My mother was very close to breathing fire. She looked daggers at the mess in the kitchen and then at the pile of dirty cutleries in the sink. Her eyes zeroed on the dust that had gathered on the floor of the room adjacent to a bedroom. She could take it in no more. Sensing danger, I started to back out of the room. Her sharp eyes caught my movement and she snarled,
“Dial her number again! Keep trying!” she ordered while trying to bring down the rising dal in the pressure cooker.
I bowed to the inevitable and went towards the landline. I looked at the clock. It showed a disbelieving 1.30pm. I gulped. If still she did not show up in next few minutes, I doubted she would come at all for the rest of the day. I dialed her number again and just received an operator announcing that the mobile is switched off. Again. I sighed and turned towards my mother. She looked at my expression and gathered the worst.
“I am NOT giving her any lunch now! I am NOT giving her any extra money now! That moron! She can go to that Dubey Bhabhi even when she calls her at 5pm! But look at the time now! Its past 12pm ages ago. Will she come now? No! And look at her guts! Keeping her mobile switched off like that. As if I am her maid and she pays me salary every month!” Her words seemed to reverberate from the walls of our 3BHK flat. I took a broom from the balcony and started cleaning the floor.
“Leave that and dial her number again!” my mother shouted while filling water bottles from under the tap of the filter.
I dropped the broom and moved forward. That’s when the door-bell rang. My mother turned her head in slow motion towards the source of the sound and broke a swift smile.
I went in the hall and opened the main door. Ha! There she was alright, looking pale and exhausted. She came inside without waiting for my invitation, walked straight into the kitchen and sat down heavily on the floor. Without a word, my mother brought Parle-G biscuits and a cup of ginger tea and placed both in front of her.
The maid is an anonymously elected god in my family. When she doesn’t come and bless us with her presence, the house is in complete chaos. Her divine intervention is sought every day.
She had closed her eyes from the moment she sat on the floor. Now when she heard the clatter of cup and saucer, she opened her dark brown eyes and scanned the room. She spotted my mother and then the storm of words started.
“That Dubey aunty gives me so much work to do! I told her I want more money for washing those extra dresses of her guests. But that woman will not give me, I know!” she fumed and finished the tea in four gulps.
My mother joined in the conversation. “Then why don’t you quit?”
“She pays more than anybody. I can’t quit!” She wailed and ate some biscuits.
Both woman sighed and went back to their work after some more talk. The maid started washing clothes and my mother went back inside kitchen. Some few minutes later, mum emerged and started with her inspection walk. She went towards the bathroom and peeked inside. The maid was crouching with her hands full of wet clothes. Her eyes were closed. Water was running from the tap and the bucket was overflowing.
“Marjina! Get up! Arrey…why are you sleeping?!” my mother went inside the bathroom and shook the sleepy woman.
The maid opened her eyes reluctantly and came out of the bathroom. She stood for one more second. Then she shrugged, dropped on the floor with a loud thud and stretched out on the dusty tiles. She went back to sleeping.
“MARJINA! WHAT HAPPENED?” my mother panicked.
The maid didn’t reply. My mother shook her shoulders, then her face and then roughly her whole body. But still she didn’t respond. Mum looked aghast at the limped form on the floor and then turned towards me. The sight of my mother’s frightened face cleared my mind. I rushed towards the landline and dialed the maid’s husband’s number. Luckily, he responded in the third ring.
“Hello?” an annoying male voice sounded from the other end.
“Hi! I am calling from 233 flat no of SDC sector-15. Your wife has fainted in my house right now. She is lying on the floor and not responding. Come fast here! Hurry!”
He chuckled. “I am on my way madam. Relax! I am sure she is not having a heart-attack!”
“No, no …I am sure it’s not a heart-attack! Must be work pressure. She does a lot-“
“I mean madam, I am not that lucky that she will have a heart-attack” and then he hung up.
We checked her pulse. My mother was constantly monitoring her rising and falling stomach. If that would have stopped too, my mother would have fainted too. She splashed some cold water on the maid’s face. Still there was no response.
After ten agonizing minutes, her husband showed up on our door step. He looked livid. I started to speak,
“She is right there beside the-“
He pushed the main door wider and got past me like a wounded tiger. He didn’t acknowledge my mother standing nearby. He stooped down and came close towards his wife. He closed both openings of her nose. 5 or 6 seconds later, the maid started blowing air out of her mouth and opened her eyes in wide shock. Her husband forced her to stand on her own feet. My mother intervened.
“Let her rest for some time. She will get better after eating-“but her husband cut in.
“This woman never listens to me! I told her not to take that medicine. But no! She will never listen to me! You see, she didn’t want this child. So she took that tablet to abort the child. After that drama was done, she refused to drink juice or eat dinner properly. Walking in the sun and not eating anything…what else did she expect to happen? She fainted twice before this! In that Gujjar house and Pandey flat! I had to go there as well to pick her up. I am fed up of her! Am I to leave all my work behind and go after her every GOD DAMN DAY?” he lashed out to the room at large. I and my mother only gaped at him.
During this outburst, the maid had regained her consciousness. She blinked and looked around the whole room. Her husband pushed her further and they both went outside the main door. There was a hired auto waiting for the couple on the road. Suddenly the maid turned and looked at me unblinkingly.
“My purse!” She remarked while holding on to her husband’s arm.
I ran inside and got her purse. I gave it to her. She walked few steps ahead and turned back again.
I ran again and got hold of her sweat drenched dupatta this time, lying across the floor where she had fainted. I handed it to her. The couple went away in the auto. My mother started doing all the household chores that were to be done by the maid. She washed clothes and cleaned the dishes. I swept the floors clean with a broom and did the rest of cooking. Our work was done by 3:30pm and we had our lunch in the next half an hour. I was getting the washed clothes to the balcony to dry under the fainting sun rays when my mother rushed towards me. The expression on her face made me drop the clothes in my hand back in the bucket.
“That Marjina! I am going to fire her! That cheater came to Sandhya bhabhi’s house one hour ago! Did all the work and went back again! As if I won’t come to know! Thanks to that Bhabhi! She told me just now in the park. Else how I would have known! That fainting moron……”