Join our amazing community of book lovers and get the latest stories doing the rounds.

We respect your privacy and promise no spam. We’ll send you occasional writing tips and advice. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Short Story Contest 2020-21


Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

I am waiting for my parents. It has almost been a year since I have seen Ma. Baba visited me every four months. I know he has no urge to meet me or to find out how I am doing in this house. He came regularly to take my salary from my employers. He would just nod at me and ask, “Getting enough to eat?” I would nod back and that was it. Finally, after a year, I am going home. For a vacation. I’m not sure I want to come back. I run my eyes around the room and wonder why everything doesn’t seem as awe-inspiring as it had on the first day of my arrival. 

A set of ornate teak wood Maharaja sofas, embellished with red satin cushioned seats, glow under a cluster chandelier suspended from the ceiling in the drawing room. A glass topped center table rests on a Persian rug between the sofas. Brocade curtains hang heavily contributing to the impression of a palace. Of course, at that time, I hadn’t known it was called a Maharaja sofa or that it was carved out of teak wood or that the shining material on the seats of the sofas was called satin. I had not known what a chandelier or a Persian rug was either. I had seen such houses either on the television of a few houses who had them or on the shiny smartphones of the boys who would return from the city to our village. 

Today, I’m more discerning. I can hear the drawing room screaming, “Hey! Look! 

 have money and lots of it’. During the past year, I have seen so many houses, so much more tastefully furnished. 

I may think less of the house today, yet I cannot deny Monica Auntie has been unfailingly kind to me.

“When will they come?” I ask her. 

“They’re on their way,” she answers. Worry lines crease her forehead. I know she is going to find my absence distressing. There is a cook, a maid to broom and mop the floor and two more to wash the utensils and dust the furniture. But they are all part-timers. I have been in their house 24×7 help for the past eleven months. When the rest of the house help were present, my duties were light and restricted to fetching and carrying. The real work started when I stepped in to substitute the part timers who would be on leave. I harbor no feeling of resentment. After all, I am the maid. If the rest of the maids can do it, why not me? But I do have a bitter bone to pick with Destiny. Why am I maid at 15 and why are Pooja Didi and Riya Didi, Monica Auntie’s daughters, rich and pampered, their lives and futures planned and chalked out? Pooja Didi is my age and Riya Didi is a couple of years younger to me. Pooja Didi is to become a fashion designer and Riya Didi a doctor. I was instructed to call them Didi, elder sister, as a mark of respect. I wonder why. What is so insulting in a maid calling someone her age or younger than her by name? 

Restless, I walk around. Monica Auntie is setting the table for lunch. Fried rice and chili chicken. I automatically walk towards her. I extend my hands to help her. I was doing this all along. Laying the table. Serving the food. Picking up the plates. Monica Auntie smiles and shakes her head. “Don’t bother. I’ll do it, ” she says. 

She sneaks a look at me. “I hope you have been happy here. Try to come back as soon as you can.” 

I nod. Noncommittally. I know she is perturbed at my leaving for a vacation. I’m not stupid enough to assume she loves me. She is imagining herself doing all the work I have been doing the past year and no, it isn’t a pleasant thought to her. 

“Do you want to eat?”

I shake my head. I couldn’t have imagined a time in my life when I wouldn’t be hungry if chicken was served to me. I had always thought I would never tire of eating. The first question Monica Auntie asked us when we  reached her house was whether we would like to eat. 

Eleven months ago, Ma, Baba and I reached the Roy house after a long journey from the village. It took a train, a bus and finally, a twenty minute walk on foot. We were bedazzled at the entrance of the Roy house . A guard in a uniform stood at the door surveying us with condescension. 

“Yes. I’ve been told by Madam that a girl would be arriving to work here. Go inside,” he  instructed. 

“Oh. Leave your chappals outside,” he continued as an afterthought. 

