Short Story: Washing the milk

Posted: April 28, 2020 in Indian Women, Men, survival, WPrightnow
Tags: , ,

Picture taken from the Internet

7 am. The doorbell rang. It took her a bit of time to get out of bed. The young man at the door knew that. So he waited patiently.

“No bread today?” she asked him.

“No supply. But I got cream rolls and cakes,” he said.

Devika Roy liked the idea. At 75, her breakfast had suddenly turned from the usual butter and bread to cream rolls and cake. Apart from the sweet swirl the cream rolls produced in her mouth, she liked the fact that it meant one job less of putting the bread in the toaster and applying butter.

“Did you wash the milk?” The daughter-in-law emerged from the bedroom. She was wearing a frown, the urgency in her voice, disturbing.

“Wash the milk….?” Devika couldn’t quite understand what that meant.

“It’s been a month now and I still have to check. If I don’t check I know you will not do it,” she said gruffly.

Without a word, Devika put the packets of milk under the tap.

“With soap…wash it with soap.” The daughter-in-law commanded.

Devika found her intolerable. Even a month back she was the one taking all the decisions at home. Her daughter-in-law would leave for work, return late in the evening, look after the boy’s homework and retire to bed. Milk packets and groceries were never her thing.

Now she would stand at the kitchen all day like a slave master with a whip and one slip and there was no escape from her fury. All packets brought from outside were cleaned with Dettol, all veggies washed immediately in warm water, she would keep telling everyone to wash their hands, she wouldn’t allow the kid to even go to the terrace, because other residents were going there as well and, she let go of the maids, even the full-time maid. When she wanted to go to her village pre-lockdown, her daughter-in-law just agreed without discussing it with Devika. She found that unacceptable.

Had it been some other time, Devika was sure that her daughter-in-law would have been sent to an asylum, but now her son was beaming and lauding her constantly for keeping the family “safe”.

Mad paranoia, that is what it should be called, thought Devika with a smirk. To someone who had survived diphtheria and cholera as a child, four bouts of malaria in her youth, typhoid in her middle age and dengue in her old age, how could some vague virus really matter?

She even shouted like a mad woman at Devika a few days back when she opened the door to the building security guard, who had come to tell them that he wouldn’t be reporting to duty since he was burning with fever.

“He was saying he had fever and you were talking to him? You even told him to wait and you would get the medicines? Are you crazy?” she shouted.

Crazy, she had called her crazy!! The tears had clouded the corner of her eyes, but her daughter-in-law had completely ignored it. Her son had come to her room and told her to take a break from dish washing for a few days instead.

“I will do it Ma. You rest,” he said.

“You? Your father never did it. I have never seen any man do it in our family,” said Devika.

“It’s okay. Times have changed Ma. You just take rest,” he said.

Devika had stayed in her room since then. Just taking the morning milk remained her job. She didn’t go out much anyway. It was the street below her bedroom window that had always kept her entertained. The street had suddenly died like her daughter-in-law’s emotions.

Her son called her to lunch. She expected the usual boiled potatoes and dal. Her son wasn’t going out to get fish. Her daughter-in-law wouldn’t allow him to go to the bazaar. For the first time in her life, Devika had lived without fish for a month.

Devika sat at the table with a straight face. She didn’t want to get into any conversation on cleaning, sanitizing and the rising number of Corona cases. It nauseated her.

There was rui maccher jhol (rohu fish curry) laid out on the table.

“We got a guy to deliver fish. I know it’s been hard for you,” said the daughter-in-law.

Devika noticed her face had softened, probably for the first time since lockdown.

The overpowering smell of Dettol came from the surface of the table. Devika usually puckered her nose and went through the staid reality called lunch. But now the smell of freshly-cooked fish transcended the pungent odour. Transcended everything.

– By Amrita Mukherjee 

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