It is raining today and I wonder what the world thinks when it does. I sit here, on this pavement waiting for no one. Alone. When it rains, all I can think of is pain. The constant gut wrenching pain which makes my feet wobble and my mind to go numb. The rain reminds me of the years of grief I have endured and the yearning for my kids to come back. The rain reminds me of the redemption I never attained.
We believe in fate, an illusion. We believe in destiny, a statistical improbability. No one knows how our lives will lead us ahead. No one knows what unexpected is coming next. That is what happened to me. Something unexpected.
Twenty years ago…
It was a regular day when I woke up to the cry of the rooster. I brushed fingers through my hair and tied it behind. I got up and walked over to the kitchen to begin my day. Regular. I cooked breakfast as soon as I could and went over to wake up my little souls of life so that they get to walk outside, under the sun.
“It is time. Get up now.” I said and got illegible rambling as a reply from the other side of the blanket, wrapped over their heads.
“Come on!! You got to go to school.” I said and pulled off the blankets from their heads.
And then there was the whining, kicking, shouting and cursing of how bad of a Mother I was. I never believed it of course, because I knew they did not mean a word. I made them bathe under the sunlight, in the open. We did not have a closed bathroom. All we had was a bucket, a tap and water. I pitied my little children for having a mother who could not afford a water heater during the winters.
When we were finished, I wrapped their bodies with the tattered towels we had and dressed them up with their school uniforms. Oddly cleaner than any other clothing they owned. I fed them breakfast and packed their lunch. I dropped them to school and got ready once more to stick to the rest of the routine. Only, it did not go as planned.
I had been working at the same apartment for years. I used to clean around 5 houses in that apartment and earned 2500 per month. We were provided with a separate residence near the parking lot. It had one room and it had a toilet outside, both of them covered with an asbestos roof. We were happy to sleep under a safe roof which won’t leak during rains.
My kids – Radhika (10 year old), Sakshi (9 year old) and Chetan (5 year old), grew up there. Chetan was born in that house, a dai had helped deliver him.
It was a safe haven until one day someone entered my life with a new beginning.
I had followed the morning routine that day. As usual. I dropped my kids back at school and came back home to ready myself for the day. It was a regular day or so I thought.
“Lakshmi!” Someone called as I unlocked the door to my little dingy home.
I turned it the other way around and looked up at the source of that voice. It was Vatsala, the lady who lived on the 3rd floor of the apartment.
“Ji, Didi.” I replied back to her floating head blurred under the scorching sun.
“Come upstairs. There is something I want to talk about.” She said.
It was all ‘yelling-and-shouting-through-the-air’ kind of communication. As always. She never bothered to call me on my cellphone. I cannot blame her. I never used to carry it.
“Ji.” I agreed and started to walk towards the elevator.
What could it be about? Does she want me to stop working for her? But how will I pay my debts if she does that? How can I convince her otherwise?
A pool of thoughts started to flow through my mind. I tried to ignore them but failed. The elevator gave its usual command of beep as the doors opened to the third floor and by that time, I was already a mess of sweat and nervousness. I walked over to the apartment Vatsala lived in and knocked twice.
She opened the door, her face beaming as always and said – “Come in.”
I did not belong there. Never did. My tattered old clothes and her shining appearance, even in her usual daily pajamas did not go together. Never did.
My cracked heels and her plush carpet despised each other. The former hated the latter because of envy and the latter hated the former because of pure spite.
“Sit.” She said, motioning her hand to the couch. She was the only one who ever treated me as an equal or as a human, even though I wasn’t half as equal to her. I did so.
“I have a new job for you.” She said, her wide smile showing all her teeth or almost all her teeth.
Nervousness rippled through me, clenching my guts.
“I am sorry but did I do something wrong. Didi?” I asked, foolishly.
“What?” She asked, sounding surprised. Her eyebrows closed together and formed a frown. Then, it settled. The wrinkles on the forehead slowly settled and calm spread over her face as she understood.
“I am not firing you, you silly girl. I found you another job.”
