Here’s a short story by Maya for Different Truths.
She looked substantially fine but for the over-ripened complexion and a little rowdiness in all her movements that perhaps she got from her ethnic group.
We never believed in things like destiny and we professed to be enlightened enough not to fall prey to things that gripped the less privileged ones. We, however, did have a feel that it was perhaps destined that someone from so far a village had been living with us under the same roof, cooking for us, playing with our kids and sleeping on the bed provided. Our maid – Pushpa.
She was undergoing the period of time, when each girl more or less is like a turbulent river with an effervescence of sentiments, varying moods, vanity and bubbly charms.
Childhood had not bidden adieu nor had youth marked her fully for its own. She’d pretty forget herself while playing with kids.
I was cruel enough to remind her of her age whenever I saw stars in her eyes or just when she decided to gush out with her natural exuberance.
A flash of my eyes would cut her off mid the fun she meant to indulge in.
I would tell her plainly- ‘You are supposed to behave more sedate. You are not a kid anymore.’
She would cast a glistening gaze at me for a while and then…surprisingly enough… would bloom into one of the rarest of her smiles thus smoothing out the furrows of displeasure on my forehead.
‘She is beautiful no, but for her dusky complexion?’ my hubby once dared comment.
We didn’t talk for whole three days.
Quite natural a reaction from a wife.
A good looking maid was an essential encumbrance on a landlady’s conscience that could neither be carried nor shaken off indeed.
No doubt his comment was just meant to tease me but then I remained very vigilant from the day onwards.
I had often heard that the way to a male’s heart went via his tummy… and she made finger licking food!
I had started attending to kitchen cares after the day, which otherwise saw very little of me since she had joined us.
I’d hover around my hubby attending the morning cares so that she might not get a chance to hand him over the things he needed before or after a bath.
AND I started paying a little additional attention to the usual skin care routine of mine, the lotions and potions…
All wives might be intrigued and pass smiles at my sense of insecurity but then they would do the same if their husband too confessed that their maid was fine-looking.
At times she would be a calm sheet of water with no apparent disruption of any sort, reading out words letter-by- letter from the newspaper trying to grab the meaning; at others, she would lisp around me and cajole me for a drive; yet, at others, she would be munching bread and butter with tearful eyes in the most secluded corners of the house trying to escape notice.
Sometimes she would indulge in monkey business behaving like a typical tribal girl with no artifice like…like…she had directly landed in our house from some uppermost branch of tree that she might’ve climbed to pluck coconuts from!
Normally she was a cheerful girl, who never sulked for anything…did all chores humming…entertained all whims-n- fancies, we the four usually indulged in.
When she lifted my six years’ doll on her shoulders and howled like wolves, my doll would go bananas indeed! Likewise she would have my twelve years son driven crazy when she won the match of Chess against him!!
She was sharp eyed enough to have picked random pieces of learning from all possible sources though she had absolutely forgotten what she had once learnt in her village school.
Nobody could actually judge that she was not formally educated.
‘Pushpa Di! Where are my socks?’
‘Pushpa Di, what have you packed in my tiffin today?’
‘Is the breakfast ready Pushpa? I told you yester-night that Sir would leave earlier for the office; didn’t I?’
‘Are my shoes polished, Pushpa?’
Each morning all our sentences either began or ended with her name.
She had, however, more patience than we could ever acquire in our lifetime. She would supply things at the shortest note possible, tickle the little ones to make them not lose their temper over trifles, apologise if she did forget some previously given instructions and…and…one thing for sure- she never pulled a long face.
When the kids had left for the school and their dad for office, she would start humming and be busy with her own self doing household work. She wouldn’t, however, forget to drop in the room at regular intervals to ask if I needed anything.
When she found me not writing but chatting with friends on Facebook, she would forget all her work and be rooted by my side, watching the pics uploaded, with absolute fascination.
‘Ma’am, could you find my village in this mmm…Facebook?’
‘What to find the village for?’ I would ask amused.
‘Perhaps my elder brother has a computer at home now? Perhaps he is also there on Facebook?’
‘You said you didn’t want them to know where you were…, I suppose.’
‘Yes or they’d call me back. I don’t want to go.’
‘You don’t miss them? I’m sure you do; right?’
‘I do but I haven’t forgotten how they conspired to sell me off to someone in lieu of the amount they needed.’ Her face betrayed the bitterness that cleft her being.
