By Neel Anil Panicker

‘Amma, I have brought some orange juice for you. You need to take your medicines too.’

Lekha Muthuswamy looked up from her bed at the maid and nodded her head.

It was the signal for the young girl at the door to come beside her.

She did as beckoned.

“How long have been with us, Ishwari?”

The question seem to have stumped the nineteen year old.

Unused to any such attention and small talk, Ishwari quietly extended her arm and handed over the glass of juice to her mistress who gulped it at one go along with the medicines__four multicoloured spherical tablets that she had been taking on the advice of her doctor since the evening her husband assaulted her.

The mere thought of the brutal attack left her to shuddering in fright. Involuntarily, her body shook and her heart beats rose. Her palm caressed the left jaw; it still hurt__her inner mouth. A teeth had broken, her upper lip needed a stitch.

Suddenly, realising the frailty of her sodden existence, she began to weep, a slow, tearless cry that further added years to her once charming face, now a painful criss-cross of lines, each hiding behind it layer within layer of tales of human atrocities, the latest being the heart wrenchingly horrific death of Anjali, the light of her life and her only child.

After a while, aware of the presence of another person in her bedroom, she lifted her face and looked over at the young girl.

Touching nineteen, with dimples on either cheeks, the almond shaped face atop which sat a head full of lustrously luxuriant hair was the epitome of beauty.

The simple patternless servant’s frock that she wore served only to accentuate her beauty.

How long, wondered Lekha, how far back in time, was it when this girl had first stepped into their household, first the Mudaliar household, her father’s house, and later, her husband’s, the Muthuswamy household?

Five years, ten, twelve? How many? No, she suddenly realised, it had been fifteen long years.

It was that long back in time when this young girl who stood so obediently by her side had come here.

The thought made her smile. She looked at the girl hard and long and suddenly all the pent up emotions that she had buried in her heart burst out__ the pain and the hurt, the loss of her only daughter, the tortures she had suffered over the years__ everything came out like one giant cascading falls, breaking through her reserves. Lekha found herself extending  her arms and hugging the servant girl, holding her tight to her bosom.

After what seemed like an eternity, she let go and looking into the eyes of the young maid said, “I fear that I may not live long. But before that I have something to tell you. Also, I want something of you. But first promise me you will do exactly what I say of you.”

Ishwari looked at her mistress, albeit slightly nonplussed, but then nodded her affirmation.



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