You cannot believe it is time for her to leave. Fifteen years. Really?

You were only ten when she started working for your family, probably her first expat family. She had worked for local families before yours, you know. She seemed like every other nanny your parents had hired, when she worked only part-time. Only later did you start appreciating her, when she lived with you.

You have been in the company of nannies much longer than you have been with your parents, so you know you can differentiate between the good ones and the bad ones.

Bad ones are those who let in their friends into your home when you are asleep and your parents are at work, among other things that define them.

Good ones are… rare. She is good. More than good. Extraordinary.

You want to think
of the time

you caught her sipping from the teaspoon with which she had just stirred your father’s
tea, to gauge its sweetness. It made you wonder: what if the sweetness was not enough ? You had chosen to overlook it as you knew you wouldn’t find a better maid anywhere else.

Instead you think of
of the time

she fed you with a tablespoon because you didn’t want her to feed you directly with her dark hands. She was patient with you despite you storing every morsel in the vestibule of your mouth, creating a kangaroo’s pouch below your lower lip.

She dipped her little finger like a thermometer in the glass of water she had just micro-waved for you to gauge its heat. You drained the glass in the sink when she was not in sight. It made you think of all the times she must have done the same and you hadn’t noticed because of your absent-mindedness.

She would boil water for you on the gas stove, before your micro-wave days, before your thermos days, before she taught you to not be scared of using the stove.

She refused to wear a chef’s hat while cooking when your mother had suggested it; for many a time you all had found long strands of red hair in the food. She is the only one with red henna dyed hair in the house.

Before your afternoon naps when you were a kid, she would move her fingers through your hair in a gentle, upward sweeping motion. You liked it. It helped you sleep. You had dandruff. She didn’t mind. You now know that it was not because she had no choice. She did it because she got happy seeing you happy. Your mother had refused to oil and massage your head at times because of the dandruff, but she never refused.

She had helped you sneak a gift for your crush into your luggage, she could have reminded you of it endlessly and in return asked you for favours like your friend’s maid, who asked her to cover up for her many times for that one time she had to cover up for her and her boyfriend. But she never asked for a favour.

She pacified your mother in order to save you from being scolded when the phone bill at the end of the month pointed fingers at you, the time before Viber, Whatsapp and its ilk.She intervened and protected you physically from an imminent beating once that brought flashbacks of Bollywood movies you had seen, where lovers died shielding their soul mate from bullets. Your father was furious because you had dirtied your pinafore: he believed that girls’ appearances should never be shabby. He had brandished his belt; you had already wet your pants. Had she not intervened, that incident could have scarred you for life, maybe.

She consoled you after your parents’ ‘silly’ fights. You didn’t know that their fights were ‘silly’ as the Hollywood films that you watched taught you that a divorce always followed a series of fights. She helped you understand the difference between a ‘serious’ fight and a ‘silly’ one. Her separation from her husband because of another woman was the example of a ‘serious’ fight. You didn’t appreciate it then. It’s only now that you know: not everyone exemplifies their misery just to make you feel better.

You shake your head hard. She calls you by your name, actually, she doesn’t. She uses baai the Konkani equivalent of ‘girl’. She rarely uses it. It was reserved for her daughter, usually.

She is asking you for help, she has to pack. You notice her open suitcase lying on the floor despite your sorrow or maybe because of your sorrow, the fact that she is packing in your presence, she could have sneaked in anything she wanted since she will not be coming back Transparency- that’s what kept her loyal. Your parents have the habit of leaving cash on the table top knowing it will be there when they return. They trust her.

You want to think
of the time

she acted territorial in the kitchen, during those house parties, not allowing your mother to enter; like a wild animal sensing its rivals approach, making your mother furious.

Instead you think
of the time

she had made bacon and eggs for you when you did not want to eat the dosas she had made for breakfast.

She had once stitched a dress similar to your mother’s. You knew she had crossed her limits, yet you took her side. Even though her sense of fashion made you want to skin her alive, because you are a tomboy. People didn’t care if you didn’t like fashion. They only looked at her and then at you. She would wear dresses with slits up to her thighs and that stretched tight at her assets as well as liabilities . You once told her, “You look pregnant”, referring to her belly fat, the bulge clearly visible through the tight fabric. She pretended to have not heard you.

