Flash Fiction - Two Stories: Snigdha Agrawal

Snigdha Agrawal
COINCIDENCE?

Year 1988.  Autorickshaws were queued up outside the gates of the Jaipuria Guest House.  “How much for a return fare to Vindhyavashini temple?” the better half asked, ready to go through the negotiation process.  “Arre Saab, anything you give is good enough.  I will be doing good karma by taking you to the abode of the Goddess, who killed the demon Mahishasura”, Rahim answered, going on to add the history, geography, and details of the famous pilgrimage site, leaving no room for any bargaining.  

Five of us, two kids and three adults piled into his three-wheeler. A breakfast of hot milk served in mud cups with jalebis straight off the wok, provided the necessary adrenaline rush to brave the bumpety bump uphill ride. Rahim kept pointing out the places of interest en route.  Reaching the base of the hill, he advised taking the circuitous route over the short steep climb. “You will notice the much-trodden path, over the lesser one by the flattened grass cover.  I will be waiting right here” he concluded, busy arranging his prayer mat on the grass cover.

Darshan over, we once again squeezed into Rahim’s vehicle, parked on a downhill slope facing an open culvert.  A fattened rooster with long feathers, and a fleshy red comb, lobed wattles hanging below the bill, was watching us with keen interest. Letting out screeches occasionally, much to the kid’s amusement.  Rahim tried to shoo away the bird waving his prayer mat, with little success.  Stubbornly he maintained his ground, to establish his dominance. As a last resort, Rahim picked up the feathered bird and threw him into the cemented ditch, running back to his seat to start the engine and reverse.  Then the unexpected happened.  Instead of reversing, we started rolling downhill.  The older kid, sitting next to Rahim, had the presence of mind to jump out just in time before the vehicle reached the edge of the ditch.  Rahim kept yelling at us to jump out, a nearly impossible task with four of us packed in the back seat, stuck to each other.  

Mr. Cock-a-doodle-doo had perhaps sensed the imminent danger.  His continuous screeching alerted a few other rickshaw drivers who came in time to pull back the vehicle from landing into the ditch belly up. What would have happened to the rest of us is left to the imagination.  Reliving those moments sends a chill up my spine.  Did the annoying bird have a premonition of what was to come?  Was a good soul housed in his heart?  Was he telling us of the impending disaster?   These questions remained unanswered.  

And it didn’t end there.  As we drove back to Varanasi in a four-wheeler, through the narrow streets of Mirzapur, at snail’s speed, a big thud woke us up from a tired induced sleep.  OMG! There he was on the windshield, beady eyes and ruffled feathers as if cautioning us again.  Shocked out of his wits the driver had applied the brakes just in time to avert running over a dog that had darted across the road and would have gone under the wheels if it was not for the timely intervention of the rooster following us on our trip.  The consequences of which would have been scarier…an enraged crowd…stone pelting…demanding bribes… whatnot??   

Wasn’t it a strange coincidence?  Twice warned by a protective rooster!
***


2. FINGER OF SUSPICION

That day when I opened the door, she looked grim, and made no eye contact, unlike other days.  In all five years of her employment as a domestic helper, I found this strange. She always had a smile on her face. I let it pass as one of those days when women her age suffer from mood swings.  Hormonal changes taking over.  Sanitizing her hands, she proceeded to the kitchen to wash the dirty utensils piled up in the sink, following her usual routine of first finishing off the kitchen chores and then taking the tea break.  Though this break was not a part of the terms of employment, my inner voice demanded I extend kindness to her by way of offering her a cup of warm tea and a jam sandwich which she relished and perhaps needed to boost her energy levels.  After being on her feet for the whole day, working in five homes, mine being the last, I felt she needed this break and the extra calories.  
Being a two-member household, the workload was considerably less in mine as compared to other homes with three generations living together.  Perhaps why she preferred my home as the last slot in her work schedule.  Rarely did I have to pull her up for unsatisfactory work or interfere when she was around. Being methodical she had her rhythm of completing tasks, requiring no supervision.  
I was debating whether to ask or not if all was right with her, concerned by her indifference and the look of sadness on her face.  Curiosity got the better of me.  “Is everything okay at home Saraswati?” I asked when she was about to leave. I saw the tears gathering at the end of her eyelids.  “What to say Ma…I have been working in this apartment complex for the last five years.  Today one of the household ladies accused me of robbing her gold earrings and demanded I return them or face a police case”, she poured out sobbingly. “In all my years of working as a domestic helper, I have never been accused of stealing. I work hard to earn a living and it’s enough for my family’s survival.   I offered to search for the missing earrings.  Ma…it was found in her medicine chest over the bathroom sink.  In the meantime, she had already posted the theft in the community forum and never bothered to remove the post after the earrings were found.  Why are the poor people always under suspicion?  That is what is hurting the most.”
All I could do was comfort Saraswati and assure her of taking up the matter to clear her name.  I checked on the Adda app and true enough found the post.  In her defence I counter-posted that Saraswati had been with me for four years and had never stolen a safety pin, requesting the complainant to withdraw the post immediately.  Thankfully, better sense prevailed and the post was withdrawn.

So often the finger of suspicion is pointed at society’s marginalized people by the privileged ones, just because they cannot talk back for fear of losing their jobs.  

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