SALESWOMAN


I can hear someone calling ‘madam’ again and again. Someone is calling from the road below; it sounds like a woman. I look through my first floor flat’s window that is open towards the road. Suddenly, I hear a curt and rude, ‘nahim chahiye, jaao,’ and the loud bang of a closing door from the flat below. As I wait at the window, she emerges. I can see her now; she is old and fat. She is carrying a big shabby bag on her left shoulder and a smaller bag gripped in her right hand. The bags look heavy and full; a look at her face tells me she wants to keep it down and rest. She is exhausted and definitely looks seventy. She may be only sixty or even less but I can tell she is lonely and desolate. The salwar-kameez she is wearing matches her weariness and desolation.

She looks to her right and start moving slowly towards the remaining flats on the left side of our building. She walks with a slight limp and sweats profusely. I turn my position at the window to watch her actions. She stops before the next flat and this time removes the bag from her shoulder and keeps it down. Then she starts calling, ‘madam.’ It is strange that she is not moving onto the verandah or using the calling bell to invite attention. I have a feeling that she is not used to this kind of life and the curt rejections and loud bangs of closing doors may have made her to stay on the road. It is almost noon and the heat inside my room tells me how hot it will be outside. Yet my mind refuse to accept her as a saleswoman despite the tell tale evidence of heavy bags and discomfort. Perhaps it is the refusal of my mind to accept an old woman like me doing the house to house sales carrying heavy bags, to survive.

This time she gets no response and stops calling. She looks at the long row of buildings on the opposite side and with a deep sigh, again picks up the bag and puts it back on her shoulder.

I think it is the melting heat that prevents the inmates of flats to venture outside and take a look at the items she is selling. She should have come in the evening when the heat is tolerable; perhaps she comes from a far of place, which do not allow her to stay till evening. She is also restricting her selling to the ground floor flats, obviously her limp and age does not permit her to climb the stairs of each building. I do not know what she is carrying in those bags; it can be anything cheap and ordinary that do not need glamour or big marketing strategies to sell.

She moves towards the lone Banyan tree in the playground by the side of the road and puts her bags down and squats under its shade. Slowly she opens the bag she gripped in her hand and takes out a packet and a bottle of water from it. She washes her hand and face and drinks water from the bottle. Then she opens the packet and starts eating immediately, without wasting any time. The way she is eating tells me she is famished. That has to be lunch… or perhaps her dinner too, or may be the only food she will have for the whole day.

I am thinking that she will rest for a while or take a nap under the tree. But after eating and washing her hands, she gets up and put her bag back on her shoulder and grips the other and crosses the playground towards the opposite side.

Slowly she starts limping out of my view, still stopping in front of all buildings and calling out ‘madam’. With all her adversities, she manages to sell some of her items. I am happy for her and keep watching till she moves completely out of my vision.

I hope she may be able to sell some more of whatever she is selling before she leaves for her home, wherever it is. She possibly does not have a place she calls her home. If she has one, she need not be suffering the loud and annoying bangs of closing doors.

I understand, every parent cannot be as lucky as I am. My son takes care of me and my daughter-in-law treats me as her own mother. Both my grandsons are studying in prestigious residential schools and visit us only during their vacation. Then there is the flat and the two cars and also our maidservant. Everything is so expensive now-a-days that they have decided not to keep the maidservant from next month onwards. That is not the only problem with the servants presently; my son and daughter in law tell me that servants are a great risk, for the elderly in particular. It is true; TV channels and newspapers are full of stories about the murders and robberies being committed by them.

“It is a long time since I have eaten food made by you, mom,” my son tells me. I am happy now that I can cook food for him again.

“You know how to use vacuum cleaner and washing machine. A little bit of movement will only help you function better physically,” My daughter-in-law always fills in what my son leaves blank.

They do not want any answer from me; after all they are doing everything for my own good. I have no problem and why should I have any problem? After my husband’s death they are looking after me. I might have given all the money I got after my husband’s death and also the flat to my son. But he is my only son and everything has to go to him, one day.

It is only recently my son has started forgetting to bring medicines for my asthma and I really do not blame him. I know he is very busy in office and he has every reason to forget the medicines. My daughter-in-law never fails to advise me not to take milk and fruits, which she says, are harmful for asthma. Her concern for me is genuine; she only wants my health to improve. She keeps the kitchen cabinets and fridge locked because she doesn’t trust our maidservant any more, but forgets to leave the keys with me at times. Now I do not try to remind them about my food or medicine as I used to do earlier; they both get easily annoyed. It has to be the tensions of their office they carry home that make them irritable.

I know that a little bit of moving around and regular fasting can do wonders to my health and make me fit again.

My thoughts move back to that saleswoman. It is so hard on her to be moving about in housing colonies carrying heavy bags laden with products to sell. Why should her children make her do this in her old age?

She is so unlucky… she is making my eyes moist.

Suddenly I start wondering, whether I can call out, ‘madam’ like she does. In the assured safety of my loneliness, I slowly start calling out ‘madam’. If I can also manage to climb steps ignoring the pain in my knee and learn to accept insults and loud bangs of closing doors…

I start dreaming.