She had gifted you a grey t-shirt (grey was your favourite colour then) from what was left of her meagre salary after having sent most of it to her children in Goa by draft.

She persuaded you to eat something other than what you had wanted. You didn’t know how to react to her show of dominance, so you kept silent for if your retort angered her, she wouldn’t talk for days and you are not comfortable with silence in relationships. Especially, when the silence was not from your end. It has made you apologise even when you were not sorry because you always felt sorry for not being sorry. Her trump card was the ‘fact’ that youngsters were supposed to make amends with elders and not the other way around. Always. You ended up wondering how many egos were flattered by such nonsense.

She made your favourite Christmas treat- Bolinha even though she wasn’t keeping well.

She had played an April Fools’ Day prank on your mother. Being someone who hates practical jokes, it had made your mother furious and all of that anger was misdirected at you for the rest of the day.

She had tried to quell the anger between you and your mother. You both became closer because of her, when you spoke to her animatedly, your mother got jealous and made up with you.

You want to think
of the time

you had caught her eavesdropping on your parents’ conversations.

Instead you think
of the time

she increased the TV’s volume to disguise your parents’ fights to your eavesdropping neighbours.

She kept pointing out of concern that your hair is thinning and all you could think about was her head full of hair. You wanted to scalp her. Then and there. You don’t mind silence at your end at such times. Better than the retort that would lead to her silence that you cannot bear. Silence is a punishment when one is at the receiving end and no one knows that better than you.

She had praised you for your beauty amidst your relatives when they tried their best to point at your receding hairline, your dark circles….

She had been rude to you when you were rude to her as a kid. It was okay if you were rude, but how could she? You were small, you felt threatened by her sometimes and she didn’t like your tone. She had even threatened to leave if you didn’t learn to respect her. Such guts! She always asserted the fact that she had the choice to leave. The knowledge that leaving an expat family would be easier had made her haughty at times. That bitch …

She has forgiven your naivety more than just once like the time when you and your mother were watching a Hindi soap together, a Balaji soap most probably, in which the actress (wife) was stressed because of the actor’s (her husband) ill manners. Your nanny had walked in the room just then intending to ask about what to cook the next day and then you had said, ‘Mom, see, aunty is so lucky no. She has no tension at all. She is free. She doesn’t need to worry about anything at all.’ referring to her advantage of being a divorcee. You had meant no harm and she understood it. Your mother had ignored it. Now you know that that was mean. Very mean. She could have had taken offence. But she didn’t.

You want to think
of the time

she had complained to your mother about you watching movies late into the night. You were sleeping late and as a result woke up late too. She claimed that she was worried about you. She wondered what films you watched when no one was around.

Instead you think
of the time

you smiled looking at the skin around her eyes crinkle while she laughed at the nonsensical drama on TV. You usually voice your contempt for such soaps thereby trying to imply that you are an intellectual but with her, you never did. Instead, you asked her about the plot, as if you were interested. You did not listen to what she said. You admired her amused expression while she narrated it, like that of a kid who believes you are interested in everything they say.

She used to call her sisters in Goa using the international calling card very early in the morning for it was already late morning there and also because everyone at your house were still asleep. Once you woke up to take a leak and you heard her complaining, she isn’t well, she is unable to work properly. You wondered what her relatives must think of you all. They wouldn’t know that you always allow her to rest when she’s sick.

She nursed you when you were sick, made Kasai for you, reminding you repeatedly to drink it before you fell asleep for she knew you are forgetful.

She objected when you voiced your wish to buy a new book. She said you have one too many. At times like those, you had itched to tell her to stay within her limits. But the threat of silence stopped you every time.

Your relatives who visit often have never gifted you but she always did for the silliest reasons. And you knew it wasn’t flattery. She had also apologised that she wasn’t learned enough to buy a book for you but she satisfied herself saying you won’t appreciate what you have a lot of. You have felt special at such times. Many had tried to entice her with better perks. But she stayed faithful because she knew she would not find another employer like you, maybe.

