Plastic Pot Seller
by Jasti Victor 2/24/2010 / Short Stories
First she heard the cock's crow and then the flurry of activity on the road outside her tiled house, and Miriam knew that it was five in the morning and time to go about her chores. The house is on the main road leading to the railway station and the increase in the road traffic meant that the Bangalore Express had arrived on time at her home town, Balanagar, 50 kms from Hyderabad.
Brought up in an atmosphere, as per nature and not according to the clock and in a joint family where respect and care for the elders are taught, right from the childhood, Miriam lived with her widowed mother and grandmother. The three lived alone as she lost both her grandfather and father to illicit liquor, when she was hardly five years old.
By the time Miriam turned eighteen; she finished her high school and was ready for marriage as per the village norms. Tall, dark, and graceful she was most sought after by the boys in her village itself, but Esther, her grandmother, a strong willed and very religious had different plans. She wanted a religious boy, one who does not drink nor smoke and respects women folk. These are the traits rarely found in the present youth, but Esther prayed and was determined that she gets the answer. Miriam accompanied her grandmother to church every Sunday and took active part in the choir, singing hymns without knowing the meaning of it, hearing sermons without understanding it, and when asked to pray for herself, recites parrot like, the Lord's Prayer.
She married Absalom, a coolie working at Sanathnagar railway goods shed, who neither drinks nor smokes. In an environment where money is plenty and smoking and drinking the order of the day, her husband's abstinence surprised her and realization slowly dawned on her about the importance of her grandmother's prayer.
Neena's birth was a difficult one as Miriam's delivery pains started unexpectedly and prematurely. She was attended to by a midwife who was not aware that the baby's life was in danger as the umbilical cord got entangled around the baby's neck and was strangulating her. Suddenly suspicious that there was no movement, the midwife hastened the delivery, thus saving the baby. And Miriam strongly believed that the baby was saved because of her grandmother's constant prayers.
Absalom adored his daughter and pampered so much that Miriam says she is getting spoilt. In a country where the birth of a girl punctures a male ego, her husband's love and affection and the proud feeling for his daughter, amazes her, and she gave credit, grudgingly to her grandmother's strong belief in prayer.
Having lost both her grandmother and mother within a span of one year, her morning prayer, now had more depth and a deeper understanding. In the evening as she awaits Absalom's arrival from work, her meditation and Bible reading was more to understand about her creator. Singing hymns every night to her two year old daughter was not only to make the child sleep but to praise the Almighty, who brought her back safe and sound.
Miriam wanted to give Neena, the best of education, and for that she had to save money. Her husband's income is just sufficient for her daily needs, so she decided to do business, like her neighbor. First she tried selling vegetables and fruits and then cooked peanuts, but shelved it, as the returns were not that adequate. Then she discovered that selling plastic pots is a fairly good business proposition. These pots were used for storing water, about twenty liters in each, and are much in demand in localities around the outskirts, which don't have a direct water connection. She buys these pots in bulk directly from a factory, located on the outskirts of the city. At any given time she carries twenty six pots, thirteen on either side, tied on the opposite side of a six feet long bamboo, three of which are tied side by side to make it comfortable to carry it on her left shoulder. On the other side she carries Neena. In the beginning it was difficult to balance the plastic pots and the baby, but by practice she succeeded.
Her unique selling point was to visit new colonies. Sometimes traveling to these new localities was easy, and sometimes it was very difficult, as these are not connected by any public transport. But if she had to earn more, she had to work hard, so it was a daily hectic routine of getting up at five, cooking ragi porridge for breakfast, packing rice and dhall, for lunch and rushing to catch the seven o'clock local, to reach Hyderabad by eight.
Miriam remembers the day. It was Monday 10 February 2009 and a particularly hot day as it was the start of the summer season. But she was not been able sell a single pot even though she had gone around the new residential colony for hours at end as she found it largely uninhabited. And on top of it the baby started crying and adding to that misery she was lost in the maze of lanes inside the new colony. She could not find anyone to ask for direction and the road she took was without a tree and the sun so scorched the tar road that it made walking difficult.
Miriam was constantly looking back to see whether she can catch a bus or a lorry or an auto rickshaw or any transportation for her to hitch a ride to the next destination. This constant looking back was dangerous because whenever she turned, the six foot bamboo stick contraption along with the pots swung across, cutting half way across onto the road.
She does not remember clearly whether she turned back suddenly on hearing a woman's cry for help or reacted to the sudden roar of a motorcycle, but it resulted in a crash. The six feet long bamboo and the plastic pots made the rashly driven motorcyclist and his pillion driver to roll on the road, startling Miriam, who badly shaken held on Neena as tight as possible.
She reacted only when a woman came rushing by, shouting, "Thieves, thieves,"
Miriam, galvanized at the woman's shout, took a pot and hit it hard on the nearest motorcyclist's head. This startled him so much that he threw a gold necklace which he was holding, picked up the motorcycle and drove away with the pillion rider.
This happened so fast and in a fraction of a second that Miriam stood rooted to the ground, shocked, staring at the woman who came running towards her. The woman picked up the fallen gold necklace and hugged Miriam.
"It's only because you hit him with such force that the thief threw the necklace, otherwise he would have run off with it and I would have regretted it my entire life."
Miriam, stunned just nodded at the woman as it was difficult to follow her dialect, though she was speaking the same Telugu language.
"Are you new here?"
Miriam again nodded and stared at the woman, who was all decked up in fine jewelry and wearing a rich looking sari.
