Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Maid Of Honour

My alarm sounded at its usual time that morning. I woke up hastily, and lulled my young one into slumber, satisfied that he had done his job of waking me up by howling his heart out.

It was dawn.
An urban alarm clock was something beyond my understanding. My two year old was assigned the duty of waking me up every morning. As I walked towards the slum bore well, I felt happy that my son was already a responsible lad, even when he couldn’t speak properly. I hurriedly washed myself and made my way back to my shack. My breadwinner lay there deeply engrossed in his dreams of fairyland, as I prepared myself for the drudgery that was about to begin. I changed my sari with the only other one I had, that was hanging on the wire in my shack, from one corner to another. I quickly shook my elder daughter out of her sleep, and pushed her out of the hut, so she could freshen up. In the meanwhile, I kneaded some dough and baked some rotis for my husband, who slept in undisturbed peace. I carelessly kept some milk in a tiny glass, for my two year old when he would be awake. With that done, I rushed outside and stole a pair of slippers from my neighbor’s house, and walked away. I knew there would be a long battle of words over the same when I would come back, but I had no other way to save myself from blisters in the scorching heat. On my way, I saw my ten year old daughter chatting up with a friend of hers, and I went up to her and deposited a tight slap on her face. I chided her for wasting time when we had none, and ordered her to immediately accompany me to work. When she tried to reason, I pulled her by the arm and walked away with no further explanations. The last thing I wanted my daughter to do was spend her day gossiping her heart out.
Work was just a ten minute walk away for me, but light years away from my life. It consisted of towering buildings and mansion like houses, something that I don't even dare to dream about. As I reached my workplace and rang the doorbell, my daughter begged to be left alone. My motherly pangs of affection were just about to let her walk away from this torture, when the door opened and my employer stared at me with angry eyes. I forgot all about being a mother, and stepped in with my daughter cowering behind me. The day of drudgery had begun.
‘You have decided to come late every day, and you think I’ll tolerate this kind of behavior?’ my employer barked, as she peered at my daughter’s tiny figure hiding behind my thin frame.
I mentally wondered how I had run late when my alarm had rung correctly, and I had done every activity after that with a quick pace. I confidently told my employer that I couldn’t be late.
‘Oh, so the clock in my house is lying? Don't give me such weird excuses, and get to work right now!’
I mumbled a curse under my breath, and turned to look at my daughter who seemed frightened. I whispered something into her miniature ear, and advanced towards the kitchen to do my job. Wash the utensils.
From the corner of my eye, I saw my daughter pick up the broom and make her way to the farthest room of the big house. The delicacy of her tiny hands contrasted very well with the rashness of the broom. As I picked up the first glass and applied soap on it, my daughter was stopped by my employer and told to keep down the broom.
I rushed to her defense and held her hand in full support as the lady spoke in a surly tone, her bespectacled glare making her look like a tyrannous monster.
‘How can you make her work? NO. She’s not going to do your share of work. If you can’t do your job, then leave it. But nobody else is going to do it for you!’
I stared at her face for some time in utter disappointment, and realized it wouldn’t be of any use arguing with her. The monster probably derived pleasure out of watching me slog in her house, and couldn’t tolerate the fact that I could use some help.
I patted my burden on her back and told her to wait outside the house till I finished the work. She stared at me with innocent eyes, and walked away.
I resumed washing the utensils as I recalled the day my daughter was born. My husband couldn’t be found and so my neighbors helped me give birth to her. They had to arrange for a dai at the last minute, because my husband vanished just two days before the delivery. My in-laws had expressed sheer disappointment upon giving birth to a girl, and had left me weak and unattended because of the same. Seema was born malnourished, and weighed quite less. As she grew up, I came to realize that she was a weak child, and couldn’t lift the burden of going to school and studying. Studying, after all, is a very tough task and she wouldn’t be able to do it at all. So it was decided that Seema would help me in my work, till she turned sixteen and then she would be married off to a nice household. Till then Seema was a burden I had to bear. But what my employer did was an act of pure insanity and meanness. She probably doesn’t realize that not allowing my daughter to work meant lesser money, which means I can’t save up for my son’s education.
Rich people can never understand.
I went on to sweep the floors of the lady’s house where she lived a lavish life with her two daughters. Apparently her husband worked elsewhere. As I swept one of the daughters’ rooms, I was rebuked by the lady for not doing my work properly. I argued with her for five minutes trying to tell her that I was doing my best, but then kept quiet lest she fired me. I couldn’t afford to lose this job.
Soon I was out of one monster’s house and was walking towards another monster’s house. Unfortunately, there was a hoard of guests at their house, which meant a million utensils for me to wash. As I washed glasses and spoons and cookers and crockery, I wondered if my son would be awake by now. He was a darling, but I never had the opportunity of spending quality time with him. He was probably sipping the milk I had kept for him, now. My thoughts were broken as a glass plate fell from hands and broke into pieces. Monster Two barged into the kitchen with fuming red eyes, and blazed at me for having committed the gravest crime of all times. As I tried to apologize for my mistake, she threatened to deduct money from my salary. I whined in front of her like a baby, and she excused my mistake after showering me with choicest abuses and walked away. I sadly continued working, and left the house with dejection being the prime emotion on my face.
It was lunchtime. I walked back to my house with quick steps, as my daughter tried to keep pace with me. She kept asking me irrelevant questions about this and that, which I answered mindlessly. My heart was actually longing for my beloved son, whom I cuddled to death when I saw him trotting on the road with that tiny shirt on him.
I fed him some boiled pulses, and kissed him a million times before I left for work again.
I told Seema to look after him, and even serve my husband if he came home for lunch. That drunkard.
Work was the same old song again. Monster number three reprimanded me for trying to break the handle of her cooker, as she thought that would make her give the cooker to me, which she said was my real aim. God!
Monster number four hinted that she thought I was being paid a tad too much and she should probably pay me a little less.
I smiled to everything and made my way to the last monster. Nothing mattered to me more than finishing my work and going back home.
But monster number five was probably disapproving of my intentions, and so she created the worst ruckus she could have.
As I swept her room with undeterred honesty and sincerity, she came up to me and demanded to frisk me. I suddenly froze, and demanded to know the reason for such disrespect.
‘Disrespect? What happened to your respect when you stole my clip and took away my hairbrush home with you yesterday? You think I don't know anything? You greedy and selfish people will never learn to be honest! Stupid thieves!’

