A big grey cloud was rolling in from the east. It looked full with rain – at least an hour’s worth. A gale had been blowing for a few days now but there hadn’t been the slightest sign of even a drizzle. It had been exceptionally gusty that morning and by a little after noon, the dust and dry leaves had stirred and whirred on the terrace and collected in piles, threatening to clog the rain traps.
The sun was tiring out as the clouds marched across the sky, it would be dark soon. Mehramji climbed the stairs slowly, his left hand pressed against his thigh and his right holding the cement banister. He stopped to catch his breath at the top of the stairs. The faded blue cloth he hung around his neck was damp with sweat and grime. Once on the terrace, he got down on his haunches and started pulling the leaves out from the traps. If they weren’t removed they would clog the water drains that ran all the way down to the ground floor. The cement structure absorbed the dampness and the seepage would spread like a network of arteries across the walls and ceilings.
Mehramji shoved his hand down the fist-sized holes that ran along the peripheries of the terrace, pulling out handfuls of the newer, dryer leaves first, and then soggy bunches of forgotten ones. Squatting, he shuffled from trap to trap, pulling them out and thrusting them into a burlap sack, dragging it behind him as he went along. As he plunged his hand down the last drain hole and grabbed a fist full of rotten mango leaves he felt something hard press against his palm. He dropped the mess of damp bits on the rough floor of the terrace, and caught his breath. It was a ring. A ring meant for a willowy finger, with a solitary diamond sitting atop it. The ominous grey cloud had all but covered the sun, but even in that weak light the diamond glinted brightly. Mehramji looked around; he was alone on the terrace. He picked up the ring and gently rubbed the gold of the band with his blue cloth.
He had been born on the estate and started working in the house as a ten-year-old. His father, Balram, was one of the farmer’s employed on the Sahib’s fifty-acre farm. Mehramji ran small errands when he first started working, waking up at dawn to fill buckets of hot water for the family’s three children, carrying their bags back to the house when they got back from school, or climbing mango trees to pull down the raw fruit for the cook to make pickles. On Sundays, he would play cricket with the Sahib’s son Ranbir, bowling over after over so the boy could practice his batting while his sisters clapped from the sidelines.
Over the years his duties extended to overseeing the others employed on the estate, driving the Sahib to town in the old jeep and maintaining the exteriors of the main house. Sahib paid him a regular wage every month increasing the amount by 100 Rupees every year. He had served the house for fifty-three years without a single act of dishonesty.
Once, as a teenager, sweeping around the boundary of the house he had seen Sahib’s younger daughter bathing, through the window she had forgotten to close. He watched transfixed as she rhythmically ladled water from the steel bucket into a mug, and then poured it over her head. Her shoulders glistened as the water ran down them to her sides. He watched her for a few minutes before running back to his room in the servants’ quarters. No one had seen him, but he knew that if anyone found out he would be dismissed without a moment’s notice. His father was getting old and could no longer work the fields. Mehramji had taken over as the provider of their household. He never told anyone about the incident and though he dreamed about the girl for the next few nights, he learned to control his mind even in his sleep. He promised himself that he would never do anything to jeopardize his place on the property.
The next installment of The Ring will be up in a few days. If you want to read more right away then email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the whole story.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2013