"I am going to my relative's house warming function just around this street and that's the reason I am all decked up," said the woman, seeing Miriam staring at her jewelry, "I never wore this costly gold necklace before and wanted to show this to my relatives, but I never expected a person sitting on a motorcycle to snatch this necklace. Ah, that fellow pulled the necklace from behind my neck, so fast, that it broke. I am so sorry; I was only bothered about my necklace. Can I help you gather your pots?"
"No, I can do it myself," Said Miriam with a smile.
Something in Miriam's smile touched the woman that she insisted that she pick up her pots and made her accompany to her relative's apartment nearby.
The five floor apartment looked imposing with a large garden all around it. Encompassing it was a very high wall with an intricate ornate gate. Miriam and the woman made their way to the first floor, to the relative's flat, after leaving the pots on the ground floor.
"There are twenty five flats in all and we are the first one to occupy." Explained the relative after they had their lunch and were seated around with few of their guests.
"Do you live nearby?" asked the relative again.
"I live in Balanagar, a town about fifty km away from here."
"Oh, Oh, that far. Why don't you stay with us?"
"But why?" questioned Miriam, with a puzzled look. She looked around and outside through the window, but could only see the bright sun and a lone Neem tree, unlike in her home town where trees are abundant.
"You can work for us."
"But I earn nearly three thousand rupees per month and who will pay me so much salary?"
"We will pay, but why do you need three thousand rupees for?"
"I am saving for my daughter's education. My husband's income is enough for our daily expenses, and whatever I earn, is for her," Said Miriam nodding at her sleeping baby, sleeping on her lap with her thumb in her mouth and with a beautiful smile. Everyone kept quiet as they heard the word 'daughter's education', because no one plans for a girl's education in this part of the world, but only for 'dowry'. The silence matched the blazing sunlight outside which devoid of trees, except for the lone Neem tree, gave an appearance of isolation.
"What if we offer you double of what you earn?" interrupted the relative of the woman whose necklace was stolen.
"I really liked your presence of mind and the courageous act, by which I got my necklace back," replied the woman whose necklace was stolen.
"Amma, if you think I am courageous, you are wrong. I hit that fellow because he damaged my pots. If the pots are damaged no one will buy it," said Miriam breathing sharply, seething with anger.
"It's not that easy to hit a thief."
"Amma, first of all I never knew that fellow is a thief."
"Whatever it may be we are offering you a job. You and your husband can stay with us and be our caretaker. Your daughter can have the best of the education, as all the schools are at walking distance. Our colony has security arrangements, but what we would like to have is a caretaker."
Miriam amazed, stared at the woman, 'Your daughter can have the best of the education' resounded as she gasped at what she had heard.
Miriam, from the time, she gave birth to her daughter, prayed that she should have the best of the education, and here, this woman, was offering her the chance of a lifetime.
She immediately bowed her head and prayed silently.
The woman and her relative thought that she was hesitating and said, "We will pay you six thousand rupees monthly plus offer you free accommodation, electricity and water."
Miriam looked up with tear filled eyes.
"I am not a God fearing person. But my mother and grandmother were. They prayed that I should get a good understanding husband and a safe delivery. I got both. I prayed that my daughter should have the best of the education, and you are offering it to me. I believe in One True God and that that God is with me. Yes, ma'am I will be happy to be your caretaker."
That was one year back. Whenever the apartment children gather around Miriam and ask her to tell how she got the gold necklace back, she nods her head and says, "I just turned back on impulse, and my God did the rest."
Every morning, as she hands over the packed lunch to Absalom, she prays over him and does the same when the auto rickshaw comes to pick up Neena to her kindergarten school.
"Thank you Jesus, Thank you O God for everything," prays Miriam, kneeling beside her bed, "You have given me whatever I had asked for, an understanding and a devout husband and a very good paying job for me. Please bless my family, as you have being doing it all the time. And thank you Jesus, for making me understand about the power of prayer and to look out for the daily miracles happening because of prayer."
Getting up she looked at the clock. Its 11.A.M. and time to wake up Mrs. Hemalatha, so that she can take her medicine, and then she has to ring up Mr.Murthy, so that his driver can take him for the 11.30 dentist appointment. The six Kindergarten children along with Neena will be back by noon, and she had to look after them till evening, when their parents will be back from work. And then she had to wake up Mrs.Dorothy at 3.P.M.,as she wanted to see her favorite television serial.
Her mobile rang, and picking up she wrote down the change in the dentist timing for Mr.Murthy's appointment. She now carries a scribbling pad to keep track of 'things to do,' and a wrist watch to keep her 'appointments'.
Seated on the bench outside the garden and watching the children play, she felt with a grimace the small lump on her left shoulder. Absalom had told her, that as she had stopped carrying the plastic pots, the lump will slowly cease paining and eventually disappear.
"But why should I wait for it to disappear?" exclaimed Miriam, "I will pray for it now."
And then and there she knelt near the bench. The children, most of them non Christians, seeing their Miriam aunty kneel, were not surprised, because they know that she is praying.
Amma : Mother; also a respected form of addressing.
Auto rickshaw : A motorized version of the traditional rickshaw
Coolie : A historical term for manual laborers from Asia
Dowry:Trousseau in Latin; a woman is expected to bring in gold & money to her husband in marriage. This practice is illegal in India.
Dhall : A lentil, cooked with spices and onions is a meal in itself
Ragi : Finger millet, also known as African millet is a cereal, a staple diet
Victor Jasti lives in India and is passionate about writing short stories based on the Bible and real incidents. He also writes Christian fiction and poetry. Five of his poems were published in Temporal Currents compiled by an American author, Ms. Christine Tricarico.