A crushed rose
She sat on the steps outside the kitchen door, stroking the stalk of a beautiful rose that she had plucked from the garden earlier that morning, with a faint smile playing across her lips. From here, Kola could gaze out over the gardens that fronted the houses with low walls separating them from one another. She sat there, mesmerised by the surrounding beauty and devouring the sights of the big houses in the neighbourhood, one of many luxuries which she had never had to herself.
Kola had started working as a house cleaner at a very young age, following in the footsteps of her mother who, in turn, had taken the skills from her own mother. She had turned 17 the day before, a conclusion drawn after much speculation by her mother who had only but a vague reminder of her birthday. So, early that morning, her mother had given her a small kiss on the forehead before rushing out the door.
Kola had once accompanied her mother to Mrs Salima’s house, one of the houses where her mother worked, where she was yet to be employed on her own. She was barely seven then and had spent the day sitting in the corner of the big living room while Mrs Salima’s kids gave her curious looks. The disdain behind those furtive glances hadn’t skipped Kola even back then.
Now as she sat on the steps, she almost missed Bibi Bilkees’ shout, summoning her for her usual afternoon neck massage. Dropping the rose on the steps, Kola rushed into the room fearing she might get chastised for being an absent-minded fool but the lady kept her cool. After she was done with the neck massage, Kola went to look after Bibi Bilkees’ little girl, Biya. She was curled up in her crib and looked so peaceful that Kola wanted to kiss her cheek but refrained from doing so because she could envision Bibi Bilkees frowning at her as she had done once before. The unspoken words were etched on her face unmistakably; that she didn’t want her daughter to catch germs from a maid.
She went to the kitchen to prepare the usual afternoon meal and soon set about serving it to Bibi Bilkees and Sahib Kalaam, who had just come back from his job. Kola then went to Biya’s room and fed her some loaves of bread and a glass of milk, which she gulped down merrily. Finally, after dumping the dishes into the dishwasher and making sure Bibi Bilkees or Sahib Kalaam did not need anything else, Kola sat down and ate her meal in the steel bowl which she kept in the corner of the bottom cabinet, away from the glass crockery used by the family members.
After she was done eating, Kola began dish-washing, her last chore of the day – unless something else came up at the last minute. After several moments, she could hear Bibi Bilkees shouting in the living room about something she couldn’t find. A few seconds later, Bibi Bilkees burst into the kitchen and as her eyes met Kola, she halted in her tracks. There was an air of suspicion around her as was evident by the way she cocked her eye and deepened her frown.
“Have you seen my gold earrings?”
“Have you stolen my gold earrings?” is what she actually meant to ask, thought Kola. But she politely shook her head instead.
“No, Bibi Bilkees, I’ve not seen any earrings.”
Bibi Bilkees thinned her lips as if she was trying hard to pull back the words she wanted to spill. But instead, she gave a small nod before going out. Kola stood at the sink paralysed. She had no idea how much time had passed when she heard Bibi Bilkees’ footsteps again. She ducked her head around the kitchen door and said,
“Kola, finish this task and then you can leave since I can’t think of anything else for you to do. Oh, and yes, I found the earrings. They were on my bedside table.”
With that she turned away, leaving Kola still clutching onto the same glass she had for the past ten minutes.
Kola finished washing the dishes and knowing that it was time to call it a day, she went to gather her little purse from where she had placed it that morning. It was time to get back to the world where there were people who belonged to her class, where she would not have to live under the constant fear of suspicion and discrimination.
Unbeknownst to her, a lone tear rolled down her cheek and, as she stepped out the back door, Kola didn’t realise her foot crushed something. She looked beneath it and saw the beautiful rose, lying there as discarded and shattered as a dream made of glass.
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