Daily morning walk. Today let’s try the off path. I walked through a narrow lane that once may have been a village. Dogs and spirits stirred in the stillness. The day not yet here, night not yet done. You knew that hour is good to walk, not stand.
Shops on either side of the lane. Narrow lane, small shops and smaller apartments loaded atop them. Most of them shut; many of them may never open again. Such were the times.
That’s where I saw her.
From the first glance, she meant business. Her face washed, saree knotted, eyes engrossed — they kept to herself. And to her shop. The morning chill or whispers from the road had no effect on her. She was busy waking up her shop ‘Shyam Dairy Mart’.
There was a small tea stall opposite her shop. I decided to treat myself
Tea and she.
She and tea.
With precise eyes she took in her possessions. Candy-laden plastic jars, hanging snack garlands, and other bottled treats. Then her eyes swept through towards the deep freezers and the fridge. As a man next to me scratched his junk, she went to work on her shop.
Armed with cloth, broom and mop, she took care of them all — tiles, jars, glass and steel. She stopped and squirmed her nose. Something in the fridge didn’t agree with her. With the hands of a surgeon she reached within, pulled out the soda, frozen treats & cola. She wiped them clean, a mother towelling a stubborn child’s wet hair. Then she placed them back — cola, soda & frozen treats. Her fridge, her order.
I sipped the tea as she set her shop right. Men around me discussed a film song, she hummed nothing — yet she was on song.
She and her shop.
Her shop and she.
I decided to visit, buy something. I paid for the tea and strutted across. She looked at me through suspicious eyes, what does he want?
Me – A packet of curd.
She – The Packet ones or inhouse?
Me – How much for packet? How much for inhouse?
The packet was cheaper.
Me – Inhouse please, half a kilo.
A smile shaped on her lips. SUCKER.
She – Give me exact change.
She picked the vessel of loose curd from the deep freezer and took a giant spoon to scoop out the curd. She placed a plastic sheet on the digital weighing machine and scooped curd on it. 0.53 — just right. A tad more. She decided to let that be. She twirled the plastic with her coarse fingers to knot the pack.
Half a kilo curd packed and ready for me. She was the boss.
I looked away from her to retrieve money that I kept in my pouch. While I counted the change I felt a dark shadow loom across the shop; I continued counting. Then I looked up — a dark swathy man, sleep still curled in his eyes, looked at me expectantly to hand over the money. She was gone. Down a dark path that led into the shop.
I paid my dues and left with the curd. I left the man to his illusions that he owned the place, hoping that some day, I would meet the boss again.