“Oh.” I said, allowing myself to smile but still feeling nervous. Sometimes, you are so beaten that you begin to fear contentment.
“A new tenant has shifted to the flat on the 2nd floor and I have heard that he is going to stay there alone. You can charge him extra as I am sure a bachelor like him wouldn’t be interested in doing household work. Or have the time to do it.” She explained.
“Alright.” I agreed, halfheartedly. She must have seen it because the next thing she said was – “I will go with you. I will talk to him and persuade him to hire you. I will also talk to him about the salary. You can stop worrying now.”
“Thank you.” I said, actually feeling grateful. I had let some of the contentment to slip in.
“Now, come and help me decide what I should be wearing for the party.”
Later that evening, we walked downstairs to talk to the new tenant about my job.
Vatsala cleared her throat as we heard activity behind the closed door. I expected a young boy in the mid-twenties but the scenario was altogether different. As he opened the door, I could not lift my eyes off him and I was sure that he couldn’t, either. He looked at me first, frowned a little and then lifted his eyebrows and smiled.
“Hello.” He said, particularly to me, his half-smile not fading.
I checked myself mentally and thought if I looked like a staring material and my brain responded with a no.
“Hello.” Vatsala replied as I did not much do anything as a response.
He glanced at her for a second and then shifted his gaze back to me. His looks were not just full of stealth but also ravenous. Like he would devour what he wanted or what was in front of him. Though, what was in front of him was much more attractive than the one standing behind.
“So, I am the one who lives on the floor above you…and…uh…this is Lakshmi.” Vatsala introduced subtly. I adjusted my Saree and held my hands together to say Namaste politely.
“Oh.” He merely said.
“Can…uh..we come in?” Vatsala interrupted.
“Sure.” He said and stepped aside to let us in.
I could feel his stare on me as I walked into his apartment, slowly sizing me up. I blushed underneath my skin.
“So, I will come straight to the point.” Vatsala said as she sat on the couch without asking. I kept standing and watched him fall his back first onto the bean bag.
“This is Lakshmi. And she has worked here for years. She works for almost all the apartments here in this building. I believe you will require some help yourself with all your household chores.” She continued.
“Oh. Sure, I do.” He said, briefly stealing glances at me.
“So, she will be happy to work here. And about the salary…”
“I will pay her 2000 a month. Is that enough?” He interrupted.
I was speechless and as I looked over at Vatsala, I was sure that she did not expect that either when she said that I could earn some extra.
“That…that would be great.” Vatsala replied. “Right?” She asked as she turned.
“Of course.” I managed to say.
That night, I cursed myself to sleep. I could not stop thinking about how handsome he was and the way he looked into my eyes, like he would just enter my soul and would snatch what was left of it. It scared me. I was a mother of three children, a widow. It felt right and not right at the same time. That night, I slept with a bad headache.
The next morning, I was afresh with good thoughts. Majority of the thoughts revolved around my children. I decided that I wouldn’t let some random stranger destroy what lovely I have. I stuck to the routine and sent them off to school. I decided that I will just stick to my job.
I walked up to the 2nd floor and knocked at his door. It was as if he was waiting for me on the other side. Before the knock could even finish saying kuh, he opened the door for me.
“Hello.” He said, with a sly smile on his face.
I ignored his greeting and walked inside. As I had decided I finished my job that day and came back home. As days passed, I could not sleep at all. I knew I wanted to feel his stare on me everyday. I knew I craved for his touch. I knew I loved when he watched me work. I knew that I was doing something terribly wrong. But I let myself dream about him as wetness caressed between my thighs every night.
“Where are you from?” He asked casually the other day. And his voice reached my ears slipping down to my groin. I am not supposed to feel like this. This is wrong and disgusting. I thought.
“I…” I started to say and my voice got caught up like someone had gagged me.
“You…?” He said and he neared me from behind, his body just inches away from me.
