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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maids and Mothers By Sharvani H S

Maids and Mothers By Sharvani H S


The clock struck six and Seema glanced at the door nervously. She didn’t relax until the sound of the gate opening came and she heard a high pitched ‘mama’. She went to open the door and her expression became austere.

Almost seven years old, Astha bounced in, unaware of the time and also her mother’s mood. She was chattering away.”-and then we went to Sanjana’s house to see her new swimsuit. She is starting tomorrow! Mommy can I please go as well? Please, please please? It sounds so...” she stopped noticing her mother’s glare.

“Astha, how many times do I have to tell you that you should be home before 6? Everyday you come late-“

“But mama it’s not even dark yet.”

“I don’t care. You should be home before 6.”Seema declared. Then she said in a softer tone “I say it for your good Asu. It’s not safe in the streets nowadays.”

“I wasn’t in the street. I was in Sangeetha’s house.” Astha clarified.

Her mother was angered by this. “Why do you keep going to that house everyday? Don’t you have other friends besides her?”

“But you said I shouldn’t go to stranger’s houses. Usha aunty is here every morning. You even used to say before that Sangeetha was a sweet girl.”

Defeated by her own words, Seema let it go for the moment with only a small reprimand.

The subject of Sangeetha and her mother came up again that night. This time Seema was inspecting Astha’s coloring book. She was considering admitting her to a drawing class.

Astha exclaimed” can Sangeetha come too?”

Her mother sighed and started to explain.”Astha, Sangeetha is not the right kind of friend for you. I know you like her a lot. But she is our house maid’s daughter, Asu. You’re both from completely different families.” When it seemed that none of this was comprehensible to the little girl, she tried a different approach.” 

Besides you shouldn’t intrude on Usha Aunty in her house like that. She might not like it.”

“No mama, she doesn’t mind at all! She said I could stay in her house as long as I want. And they’re very good people mama. You know Aunty is.” Astha said.

“Yes but you don’t know if Uncle is a good person.”Seema pointed out. At this the girl frowned.” Yes I know Usha is a good person. But her husband is a little…strange, Astha.” trying for delicacy and honesty at the same time she said” he’s a bit unstable, Asu. He drinks a lot of alcohol.”

“So does Papa. “The little girl replied innocuously.

At this Seema stared at her husband, working on his laptop. He said in a quiet voice” leave it.

***
Once Astha was tucked in her bed, Seema attacked her husband.

“Vinay you have to explain it to her so she understands. She goes to that house everyday. What if something happens?” Seema shuddered.

“Stop being so dramatic. Nothing will happen. Their house is just two streets away. You can check on her anytime. And what do I explain huh? I’ll explain about social hierarchy, about castes, statuses. Or maybe I should explain about rape and molestation. That’ll cheer her up no?”

When he received no answer, he said “She’s just six, Seema. She’ll grow out of this friendship when she herself can recognize the differences in classes. Let it go for now.”

One evening when the two best friends were coming back after a game of hide and seek with others, Astha asked softly, “You seem very sad, Sange. What’s wrong?” she continued “Is this about what Sanjana said? You don’t listen to her all right. She’s not all that fair and I’m sure she’ll look absolutely disgusting in her swimsuit! Don’t believe anything she says because she’s just stupid. “She finished vehemently.

Sangeetha said “no it’s not about that. I’m worried about going home now.” She said hesitantly “My parents had a fight this morning. I’m scared that they will be in a bad mood. I don’t like it when …” she stopped, really embarrassed.

In the heavy silence, Astha said” don’t worry. Everybody’s parents fight. It’s normal for them I think.”
Sangeetha asked hopefully “Really? Do your parents fight too?”

Astha frowned and replied” Sometimes. Last night they were arguing about some investment. I don’t know what that is. What do your parents fight about?”

Slightly mollified, Sangeetha replied ”oh money mostly.”

Then both grew morose as they contemplated this disturbing behavior of parents in general and each dreamed of resolving matters on their own.

The sound of drums alerted them to the commotion in the next street. Excited by this new diversion Astha grabbed her friend’s hand and dragged her along to see what was going on.

It turned out to be some sort of ritual in the local temple. Astha was enthralled by the free dancing of all those gathered. She felt as if the beats of the drums were resonating in her. How she wished Mama would take her to temples like this instead of those drab meditation halls. It was so much more fun here!

