The little girl comes around every morning to collect my laundry.
I always know it's her at the door from the sound the bell makes. A short, quick ring. She can't reach the buzzer till she tip toes. One press and she's back on her feet again.
The grave face watches me silently as I count the clothes carefully before handing them to her. She then piles them up on the old bedsheet I've given her and folds the corners of the sheet back across the clothes, making a knot in the middle neatly. Once the bundle is ready, she picks it up and flings it over her shoulders deftly, flicking her brown matted hair back in the process. A nod and then she's gone. I can hear her the sound of her rubber slippers echoing off the walls as she tears down the stairwell.
She would be eleven or twelve years old. Almost the same age as my daughter Riya. She's much shorter and thinner, wearing hand me downs that are a size too big. I've been seeing her doing the laundry run in our building for nearly a year now. I don't think there's been a single day when she hasn't come around.
I always refer to her as the dhobi's daughter. I don't even know what her name is. I've never asked her. Come to think of it, we've never had a real conversation. All our communication, so far, has been through hand gestures and head movements. A nod, a wave, a pat on the back.
Her father has a tiny makeshift stall outside our condominium. All day long, I see him and his wife busy at work, straightening and ironing clothes with the heavy metal iron they own. Their children, I think there are three of them, help the parents, by collecting and delivering clothes from door to door in the neighbourhood. Apart from our condominium, there are plenty of other buildings in the area, a few smaller houses and bungalows. The two older boys share a cycle between them but the little girl always comes on foot.
Sometimes I offer her biscuits, a chocolate, a glass of milk. She shakes her head when I show her the milk carton but her eyes shine at the sight of the Bourbon biscuits. There's a hint of a smile on the grave face as she extends her grubby fingers. She eats quickly, noiselessly as I count the clothes. Watching me all the while.
On Sundays, she always lingers at the doorway, craning the little head towards the corridor at the end of which is our bedroom. I know she hangs around for a glimpse of Riya. When the bedroom door swings open and Riya stumbles into the living room sleepily, I can hear her catch her breath and stare at the pre-teen in wonderment, taking in the Star Wars tee shirt and shorts. Riya ignores her and wiggles into the sofa with the iPad in hand. I pat her on the shoulder lightly and she wolfs down the last of her biscuit and runs off with the bundle.
"You should smile at her, Riya, maybe even talk to her. It doesn't hurt to be nice" I reprimand my daughter after I've shut the door. "Poor thing, she waits every Sunday to catch a glimpse of you. As though you were a film star or something."
Riya mumbles, not looking up from her iPad. "Hmmmmm, okay, whatever."
I sigh and head back into the kitchen. "Let's give her some of your old toys when she comes around next Sunday. I wonder if she even has any toys," I shout out from the kitchen. There's no reply.
The next weekend, I get all the old toys out in the living room, piling them up in the corner. As soon as the bell rings, I run to the door and pull the little girl in excitedly. She steps inside the apartment, looking around furtively. I point towards the toys in the corner and her face lights up. She drops the bedsheet on the floor and runs across to the corner.
The Gurgaon Diaries! Stories from the Blog
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