Apr 14, 2019-
She is getting ready for work. Her five year old daughter comes running with a small dreamcatcher in her hand, “Mamu, what is this?” She smiles, “Sanu, This is a dreamcatcher. It will bring you good dreams.” The five year old looks at the small object in awe.
She kisses her daughter on the forehead and says, “Mamu aaihalchu hai--I’ll be right back.”
She was only four years old when her mother left her. Some say it was an accident but only she knows that it was suicide. You might think what can a four year old remember? She remembers every bit of it. The tears streaming down her mother’s face, the gallon of petrol, the last kiss on her forehead, and the high tabletop where her mother had placed her, “You’ll be safe here.” She remembers the fire all around, the sirens of the fire brigade, the smell of kerosene, the chaos. Flashback of neighbours rescuing her from the tabletop, screams and the gasoline smell still haunt her some nights.
Until she was twelve years old, the landlady looked after her. Her mother used to work for the landlady and she knew someday she would have to, too. She was a quiet child, a bud yet to bloom. She looked so pure, so innocent. When she would see children, outside the walls of their residence, holding their parent’s hands on the way to school, she would be pained. She never knew how it felt to have a family.
A mother who left her and a father whose existence was unknown.
She was given a room to sleep in and when she had nightmares the landlady would send someone up to sleep beside her—someone motherly.
However, life hadn’t shown all its cruelty upon her.
That changed when she was twelve. She remembers the day pretty clearly. The landlady took her out for shopping, bought dresses for her—“This one will look perfect on you, child.” and fed her panipuris. She was taken to the salon and made to look all flawless. That night, instead of the usual roti tarkari, she was given a glass of milk. The landlady told her that she was now old enough to “do the same work her mother used to do.”
She tried to remember what her mother used to do.
Her mother used to leave her in their room with chocolates and only words, “Mamu aaihalchu hai.”
Then, her mother would turn on the TV and leave her to watch cartoons, while she went out to work—maybe downstairs, only to return late at night, reeking of alcohol. She never saw her mother truly happy.
That night, clad in a slinky dress, she waited in a small room that only had a bed and a bedside table. A man, in his forties, entered the room. That was the first time someone bought her body. Someone whom she had never seen claimed her. She remembers the blood, the pain, the ruthlessness of the man. She remembers lying in the bed, on the verge on near unconsciousness; long after the man had left, haggling with the landlady.
“Five thousand is too much.” “She is a virgin, and that is the normal rate.” “Not a penny more than two thousand.” “Make it three, and we have a deal.” “Keep this two thousand five hundred, I don’t have more.” She remembers making note of the fact that her body was sold for two thousand five hundred.
Sometime later, in the dead of the night, she traced her way back to her room; locked herself and sat in front of the large mirror. Even tears didn’t fall. The next morning, a knock was heard on the door, and she sat where she was, no reactions. The landlady urged her to open the door, called her out to eat but she didn’t bother. Almost an hour later, she got up mechanically and opened the door. The landlady smiled, “Suru ma ta yastai huncha. Pachi baani parcha--Such things happen in the beginning, you’ll soon be habituated.”
Gone were those days where the landlady fed her and sent someone to sleep beside her when she had nightmares. Her only crime was that her mother died without earning a lakh. “I bought your mother for one lakh—paid the money to her drunkard husband and she died without earning even half that sum,” the landlady told her one morning.
There were two other girls her age in the same residence—Lata and Seema. The older one, Lata, didn’t seem to mind the job. Lata used to negotiate her own price and kept half of it before the landlady got a chance, went out to clubs and movies. Lata was HIV positive, too. Lata was the person who used to advise her and Seema to take life as it is. The younger one, Seema, was a frail girl. After being raped the first time, Seema committed suicide by hanging herself on the fan. She and Lata were the only people who mourned Seema. Her last rites were conducted at night with just the landlady, and the two of us.
Some months later, Lata too died of pneumonia.
The landlady would schedule all her appointments, up to six in a single day. There were all kinds of customers—seventy year old men who didn’t find their wives attractive, politicians, policemen, officers, teenagers wanting experience, frustrated adults, people who were unsatisfied with their wives and girlfriends, people who wanted to try out something new, people so impulsive that they forced her without using condoms, some regular customers, and some new ones.
The worst times would be the days during her menstruation. The blood around her and forcing made her feel sick.
Each client would get two hours with her, and in those two hours she would have to do whatever they asked. Role plays were common. Some wanted her to pretend as their girlfriend, some wanted her to be their wife, some wanted her to seduce them, a few went easy on her, a few wanted her to pretend that she was their buhari, a particularly sick one wanted her to pretend that she was his daughter. It was the first time that she got drunk.
She remembers that morning—the morning she realised a life was growing inside her. She had fainted that morning. The doctor in the clinic said she had to perform some tests on her, and concluded she was three months pregnant. The landlady was aghast and tried to persuade her to abort but she wouldn’t do it. This child would be her ray of hope, the person for whom she had to live. The landlady had told her, “Nobody will want to be your client after the baby. You were a mistake, too. Your mother was adamant about keeping you.” She had smiled that time. Keeping the baby meant no work for ten months.
The landlady gave her a choice of aborting the baby and retiring from work after five years or keeping the baby and working for lifetime. She chose the latter.
Five years ago, she gave birth to the baby girl who is now the light of her life. Not even once has she regretted her decision. This year she has admitted her daughter in a kindergarten. She assures herself that her child will never have to do what she did.
Her mother left her, to fight alone. No matter how hard times get, she will never abandon her child alone. She remembers her mother every time she says “Mamu aaihalchu hai” to her daughter, but she is brave. She will fight for her Sanu. She will be her daughter’s dreamcatcher.
She enters the room. Her daughter is fast asleep. She changes from the close fitting dress to her pajamas.
She gets into the bed and pulls the blanket up. The dreamcatcher, hung on the wall, sways gently to the wind.
Published: 14-04-2019 09:19
- fiction park