You want to think
of the time

she showed off by claiming she could check if you actually knew your lessons by heart, like you had asserted to your mother. You narrowed your eyes like you do before confronting anyone and told her that you knew she cannot read. She proved you wrong. She knew a few words. You became angry. How dare she! She mustn’t cross her limits. But then your parents have empowered her. She got to buy the groceries with money given to her specifically for that purpose and even keep the accounts. She pronounced words with confidence even if ‘Universal’ from ‘Universal Food Centre’ sounded as if ‘Universal’ and ‘Anniversary’ had a baby and decided to name it by combining their names. She had also learnt a few spellings. Looking at her accounts, missing alphabets in names of items like an ‘n’ from Mango and ‘l’ from Bulb cracked you up for sure. You corrected her verbally, yet it made you happy that she was not completely literate. What would be the difference then? At times, her personality did not fit that of a maid and you knew it. Had her husband not left, she would have never been a maid, maybe.

Instead you think
of the time

she advised you to study well before the annual exams because she worried about you. This time she used her misery to warn you of impending doom if you did not take your studies seriously, once again proving that you are special to her and that she wants only the best for you. She had let her emotions get the better of her, she married early. You should be ambitious, she repeated.

She had told you of black magic, of its various powers. You didn’t believe in it but for her sake, you listened sincerely when she claimed that ‘the woman’ stole her husband through black magic. Or could he have left? No way! You had affirmed.She had also told you about ghosts back in her hometown that sounded nothing like the ghosts you have read about or watched on TV. She made ghosts seem real, the goose bumps on her hand were proof for how terrifying the ghosts were. In your view, nothing could beat the ability to terrify someone overseas just by narrating the story of a native ghost. Later, as you reminisced these storytelling sessions you decided that your stories must have a similar effect on readers in different parts of the world then only would you consider yourself an accomplished storyteller and you also pondered on the bigger purpose of literature, of a writer: An ambition to narrate one’s own version of the story, to get rid of clichés. As a kid, though, you only wanted to see your name on the spine of a book and that was motivation enough to write.

She was the first to listen to your so-called ‘stories’. You remember, one of your story’s protagonists was a Christian, James. You remember his name vividly, because, at that age, you were fascinated with a few names: Indian names that sounded very Indian; like Praful, Gautam,and Shailesh, from the Hindi soaps that you watched with your mother and also Western names; like James, Eric, and Derek, who were protagonists in the books by white authors that you read. Your protagonist, James, was a doctor in an Indian village. He had returned after having studied abroad, to serve his country men. The villagers brought a helpless case- ‘a woman suffering from something unknown’ to him. He couldn’t help her. They put him behind the bars when she died. You thought it was your masterpiece. You wrote it in English and then you translated it in your head for her and narrated it to her in Konkani. She questioned it. She couldn’t see why he was jailed. He didn’t do anything wrong. You took it personally. Maybe the issue was not with the story; maybe there were loopholes in your translation? Yes! Had she known English she would have appreciated it. But then again her words kept ringing in your head. You wondered if a maid couldn’t find it intriguing, how could others? Now that you have read ‘The Kite Runner’ you think of that incident, imagining yourself as Amir and her as Hassan, but then you console yourself that while Hassan had found a valid loophole in Amir’s story, she hadn’t. What does she know? She couldn’t read between the lines. She didn’t know how to. She couldn’t understand the underlying theme of injustice and relate to it because you have been fair with her. You have never treated her badly.

You want to think
of the time

you had just begun to learn to cook; she started your lessons with vegetables to make it easier for you. When vegetables slipped from your hand into the sink, by the drain, you wondered what she did when food slipped from her hand. Did she wash them or just go ahead as if nothing happened? While her mentoring helped you appreciate her hard work, it had also unfortunately opened a bag of flaws which you couldn’t unsee. It made you wonder what she did in her free time, when she was alone at home. She is a divorcee, after all. You remembered your friend’s story about catching their maid satisfying herself with a cucumber. But you shook your head. Do not go wild with your imagination, you reprimanded yourself. She is holy. She wouldn’t. Moreover she loves you. But she is also human. She could pick her nose in your absence, couldn’t she? Also, your friend’s parents had installed a CCTV camera in their house, to spy on their maid’s activities. But your parents would never do that. As they knew that only those maids who were left to be trapped in their memories, who were not allowed to talk, eat, even to breathe would resort to seeking revenge on their employers through nasty ways. But she was allowed to watch TV.

