Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Madam's Nighty [Short Story]


My Madam is a writer. I don’t know what she keeps writing in her copy. I write Hindi film songs in mine. She does not like watching Hindi films or tele serials. She reads, not Griha Shobha, but some hard covered text book types. Anyway, I think she spends her day writing grocery lists. But how often can you write and rewrite the same list in a day, I wonder. And, yet there is always some or other masala amiss. Finally, we stepped out to the mall to buy masalas. In my modern city, we buy masalas in malls.
After buying grocery, we were checking out the stores in the mall when Madam tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Sheila, wait here with Baby” and she dashed into a store. At the window were those dolls wearing only bra and panty. Hot pink ribbons balanced themselves precariously at opportune mounds. Thankfully, Sahib had crossed over to the men’s store bang opposite. I sat down on the seat outside the store and dreamed of becoming a heroine.
“Are you still here?” A gentle nudge at my elbow jolted me from my reverie.
‘Cause you asked me to?’ I wondered.
Madam grabbed Baby and walked over to the men’s store with a white bag that hid its contents with a hot pink tissue paper. Madam’s shopping spree was not over. We ransacked every store at the mall that day for 50% to 60% cuts. On return that evening, we parked the car in the basement and Sahib asked driver Raju to bring the load of shopping bags home. The basement as usual was brimming with activity, vehicles, drivers, a dry-cleaning store under one tower, a grocery store under another, male and female helps crossing over to the store and part-time cooks, cleaners and babysitters cycling over to their work locations.
Madam, however, held on to the white bag with the pink tissue paper. At home, she did not leave the white bag on the sofa as is usually done to create work for me. Instead, she went straight to her room with the bag. ‘Whatever the bag had, must be expensive. She didn’t want me to see it,’ I thought and went about my rigorous chores. Raju got all the other bags home, which were promptly dumped in the guest room by the entrance. 
The next morning, I went into their bedroom to clean up. As I entered, a flight of bright red caught my eye through the single hand-span gap of the bathroom door. A silky thing hung on the hanger over the laundry baskets. I squinted a sideward glance, but couldn’t catch a clearer view. Suddenly Madam appeared through the hand-span gap. “Sheila, don’t look here and there, just fold the sheets and go.”
I didn’t say a word, folded the sheets, left the room and made a face as I shut the door behind me. Whatever it was, never turned up for washing in the machine.
Next day, I folded the sheets minding my own business. I noticed Sahib was piling clothes from the laundry basket into a bag. I saw a flash of red crumpled amidst his shirts. ‘But, wasn’t I told to mind my own business yesterday?’
“Bahadur!” Sahib called out.
“Run downstairs and give this pile to the drycleaners.”
Bahadur did as he was told.
A few days later, as I was heading downstairs to buy milk from the grocery store Bahadur joined me in the lift.
“Where you off to Bahadur?”
 “To pick up dry-cleaning.”
“Did you count the clothes when you handed them over to the drycleaners?” I asked.
“Naah! The drycleaner will do it.”
“Yeah! Where’s it going anyway, its all within the complex.” I sighed.

I bought milk at the grocery store and as I was walking back towards the lift of our tower, I saw old Bahadur ahead of me carrying a pile of hangers on his back. A dry-cleaned red negligee lay on top of the pile, holding onto the drycleaner’s wiry hanger by its delicate spaghetti straps. The ribbons on the cups reminding me of crisscross laces on the shoes I used to wear to primary school back in my village. The shimmery red silk seemed to enjoy the breeze of the A.C. vents in the basement. Free from secrecy, it flew like a kite that had escaped captivity telling a hundred tales untold. As dutiful Bahadur walked towards the lift, I could feel steamy dreams being created in puffs of smoke rising from the ends of hot cigarettes. Madam and Sahib’s best kept secrets released into a hundred free worker minds.

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© 2016 by Donna Abraham

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