We nervously took off our slippers and stepped in. Ma in her faded saree, Baba in his not so white pajamas, worn out at the edges and me, in my old frock patched up in several places.; we stood, rendered speechless, by the grandeur. 

“My God,” my mother whispered in a reverential tone . “This is a palace. Take care not to lose this job. Behave properly here. It is your good fortune you have found work here. You’ll get plenty of food here.”

Monica Auntie sashayed in like a queen to greet us. At least, it seemed like that to us. Dressed in a flowing pink kurta, her hair streaked auburn tied in a top knot and sparkling earrings dangling from her ears, she looked ethereal. I had never met anyone with hair that color. I learnt later that the color was from a bottle. 

She was welcoming, eyeing my parents sympathetically. “Would you like to eat?” she asked. 

Baba, discomfited, shook his head. He simply wanted to head back to the railway station with the money he was about to receive. 

“What’s your name? ” Monica aunty asked me. 

“Bina,” I muttered. I felt tears welling up. I didn’t want Ma and Baba to leave me alone in this house. I could feel Ma’s eyes glaring at me. 

“Call me Auntie and don’t worry,” Monica Aunty said reassuringly. “You’ve come to a good place. I have two daughters, close to your age. You just have to work a little here and the rest of the time, you can play or watch TV.”

Ma and Baba nodded in agreement, relieved that one of their children would get enough to eat and the money they would receive as an advance on my salary would help them to feed their other children. 

They gazed at Monica Auntie expectantly. 

“ Oh Yes!,” she replied to the silent question. She disappeared and returned with a wad of notes in her hand. 

“This is the advance for four months. You can come in  after four months and take an advance again.”

Baba took the notes, counted as fast as he could and hid it in the inside pocket of his pajamas. He signaled to Ma. Time to leave. 

I watched them leave, tears now unrestrained. Monica Auntie didn’t say anything. She vanished to return with a plate of rice and chicken curry. The smell of garlic, ginger and onions with the chicken immediately diverted my attention. 

“Come. Sit here. Next to the kitchen,” she said pointing to the floor. 

I sat with my legs crossed on the clean and cold marble floor hurriedly taking the plate from her hands. Back home, if you didn’t eat fast enough, there were others waiting to grab your share. Licking the plate clean, I looked up to find Monica Auntie watching me. There was a man inside the kitchen who stepped out to join the show in amusement. 

“Do you want some more?” Monica Auntie asked. 

I flushed. I had no idea what I was supposed to say. Could I ask for more without annoying her? Was I supposed to feel guilty for wanting more? 

The  man took the plate from my hands and laughed. 

“I’ll get her some more rice.”

The man, I was told, was Satish Bhaiyya , the cook. He told me kindly I could eat as much as I wanted and that the family would have no reservations about my eating.  The family referred to the head of the house, Anil Uncle, Monica Auntie’s husband. Apparently, he was a businessman. He sold medicines. I was wonderstruck. How many medicines did people in the city eat that one got so rich by selling them? 

Anil Uncle, as I was ordered to call him, was a busy and moody man. He could be preoccupied and short tempered one day and jovial the next. The house was wary and attentive of his moods. I was relieved he didn’t pay much attention to what I ate. Pooja Didi and Riya Didi  seemed to be quite fascinated at the amount I could eat. 

“Let her eat. I’m sure she hasn’t eaten for days. After a few days, she’ll realize she can eat as much as she wants and her hunger will wear off, “ Satish bhaiyya  said. 

He proved to be right. After a couple of weeks, I didn’t feel hungry all the time. Gradually, I learnt to cook too.  When Satish Bhaiyya would take a few days off, I would help Monica Auntie in the kitchen and she taught me to make rice, dal, roti and sabzi. After a while, I could cook pizzas and pastas as well. 

I smile. When I go home, I will cook for Baba. He will be pleased. 


“You really seem happy to be going home,” remarks Monica Auntie. 

The bell rings. A rush of joy floods me. Ma. I run towards the door and open it wide. My face falls. It’s Pooja Didi and Riya Didi back from school. 

