Dream of the Evil Servant
New Delhi, 1967
1. We kept war in the kitchen. A set of ten bone china plates, now eight. As if a perfumed guest stole her riches . . . The next day she wanted to leave at noon. I said, be back by four, I'm paying you. She sat by the door, she put out her hand, her knuckles knocked against mine, hard deliberate knuckles. I gave her cash. Off to watch movies, off to smoke ganja. 2. She came back late and high as if my fear asked for it. I called her junglee. Everything went off late -- dinner, the children getting into bed; but the guests understood: they had servants too. She stuck diaper pins in my children. I cursed her openly. Who shouted? Or I cursed her silently and went my way. She stole bangles my husband's mother bought, bangles a hundred years old. But she wore frayed jewelry hawked on the street. She was like a rock that nicked furniture in corners you'd think only a rat could go. 3. Why didn't I dismiss her? I don't know. She got old as I got old. I could see her sharp shoulder bones tighten, her knuckled skull. I had to look at her. It had to wound me. Listen, said my mother. Yes mother, I listened, crouched in my head. Looking over the flowered verandah she said: Who are you to think you are beautiful? What have you got to show? Go sit on your rag. All my life I tended to looks, they betrayed me. I bore you. I am wretched. Be my mother. Be my maid.
This poem first appeared in The Kenyon Review, Spring 1999. © 1999 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.