I remember buying a pair of pretty pink shoes for her from lifestyles, for her first birthday. Soon after that my daughter was born, and we moved away.
We moved back into this town recently, and after settling down, just a house away from our old bungalow, I decided to hunt my old maid out and employ her again, vouching for her obedience and gentleness. It was sardonically pointed out to me that Asmaan might not be the same person three years down the line; poverty gets to everyone in the end. I might be in for a nasty surprise.
Well, I was nastily surprised. Asmaan now lives in the white-washed line of servants’ quarters behind our neat row of gardened bungalows. She has had two more babies, in the two years, all girls. My new maid tells me it’s the quest for a son. There’s certain hardness about the gentle Asmaan I remember. Maybe it’s her hair. They seem pulled back and tied too tightly. Every now and then I hear a cacophony of kids and her harsh voice, followed by trademark snippets of slapping and lashing. Noorie is being beaten black and blue for mischievousness.
Noorie……sigh. Noorie does not go to school. She is no longer a prim loved only child who had only buffalo milk.. There are more mouths to feed below her. A bevy of them, another on the way. Thin as a reed, chapped cheeks, unslippered feet scurrying about, soiled clothes (not enough of them, though) I see her playing over her once-doting father’s rickshaw. Her hair is that characteristic color poor children have. An unkempt light brown. One of her jobs is to care for her youngest sibling when mummy’s gone for work. She beats up her young sisters every chance she gets. Maybe there’s an unsaid complaint in her heart. Maybe she subconsciously remembers those long gone hours when her mother cooed softly into her tiny ears. Soft loving words, a warm lap snatched away from her only too soon. Maybe she knows she has seen better days.
Sometimes my girl goes back there and bullies Noorie. My three year old is treated with great reverence out there in the back…..where our kitchen garden ends and the servant’s squalor begins. Even at this oblivious age, my baby somehow understands she’s supposedly superior to that dark dirty bunch there. How? I watch from my bedroom window. How? I want to know. Aren’t children the same? Gifts of joy from God?
Last week I gave Asmaan some sweaters for Noorie. I have yet to see Noorie wearing them. I wonder what Asmaan has done with them. Sold them perhaps?