The hot sticky afternoon followed a still and stale morning. She stood under the showerhead hoping that water would wash away the layer of stubborn oiliness on her skin. She turned the faucet. Cool warm water fell on her so gently and harmlessly, she felt it dig deep into her skin finding its way to her blood and bones.
It caught her eyes, just like any beautiful piece of clothing would catch a typical girl’s eyes.
“Bhaiya! How much is this kurta for?” “Only 500 rupiya Madam! Badhiya cheez hai Madam, buy it! It’s the best.”
“Hai Allah! Is it stitched in gold? Tell me the right price”, she said sternly.
“Madam it is of excellent quality. Not expensive at all. Go elsewhere and see if you get it for anything less than 700 rupiya! I am giving it to you only for 500.”
“Rubbish! Tell me the right price quick. Don’t waste my time.”
“Look at the colours Madam, so wonderful!” And he spread the multi-coloured kurta on his shop rack. The kurta shone as sunlight fell on its bright and beautiful colours. Red, yellow, orange, green, beautifully woven into each other, it was indeed a very super piece, unique.
Her eyes lit up, and now she wanted it more than before. “I will give you no more than 300 rupiya for this one. It certainly is not worth 500.”
But Bhaiya had seen the gleam in Madam’s eyes as she had kept them set on the kurta. “Sorry Madam. I give the best quality. So no bargaining.” And he pointed at a careless piece of cardboard that hung from a nail and read – Fixed Price, No bargaining; in a lazy handwriting.
“Fine then, I don’t want it.” And Madam started leaving with a slow pace expecting Bhaiya to call her back and negotiate. But to her dismay, he did not. She walked ahead to keep her ego intact.
As she looked into the other shops, her mind kept going back to the kurta spread out on Bhaiya’s shop rack. ‘What if someone else buys it? I will probably never find a similar one again. And even if I do, what if it turns out to be costlier? Should I buy it? I cannot buy new sandals and a handbag if I buy that. I have only 500 rupees with me. I need a decent pair of sandals and handbag more than that kurta.’ She kept telling all this to herself.
She hurried back to Bhaiya’s shop and almost begged, “Please Bhaiya. At least 400.”
Bhaiya closed his eyes solemnly and said, “No Madam. Sorry.” And showed her the irritating cardboard piece again.
She made a sad ‘Tch’ sound and pulled out a crisp 500-rupee note from her weathered old handbag. She handed it to Bhaiya sadly who accepted it rather eagerly and put the kurta in a black polythene cover, handing it to Madam. She placed the cover in her handbag carefully and left as Bhaiya smiled rather oddly and nodded his unkempt head sideways. Madam had only her eyes open to the world and the rest of her was enclosed in a jet-black burqa.
She breathed in deep and smelled the cool wind that carried with it the humid stench of plastic that won’t decay, human faeces, open gutters and pig food. Men bathed themselves in the gutter water pool so that they would be clean. Women scrubbed their utensils in the same water with ash to remove dirty food stains. Tiny black children splashed in that water like it was a Jacuzzi retreat.
The tiny boy looked like a perfect lemon, yellow tee, yellow pants. The one year old who had never seen a lion in his life, when asked to roar like one, puckered his very small lips, widened his eyes and roared, as his whole body shook and shivered and fragile veins on his temples bulged out. He did not stop until someone got scared that he may hurt himself and asked him to mimic how his nana coughed. And he would go from the guttural ‘Roarrr!’ to a careless ‘Ahhu ahha!’