Instead you think
of the time

she taught you to cook. Cooking gives her identity. That’s what she knows. She could almost always accept criticism regarding anything except her cooking. She would be slow to praise others’ culinary skills and to keep her happy you would downplay your enthusiasm for someone else’s food. At home parties, there was always an array of Goan and Mangalorean dishes, you could see that the guests envied you and you felt proud. Amidst the Chicken Korri Roti and Sannas which your mother makes splendidly were the Sorpotel and Xacuti which were your maid’s signature dishes. At times when she was choosy about food you had wanted to remind her of her past but your parents have raised you better and moreover you wanted to avoid the inevitable silence that would have followed your retort. You will always remember her for her dishes. You couldn’t even boil a sausage or fry a papad. Even now, you can’t do much but you have those memories. That time when you had put the marinated fish on the pan before the oil was hot enough so the skin of the fish stuck to the pan and you felt like a fool; she could have said, “See I told you to start learning earlier,” but she didn’t. She was patient. It reminds you of the time you were watching the film‘The Help’ at home and as if on cue your maid entered the room just when Minny served her chocolate pie to her madam. Your help sat down and watched with eagerness for she is a cook. Had it been a book in the scene you would have looked at it with the same enthusiasm. You could have translated English to Konkani anyway you wanted. It reminds you of the recent translations that you had read online of a Konkani song. Each translation completely differed from another. You had hesitated before telling her what had actually happened in the scene but then you did tell her. The truth. No trimming. Yes, the shit in the pie. You trust her. She is God fearing. She will kill herself before she does that to you, maybe. She wouldn’t even have reason to, you thought. No, in fact, you knew.

She is calling your name. Yes, this time, it is your name. She is asking you if she should take three bottles of lotion or just two. You wonder why she is dragging it. It’s killing you. You look at her semi- packed suitcase. Did you help her fill that much out? Did you squat in there and drain the insides of your stomach into it? It looks like your intestines are on display. You feel queasy.

Will she remember you? Will she defend you during conversations with her family? Will you be referred to as ‘that girl’? Will she speak in your defence now that you belong to her past and some flattery of the people in her present, her family, would necessitate some badmouthing at your cost, the child of her last employers?

You want to think
of the time

she complained about back ache from mopping the tiles. You had almost told her that had she been in India she would have had to squat and swab floors with a rag but you did not.

Instead you think
of the time

you spilt tea on the floor and your father had lost his temper. He had ordered you to clean it right then. You were crying so hard that you couldn’t breathe properly. Seeing this she had wiped it clean with a cloth in the two minutes your father spent in the loo.

She had pointed out the similarities between her ex-husband and your father whenever any action of your father reminded her of her ex. It infuriated you. How could she?

She had said, “Not everyone is like your father. He is unique.” when your father had taken leave from work to look after your mother when she suffered a slipped disc.

When you shared the news of your first publication with her, she asked you if you got paid for it. You felt bad. What did this illiterate know about the joy of being published?

When you had writer’s block, and you were moodier than usual, she had sensed something was wrong. Not even your parents had sensed it. She inquired whether you wrote anything new, whether any publication was due. You were struck by her concern. You wondered if she could be the muse for your writing. But then you dismissed it. Your block couldn’t be that bad.

You had skipped Sunday mass to read a book. Sunday mass for her was more than just an obligation; it was a priority. That was the day she interacted with other helps like herself. She would wear her strong cheap cologne to camouflage the stubborn stench of Clorox and fish which refused to leave her skin despite having bathed. She had chided you- nothing came before God, those who did not choose God before anything else would be punished. You wanted to retort, ‘What has praying got you? What has fasting got you? Your ex-husband hasn’t come back, has he now?’ But you did not.

