Sometimes, Indu woke up with the wrong clues. She knew then, the day would be a puzzle she could not solve. All she could do was wait for it to fall apart. She would continue to lie in bed, in despair, until her bowels forced her to move. Perhaps, tea, cereal and the morning papers would redeem the day, yet. But she knew that was not to be. She switched on the television, and numbed herself to the day’s screeching calls. Outside her window, the world was too far below to pull her. Inside, she did not switch off the answering machine that she switched on at night. Sarla was there to deal with the doorbell.
Sarla was used to Indu’s uselessness. Quietly, she entered the house, at a given time. Quietly, she went about her defined, determined tasks for the day. Her days did not change form and color like Indu’s did. For as long, as she could remember, her days had been relentless, gray sea. One day, when she had got married, a pink glow had hung over the day, and she had lifted her face with hope to look at it. But the glow had vanished in a few hours, when her husband’s alcoholic breath fell on her face. Then, when her sons were born, the days had turned red, but those too had soon congealed into black, as her sons went their own way. Many, many days had made Sarla as tiny and insignificant as a speck of sand. Every day, the sea brought in dirt to her, and every day, it washed her clean.
In the afternoon, Indu switched off the television, and moved from the settee in the living room, back to her bedroom. She drew the curtains, shut the door, switched on the fan and lay down in bed. Her skin was burning, itching; her legs shook in jerky spasms. Her body was heavy with unused energy. She switched on the air-conditioner, and covered herself with her soft blanket, hoping to calm herself down. But the thoughts within her, banged around like so many frightened bats. She lay inert.
When the bedroom door opened, Sarla quietly put the water to boil for the evening tea. She put a cup of tea before Indu, who was sitting on her armchair, looking around with stupefied eyes. “Where is Nayana?” she asked. It was the first sentence she had uttered in the day, and her voice grated on her own ears. Sarla said quietly, “She’s gone to Anu’s house to do her homework. She said she’d be back late.”
Indu wished now that Sarla would go home. Sarla had already cooked the evening meal for Indu and Nayana, and put it in casseroles. She was washing the cookers, now. Then, she would fold the washed clothes, and keep them away. Then, she would mop the kitchen, before leaving. Indu knew that Sarla would take another hour to finish here. After that, she would walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, walk to her home after the bus-ride, wash the lunch utensils at home, cook the evening meal for her husband and sons, wash the utensils again, watch her husband drink and hope that he would not get into a fight that day, wait for her sons to switch off the television, so that she could drop off to sleep. It would be midnight by the time she slept, and she would wake up again at 5 the next morning, to fill water, wash her family’s clothes, clean the house, prepare the lunch for her husband and son, and then leave for the bus stop to come to Indu’s house.
Indu felt tired just thinking of Sarla’s day. Her guilt at her own idleness erupted into irritation as she watched Sarla, bent over the kitchen floor. “Can’t you go home now? I want to be left alone.” Sarla did not answer, but finished mopping up quietly.
Indu switched on the television again, waiting for the day to end.