From when I met her when I was ten, she has been thin as a rail and her skin, the color of chocolate milk that was set on the stove too long. The smallest blouses hang off her frame and her mouth has always been stained with the paan she is addicted to. Her crowning glory is a head full of hair that top models would gladly give an arm and a leg for – luscious waist-length locks, black as night and thick as friendship. She did nothing special to take care of that hair and always kept it tied in a giant bun at the back that was almost the size of her head. She has been the envy of many, I’m sure.
She came and went, taking off on days when we needed her most and without notice, and slacking off as they all seem to have a natural predilection to be. But after all this time, all these years of being the only person in the world apart from immediate family who can feed the dogs and cats unscathed, she has become part of the family. Her trespasses are forgiven readily by grandma and Mom, bonuses are generous, and treatment is nearing royal.
One day, they called her and told her the news: her husband had died in a terrible motor accident, paste under a bus. Normally, since this is cause for great grief, the family gave her ten days off. More if she wanted. But she donned widows’ whites with secret satisfaction and came back to work as soon as his body went off to the crematorium; no, she is not mean or evil, her husband just happens to be a typical abusive asshole who stole the money she kept for rice and oil and drunk it all away. Take that scene playing in your mind and multiply it by 365 days a year and maybe 25 years of marriage and you will see the terror of it all. Her smile was completely justified; this was the only release she could hope for from her lifetime sentence.
She is maybe fifty years old, has worked menial and construction jobs all her entire life, brought up two sons who are engineers, and also takes care of her stepson’s children and wife, and her own elder sister as well. She has a lot to be proud of but it has been a long, long time since I saw her smile, I wonder if she has forgotten the meaning of happiness. Or if it has been stomped and thrashed out of her.
And her still-beautiful, still-long, still-in-a-bun hair is prematurely woven with white, so much white.