My world came crashing down. How could he say that? All of a sudden, everything seemed to lose meaning and the world seemed to halt – the birds stopped chattering, the dogs held their breath and even the whirring of the exhaust fan seemed to drown in my shock. What would I do? The insides were screaming but I had to be stoic and take it on the chin.
‘One month you say?’
‘Ji. I’ll be back same day next month.’
Liar! I knew he was lying and he knew that I knew. But we pretended otherwise, like always.
‘Hmm. Okay. Call once you have reached.’ I told him in the hope of getting my hands on his contact number once he was across the border.
He fervently nodded. He won’t call – I knew it and he did too. But hope is a strange being – keeps us fooled in the darkest of the hours. And it can’t get darker than this. Nevertheless, I continue to hope – hope that he calls, hope that he gets back in time or in fact gets back at all.
My mind flashes back to all those who have come and gone. There was a time when that door saw so many flit in and out that it became a blur. First came Beena – the pleasant girl, sporting a red bag that my friend and I actually contemplated running off with. She came in with perfectly pedicured feet and filed nails, making us hide ours. The clicking heels surveyed the house as we held our breath. Then an imperceptible nod and a slight smile nearly sent us into a victory dance. She would stay. The maid had arrived!
Then came the inevitable – marriage. I blessed her and bid her a teary goodbye. I looked back and saw the hallway scattered with toys, books, two dogs and two boys. My life was over. From the poised princess to the maniacal maid – all in a day’s work. Then followed a deluge of wannabes.
There was the Bangladeshi immigrant who insisted she was from Calcutta and knew cooking. The next few days were spent playing dumb charades. I’d come back from blistering sun after college, with a parched throat, and ask for water, and she’d rush back with a myriad of assorted stuff from around the house – and then I’d get the water myself. She was politely signalled to leave. A language school was something I couldn’t handle.
She was followed by the snooty one from Raipur who claimed to be the head chef at some mansion. I never asked her why she left as it became clear in a week’s time – she was not good at listening to instructions. She cooked as she pleased, and worked as she pleased, and we just sat huddled in a corner trying to comfort ourselves with the fact that at least she was there. Then, one day, I mustered up all the courage I had, and threw her out. She left in a huff, and I was back to scrubbing floors.
From agency maids to walk-in interviews, all were torturous – some lasted days and some months. We were nearing the shift and I was getting nervous. The apartment was still manageable but once we shifted to our house without the Help – that would be like living my worst nightmare where the demons never kill but just infect me with mortifying terror. I shuddered at the thought and then the call came.
‘There is a young man. But we will have to employ him right away.’
‘Now? So you want me to get him to Gurgaon?’
‘NO! Silly Girl! Are you that dumb?’ That was not a question. More of a statement by mum.
‘ But Ma, what will we do with him. I still have two months to shift.’
‘We will pay him and let him hang around my place till you come. If he comes to Gurgaon, someone else might lure him.’
We gasped in unison at the prospect. We knew that they lurked at every corner – the women out on a hunt. We keenly watched and zeroed in on the diligent ones, and then struck when the prey was left unguarded, luring with better pays and perks – an air-conditioned independent room, a set-top box connection, paid holiday and inclusion in family holidays – the list was endless. Some bit the bait and some just scurried away.
So it was decided. The security couldn’t be compromised and the Help would be kept in a safe haven away from the desperate hunters. The next two months crawled past and the day of move came. And there he was, our knight in shining armour. He could cook, clean, was nice to boys, and to top it all, loved our dogs. That was like a distant dream come true. I was the princess of my palace once again. Mornings were greeted with the perfect cup of tea and the pasta he made was better than the one you’d get at the best Italian joint. From dinner parties to late night snacks in the bed – all were served with ease and a smile.
And then my world came crashing down. His wife was expecting another baby and so he was required to go back to Nepal. I had to man up (or perhaps, woman up), take the blow and hope that he comes back in time. I know, I know. We are a spoilt lot – the quality of our lives is determined by the presence of a suitable help and his or her expertise at the job at hand. When they are around, everything makes sense – the work, the dogs, the kids. And the moment they leave, all falls apart – the work sucks, the dogs have to be walked forever, and kids are told to keep their whims to themselves. The big spacious house seems unnecessary, and socialising with friends a curse.
We envy the ones that have the perfect house help, and gloat when we see the ones that suck. From staff room at college to midnight phone calls, all conversations invariably zero down to the lack of good help. And if you do end up with one, you are reduced to a raw bundle of nerves – always plagued with the paranoia that someone will take him away.
It has been 40 days and we are still waiting with abated breath. There is a lurking ‘what if’ fear – what if he has found greener pastures, what if the baby is tugging at his sleeve urging him to stay, what if his passport came through, and he is finally going to Dubai – I shudder and push the dark thoughts aside. Pull yourself together, girl!
The call never came and neither has he. Every time the bell rings, the boys rush to the door, the dogs’ ears perk up, and even the man surfaces from behind the newspaper. Then we all sigh and get back to being lost at sea. The only person grinning right now is the part time help. She knows her presence here is dependent on his absence.
Don’t smirk yet. He’ll be here in two months – always is. And all you hunters out there, stay away – I can kill.