitely not an outpouring. It was just the right element that she needed to go for a ride. It was just the right thing at the right time that she demanded to relax, ponder and resolute. She took out her sister’s old purple bicycle. Like everything else, it also passed on to her when her sister outgrew it. And unlike everything else, it was the only thing she accepted with her pride intact. And that was only because she loved riding. It thrilled her in a way it thrills people when they realise that the world is their oyster.

Have you ever noticed the gates that we have in Kashmir, the old-fashioned tin gates with gaps in-between, the gates that reveal more than they conceal and conceal more than they reveal depending on which side of the gate you are standing or which gender you belong to. She noticed them every time she stepped out and every time she stepped back in. Not the gates. But the prying eyes in-between the gaps, the eyes watching her, trailing her, judging her and questioning her audacity to leave the four walls of her home so frequently. And the consequential detail, the picture bigger and broader than what could be accommodated in the compact rift in the gate was the bicycle. It was a sport for boys, for the male gender, for the stronger section of the society and the dominant one. It was not meant for her. Or so they believed. And the insignificant detail that the eyes belonged to the same gender as hers meant more resentment from her side and more contempt from theirs.

Have you ever taken a stone and hurled it across a lake and watched the ripple it creates on the surface of the water. It’s the same with stories. They take a story and whisper it to their neighbours over the broken fences in their compact neighbourhood. And before you realise, there are random people watching you, sizing you up, nodding their heads in approval or shaking their heads in condemnation. This is what happened to her, every day, every time. Cycling down the alley she was acutely aware of the people scrutinizing her through the gaps in their gates and discussing her over the walls of their homes.  On her spirited days she laughs away their stare, bewildering them with her nonchalant and childish humour, for despite all the glares and stares she is still a child. On her exhausted days she ignores their stare, infuriating them with her brazen approach, for despite all the belittling and scoffing she is still endeavouring. On her awful days she looks them in the eye, provoking them to retaliate, for despite all the rebukes and whispers she is still defiant.