A sense of self-esteem suddenly came over me. It was as if my soul was crying its heart out at being accused of thievery. I shouted at my employer with anger in my bloodshot eyes, and told her in plain words that I hadn’t done it.
‘That’s it! I won’t take in anymore! I haven’t stolen anything from your house, and how much ever you might want to blame it on me, I will NOT admit to this! And I won’t work in a place where people think I’m a thief! I’m leaving!’
With those words of pride and self respect, I left the house turning a deaf ear to all that Monster number five said to me after that. For a nanosecond, the realization of losing a house’s work pricked me, but it was soon overpowered by my need to be respected for who I was.
My steps quickened as I began to near my house. Tears started welling up in my eyes, as I turned across a bend and entered my house. My son clung onto me immediately, and I sobbed as I hugged him. I wept at what life was doing to me.
Thievery? Was that what people thought I did?
I wept even more when Seema asked me if I was okay. I nodded to make her feel fine, but deep down I wanted to cling onto someone and cry my heart out. I wiped my tears and pasted a plastic smile on my face, so that my children would smile. They smiled, and Seema told me very casually that the neighbors had shouted at her for having stolen their slippers, and that her father hadn’t been home since afternoon.
I swallowed that bit of news and stared into the falling night. I needed him, and he wasn’t there like always.
As I put my children to bed after feeding them on leftover pulses and rotis, I sighed at my life. When they went off to sleep, I went to my neighbors’ house and left their slippers there. Then I walked to the roadside bench, with sore eyes and a sullen face.
I stared at the tiny stars in the sky, and wondered if I mattered even that much to anyone.

Was anyone bothered?
Did anyone care about what had happened today? Any day?
When there came no answer, I walked back to my shack and lay down.
I forced my eyelids into sleep.
My kids still needed to be fed, after all.
Tomorrow still had four monsters in the waiting, after all.