They survey me with appreciation and chuckle. 

“Wow! All set to go home. Eh?,” Riya Didi says. 

Pooja Didi guffaws. 

“You are going to kill the boys back in the village. The Heroine.”

I blush. I’m wearing the blue jeans and yellow crop top that Monica Auntie had given to me on Diwali. Right now, I’m barefoot and blue sneakers rest on the shoe stand near the doorway. I can’t wait to put them on and go. Most days, I would be wearing Pooja’s hand me downs. But, on Diwali, Monica Aunt had insisted I wear new clothes. 


Monica Auntie had discarded the frock I had come wearing the first day. She gave me a few dresses that belonged to Pooja Didi

“Go to the bathroom and try them on,” she said extending a handful of clothes. “Pooja doesn’t wear them anymore.” 

She pointed to a door in the corner of the drawing room. “Go. Have a bath. There is soap. By the way, don’t use the other bathrooms. Use this only.”

I had never seen a bathroom like this. White tiles with pictures of fish, gleaming taps and a mirror. I caught my reflection in the mirror. Dark and dirty. Disheveled and poor. I scrubbed myself with the soap resting on the basin, as hard as I could. The towel felt like feathers. I pulled one of the dresses over my head. Soft and green with gold buttons, it fit me well. I stared at the mirror, disappointed I hadn’t emerged any fairer. Yet Monica Auntie looked satisfied when she inspected me as I stepped out of the bathroom. 

“You are looking decent,” she said, throwing the frock I had been wearing into the dustbin.

A month rolled by and, from looking decent, I progressed to looking like a heroine. I became a pet project of Pooja Didi and Riya Didi. Riya Didi had initially shown signs of  hostility towards me when she heard I was to sleep in her room. 

“She is a girl. I can’t have her sleep in the servant’s quarters with the rest of the staff. She will sleep in your room,” Monica Auntie said firmly. Riya Didi  glared at me. 

“I’m the youngest. So you are forcing me to accommodate her in my room. Why should I? She is here to make your life easier. So why don’t you keep her in your room?” she said mutinously. 

Anil Uncle stared at her sternly and Riya Didi sullenly acquiesced. I was given a mattress and a rug to spread on the floor next to Riya Didi’s bed and a sheet to cover myself. A sheet to cover myself in this heat? The mattress was soft and with the fan whirring at top speed and the air conditioner blowing cool air, I realized the need for the sheet. Curled under it with my belly full, I immediately fell asleep. No tossing and turning in the heat. As the days rolled by, Riya didi, acknowledging I wasn’t going to be nuisance, took to me. She would bury her bespectacled head in books after she returned from school and, at night, she would tell me stories she had read. 

In the initial days, Pooja Didi, , slim and confident, had a surly and uncommunicative attitude. I was surprised when she suddenly started to develop an interest in me.

“I’m going to be a fashion designer. I’m going to transform you. From a Maid to a Heroine,” she claimed dramatically. 

Riya clapped her hands. “Like Cinderella,” she shouted. 

I burst into giggles, not understanding much of what was going on. Pooja Didi frowned at me. 

“Don’t laugh. I’m going to design outfits to make people as gorgeous as possible. I’m going to start with you.”

“Not Cinderella. Guinea Pig,” Monica Auntie commented dryly

Soaps, shampoos and creams were ordered on the phone for me. Fascinated, I watched these being delivered at the door step. Pooja Didi opened the packets and showed them to me. 

“This is a soap,” she said holding up a pink box. I knew that. We may be rustic but, we did know what soaps and shampoos were, though the ones we used were cheap, available in little disposable plastic pouches. The ones Pooja Didi had ordered had a lovely aroma clinging to me after I would have a bath and the creams made my skin feel soft. The best was the conditioner for the hair. Pooja Didi taught me to use it after shampooing my hair. It made my hair feel silky. 

