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‘I don’t wear the bindi anymore na, Didi! Neither the thread. He felt I am not wearing signs. Signs of being his. So he lost his temper.’ Preeti pressed the ice against her cheek and walked to the sink full of dishes.
She stared nervously at the bed again. It was not going to be a good day – the dark brown blotches, staring at her as they spread, still fluid, told her.
It has probably seeped through, like it always does no matter how soon she realizes. Shruti frantically gathered the sheets, collecting as much as possible. There was still a bit of time to dawn, and it was possible that she could get a fresh one on before Akhil was up. She shouldn’t have slept on the divan. Last night wasn’t the night to be brave. It was the night to have just tolerated Akhil’s incessant snoring.
‘Didn’t Preeti just clean the living room yesterday?’ Ammu had just come out of her room, slowly dragging herself to the kitchen, placing her palms on the walls of the narrow corridor that connected her room to the common area. Shruti often wondered how Ammu managed to walk without any support, albeit shakily, to the kitchen and while in the living area, but needed to touch the walls as soon as they were there for her to be touched. Support…we get used to them when we can…
‘Bahu. I am asking something.’
‘Yes, Ammu.’ Shruti answered. ‘She had.’
‘Why is there a fresh sheet on today again then? This generation of yours like washing and changing things just because you can. Not caring about detergent. Not caring about any waste. Things fade too if you wash them too soon.’
How does Ammu get the time to concern herself with so much minutia? Shruti caught herself this time before getting lost in her thought lanes. She didn’t have the time. Akhil would be up any minute and would need his breakfast ready. She already late this morning and the cramps will slow her down further.
‘Didi, I washed the chaddar and divan covers.’ Preeti softly murmured. Shruti turned around and pressed her hand. There was no other way to express her gratitude to their day maid who understood more than her family. ‘Where did you hang them?’ She asked.
‘Over the bras. Solves two problems at once.’ Preeti smiled.
Ammu didn’t like undergarments hanging in the balcony to be uncovered. She needed a towel or a chaddar to cover them always. Women’s undergarments – bras and panties. Men’s briefs and such, no matter how stained, hole ridden or unsightly, could take the prime spot unquestioned. Shruti giggled back at Preeti. The prime spot. They shared this inside joke of how Ammu made sure Akhil’s briefs were hung on the very front rope to allow for maximum sun soaking.
‘Are they clean?’ Shruti asked. ‘The sheets?’
‘Daag? Thoda to rahega didi. But why do you care so much?’
Shruti stared at the petite structure who got grimed by life every day walk away, leaving her question behind. Why care so much?
The commotion was coming from downstairs. Shruti got up. She had been debating if she should go check or not, and it seemed like she would have to. If Ammu’s nap got disturbed, it will be end of peace for the rest of the day anyways.
‘’What happened?’ Preeti was standing outside their door. Shruti had opened the door to step out and had found her outside. It was her usual time of coming, so Shruti wouldn’t have been surprised, except for the big, dark bruise on Preeti’s cheek and her visibly fluid eyes.
‘Nothing didi. Let it go.’
‘Nahin, tell me. Was it Jas? Was that the commotion?’ Jas, Preeti’s estranged husband worked as the building doorman. Often drunk during the daytime, his scuffles, mostly verbal, with Preeti were quite a frequent matter. But it has been nothing like this before.
‘Yeah.’ Preeti walked past Shruti and into the kitchen.
‘But why? Kyun mara?’ Shruti asked as she got ice readied into a towel.
‘Bindi nahin pehenti na. I don’t wear anymore. Na hin the thread. He felt I am not wearing signs. Signs of being his. So jal raha hain uska.’ Preeti pressed the ice against her cheek and walked to the sink full of dishes.
‘Let it go.’ Shruti softly moved her, seating her instead on the kitchen. ‘No need today. Go home, get some rest.’
The evening tea wasn’t tasting as good today. Shruti had hoped it would help with the cramps and the slight headache. But no. Washing a sinkful of dishes would have made it worse, but Preeti hadn’t let her. She had done all of those herself, with ice pressed against her cheek with shoulders. Shruti had made tea, but Preeti had had to leave. She didn’t have time for tea, not even with a bruised cheek. Shruti watched her lean silhouette disappear into the lane, and then she saw Akhil arrive – parking his motorcycle. He had remembered. The newspaper wrapped parcel in his hand eased Shruti’s niggling worry.
‘Why can’t you get these yourself?’ She knew Akhil would ask. His embarrassment turning into anger. Slowly Shruti got up. The clothes needed to be put back in. She touched to check if all had dried, disappointed at the still wet undergarments. Expected. They took days to dry suffocating under towels and bedsheets.
Signs of being a woman we have to hide didi. But signs of belonging we should flaunt. Preeti’s words, the ones she had murmured rubbing her bruised cheek, seemed to be still lingering. Slowly, Shruti gathered the still stained chaddar, leaving the bras out in the open.
The moonlight balcony shined as Shruti turned her back to it, walking back inside to face Akhil and Ammu.
Image source: a still from the film Thappad
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Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her Rights (www.herrights.website). Contributor Huffington Post US, The Logical Indian. Poetry and fiction published in several US, UK and read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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