My mother didn’t want the maid servant working for us anymore. But we were not ready to get rid of her. In fact, we all had become so dependent on her we thought we could not manage without her. There was no pump in the well and the cooking was done by burning wood. The maid would cook and fill up about fifty buckets of water in the tanks in the bathroom, kitchen, and even for the dishwashing. She would wash the clothes and the dishes, fry rice, and even comb our hair. She would massage our bodies with mustard oil. She would stitch buttons and quilts. She would water the plants in the garden. She would sometimes cut wood into small pieces to be burnt for cooking. She was like a machine ready to work as soon as you switched it on. Yet my mother didn’t see her in that light.
My mother knew the reason behind our desire not to throw her out. She knew her children would not agree with her. Sometimes, she would fight with our father and leave the house and go to her sister’s who lived in the other corner of the town. She would stay at her sister’s place for the whole morning or sometimes the whole afternoon and then her sister and her husband, my uncle and aunt, would console her and bring her back to our house. Once she locked herself in a room. My father was so angry that he punched the door hard enough for the nails to come out and half of the door was hanging out. I was not at home when that incident happened but my younger brother, who was in seventh grade during that time,who could not ride a bicycle properly, pedaled it to my college that day. He waited for a full forty minutes until my class finished. I was scared to see him because my mother was always threatening she would take poison. My younger brother told me about my mother’s brooding and my father breaking the door. I immediately took a rickshaw and came home. When I came home, my mother was eating her wet rice in a corner and my father was reading the newspaper on his bed.
After that, many unpleasant incidents took place. Once I was awoken by the sound of glass bangles. At three in the morning my mother was filling up the tanks in the bathroom and the tank for dishwashing with the water from the well.
“What are you doing?” I had asked her. “Why are you filling up the tanks at three in the morning? Are you mad? Who wants you to do this?” I took away the bucket and the jug from her hand. She would not give them to me. She did not lose her temper; neither did she cry. On the other hand, she told me, “None of you really listens to me because you have to fill up the tanks, wash the dishes, and mop the house.”There was a strange wetness in her voice; more than the tears in her eyes. I sat down with my hands on my head. I could not understand what had to be done.
My mother would talk about her misery to all our neighbours just like Mrs.Chowdhury did. She could never understand she should not be talking about her private life in public. She could not understand everyone was laughing at her.
Once, she was shouting at my father at the top of her voice. I could not tolerate anymore and tried to put my hand in front of her mouth and stop her. She pushed my hand from her mouth and saidto my father, “Go ahead. You can hit me.” My father’s image was slowly and steadily getting tarnished and we could not do anything about it.
One day, I realized why should there be so much fuss over a maid. Someone else can be employed in her place. I called the maid and told her to go back to her village. We would pay you all that we owed her and on top of that, we would give hera hundred rupees more.
“Aunty is just creating a mountain out of a mole hill,” she said and started crying out loud.
“No one wants you to worry about that,” I said.
It was my final year before I graduated from graduate school. My younger sister was doing her undergraduate workand my younger brother was doing his secondary school finals.I asked myself then, why do such strange incidents take place? Why does a smooth simple life suddenly become complicated? Why does it all get changed in a span of a few seconds? Why does trust, built over years, suddenly dissolve? Why does a person who was so dear suddenly becomes a stranger? These questions came back tohaunt me when I thought of my mother and saw Mrs.Chowdhury in front of me.
I freed my hands from Mrs.Chowdhury’s grip and said, “I am connecting you to the General Manager. You tell him everything. He is your husband’s superior so he can drive some sense into your husband.”