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Reshma Baliga

"Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, we want our tea-ee!" the sing song chorus of the girls made Maggie smile as she pushed the 10 gallon urn of hot tea towards the kitchen door. "See, there they are", she told Sunita as she stood silently by, "God have mercy if you are even 5 minutes late…. I 'll get the tea out and you bring tray of buns, Arrey baba, stop yelling, you are going to make the new girl think you are all bhootnis and she will run back home".

"New girl? Oh hi, I’m Naina, and these are Renu, Celine, Angie and Deepa."

"Sunita" Naina suddenly felt a pang of pity for this pale scrawny girl, looking especially fragile surrounded by the sturdy beaming Maggie and the laughing fifth floor gang as she called her own group. Putting the tray down on the counter, Sunita immediately moved back almost hiding against the half open kitchen door. Taking pity on her obvious discomfort the girls turned their curiosity onto Maggie.

"So Mags all your complaining finally had effect huh? Sister Carmen finally got you a helper, Wait a min, Mags your blushing! What’s up? Come on tell us! Oh my god, Mags tongue-tied! Never thought I’d see the day! Must be a big dark secret huh? Come on Mags give it up!"

"Well, you know Francis…"before Maggie could complete her sentence the girls were all squealing in excitement. "Oh my god! He asked you? He did! Mags how could you keep it so quite! Oohh when are you getting married? Are you going to Dubai with him?"

"Oh quite! Saiba! How much noise you are making! Yes we are getting married. No I’m going to go live in his village look after his mother. She’s very old, and his sister just got married. That’s why I went there last week to meet her. I think Sister figured it out when I asked her for the day off. Anyways, today she brought Sunita here. Naina, she’s from near Mangalore too, your gaonchi. You can talk your oondo goondo language together. Arrey baas, Angie! I’m too old for all that! If I was young all that dress-wess nonsense would be ok, at my age a simple sari is enough.. Now go drink your tea before it gets cold!"

Back in the kitchen Maggie continued chatting to Sunita as she started on dinner preparations. "This is a good time for you to learn, only the 5-6 out of state girls, studying for exams, everyone else gone home for Christmas. By the time they come back in a month you will be ready. Then the daily bai Rosita will also come to help you. Anyways, every morning Sister Carmen has the exact menu and recipes. You just have to do what she says. And it is all simple stuff, just fish curry, one vegetable, rice. Same things like home food. Just for 70 people instead of 7. You just have to get used to it. And I will be here for another few weeks. Here, chop up these potatoes, small, like this, I will do the eggplant. Jesu! How much those girls were talking! Imagine those chits teasing a woman my age. But cant mind them, they are talk too much, but they are good at heart. Everyone here is. Sister Carmen can be a little .. strict, but sister Janice is very sweet, she helped so much when I came here. She started my bank account for me you know, God bless her. One thing about the nuns, they do what they say. Sister Janice said that she would make sure saved enough to make a life of my own, and so I have. They will look after you too. Don’t worry you will be fine" Even as she said it though, Maggie wondered, had she ever been so young, so small, and so fragile! " Oh, you are actually lucky you are starting here, not like where I started! Horrible horrible people. But what did I know? The memsahib came to the orphanage, seemed fine, all nicely dressed, talking about working in foreign… Jesu, day and night they made me work, cooking cleaning, taking care of the baby …and that memsahibs brother…."Suddenly horror and shame crept across Maggie’s broad honest face.

"Saiba, Sister Carmen is right, so old still no control over my tongue! Just wanted to say that this place is very good compared to where you could end up. I was lucky, I escaped. You are luckier, you came here directly. You will have to work hard, but you get as much food as you want. You have to sleep in the kitchen, but its warmer there anyways. And the sisters will protect you. Not like… other places. Do what I did, get a bank account and get the sisters to put your salary directly in there. No temptation to spend then on stupid things like films and all. Better to save. Only place I went to was church and the St. Xavier Feast. And that’s where I met him you know, at the feast. Then he started talking to me after church. And he came here and talked to sister Janice before he asked me out! And sister Janice, she checked about him and his family for me before she said ok. Sister Carmen thought it was improper, but Sister Janice gave her whatnot. We have taken the celibacy vow, not Maggie, she can live her life the way she wants! Besides I know she is a good Catholic and she will not do anything to disgrace us. Oh she has a voice when she wants that one, bless her! But after that, I was so scared of dishonoring her, I insisted that for a month we only meet in the kitchen garden in full view of the convent! Poor man, was so sweet. And his mother had the guts to call me a hussy! Me, when I wouldn’t even sit on the same bench as Francis for months! That Francis’s mother, you know she just didn’t want him to marry me. Haramzaadi she called me, knew very well my parents were good Catholics! Said the orphanage gave fake family papers. What what stories she told about me! So many names she called me. Said I put a spell on her son, so I could get his name and money. Saiba! Calls herself a god-fearing person and the rot that she spoke! No family to back me up, she can say what she likes. But I took my bankbook when I went to see her, and you should have seen her face when she saw the total! Shut her up nicely! I tell you money talks better than family. Eight years I slaved here, but it was worth it. Francis is a good man. His mother, well, she will change after we have kids. Even otherwise, she’s old, after all that I have been through, a few more years don’t matter. One thing about people like us, we know that things could be worse, we have lived though worse. Arrey don’t cry girl! You will do fine. I was fourteen too when I started! A little hard work patience and prayer, that is all it takes…"

This copy is posted as it was received. It has not been edited by TLM

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