You had got your first periods just after you had returned from Sunday mass, you did not even know what the dark stain on your panty was. She looked happy that God had saved you from embarrassment at the church. She had advised that you mustn’t let boys touch you anymore. A year later she told you about the virtue of virginity and how it must be your priced possession. She warned you that if you had relations before your marriage, your husband would find out. They can tell if your breasts have been fondled or not. They can tell, she warned in an ominously low tone . That reminded you of the query you had read in an issue of Woman’s Era from a girl who worried whether she would get breast cancer because her boyfriend had fondled her breasts.

That day you knew she only wanted happiness for you in the long run and now you know not everyone wishes you happiness in the long run.

You want to think
of the times
her very existence annoyed you.

Her repetition of whatever you have added to the conversation only a moment ago for the lack of any better contribution, like a parrot; no, that’s trite: like plagiarists.

Her influence on your Konkani. Your relatives made fun of it as your slang neither sounded Goan nor Mangalorean.

Her jealousy when your parents snuggled, she found reason to enter the living room at the exact moment.

Her snoring: you tried to disturb her by flinging the tissue box on the floor just so that she would stop snoring, even though you hated disturbing anyone in their sleep because you didn’t think she deserved sleep more than you did.

Her style of displaying rice in the vessel- not spread evenly like it should be but towards one side of the vessel so that when you served yourself, you had to slice the rice heap as if it were a cake and you ate rice every day.

Her imitation of your hairstyle. It was like you had a sister you did not want.

Her presence in your room, she shared it with you.

When you wanted to set your library in your room, she had objected.

When you wanted to stick posters of authors on your bedroom wall, she objected.
All these times she had failed to see the look on your face, the look that people reserve only for rabid dogs in the street. But she didn’t miss the cold silence. Your cold silence. She told you that you tend to stay silent when you are angry and that it bothers her. You don’t care. You were always uncomfortable with her silence and used to do anything to avoid it. Hence your silence is justified.

Instead you think
of the time

you had that phase when you shared nothing with anyone and no one had sensed anything wrong but she did. She never asked. She shared- about how she had worked in horrible households before yours, where she had seen some of the maids being locked in toilets and beaten for the slightest mistake and how she felt deeply for a particular maid who hailed from her native town in Goa. (She has a thing for her own people, people who hail from Goa, yet she considers your family as her own.) Where she had had to eat moss-infested bread. Where she couldn’t go home for years unless a telegram arrived stating the most dreaded. Where she wasn’t even allowed to call home. Where she had worn a uniform. Where she wasn’t allowed to step out without her employer’s company. Where she was approached by her male employer and how terrified she had been. Where she had never even dreamt of working for a household such as yours and that she thought, no, she knew that your father was such a gentleman. Her gratitude made you cry. And share. Your best friend had passed away. You were silent for three whole days. And then you found your voice again. You realised its uncanny resemblance to the resurrection and you told her so. She didn’t defend God like she would have done otherwise; she had hoped that it was indeed your resurrection, she confessed later. Years later, she told that she had feared then that you had lost your voice for good. You admit that you too had the same fear. That eerie silence still bothers you. Now, when you notice obituaries on Facebook timelines that tag the dead person, you wonder: Doesn’t the eerie lack of acknowledgment make people realise how weird it is to summon the dead amidst the living? Be it virtually or not. Doesn’t the cold endless silence bother them?

She was struck by your grieving, she had told you that people in her native town wore black outfits as a sign of grieving only out of selfishness, so that they could be accepted in society but within, none of them really grieved ; and she saw the polar opposite with you and that too for a best friend, not even family! And then she asked you something you will never forget: Will you grieve the same way for me after I am gone? You didn’t know what to say. She didn’t expect an answer either. She only hoped. She said some of her friends have forgotten her and moved on, they might as well be dead. Then you told her why your best friend’s death really bothered you so much. It wasn’t necessary. You shouldn’t have said it. But you felt like you had to justify. He was the first guy whom you let touch you. And you said this despite her advice to you when you were younger. The advice that has always haunted you like the Virgin Mary’s Purity. Better her than the priest at the confessional, you thought. The confession had made you feel lighter.

She is pious. She doesn’t understand some things that do not fit her small view of the world, like about homosexuals. But she did get you. She didn’t judge you. Most importantly. She didn’t tell on you. But that was then, when she worked for you. But what about now?

