Sunday, August 16, 2015

The journey - 1

Raahi walked towards the bus stop, her heart pounding in her ears, making her gulp several times in fear. A narrow lonely road is no place for a woman to be in these parts, especially after dark. She finally walked out of her life with a man that loved his work more than he loved his mistress in town. She had no place in his heart, let alone his life. She decided to walk away from that house and that life of waking up every day to empty halls and servants that pitied her more than they respected her. When she finally realized she was descending a bottomless valley of soulless existence, she left.

Sitting at that deserted bus stop however, she had other thoughts. What if she fails to find a greater purpose; a meaningful identity? What will she do in a world so wide and cruel with no money, no support and no friends? How will she even survive? But as she looked back on the path she had just walked, away from his house, her life flashed before her. Nothing she did in the last five years gave her any joy. She had no one to talk to or share her feelings with, no decisions to take and absolutely no difficulties to test her mettle. Her lower middle class parents could barely afford her graduate studies. She taught neighbors’ kids and worked at the supermarket; she even helped out as a nanny. She slogged and saved and finally earned a postgraduate diploma in finance from an open university. Her father accepting a proposal for marriage from his rich parents, her getting married, moving to a great bungalow, being left alone to weep all night: everything happened so quickly, it felt like a nightmare. And, there she was living and dying everyday and every night.

The sun made bright, red streaks in the sky right in front of her. She boarded the first bus of the day and started her journey as dawn peaked from behind the dark clouds. She got off at the last stop late afternoon. A warm wind whipped dust at her. Sleepless, tired, thirsty, and hungry, she looked around for signs of life. She had no time to ponder over the consequences of her breakout. She did not care for what her husband might have thought when she didn’t turn up for breakfast or send in his eleven o clock tea. She did not worry about what the night watchman reported to the rest of the servants or what gossip might be brewing back at that house which was never her home. She did not worry about her mother or father. It will at least be a couple of days before her husband decides to check up on her and realize she is gone. She can contact them by then. But first, some water.

She was at the beach. The thirst, hunger and the swelter of the afternoon made her feel faint. A very old woman sat outside a shack knitting a tiny yellow sweater. In that heat! “May I have some water?” she asked the woman who scrutinized her with dark eyes. After a comprehensive Dekko, the woman replied, “Come on, I have some bread and tea”. The bread was stale and dry. She enjoyed it more than she ever enjoyed a meal at her husband’s house.

“Hurry up Arya, we are going to be late!” Slowly rubbing her eyes, Arya sat up and asked, “Mamma, why don’t we make ice cream at Charm?” The questions started before Arya was completely awake. “What a handful at five!” she thought smiling. “Why, mamma? Why no ice cream?” “Come on Arya, you will be late for school. Come on come on come on”.
The old woman let her stay on and never asked questions. The little baby girl the woman was making the sweater for took an instant liking to Raahi and she stayed on helping with the baby and generally around the shack cleaning and making dinner. After a couple of days, she asked the old woman what she did for a living. “Why dear! I sell morning tea and bread,” she said. Raahi woke up early the next morning, fed and cleaned the baby, picked her up and went over to the grocer’s. She borrowed three liters of milk, a packet of tea, some sugar and matches. She was back at the shack and made a huge pot of tea. By eleven AM she had carried the tea back to the grocer’s store and was selling it to the shop owners and their help at the market place. She paid the grocer for all the items she had borrowed that morning and borrowed more for the next day. She named the baby girl Arya after the Goddess Durga and the old woman was pleased. From that day on, where ever she went, she took Arya along. Weeks and months passed by but she was barely breaking even. Some ladies that came shopping pitied her condition and asked if she would help around in their homes. She swallowed her pride and went. She cleaned dishes, swept and mopped floors, and washed filthy clothes. After months of toil, she accumulated enough money to make a board and buy a wooden bench. She wrote TEA and BREAD on the board and planted it outside the old woman’s shack. She dragged the bench close to it and waited. One or two passers by sat down. She made tea and the old woman served it with toasted pav. She went back to the market place to sell the rest of it. Months passed. More people stopped by the shack for some tea on their way to and from work but she had no regular customers. She still sold tea at eleven AM at the market place and cooked after seven at the grocer’s house. She also taught his grandchildren Math and English. Talk about variety! A year later, she bought a second hand wood fire oven from a bakery.

Here I am, sitting at a table at “Charm” eating sunny side up on toast, and drinking coffee. My daughter playfully ordered ice – cream and the waitress laughed saying, “One of these days Arya! You just might get an ice cream for breakfast” The ocean waves are crashing the shore and making a glorious morning noise. There is nothing as blissful as a jog along the beach and a hearty breakfast. He is here with his wife and daughters. I suppose he married her after I sent over signed divorce papers. They are laughing and drinking milkshakes. His wife walked past me and spoke to the manager. She said that they have been coming to Charm since the day it opened and that they want to celebrate the 5th birthday of their younger daughter here. It means closing the restaurant for one a day and catering only to their party guests. She wanted a discount on the already slashed down party rates. The manager explained to her that the rates are reasonable and no further discount is possible. She pouted, played the hurt patron but he did not budge. I should know. I started Charm in a shack three years after I left him and that life.