There were guests in my house today for my 60th birthday.
Regrettably, my maid, Shantabai, did not show up for work despite my repeated instructions to her yesterday about the presence of guests. She had nodded in agreement, leaving no room for doubt about her intentions to be absent.
This was an unusual occurrence as she never took holidays, and if she did, she would inform me beforehand.
Though I knew Shantabai would definitely turn up the next day as she was well aware that I had just recuperated from jaundice, sleep eluded me as I thought about the overflowing sink and the soiled kitchen. Eventually, exhaustion took over, and I fell asleep.
I was awakened by the doorbell and was delighted to see Shantabai early in the morning.
‘Where were you yesterday?’ I asked.
Holding her ears as a sign of apology she meticulously started the chores, her garrulousness being conspicuous by its absence.
A strange feeling started to creep into my mind. I tried engaging her in conversation, asking if she would come tomorrow at the same time.
She shook her head and greeted me with a formal namaste, as if expressing gratitude in a farewell manner.
I had known that the poor lady was a victim of physical abuse inflicted by her alcoholic husband. She used to keep some cash with me to pay for her son’s school fees, as her husband squandered her hard-earned money. I also provided financial support for her son’s education, and now he had finished twelfth grade and was working in a factory.
But why was she saying goodbye to me with namaste now? Losing my patience, I yelled at her, ‘Why can’t you speak?’
With her eyes filled with tears of gratitude, she gestured to me that she had lost her voice.
I stood dumbfounded as the doorbell rang.
Shantabai’s son was standing there with a sorrowful expression.
‘Madamji, my mother passed away yesterday morning. In a drunken state, my father came home and had an argument with her, which resulted in him slitting her throat. I was at the factory. The neighbours say that they initially heard her screams, but by the time they arrived, she was desperately throwing her arms in the air, blood spurting from her neck.
The young boy wiped his teary eyes.
‘Madamji, my mother had told me that you had guests coming yesterday and she would stay longer at your house, only returning after cleaning everything.’ The boy’s voice trailed off.
‘She always held a great admiration for you and the assistance you have provided. Aayee’s* spirit will undoubtedly be in turmoil as she left you in a vulnerable position during a time when you needed her the most. Please forgive her, as her actions were not intentional.’
I comforted him with a trembling hand and assured him, ‘Do not fret, your mother’s soul will find solace in peace.’
As I turned around, the sincere lady had already departed.