You will see her off to the airport now. You will be seen with her for the last time. You should be relieved. But you are not.

You think of

the incident in the mall: you had taken her along with you for some shopping as she was only a month away from her vacation. In the food court, you noticed a man asking his kids what they would like to eat and then he looked at his help, who was clearly distinguished by her pale uniform. “What do you want?” he asked. She did not answer immediately, afraid that it could be a test. He asked again. She stammered ‘Fries.’ And then he laughed before asking sternly, “what did you say?” she stood in fear and apologised lowering her head like a puppy. “I wasn’t asking you, I was asking my kids. Check your eyes and ears.”

With that he walked away. His kids did not react. They were used to it, you deduced.

You did not want to make eye contact with your maid. Yet you felt proud and you wanted to tell her “see how lucky you are to be working for us?” Just then your friend stopped by. You forgot to get embarrassed on being seen with your maid. When your friend looked questioningly to your left, you said, “she is with us for some time now.” You should not have said anything but silence has always made you uncomfortable, in social interactions too. You feel obliged to explain.

You would have used the ‘M’ word had your maid not been present.

Your friend was daft or pretended to be, she asked, “Is she your mother’s sister?” But you didn’t blame her. Your maid was not dressed like a maid after all.

You screeched, ‘No’.

People beside you turned to look at you. Your disgust at being related to your maid was noticed by almost everyone despite the commotion in the food court.

That night she cried and you couldn’t sleep, Loud sobs had replaced snores.

You remembered the horrific rape scene from ‘The Kite Runner’ that kept you awake for days. You felt like Amir did, after the rape.

You have been mean to her in the past. In your sleep, sometimes you have said things that you wouldn’t dare say when awake.

You wave at her, you feel choked, she is crying, her head bent like a child hiding her face and you run. You run away from the airport. You remember the time when you were younger and she had left suddenly on a vacation. When you grew up, your Mother told you that she had slept with the watchman. You didn’t believe her. Now you think, so what? She too has feelings, doesn’t she?

You put your hands in your pockets, and you realise that her passport is with you. You take deep breaths and go back. She laughs through her tears as you hand over her passport, she hugs you.

You hug her tight, you want to crush her with your hug but you can’t. She is fat. You are thin. You want to tell her you don’t want her to go because you are afraid that she will tell everyone what you had shared with her. She has told you herself how much people in her vaddo gossip. Maybe during a moment of silence during a social interaction? That silence that you dread so much. Would she be obliged to give you away like you had in the food court?

You are a fucking maid! You are nobody! Even if you stop working for us, you still cannot divulge the things that happened under our roof! You want to yell. You squeeze her with your arms. She tries to wriggle free. You don’t let go.

You have been very good to her, ‘out of your way’ good:

– Allowing her to stay in touch with her kids, letting her speak to them via Whatsapp, Viber now even IMO, which you downloaded only for her because her son had that same app. Also because you didn’t want her to waste all her money on the international calling card.

– Letting her eat before you do, as she has done the cooking.

– Showing her Youtube recipes of dishes she wishes to learn amidst your writing routine.

Many things. Many things.

She owes you. She owes you.

“Aye sod, go.” She shoves you. You want to slap her. How dare she speak to you in that tone!

She is afraid of the look in your eyes. She hasn’t seen that look before and she will not see it again but maybe she would talk about it?

She leaves and you crumble to the ground.

You wake up at home. She has reached Goa. Your father hands the phone over to you. You say hello. She is laughing. You realise she is talking to someone beside her. Laughing. In the few seconds that it took for your father to hand over the phone. Your heart skips a beat.

You think she says, “Yes that girl, the girl who lost her virginity long back.”

She says, “Hello. Hello.”

If only she could see your look. You are silent. Can you retort now? You can and you do. The distance protects you. You can finally breathe in peace. You have shown her, her rightful place. You tend to hurt people you love the most, you console yourself. You cut the call and go to the bathroom. Then you think, if distance had made the retorting easier for you. Wouldn’t staying silent now be easier for her? You cannot breathe. For you realise what you have done. You cry like you have never cried before, not even for your best friend’s death.


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