She looked like she had seen better days. But in a new country and with language barriers, she wasn't left with many options. She didn't speak any Hindi, and she needed the money to help raise her kids. Someone from her neighborhood cleaned my house every day. She asked me if she needed someone to cook for her. I ate most of my meals outside or at the office canteen, and didn't need any more domestic help, but she looked like she could use some help, at least, until she found some footing. Reluctantly, I asked her to start the next day.
What she lacked in culinary skills, she made up in enthusiasm. She made sure that she came early at the break of dawn and cooked whatever she could before I went to work. Once I was late, and she insisted I don't skip breakfast. I asked her to feed me while I got dressed, She started to weep.
I asked her what was the matter, and she said: আমারে ঘিন্না করে না ? (Don't I disgust you?)
The question took me by surprise. Why would I be disgusted? She was tidier than some of my co-workers. Her saree might not have been expensive, but it was always clean. If anything, I feared that she might think I am a spoilt brat, too lazy to grab a bite before I started the day.
Soon, she picked a few words in Hindi, enough to have a functional conversation. That got her more work. But she always found time for me. I often got late at work, so I gave her a spare key to my house. She was trustworthy. The only thing she ever misplaced was my passport before my TOEFL exams. I had to reschedule. Otherwise, she had been most helpful during my last few months in India.
During my long hours of Full Length Test (FLT) practice, she slinked in and out of the house, reminding her daughters who sometimes accompanied her: দিদি পড়াশুনা করে, ডিসটার্ব করবা না। (Didi is studying. Don't disturb.)
I was practicing to sit for 4 hours more than anything else. GMAT, like any other professional exam, was an endurance test.
One day, she told me,' দিদি আমি একটা বাড়িতে কাজ করি। অনেক গুলা ছেলে এক সঙ্গে থাকে। এর মধ্যে একজন কইসে আমার বড় মেয়েরে বিয়া করব। ওরে সিনেমা দেখাইতে চায়। (Didi, I work in a house where a lot of young guys live together. One of them said that he wants to marry my eldest. He even wants to take her out to the movies.)
I stopped breathing for a second. What if a scoundrel was trying to exploit these good people? Then I admonished myself. Maybe someone had good intentions. Her eldest daughter was exceptionally beautiful. Maybe someone had fallen in love with her. I expressed my pleasure and smiled benignly. Hoping to God that her dreams came true.
A few weeks later, I came home to see her daughter sitting in the dark. I switched on the lights and asked where her mother was. She said that her mother was running a fever, and so she was doing the rounds instead. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying.
I asked her what happened, but she kept crying on. I held her to my bosom. I think I knew why.