Rajni quickly made 2 chapatis for Raju who devoured them and then fell into a dreamless sleep. By then, she had made more chapatis for her girls and kept them in a metal container by the fireside. The sun was rising as she tidied herself up the best she could and made her way to the first house where she went everyday to do the top work (sweeping, cleaning and washing soiled utensils).
She was a very hard-working by nature and her present circumstances had nothing to do with it. Her up-bringing was in a poor family living in the interiors of rural Tamil Nadu and she was used to an early start and hard labour in the sun. Her family though not well off had been self sufficient enough to not lack for anything. A very bad drought had rudely brought them down and left them on the proverbial streets. By then, Rajni was already married and her husband, though a gem of a person was not born with a silver spoon himself. His contracting throat cancer due to constant chewing of tobacco and his death soon after saw Rajni bereft and in town looking for work to support herself and 3 kids.
Rajni reach the first of the 3 houses she worked at 7 am sharp. The owners were a young married couple with a 4-year old kid, both of whom worked in multi-national companies. They’re mornings were a blur as they rushed about the house getting ready to first drop their kid at the crèche and then get to work on to time to start off another power-packed day.
As usual, Rajni went about her work with the practiced efficiency she carried wherever she worked. Today she was in a very good mood with the unexpected windfall in her family fortunes and was humming as she started swabbing the floor. She could hear the man of the house as he shaved with his electric razor while his wife finished her shower. She had just about finished the master bedroom when she noticed that Piya, the 4-year old who was usually fast asleep was not in her bed. She looked around wildly and saw that the French windows leading to the balcony were wide open.
Startled, Rajni ran to the balcony and saw that Piya had climbed on to the balcony railing and was straining to look at the pigeon which had alighted on the sewage pipe leading downwards. Another inch and……. Rajni leapt at that very instant and held on to Piya’s pajama top just when she was tipping over the edge. Her grasp tightened then and both Piya and Rajni collapsed onto the balcony floor shivering with fright. By then Piya was bawling and hanging onto Rajni’s neck.
Both Shyam and Sunita came rushing to the spot hearing their daughter’s wails. They gauged the situation in an instant and while Shyam took Piya into his arms, Sunita held a hand out to Rajni to help her up. No words were needed at the moment. The situation was amply clear and the look of gratitude that reflected in Sunita’s eyes was not lost on Rajni.
While Shyam tended to their daughter and got her ready, Sunita started to give Rajni money in return for her deed but she declined. “I have children too, memsaab. I know how I would feel if something had happened to my Raju.” Both mothers had tears in their eyes but these were of happiness.
Rajni soon left for her next place of work and Sunita told Shyam she had decided to sponsor at least one of Rajni’s children’s education for life. That was after all the least she could do...
To be continued....