The rhythmic, swishing motion of her long broom signified to all in the house the morning had begun. Each day, Sudhira, who at 25 stood only 4 feet 10 inches tall, would arrive punctually like the mournful calls of the peacocks at dawn. Her daily bus ride took her from her squalor-filled neighborhood to a stop near a tea stall where she continued the last mile, her chappals--thin and worn--scraping along the dusty streets in dutiful cadence. She came to the home of the Kumar family to sweep their floors one speck of dirt at a time, knowing that before her broom would make its final stroke, a new coat of dust would follow right behind, covering the marble floors in a light veil of silt.
She repeated her monotonous routine the same way every day, entering through the front door and putting her hands together in a respectful namaste to Mrs. Kumar, the woman of the house, whom Sudhira called 'Memsahib.' Mrs. Kumar greeted her in a kindly manner, more grateful than she would ever let on--with servants being so unreliable these days, one must be thankful if they stayed for any length of time. Occasionally, Mrs. Kumar would be out of the house early, and when she was gone, the cook would open the door for Sudhira, an exchange of dreariness passing between their eyes.
After arriving at the doorstep with her head covered in a light cotton sari, she would slip off her chappals, enter the house and go to the back porch to fetch the broom--a long bundle of slender grasses gathered together and tied at the top. Her routine began each day while the children in the house were getting ready for school and Mr. Kumar was finishing his breakfast before leaving for work. First she would sweep the drawing room, then the bedrooms, the sun room, and finally the dining room.
With a methodical, almost melodious rhythm, her broom would glide in a rainbow arc side to side, swish, swish, swish, her body obediently following behind. On this morning while still in the drawing room, she took the broom and gingerly poked it under a chair in the corner, its grassy tentacles reaching into the nooks and crannies as if looking for a treasure. Usually, only small bits of dust would come out from under the furniture, but with the last stroke of her broom, an object came tumbling forward. Something small. Something beautiful. Something red--a ruby, obviously fallen from someone's ring.
She picked it up and examined it with half closed, surreptitious eyes, hiding it under the cover of her slouched body. She rolled the ruby between her fingers, feeling the edges, taking in the sheen and deep pomegranate color. For a moment she pondered what to do, then got up from her squatting position and walked into the dining area. She approached Mrs. Kumar who was sitting at the table, and said to her in Hindi:
"Memsahib, I have been sweeping the drawing room floor and just came across this ruby lying under the chair." Thinking she would never touch such a beautiful object again, Sudhira passed the ruby to Mrs. Kumar with a shy reluctance. The stone gently fell into Mrs. Kumar's open palm and landed in a valley between two fingers. Mrs. Kumar examined it with surprise.
"Sudhira! I lost this ruby many months ago. It came from a favorite ring of mine. Thank you for bringing it to me."
Sudhira listened with a down-turned head and said, "Now, you have it again, Memsahib, perhaps you can have it set in your ring once more." With these words, she turned away and went back to sweeping, those few moments of awe dissipating with each stroke.
The next day when Sudhira returned for her regular day's work, Mrs. Kumar remarked, "Sudhira, I am grateful to you for not only finding my ruby, but for returning it to me. Thank you again."
As Sudhira listened to Mrs. Kumar's kind words, tears formed in her eyes. Her life had always been simple. She had never married and had no such precious stone from a wedding or loving husband--but she quickly abandoned this self-pitying and said, "You're most welcome, Memsahib."
Mrs. Kumar tilted her head side to side and walked away, her sari undulating with each purposeful step.
One week later, while Sudhira was finishing the drawing room, Mrs. Kumar approached her holding something in her hands-a black velvet box. Mrs. Kumar opened the box, reached in and pulled out a gold necklace set with a ruby. She looked to Sudhira with gratitude and said, "Sudhira, here is a necklace for you. Enjoy this, as I once enjoyed my ring," and she placed it around Sudhira's neck, clasping it with a gentle tug.
Beaming with happiness, Sudhira placed her fingers on the necklace, then bent down to touch Mrs. Kumar's feet, thanking her with pride and humility.
After Mrs. Kumar left the room, Sudhira stood alone in front of a framed painting and admired her reflection sparkling amongst the Moghul kings and beautiful young maidens. She touched the gold chain, slipped her leathered fingers over the ruby once again, and felt the smooth surface of the precious stone as a smile passed over her face. For a moment, she was a queen, not an untouchable, not a shamed, unmarried woman. She reveled in this leap of status, then quietly sank to the floor to a squatting position and began the melodious rainbow arc, swish, swish, swish, each stroke swaying the ruby on her neck&now adorning her body amidst the dust.
Bio: "As a poet and freelance writer I derive great pleasure from exploring various aspects of women's lives. I also find it important as a short story writer to tell the stories of women whose voices are often lost under the cover of life. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org."