I cradled her in my arms as she slept. The tiniest of fingers wrapped around mine. I couldn’t sleep. What if I missed this tomorrow morning? And as she began to smile in her sleep, dark circles began to form around my eyes. A candle burnt on the table, threatening to end before its turn. Overworked candles. I always felt a little pity for them. Thankless jobs.
Can one daydream at night? I have often wondered. As a few familiar books began to collect mites on the shelf, I thought of our first day together. ‘Our’ day. It was special. There was no else after classes. We were watching the clouds shape-shift. “It is going to rain,” you had said. I didn’t have an umbrella, and hadn’t cared.
That was, what, 20 years ago?
Adhuna was sleeping on the floor. Her old bones would give up at night, as she would writhe in her sleep, often fighting bad dreams. I would watch her too. Why did she work here? I hardly paid her anything.
For three years, Adhuna took care of me, and now her. She came to me like a discarded orphan, well into her fifties, asking for a job. I needed someone to just be at home when I came back every evening.
For three years she worked without complaining. My little flat looked like a home within a week of her employment. After many years, I didn’t have to eat dinner silently.
Diva by day, broken by night – month after month, I had fought the craving to end it, the charade I was playing without a break. Adhuna would wash my clothes and iron them carefully. She would oil my hair once a week and shampoo it as I sat on a stool with water and tears pouring down my almost naked body.
Adhuna. Adhuna became Adhuna ma.
I had named her Adhuna as well; the original was not going to live for too long. I needed something to remember her by.
I had saved money for Adhuna; money I had sworn to never touch.
Six months before the little one came, Adhuna went to her village, to meet her brother and sister-in-law. I had handed over ten thousand rupees to her, money that I had saved for her, and told her to buy them something. She came back with the money, shoved them into my hands and never spoke of them again.
It was 4am. An unnatural force was dragging down my eyelids. I fell asleep.
When I woke, it was already 10am. Adhuna had cooked my breakfast, packed my lunch, fed the baby, bathed it and was sitting on the little balcony reading out the newspaper to a five-month old. I never asked where Adhuna learnt English. I felt she would be embarrassed if I did.
It was my tenth year at the newspaper. Things had changed. From a sensible set of pages, the paper had turned into something that fed the population only with what they wanted. There were no opinions, no stands taken anymore. My day began and ended exactly the same way – with a sigh.
The morning of my so-called ‘anniversary’ at the job, Adhuna brought out my favourite tunic. “Wear this today. You look very nice in it,” she laid it out on the bed. Lining my dark eyes with some kohl, I tied my hair back. I didn’t really know how I looked anymore. I had stopped looking years ago.
“Didi, I have cleaned the breast pump,” Adhuna said, handing over the silly contraption.
It was a long day at work. There was an office party at the Press Club that went on till 1am. After literally forcing a news editor to drop me back home, I walked up the stairs of the dilapidated building. A decade. I have seen other decades. A decade of marriage. A decade of romance. A decade of friendships. Nothing quite stays.
Even if you tie it to your soul with a magic link, things have a way of slipping out of your life. There is no ‘forever’.
A tall glass of cold water brought me back to my senses. Stop complaining, I said, you have more than what you deserve and much more than some others. Everything that functions in your life is a miracle.
Switching on the light in the bedroom, thanking that there was no power outage, I washed my face, my feet and changed clothes.
Where is he?
Does he know what day is today?
Is he thinking of me today? At least today?
An Ernest Hemingway lay next to me. I had read it five times already, and had started it all over again.
Tomorrow might be the same but it will be a different day.
“What do you think Adhuna? Will I get a raise this quarter?”
There was no answer. Even the baby didn’t stir. Even the lingering shadows of a dead adopted mother and a baby had disappeared.
Yes, tomorrow will be a different day. But it will be the same.