I gulped the rest down my throat as his fingers brushed over my arms from behind. I felt like my feet were in the air and that my lungs had given up on breathing. I closed my eyes to be in the moment as his lips touched my neck. That threw my instinct to build a wall and startled me. My body shoved him back and I turned to face him –
“Don’t you dare…”
“Dare what?” He asked, casually. His half smile persisting on his face.
“Dare touch me.” I hissed.
“You seemed to enjoy it.” He said mocking me, his one eyebrow raised.
I turned away as the heat burned everything from my cheeks and to what was between my legs.
“You know you like it. Are you scared?” He asked as I kept looking down.
I don’t know what brought tears to my eyes, the loneliness I felt all these years, the yearning of a man’s touch or my guilt but I cried. I let out a sob and then others joined in.
“Please. I have children. This…this is not right.” I breathed.
“No one will ever know. I cannot stop thinking about you since that day I saw you. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He said.
I let myself believe that, as his body grabbed mine with command.
“If you think I will leave you for someone else, you are wrong.” He lied under his breath.
Days passed and I realized that I had let that contentment take over me completely. I had forgotten the rules. I had broken the routine. I spent more hours with him than I should. I started finishing my work at other houses as quickly as possible and rushed over to him. Pleasure had taken over my senses.
“What is up with you these days?” Vatsala had asked one day, sipping through her coffee.
“Nothing.” I had responded.
“If you wish, you can quit working for him.” She had said.
“I am fine.” I had said, feeling scared. She knows, I thought.
“Have you ever thought about a second marriage?” She had asked.
I had not. Maybe, I will ask him, I thought.
“Is there anything else that needs to be done?” I asked, ignoring her last question.
One day, that pleasure betrayed my senses completely. That day was the day I realized how foolish I was to let that contentment in completely, to let it watch and laugh at me as it slipped back into the darkness.
“Hello.” He said through the phone as I sat there in my small home waiting for him to come back from work. It had become my new routine. People had started to talk all kinds of things about me. Vatsala had started to avoid me completely. But I did not care. He told me not to. And I did not.
“Yes?” I said, biting my lip through my smile.
My kids had gone to school.
“I am home. How long are you going to make me wait?” He asked.
“I am coming.” I said and stood up in an instant.
“What?” I asked as my heart skipped a beat.
“I am already here.” He said as he opened the door to my small home. He bent his head lower to allow himself in. I blushed, partly because of his desperation and partly because of shame. I was suddenly ashamed of my little happy home.
“I just could not wait to savor your skin on my tongue. So, I allowed myself the honor.” He said, his eyes darting from my lips to my breasts. That alone had made me give myself up to him.
He took me right there down on the floor. It took him no time to undress me completely. I was at his service, fully. He unzipped his pants quickly and allowed himself the honor once more. I moaned in pleasure. Sweat was dripping down my face with satisfaction as –
I heard a voice. I heard a familiar voice at the door. It was unlocked. I had not noticed. He had come to tell me something but it seemed like the rest of his words choked him to speak no more.
Those were the last words I ever heard him speak. If only I knew, they were going to be the last, I would have savored every ‘Ma’ he had said, I would have listened to every word he had said when he wanted me to listen and I had no time. I would have never made this mistake.
And so, he spoke no more…
Chetan lost his voice that day. My child lost the ability to speak that day, because of me. Radhika and Sakshi followed behind to see the dirty affair their mother was having with a stranger.
I gathered up my clothes to cover myself, to cover my pride but none was left. As if nothing happened, that stranger left my home in a minute, without even saying a goodbye. Not that I needed it, at that moment.
That day, I realized no matter how many sacrifices one makes, every one of us is human. No matter what role you play, no matter how good of a mother you have been, no matter what you are, everyone is human.
And to err is human.
I realized that I was holding my breath for too long until I let a sob escape my chest and said – “I am sorry.”
But I was never forgiven.
And he left.
He refused to marry me. He left the apartment he lived in after a month of me nagging him, after shattering my pride and myself into pieces, after ruining my family into dust.
Maybe, I was too foolish to look for love in him. Maybe, I was too blinded to see that it was pure lust. Maybe…. I deserve to be unforgiven.