…I wanna introduce yeez to a dear friend, Rohini Sunderam, one of the mainsprings of the Bahrain Writers Circle… diminutive in physical presence, p’raps, but a titan-ess in every other respect… her poetry, her prose, and her indefatigable ‘can do’ spirit in all things pertaining to this island’s scribblers’ group… m’Lady Rohini administrates not only the prose group, but also the Poetry Circle, and is a keystone in its annual Colours of Life Poetry Festival… her pawky, tongue-in-cheek anthology, CORPOETRY is a clever collection of gentle jibes at office life, politics, humour, conspiracies… go treat yerselves and grab a copy:
…not content with tripping out rhyming gems, the lure of prose is not far behind… Rohini offered me a piece of her writing, with the throwaway line, ‘p’raps yer Blog followers might like a wee shuftie at that’… or a more Anglicised version of that sentence… here it is… enjoy…
Ameeta awakes. It’s not the call to Morning Prayer that has woken her, nor her alarm. It is the shifting of the light, a change in the temperature that tells her it’s time to head out to her first job of the day as a housemaid in Hoora, Bahrain. She stretches. There is a reluctance in her muscles that refuses to wake up and then there is the nagging need to use the toilet and have a shower before her roommates Shanta and Anita wake up to start their usual squabble over the bathroom.
She rolls over once more, luxuriating in the warmth of her blanket, then with a forceful movement she is up. She hurries on tiptoe, her thin towel in her hand, to the bathroom that she shares in this one-room place with her two young friends. They’re all from Sri Lanka and they’re all freelance housemaids; Ameeta is the eldest. She’s been in Bahrain for twenty-two years; and every year for the last five years she’s wondered whether she should make this her last year and finally go home to the rest she so richly deserves. But there’s always that one more request from her family – her children: a computer please, Ma; some more stock, her husband demanded – the drunken sot who’s done nothing more than lurch his way to the so-called shop he had set up the year Ameeta first came to Bahrain, all those years ago in 1985. Today, in 2007 that day seemed like a lifetime away for her. It was a lifetime away.
How young she had been, how pretty and yet how desperate and afraid. Her second child, a son, was barely six months old when her husband, Ramu, lost his job at the factory near the outskirts of Colombo. Five days he’d gone to the day-labour pick up stop and five days he’d come back, his silent, saddened, dark face mute as he shook his head indicating that once again he had in his hands a pittance, the money was barely enough to buy milk and rice for the family.
Suneeta, her daughter, had just turned two years old and her hair had begun to look matted like a beggar’s child. That’s when Ameeta had known that she’d have to go out to work and do whatever she could to earn a few rupees to supplement the family income or else her children would, sure as the dust on her husband’s face, end up as beggars. Her heart broke at the thought. A sharp vision of them as they rushed from car to car, or clambered aboard buses headed for the capital trying to coax a few cents out of people already so careworn that even if they did throw a couple of cents at the children it would be with such pity and disgust that they would never be able to climb out of that degradation of spirit. The thought that her children might face that just for their very existence burst the dams behind her eyes. She let herself go, threw her hands up to her cheeks with a lost desperation that sprang from being utterly at the end of her hope, and wept.
The next morning, she blinked back her tears and silently cursed the fact that she hadn’t completed more than class nine at the government school. She wrapped her son in her cotton sari and with him still silent and clinging to her breast, she took a few cents that she’d saved from Ramu’s housekeeping money and hidden from his prying eyes under her mattress. She fortified herself with a strong cup of coffee and a good spoon of sugar before she headed out to the nearby bus stop to go to Colombo to get a job as a housemaid in the city.
“My sister will help me,” she said to herself, “she will, she’s been telling me this for the last three years, ever since I married Ramu and moved close to Colombo. The money for a housemaid is good maybe Rs.200, even.” And with this mantra reverberating in her head and heart she sat, wordless and grim, throughout the one-hour bus ride to Colombo. She looked out of the window and watched as the lush green trees and paddy fields disappeared the closer they got to the city.
That was the last time Ameeta remembered being hopeful. Her sister in the city wasn’t able to help her, instead she’d put her on to an agent to get a job in the Middle East. “You will make more money there,” the agent told her, “so much that in no time you will build your own house.”
What he hadn’t mentioned was that by the time she’d paid off the loan for the agent’s fees in Colombo, and paid the Bahrain-based agent – another three hundred dinars, and the airline ticket, the passport, it would be many years before she started to actually make any money. Today, almost twenty-two years to the day, she was almost there. The money for the land had been collecting slowly and surely in her bank in Colombo. Her children, now twenty and twenty two, had found a piece of land a little further out from Colombo than where she’d started this journey. A few months more and she’d be able to get her hands on that paper. The land had mango, coconut and papaya trees. The sea wasn’t far from it. There was even a small hut on the land. Two, at the most three more years of working and she’d be able to build a house there. At last that dream was coming true.
With this thought and a new sensation of the hope that had come to Ameeta twenty-two years later, she rushed to the bathroom and smiled quietly to herself. For the first time in all these years this was the closest she’d come to being happy.
…thanks for this, m’Lady, Rohini… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!…
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