After a month I could barely recognize myself in the mirror. Monica Aunty would take me with her whenever she would attend a party. The were various types of parties. Each party was called by a different name. Kitty parties, dinner, luncheons and cocktail parties. Apart from the marriage parties and birthday parties. I wouldn’t have much to do except hold her bag. I would stand or sit in a corner, oh, on a chair these times and watch everyone with bemusement. I would eat with the rest of the staff before we left. The dim lights, the polished wood, the clink of the crystal ware and the effervescence made me feel like I was in a movie. Surreal. Wasn’t that what it was called? A few women would shoot me an inquisitive look. 

“Maid? Really? Looks like a heroine.”

I would feel flattered. Some would be a little nasty. 

“Quite the heroine. Lucky you don’t have a son. Otherwise, he would’ve been romancing the maid.”

I felt hurt but I realized I had started drawing the attention of the men. The boys in a party standing in groups would take a peek at me covertly. Sometimes, they would whisper amongst themselves and laugh. I would ignore them and pretend to ne busy. I knew Monica Auntie would be watching me warily. 

 It was only at night, while dozing off listening to Riya Didi’s stories that I would dream. Forbidden dreams. I would dream of the handsome boys coming up to me in parties and flirting with me. I knew Pooja Didi was infatuated with Vicky, one of the boys who was regularly seen at the parties they would attend. Tall, fair and handsome, he was in College and the grapevine said he was on his way to becoming a womanizer like his father. I often spied Vicky leering at my breasts. I would fantasize of responding by thrusting it a little to tease him. I would wonder what his hands would feel like caressing me and would feel a quiet sense of victory. Pooja Didi, with her flat chest would never attract covetous glances like I did.

 I would smile smugly in my sleep and my mind would wander off to my village. Open green fields. Water in the ponds where we would have a bath. Trees to climb on and mangoes to steal with the owners of orchards chasing us away. I would wonder what the boys in the village would think when they would see me now. I would be the object of everyone’s fantasy. Maybe, I could start selling medicines in the village and become rich. I would visualize myself returning triumphantly to the village and everyone gazing at me, mesmerized. 


What will they say when they saw me in my new blue jeans? The doorbell rings. This time I’m sure it is Ma. Yes. It is. Ma and Baba. I rush and hug Ma. Disconcerted, her face turns a trifle pink. Baba looks away. We didn’t hug back in the village. 

Monica Auntie smiles. “She’s been waiting for you.”

Ma nods. 

“Do you want to eat something?”

Both shake their head together. 

“We have to take the train back,” Baba mumbles. 

Monica Auntie goes inside to return with an envelope. I know its my salary. 

“This is the money for the last three months and for this month. Try to bring her back as soon as possible,” she says. 

“Bina, take your things,” she instructs me. 

I quickly take a bag standing in the corner. The bag belonged to Raj Uncle and he doesn’t use it anymore.  Maroon colored, it has a zip to open it and wheels below to drag it. I have packed all the things Monica Auntie has given me. Dresses, a toothbrush with a tube of toothpaste, a  comb, a towel, soap and a shampoo. Even a pair of pretty earrings. I want to show Ma all these things. Ma doesn’t seem to be interested. I suppose she is in a hurry. 

“Lets go,” she says. 

The three of us step out. Ma and Baba swiftly walk towards the bus stop. I follow them pulling the bag with its extended handle. It’s wheels make the bag glide smoothly over the pavement. The sun is blazing and I’ve started to sweat. We wait for sometime for a bus to the railway station. I clamber up with my bag. Fortunately, there are empty seats. I sit in one of them holding my bag close to me. 

The bus conductor assesses the bag and snaps. 

“I’ll charge for the bag too.”

Baba glares at him. “The bus is empty. There is enough space around. I’m not paying.”

