The Lady with the Broom

I see her everyday; well almost everyday. She comes to my room almost everyday; sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon when we (me and my room mate) would be lost in our own fantasy world. During such times, that one loud rough knock on the door and we would be assured that its the Sweeper Lady or the Akka (as everyone of her kind is popularly known here) on the other side of the door.

A couple of curses and either one of us will get up from our peaceful afternoon nap, open the door and tell her “Akka.!! No cleaning. Tomorrow come, Not today”. “Ma.! Madam Titta…” “Okay Akka give.; will sign the list”. Room no. 414 cleaned at 2 30pm.She would always try to tell something , but by then the door would have been slammed on her face.

It all began with a birthday party. A party, which suddenly went a bit high on the drinks , well enough for me to return back to my room and puke. Gosh, the stench that persisted even when the room was washed and mopped, was in one word un-bearable; not to count the hangover. Damn it.!! The first thing in the morning , am calling the sweeper lady and asking her to mop my room properly.

She came to the clean the room next day like always and this time I rather welcomed her. She cleaned the room, moving the chairs , arranging the stuffs stuff that was strewn around , clearing the mess , just like the way she would have done for her own room, much to my own dismay. I stood there captivated as I saw her cleaning every nook and corner of my room , arranging my books and stuffs things with care.

But, the smell still persisted. After she was done with her one round of dusting and mopping , she came up to me and asked in Tamil “Did you happen to puke yesterday?” All I had to say was a yes; and she went off , to return with a bigger mop , a bottle of phenyl etc. Another round of cleaning, dusting and mopping with increased gusto and then “Ma ! come inside. Is the smell gone? Should I mop one more time”?”

I was bewildered. She didn’t have to do all of this for me. I was not even going to pay her. Who was she? This woman , this ordinary woman , roaming around the hostel corridors with a broom in one of her hands , waking up people from their peaceful afternoon nap and cleaning their mess as if it was her OWN.

I talked with her that day for the first time, thanked her for cleaning up My Mess. She told me how her husband beat her up last night. She showed me her scar. All I could manage was a sad face and an equally pathetic advice to go see a doctor and get some medicine. I felt horrible for puking , for making her clean my mess, and for not being able to talk to her. I felt helpless for not knowing Tamil. I wanted to speak to her, wanted to comfort her.

She went. This time; the door wasn’t slammed on her face. I stood there at the door , seeing her go. She turned once and said something in Tamil; which meant something like “Ma.! you puked yesterday, you are not well. Go and take rest.” All I could manage was a mere “Thank you Akka”!!

If only she could have cleared the Mess out of her Life………

Somdatta Ray