Unlike most others I had as house help before, Mrs M hardly takes leave. She is regular, punctual and extremely considerate of the ladies of houses she works in. She put in a little extra everywhere, which is probably why she is quite in demand.
But Mrs M would never receive any award for her dish-washing skills. In fact, I suspect that to an averagely intelligent microbe, a dish washed by her would seem as if it carried the neon legend: Come hither and multiply! And once she is done tidying up my minuscule kitchen, I can never find a thing I need. An errant dinner plate would have found its way beneath the stacked saucepans, the peeler might be buried under dinner plates and my best knife would be hidden just behind the water dispenser.
Mrs M figures prominently in my list of heroes nonetheless.
And that’s not least because unlike in dishwashing, she has perfected the time and motion equation. Mrs M would ring the bell at the dot of ten, and before giving us the time to reach the door to open it, she would open it using her own key, and then walk in, picking up things on her way. In less than fifteen minutes she would have redistributed the mountain of junk my house contains in such a way that nothing is visible to a passing visitor, other than a colourful, slightly shabby, sunlit house.
It’s also not because Mrs M reminds me of my late mother-in-law at times – particularly when it comes to keeping a watch on how I dress, her lips pursing in disapproval on days I tend to slum it out. “You go out like this, Madam? Not good. Another dress you wear.”
Nor is it because she regularly tells me that I have a ‘good heart’. True, flattery can get you everywhere with me, and she does go out of her way to do things beyond her call of duty or her hour that I pay for, for the sake of my heart’s goodness.
Nope. This is not about any of those. What makes her special is her own wonderful heart, which mine can never hope to match.
The other day, her usual cheerful countenance was troubled. I asked her if she was unwell, but she shook her head, obviously not in a mood to talk. I decided to let her be. Just before leaving, she came to me reluctantly and asked if I can manage without her help the next day as she wanted a day off. It was her husband’s first death anniversary and she wanted to do something in his memory.
When she came back a day later I asked her how it went, and she told me about how she celebrated his memory – by cooking lunch for a hundred people, packing it into separate boxes and taking them to a labour camp, where she distributed the boxes to a hundred hungry, homesick workers.
“No enough!’ she told me ruefully. “Many people, Madam, workers. All hungry. Hundred boxes no enough!” I could only stare at her.
When I fell sick, she consoled me. “I give one carton of water at Masjid on Friday – small bottles you know like Masafi like that… Hot Madam, all want water. Next Friday giving water, I pray for you. Don’t worry, your heart good. You ok soon.”
How does one respond to that?
If there’s one thing I have been consistently blessed with in my otherwise unremarkable existence, it is this: all through my life, at every turn, someone special has walked into it, someone who leaves their indelible mark, allowing me to be a slightly better person (I hope) than I had been before they came.
Of course I get my share of riffraff too – quite a lot, actually. But then that’s inevitable, I suppose, when you leave the doors open and the heartstrings hanging loose. There will certainly be those who ring the bell and run off and hide. There will also be those who walk in and vandalise… Only to be expected.
And they certainly do their bit of damage to the fragile eco-system in my head…no doubt there. But not enough to make me shut those doors…or tie up those heartstrings. For I know there will be others. Visitors of a different kind. Like Mrs M.
Those random visitors who come bearing the gift of magi, though they don’t know it. Some come, conquer and leave. Some others are like the travellers of a hop-on-hop-off bus – they walk in casually and leave just as casually. And then there are others – those that stay on forever, in a cozy symbiotic relationship, for as long as it takes – months, years, decades, lifetimes… The kind that keeps me alive and smiling.
I don’t know yet where to slot Mrs M, but it doesn’t matter. She has made me richer by her presence. Richer and humbler.