It looked like resentment and long suppressed anger surged from her stomach and soured her mouth like a jet of bile.
I was at a loss of words.
‘I’m safer here. Moreover, I have got a home where I’m held in importance. There we were eight including all my siblings. Nobody ever cared for what did we eat or where did we sleep. We’d keep roaming near and far with friends and come back home when our feet refused to comply with our desire to wander anymore.’ She would then drone on and on until reminded of the work that she was to pick up from wherever dropped.
‘My God! I just forgot! How talkative I am!’ she would exclaim not however forgetting to request me to show her the latest pictures of Katrina Kaif.
‘Have you had breakfast?’ I would remind.
‘You’re so good ma’am…take so good care of mine. There nobody ever bothered…’ she would trail off.
We really felt she was so happy to be with us.
There lay no future for her if she was sent back home.
One night as we all sat in the lobby watching TV, I saw her from the corner of my eyes…she was sobbing, while eating food.
I gave my hubby a mild nudge.
He gestured me not to trouble her by asking anything.
She sobbed harder.
Her face looked raw as if scraped by razorblades.
I still tried to overlook though I was studying her features hard.
She was struggling to paste a smile on her face that perhaps made her muscles ache.
The much expectant comic scene on the screen came to her rescue and she burst out into a fake laughter.
I saw; she was wiping her eyes.
Our kids joined in her giggles.
The trio laughed and laughed.
She was fighting back her tears, we knew.
Were we being generous to let her stay more with us?
Or selfish perhaps?
It was quite late an hour when I woke up to attend nature’s call.
I just felt curious to peep in her room and make sure that she had gone to sleep.
I left the door of our bed room ajar and moved towards hers on tiptoes.
I was appalled…by the painful little shrieks I heard.
For a moment I felt like retreating knowing my mental make-up not to be very strong for a heart rending scene like that.
I didn’t want to open a wound that had perhaps not quite healed.
My motherly instinct however kept me going.
She didn’t sense my presence behind the curtain.
She sat on the floor crying bitterly as if someone had just breathed last!!! She beat her breast in between. Her bosom seemed to be at the verge of bursting open with the flood of sentiments she kept so painstakingly at bay for so long.
Her hair was all tousled as if it had not seen a comb for ages.
She looked so beaten as if someone had sucked the marrow out of her bones.
‘Babu! I will never forgive you. Bhai! I will not…’she wailed in pain.
‘Pushpa!’ My voice broke up the tense scene.
‘Hunh…’ she sprang in alarm, wiping her face.
Her face more or less looked like a battle place where so many emotions fought to have an upper hand.
‘I…I’m fine ma’am. You should go to sleep. Do you need something?’ she shocked me by still managing to give a fake smile.
I could see unendurable stress on the face that was all smeared with tears.
I couldn’t utter a word.
I sighed between sobs and squeezed her in my arms as I would clasp my doll if she had woken up crying after a nightmare.
‘Ma’am I’m okay…’ she literally laughed, struggling to be released.
I was flummoxed!
Where would I get this much understanding and self-effacing thing!
‘I won’t stop you today. Don’t pretend to be happy when you’re not…! You may cry your heart out tonight…I won’t tell anyone…I swear.’ I tried hard to convince her.
‘Ma!’ she clasped me hard and wetted my cheeks, my shoulders, my heart, my soul…
‘Can I call you ‘Ma’?’ she sobbed.
I felt gentle warmth rising from the pit of my stomach overwhelming my entire being.
‘Yes darling!’ a rush of maternal love for the girl swept over me.
At one moment she clammed up altogether…at other crushed by the gush of pain that lay tranquil for how long God knew.
I lay her on sofa placing two cushions beneath her head and caressed her grief stricken brows.
She cried and cried until she could cry no more.
Her hand held mine, rest gone into inertness.
Tears pricked my eyelids.
Had we not instigated this new bond tonight, we might have found her one night, perhaps hanging by the fan or something like that.
We love her.
She is a family member.
©Maya Khandelwal, 10.5.2016
Pix from Net.
Maya, happily married to writing, is a published author of three books- My favourite Mistake Ever, Just Zindagi and A Beautiful Mistake. She’s also co-authored I Am a Woman, a tribute to Kamala Das. She’s been a regular contributor at blogs and e- magazines like Womanatics, Bonbology, Learning and Creativity etc. A passionate lover of nature, she can commune with it for hours. Nature, in its various guises, enthrals her.