Munni stood behind the door, peeking through the crack she had discovered three days after her first day of joining. The girl’s mother had barely waited for her to turn eight before exerting her right as a parent to reap the benefits of having an able daughter, who could contribute to a growing family’s meagre earnings.
Munni was the second child and the seventh was to be born in September.
It was dinner time and the Sharmas, a family of four, had settled down at the dining table. The sahib and memsahib at opposite ends and their two daughters adjacent to each of them. Munni was no longer a novice. She had quickly learned the art of cooking and cleaning at the first household she had worked in.
One year to be exact.
The occasional beatings had been a harsh incentive, but then there was no honest labor without hardship.
It had been only two months since Munni had begun working for the Sharmas. They were a quiet family with simple tastes and a no-nonsense attitude. The memsahib had made it clear to Munni that she would not tolerate lying, stealing, or childish excuses.
But the girl already knew her childhood was over.
The crack was just the right size and with one focused eye, Munni stared at the chewing faces. The sahib used a spoon, knife, and fork, though his fingers would have been a finer option. In this respect, the memsahib was smarter, and her pretty hands danced around, tearing, picking, and swooping.
The daughters, six and four, looked at each other more than their filled-up plates. Giggling and whispering and giggling some more. Memsahib would then interrupt her meal to hand them bites from their individual plates. Sahib would always make his usual remark.
‘You’re too old for your mother to be feeding you.’
Then silence again. Twenty minutes later the meal was over. Munni stepped back from the crack waiting to be called. Her name still sounded unfamiliar on the tips of new tongues, but there was more to life than familiarity.
Munni cleared the table, removing the dirty dishes, dumping the leftovers into her own plate. It was plastic, chipped and scratched. But the food tasted as good as it could, and she shoveled it down. Her tears adding a salty flavor.
The girl longed for company. However, starving stomachs were often denied fancy liberties.
Swami Achoo will either curse or bless you. People wait for hours to be showered with his holy spray.