The servant’s entryRaju, hailing from the countryside, had no prior acquaintances in the city until he befriended a resourceful fruit vendor.
On the very first day, when Raju entered his mistress’s room with a glass of milk, he sensed that something was amiss with this city woman who had lost her husband a few months ago in a tragic road accident. Raju’s connection with a fruit vendor down the street had opened the door to this household job. Before this, he had never served as a servant. He was willing to undertake any job where he wouldn’t be subjected to harsh scolding. In the restaurant where he had previously toiled as a dishwasher, the owner had an uncanny knack for finding faults in his work. Sometimes, the owner would insist that the frying pan still had soap residue and send him back to rewash the dishes.
Raju was reprimanded for his slow pace, with the owner often remarking, “You’re such a slow worker!” What irked Raju the most was the owner’s reluctance to pay his salary on time. “The business is slow. You’ll have to wait another week,” was a common refrain. Frustrated with the owner’s ill-treatment, Raju searched for other job opportunities.
Raju, hailing from the countryside, had no acquaintances in the city until he befriended a resourceful fruit vendor who peddled an assortment of fruits in front of the Jaya Complex. The fruit vendor’s business wasn’t particularly lucrative, but the limited clientele he had displayed remarkable loyalty—a trait he cherished.
Among his regular customers was the Bastola family. However, following her husband’s demise, Rukmini seldom frequented the stall. The fruit vendor was well aware that her husband’s passing had adversely impacted his business. Her husband had been health-conscious, purchasing kilos of fruit to prepare juice in the morning. After his passing, Rukmini only visited the stall once or twice a week. Previously recognised as a devoutly religious woman, her transformation from devout to atheist was stark. The loss of her husband had utterly reshaped her life. The fruit vendor noticed her cheeks growing hollow and her skin taking on the pallor of a ripe pumpkin.
“Madam, you seem to be growing weaker. Are you not eating properly?” he inquired one evening. She didn’t appreciate the remark, but the truth was undeniable. Most mornings, she languished in bed, dreading the thought of preparing meals for herself. Typically, she would rouse herself around 9 am to cook a simple breakfast of noodles. The refrigerator exuded the foul odour of spoiled tomatoes and fruits, and clothing was strewn haphazardly about the floor.
House cleaning seemed superfluous to her. Her days were confined to her home, and during the day, she grappled with a profound loneliness. At 34, she was loath to be tethered to her residence. Making friends, going out with a partner, and engaging with children were the activities that people her age enjoyed, yet she found herself without suitable company. Had her late husband fathered children, their presence would have provided solace. Regrettably, he hadn’t been able to grant her that blessing, leaving her with cherished memories and substantial wealth sufficient to sustain her without doing any work.
Rukmini’s parents had passed away long before her marriage, and her husband’s siblings resided in another part of the city with their parents. They were all affluent, and they weren’t concerned with Rukmini’s decisions regarding the grand house and Abinash’s bequeathed properties. Following their son’s death, Abinash’s parents had visited Rukmini on only two occasions.
“Don’t worry, beta. Everything will be fine,” the mother had consoled her before departing. They felt sympathy for the young Rukmini, yet there was little they could do. Privately, the family harboured hopes that Rukmini would bear children, but the impediment lay with Abinash. Rukmini wasn’t infertile; it was her husband who was. On one occasion, Abinash’s mother had offered Rukmini the opportunity to live with them, but she had declined, reassuring them that she could manage on her own.
“Madam, your house is quite expansive. I suggest hiring some domestic help to manage it. They can cook for you and handle household chores,” the fruit vendor suggested during one of Rukmini’s visits to the fruit stall. With each visit, the vendor observed her deteriorating condition and felt sympathy for this wealthy woman whose life, in his estimation, seemed devoid of possibilities. Her collarbones jutted out, resembling protruding roots on a forest path. Rukmini didn’t entertain the vendor’s suggestions, but deep down, she understood that the vast house was unmanageable and would require regular tending. “It’s true that I’m struggling to maintain the house, but finding a trustworthy servant isn't easy these days.”
“That’s true, madam,” the vendor acknowledged with a smile, revealing yellowed gums. “If you come across someone trustworthy, let me know. I’ll consider hiring a servant. I would prefer someone who knows how to drive, as the car has been unused for quite some time, and I’m unable to drive,” Rukmini articulated her requirements.
The following day, the fruit vendor contacted Raju and inquired if he would be willing to work as a servant. “A servant? I’ve never worked as a servant before,” Raju responded.
“Only well-off families can afford servants, mister. You’d only have to wash a single dish, unlike at the restaurant where you currently labour,” the vendor chuckled in his customary manner. Raju wasn’t initially keen on this job, but he was open to anything that would spare him the drudgery of dishwashing at the restaurant, where the owner habitually withheld his salary.
For over a month, Raju attended a driving school to acquire driving skills. Within three months, he became qualified to drive on highways. A few weeks later, when Rukmini visited the fruit stall one evening, the fruit vendor broached the topic of hiring a servant. “Madam, he’s a good man from a distant village, and he also knows how to drive. He used to work as a waiter in a restaurant,” the vendor remarked as Rukmini said, “Send him to my house tomorrow.”
Raju was taken aback by the sheer size of the house when he arrived. The antique-style mansion covered an expanse of 80 metres, boasting a lush front garden and a rear yard for light exercises and yoga. In his village, houses were a fraction of this size. Rukmini, upon seeing Raju, was equally surprised. She had anticipated an elderly servant, but her assumptions were wrong. Raju’s jet-black hair was slicked back, and his well-defined jawline lent him a youthful air despite being well into his thirties.
Raju had also envisioned an elderly, frail woman as his mistress. Although 34 wasn’t old, Rukmini appeared drained of energy. Raju could discern fatigue in her eyes, isolation in her countenance and a yearning for care. Nevertheless, Raju had not come to rectify her life with love. He was merely a servant, and his duty was to perform his work diligently and earn his wages.
On the first day, after serving a glass of milk to Rukmini’s room and descending for some rest, Raju couldn’t help but recall how she had stared at the blank ceiling, seemingly lost in thought. He felt sympathy for her, understanding the irreplaceable loss she had suffered. On the other hand, after sipping the milk Raju had served, Rukmini felt a sense of lightness. She felt as though Raju was there to care for her, not just as a servant, but as a friend or perhaps something more.
It was only Raju’s first day, yet she already felt shielded in his presence. That night, she fell into a deep slumber, and upon waking in the morning, she reached a conclusion: she didn’t require a servant; she craved companionship from someone who would stand by her side through all of life’s challenges. Her house didn’t need a servant; it needed a man. And Rukmini’s heart whispered that this man was none other than Raju.
The previous day, she had no inkling that she would experience something like this. Life is unpredictable, and anything can happen at any time, she told herself. However, this newfound happiness was accompanied by fear. What if Raju didn’t find the work suitable and decided to leave the house? Something deep within her told her that she needed this man to stay with her. While he might see her as a mistress, for Rukmini, he was her sole companion, her saviour. The once-lonely Rukmini, suffocated by loneliness, now saw a river of possibilities flowing her way. She belonged to this stream and would follow wherever it led her.
Gautam is a writer from Pokhara.