• Under the Raintree Festival

'A Woman So Usual' by Bhumika Soni

It was the beginning of winters. The light morning sunlight was seeping in. I was standing at the bus stop waiting for the office bus. New city, new office, I was excited. I was gazing around to familiarize myself with the locality. My eyes got struck at the sight of a woman I saw across the road. It seems she was negotiating something with the daily wage workers gathered near a small shed in search of that day’s work. She looked one among them but differently. She was dark and slim and wore a bright colored sari, neatly draped around her, enough to attract attention amidst the plainly dressed workers. The workers were paying no heed to her words.


Even when dejected by the first few, she remained unfazed and confidently continued to convince others. They seem to look down upon her. Tired, she went to the small shop outlet nearby and sat on the bench outside it with legs folded.


Emptying a pouch of tobacco in her mouth, she started watching a Hindi movie playing on the shop owner’s small TV. As the days passed, I became familiar with the locality and more curious about her as this was her daily routine- rejected every day yet she was stubborn like a rock, refusing to move away from her stance.

One day, I grew out of patience and decided to check on the matter myself. I went to the shop as soon as she came there. I pretended to buy something from the shop in order to get some time to hear her talking with the shopkeeper.


“The business has gone down the hill. I don’t get a single worker. They are just unwilling to come with me. ”


I was confused and at the same time suspicious. I scolded myself for crossing the road for my stupid curiosity. Why does she want to carry out such a business in broad day light? Is it because the nights are shorter in the winters or some advance booking has started in this business too? What a shame!

***


It had been raining incessantly past few days. Rains in winters!! This city has everything so unusual from weather to people. Due to heavy flow of water in the nearby drain, a portion of boundary wall of my house fell. My husband called for some construction workers to repair it. As I got out to see the ongoing work, I was taken aback to see her the woman from across the road, in my premises.


“What is she doing here?” I asked my husband in an angry squeezed voice.


“Ohh.. She was the only contractor in the market at this time. She even agreed to do it for a lesser charge”, he said, a little puzzled at my question. “I was shocked to learn that she is always the last one to get work as no worker agrees to work under a lady though she has been in this business for past 20 years. It’s just that she also recently moved to this city, six months back, like us.”


I was numb. I went a little closer. She was giving out strict instructions to the workers, inspecting the work keenly, so of course adding to their fear and irritation. Her voice was husky and rough, strong enough to dominate men at work. She looked in her early forties. She was dark but not dull. She was sharp and quick.


I went inside to make some tea for everyone. That evening felt colder. I felt small. As one of the workers came to fetch tea in verandah, I saw her sitting on her haunches around the fire with two other men, all warming themselves against the chilling winter. She was holding a lit bidi between her two fingers. She was busy chatting in her usual confident, carefree tone.