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I.D. September 30, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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It was dry and dusty, but the compartment did not smell of summer.

On seat numbers seventy four and seventy five two bald men played cards. On the upper berths lay two young army recruits whispering into their phones. By the windows, in perfect symmetry, sat two women, face to face. They weren’t looking at each other; that would have been too familiar too soon. One attempted to dream about the passing countryside. The other read the slightly stale news of the day. Eventually, though, each began stealing frequent glances at the other, till conversation became inevitable.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“I see. I am coming from home.”

“Ah.”

“Strange, isn’t it? We are always either coming or going.”

“One can never be stationary.”

“Unless you’re very rich,” agreed the other.

“But even then.”

“They move their wealth around.”

“Or themselves, to commune with their riches.”

“New cars, houses, friends.”

“Investments, stocks, profits.”

“Not so still after all.”

“No, except for Collector Cama.”

“Collector Cama doesn’t count.”

“No.”

They paused to fish into their purses to pay for tea.

“So what do you do?”

“I work.”

“Me too! I repair computers.”

“I see.”

“I don’t dismantle and reassemble them…”

“No.”

“That is another department.”

“Yes.”

“I repair the damage people do to it. Reformatting crashed systems. Sometimes even deleting traces of, you know, porn sites visited.”

“That must be embarrassing.”

“Not really. It is they who are embarrassed. I don’t ask for it, but they always pay me extra for those jobs. Hush money, I call it.”

Both women giggled over their tea.

“Where do you work?”

“Oh, several places. Mostly peoples homes.”

“Oh, what do you do?”

“I just told you. I work in peoples homes. I cook, clean and garden. Sometimes I take care of children; it depends.”

“I don’t think I quite understand… What are you? I mean, what do you do?”

“I do domestic work. I am a domestic worker.”

The tea cup halted on its way to the other woman’s lips. The countryside crawled by in the pause that followed.

“You are a servant?”

“As much as you are.”

“I am not a servant!”

The domestic worker smiled.

There was no more tea left to drink, and no passing vendor to afford the opportunity to engage one’s hands and eyes.

The army recruits clicked off their phones as Vodafone went out of reach. The bald men were inspecting various parts of their anatomies. The women inspected the outdoors. Eventually the computer fixer glanced at the domestic worker.

“They let you go off?” she asked.

“Like an egg, you mean?” grinned the domestic worker.

“No. You know…take a holiday to go home.”

“Why, yes. It is in my contract.”

“You have a contract??”

“Yes. For two years. It contains my work profile, hours of duty, pay, leave, bonus. Medical benefit. Travel allowance.”

“You mean to say that your employers give you all that?!”

“Yes they do, but don’t get shocked; they are not so big on charity. It is a rule, where I work… All employers have to provide certain facilities and conditions of work.”

“Do they treat you well?”

“I don’t know; I never really pay much attention to them. I go in, do my job, and leave.”

“Do you like them?”

“Some are nice. We don’t socialise though.”

“No, ofcourse not. You come and go in different circles.”

The domestic worker nodded. “We come and go in different circles. The circles move too though. Sometimes, who knows, maybe they even intersect.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she smiled.

They sat back and watched the fields run past, sometimes green, sometimes fallow.

“Moonghphali!” announced the peanut seller. Following him was a woman with a clipboard and an identity card.

“Ticket, please.”

The army chaps took out theirs. The bald men produced theirs. The computer fixer and the domestic worker fished out e-tickets. The ticket collector ticked off names, and asked for IDs. Both women fished in their purses for pieces of identification and value for peanuts.

Cracking open shells, they lay back comfortably against the seats.

“That was my union ID card, if you’ve been wondering. It works for official purposes,” said the domestic worker.

“Oh,” said the computer fixer, only slightly embarrassed at having been caught out.

The journey was now quite a few hours old. It was time for dinner, and dinners are always terrible on trains. It is advisable to stick to light refreshments. Or fruits, maybe, if one were so inclined. The occupants of seat numbers seventy through seventy five were undecided about their meal. Finally, one bought a dinner (young army recruit; one veg. Biryani), two chose bread and omelette (one bald man and the computer fixer; fifteen rupees a plate). The remaining three decided to subsist on tea and sugar and trust the offerings at the next station (Junction: Vadodara). As the station approached, the domestic worker got up and stretched.

“One can’t ever be stationary,” she said.

“No,” agreed the computer fixer.

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Comments»

1. Jacky V. - October 3, 2009

No matter how busy I am, I always wind up getting caught up in your stories. I like the feel of this one. Very real. And touched on interesting ideas of prejudice too. Thanks for sharing.

2. sporadicblogger - October 3, 2009

Jacky V.- Thanks 🙂

I appreciate that fact that you take the time out to read and comment. It would be great if you could comment on the piece, leave any criticism that you feel fit. It would help my thought process 🙂


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