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I met a girl, very beautiful. She is a friend of my friend and we were in a bar. I don’t drink now, so I was just having a Fanta and she didn’t drink either. She was having a coke. Two of my other friends were drinking. And we were just talking, nothing important, just talks that made us smile looking back at our days.

That girl (let’s call her Lilly) didn’t talk much. In fact, I didn’t hear her talk at all. Every few seconds, I’d turn towards her and she would be smiling, listening to my friend talk. She looked young and she was. She was a month or two younger than me. But she looked much younger than that.

I finally looked at Lilly and said, “Are you a high school student?”

She, along with my friend who brought her, laughed together. College, you could have said college, you piece of shit! I cursed myself.

My friend replied, “Lilly is married you idiot. She have two children. And one of her children joined school this year.”

I was utterly surprised. I thought they were joking at first but they weren’t. But she looked naturally so young as she had no make – up on.

I looked at her and said, “How old are you? That’s not rude to ask, right?”

She smiled and talked for the first time, “Not at all. I am going to be twenty-three on September.”

“Oh my god,” I said and looked at her, “when did you have your first child?”

“When I was fifteen!” she replied. There was something in her eyes when she said that. No, it wasn’t shame or regret. It was kind of sadness that broke my heart.

“Are you happy?” I asked her instantly.

She looked at my friend. She wanted to know if she could trust me with her story, her secrets. Because she wore a happy mask all the time and I guess, she was comfortable with it.

It was my friend who said, “Her husband is more than a decade older than her. He is jobless and is staying at her parents’ house right now. He is addicted. He is always insecure that she might be cheating on him. He never lets her go outside. Right now, he is out of town. So, she took the opportunity to breath outside her house.”

“Does he love you?” I asked her.

She nodded, “But he doesn’t trust me. So, 90 percent of the time, he is always angry and jealous, and fighting me over nothing.”

“Do you love him?” I asked her after a long sigh.

She smiled and looked at my friend.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I can understand. Some things are personal,” I said, but from inside, I was praying for her to answer.

She shook her head, “I don’t think I ever loved him. I was fifteen when I met him. He was matured, he took care of me. He used to love me so much. So, I was attracted to him. After I got pregnant, I married him and I was learning to love him. But it stopped even before it began. He became a crappy husband who would torture me all the time. I can’t even step outside my house without him by my side.”

I hated that guy even before I saw him. How could someone be so heartless, I wondered.

I frowned at her and said, “What are you waiting for? Divorce him and pay whatever the fuck you would owe him. Fight to keep your children with you. And then, live a life that won’t let you suffocate every night. You are twenty-three and you are really beautiful. It’s not too late for you. It is never too late for anyone.”

She half – smiled, “It’s not easy as it sounds.”

I nodded, “I agree. It’s not as simple as that. But I am sure it will be much easier than staying with him everyday.”

She looked at my friend again and my friend nodded to her.

She looked at me and said, “He promised that he will kill me and our children, and himself – if I ever choose to leave him.”

“That’s awful,” I said and frowned, “You don’t believe him though, right? He is just threatening you to make you stay with him.”

She looked at me with an expression that’d haunt me forever, “You’d believe him if you saw him.”

It was that expression that made me really feel for her. She was trapped inside the cage for a long time. The door of the cage was open and yet, she couldn’t fly away. She simply couldn’t.

“But you got to take a chance. How long can you live like that?” I asked her.

She smiled, “Live? I think I stopped living for a long time now. I just survive, everyday. I would have taken the chance right away. I will choose death over staying with him any day. It’s the children I am afraid of. They haven’t even seen the world yet. I don’t want them to pay for the mistakes I committed.”

“What about your parents?” I know I was asking stupid questions. Of course, she’d have done everything she could. But I desperately wanted her out of that life. I wanted her to fly away from that cage, without any fear. Fly away beautifully, like she was meant to.

“My parents are scared of him as well.”

I rubbed my eyes in frustration. While coming back home, I imagined that Lilly was married to me. And I thought of everything I’d do for her. How I would change her life! The more I thought about it, the sadder I got. She was strong, because if it were me, I would have either run away or would have died a long time ago. The strength ‘the love for the children’ gives to mother! That’s the miracle I know.

While laying down on my bed that night, I thought about her. A beautiful sweet girl whose whole life got ruined just because of one stupid mistake she committed when she was a kid, when she couldn’t differentiate the right from the wrong. I remembered that beautiful smile of her and wondered how much more beautiful it’d be, if she were not pretending. If she really meant to smile. If that smile reached in her eyes.

Around midnight, I messaged my friend to bring Lilly along with her the next day.

The reply came and it said, “Hey, sorry. Her husband is back. She wouldn’t come for a long time now.”

I wanted to crush my phone in frustration.

I slept that night, praying to see her again, very soon.