More people get up as the bus makes its way through the congested roads. A little boy steps on my sneakers. I try to intimidate him with a disapproving glare. He grins at me. We get down at the last stop right in front of the railway station. I can see the hustle and bustle and we make our way towards the platform. People thronging, hawkers selling their wares and a few makeshift shops displaying food items. One has some books. 

“We’ll have to wait for an hour for our train. If it’s running on time.”

Ma finds a corner and sits down on the floor. I crinkle my nose. It’s dusty. 

“It’s dirty,” I say. 

Baba snorts. 

“I’ll come in a while,” he says as he disappears in the crowd to visit the bathroom. 

I stand for a while and feel a fatigue seeping in. I kick the bag into a lying position and sit on it. 

As the time for the departure of the train draws closer, a swarm suddenly materializes. I search for Baba frantically. Oh! There he is, hurrying towards us. The sound of a chugging train electrifies the atmosphere. 

Ma and I stand up. We don’t have reserved seats and it is an overnight journey. We have to make our way through the jostling crowd and scramble up  to find a seat in the train. If we don’t find a seat, we’ll have to spend the night sleeping on the floor. 

“Run,” Baba tells me as the train chugs to a stop. I’m  pulling at the bag. Impatiently, he snatches the bag out of my hands and with both hands, deftly pulls it up to place it on his head. We run towards the door of the train, Ma clutching my hand and Baba with my bag on top of his head. The clamor as people make their way up into the coach is rising. Every coach is divided into bays with six berths lengthwise and two breadthwise. Ma and I manage to find a seat. I’m lucky to grab a window seat. Baba has, meanwhile, rapidly climbed up to find a seat on the bunk above. Using my bag as a pillow, he sleeps with his legs stretched out to ward out other men trying to share his berth. 

The train starts and I heave a sigh of relief. People relax and laugh. Despite the discomfort of sitting in a hot cramped seat and the foul smell of iron and grime, mixed with sweat, the wind blowing on my face as the train picks up speed feels cool. We race past leaving the city behind and the vision of green fields bathed gently by the evening sun is breathtaking. I’m going home. 

As dusk melts into the night, Ma opens the little plastic bag she is carrying. A few rotis and fried potatoes. They are stale and I find it difficult to swallow it. Yet I swallow it with water. I know there is no point complaining.

Arguments ensue over sleeping arrangements. Ma refuses to sleep on the floor or on the middle berth on the pretext of being an old woman. A truce is agreed on. Ma and I share the lower berth while the rest take the middle berth or sleep on the floor. I close my eyes and I float i a dreamless sleep. 

I can feel Ma shaking me. 

“Wake up. It’s time to get down.”

 I want to comb my hair and wash my face. Ma shakes her head. “Later,” Ma says. “The train only stops for a few minutes here.”

We get down. Dawn is about to break. It is still dark. The platform is small. Its almost empty. No multitudes pushing each other. 

“I’ll take the bag,” I tell Baba. He hands it over to me. I pull at the handle and walk, pulling the bag behind me. My hair feels limp. My T shirt is crushed and feels filthy. 

It’s a twenty minute walk to the village. We trudge, bumping into a few familiar faces on the way.  Kishan Chacha is going to the fields to relieve himself. He stares at me curiously. I expect Ma to show me off to him. But Ma and Baba ignore him, hurrying away. Perhaps they are tired. 

We reach our village. A motley group of huts. I spot ours in the midst. It is still dark and silent. My siblings are sleeping inside. I run and call out. “Tinku, Sona, Meetu. I’m here.”

“Keep quiet,” Baba snarls. “Go inside and change. If people see you like this, they’ll think you are a prostitute. Who do you think you are, behaving like this? A Heroine? You look like a whore. Randi!”

Sushma R Doshi

Sushma R Doshi has a Bachelor's degree in History from Loreto House, Kolkata and continued to acquire an MA, MPhil and Ph.D in International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has a few articles published on women's rights and Panchayati Raj in journals which include the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Ideal Research Review and Hindustan Review. Today, she is a homemaker and resides in Patna.

Write A Comment