Sangeetha, however, was not amused. Such temple processions as this were commonplace for her. She was more worried of the people around her and the darkness that was growing. Her mother had told her that gatherings like these were a haven for pickpockets and thieves. She wasn’t really worried, seeing as she had no money. But she was anxious that Astha reach home early to avoid her mother’s wrath. She tried to pull her away from where she stood transfixed.

Her urgings fell on deaf ears. Astha, lost in another world, noticed neither the looming night nor the fact that the procession was starting to move. The throngs of people rushed forward and Astha with them. Sangeetha cleverly stepped away from the crowd but couldn’t spot her friend among the tall people; her voice was drowned by the drums as it progressed down another street.

It was moments before Astha realized her predicament. It was later than she thought and there was no sign of her friend. She looked around and recognized none of the faces above her. When all the dancing and drums had stopped she tried to figure out where she was. But never having explored the shady neighborhood adjacent to her house, she had no idea. It was nighttime now and she felt the fear growing in her. Panicked, she huddled into a corner and began to sob. Where was Sangeetha…? She sobbed. Where was her mother?

Some people in the street were starting to notice little girl crying in the corner. One old lay tried to comfort the poor girl and also help her, but she couldn’t get any information out of her. She led her away to a shop and was considering calling the police. She didn’t want to get involved, but there wasn’t another option. The poor girl was alone.

While she went inside the shop to consult someone, there was a man across the street who was staring at the girl. Left alone, Astha grew nervous and was on the verge of fainting. Still crying, she felt the stare of somebody. That man was staring at her very weirdly, she thought. She didn’t like it. She wanted to go home. She wanted her mother!

Then she heard her name. She thought it was a dream but no; a faintly familiar face was walking towards her. She cleared her tears and focused on the face. There was recognition, followed by relief. And then she fainted.

Seema was about to faint as well. But what she felt was anxiety; and fury as only an anxious mother can feel.

“I don’t care about your daughter, where is my daughter?”She screamed at Usha. She knew something like this would happen. She should have protected Astha better, kept her away from such low and cheap people. 

“She was here in your house, I know it! Now where is she? She should have come home by 6. Its 8 now! Where is she?”

“I don’t know” replied another anxious mother. “She and Sangeetha left to play around 5. Maybe they are in somebody’s house...”

“I called everybody. She’s not there. After all the kids had finished playing, Sangeetha took Astha somewhere else. I knew your daughter was a bad influence”, she ignored the outraged look on the mother’s face and continued; “god knows where they are. My poor baby…what could have happened to her.”

Suddenly angry, she yelled “it’s all your fault! You and that drunk husband of yours. Where is he?!”

“He hasn’t come home yet”, Usha replied in a clipped tone.

“I knew it! You and your husband have been hatching a plan no? To take away my baby…well I’m not going to let you get away with it! I’ve called my husband and when he gets here, he’ll open your mouth. You and your husband, kidnapping my baby!”

Stressed out and overcome with fear, Usha was getting ready to scream back at her, when she heard the most beautiful words ever uttered.

“Maa!”

Sangeetha was walking towards her mother, her face tear-stained and clutching her father’s hand. In his arms was Astha, still feeble, but unharmed. She brightened as soon as she saw her mother.

Seema rushed towards her and took her from the man’s arms just as Sangeetha ran into her mother’s open arms.

“You should tell her to be more careful in the streets, Maaji”, the rescuer said, “She was swept away by the crowd. These temple processions are very easy to get lost in. why, if it weren’t for my Sangeetha I wouldn’t have known where to look.“ proud of his daughter, he explained to Usha,”she was standing there, shivering with fear, when I found her. Told me what happened with her friend. I discovered where the crowd went. And there I saw the poor kid, crying desperately. I think I found her at the right time Seema ji. Because, let me tell you, there were some bad folk on that street. But she’s safe now. So no problem!”At this he looked benevolently at Astha.

Seema, her gratitude tarnished by shame, said a brisk ‘thank you’ to both Usha and her husband, and left to smother her daughter more at home.

Astha waved to Sangeetha, who waved back.

Sangeetha looked at her mother and asked, “Will I be allowed to meet her again?”

Usha replied “yes, I think you’ll be allowed.”

Sharvani H S is currently studying engineering in Bangalore. One of her short stories was published in The Reading Hour while other poems appeared with several online literary journals such as Kritya, The Enchanting Verses, etc.
 

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