The Janitor

She stretched out her legs and leaned against the spotless white tiled wall. Below her, was the carefully laid duster she had used a moment ago to wipe the floor of the small but plush restroom in the unusually big building – a place that owed us the time to grumble about life, criticize other ladies in hushed tones, fixing hair and darkening the kajal, and of course abiding by nature’s calls.

She had carefully spread the damp cloth on the floor and had been sitting over it comfortably. She did that almost every day and I wondered how could someone sit on the dirty, damp piece of cloth that was used to clean the wash basin just minutes ago.

Her eyes were very small, almost as if they had no shape. I noticed the black stream of the eyeliner running smoothly over her upper eyelids hugging the incomplete lashes and the inner rim of her lower eyelids bearing the same dark colour. Her hair was neatly tied up in a bun, with two deliberate loose strands dangling from the sides.

It took me sometime to realize that I had been staring at her and to my surprise she was looking back at me too. I quickly turned the tap off, wiped the water off my hands and pulled out a tissue to dry them further. I again looked at her from the corner of my eye. She was still
looking at me.

“Beta, time kitna hua?”, she asked.

I turned out to look at her. “mmm…7:10”, I said feeling a bit uncomfortable.

“Saat baj gaye kya?”

“7 means saat, doesn’t she know”, I thought and then immediately apologized to
myself for my callousness.

“Haan, saat das”, I said.

“Ghar jaane ka time ho gaya aapka”, she said to me, now smiling. I noticed her lips. They were as thin as a leaf, painted judiciously with a purple lip colour. The contrast between the purple and her dark complexion looked very odd, yet she had the audacity to pull it off.

“Haan”, I tried to smile back. Then, not out of concern but to sound polite I asked, “aapki duty kab tak hai?” It was as if I had channelled out a scope for her to vent her mind out to me. She began telling me about her tedious 12 hour long shift, her animosity with the fellow housekeepers, her back ache that gets worse with walking to and fro from the office everyday because she cannot afford rickshaw fare, and her two children and one husband who obediently wait for her to get back home and cook for them.

I looked at my phone to see the time again – 7:17 pm. She had been rambling on for seven minutes and I was getting late for my cab. She was still talking when I tried to excuse myself. I mumbled out to tell her that the cab would leave me if I didn’t board it by 7:20 pm. She didn’t seem to listen.

I walked out of the washroom, closed the door. I opened the door again; she was still talking, this time, to herself.

Arunima Mazumdar