The Help – by Michelle D’Costa


She aroused interest in Bradley like a sealed envelope could do.

He was dumb but not deaf and she did not know that.

When she realised he was dumb she assumed that he had to be deaf too.

She was the help but she was not hired to look after him.

Little did she know that to him the sounds of her washing the dishes were a melody of their own.

He sat upright, on the edge of his chair to swallow the sounds of her arrival with an ever ready appetite.

He waited for the scrape of her sandals on the pavement before she stepped onto the verandah of his house.

Before stepping onto the veranda, she had a habit of dragging her soles almost perpendicular to the edge of the veranda (like a carrot to a grater) to get rid of anything that might have stuck to the bottom of her slippers en route.

Then he would eagerly await the turning of the key in the lock. She did not have a key ring to jingle away but her bangles made up for that. His heartbeat would rush as he heard the door shut. Then she would shuffle in after leaving her slippers by the door.

He would then sit outside the kitchen pretending to read a book.

For about half an hour he would hear her bangles beat against each other as she washed the utensils; he would imagine her body shake in rhythm with the force with which she scrubbed the plates, precisely the way the folds of flesh on her midriff (that protruded between her saree blouse and skirt) reacted to her movements.

He wished he could stare outright but he loved her and he did not want her to feel uncomfortable. He thought he would not enjoy any sound if it were not for her.

She had a habit of scrubbing each plate and then rinsing it immediately so that it could be left to dry at the earliest.

He had understood this pattern from the noise of the plate being kept to dry on the stack the instant she rinsed it clean. He knew that his Mom or any other person who washed the utensils did not do so.

He looked at this habit of hers as a way of mending a problem as it comes.

He wondered why she never hummed or sang during these solitary times.

He wished he had a voice. He would have sung in harmony to the sounds she created in the kitchen.

He wondered what she could be doing.

Silence. That’s odd. He thought to himself.

He wanted to go in and see for himself.

Was she hurt? Did she fall? But he hadn’t heard anything unusual. Except for the silence that grew like a tumour.

‘I know you’re there,’ she broke the silence.

His eyes bulged slightly and his breathing stopped, almost.

He heard her drag a chair and her weight lower on it.

They had a small dining table in the kitchen, he hadn’t heard her approach it as she was barefoot, he realized.

Her bangles settled down on her wrist as she lowered herself by balancing her hand on the table.

‘I know you are always there. You cannot speak or hear but you give me so much comfort. Just your presence. Like my father when he was bedridden, I was just happy to know he was still around.’

Bradley imagined her smile.

He was so excited to hear her talking to him, he didn’t know that she had thought he was dumb and deaf. It disappointed him. Then why was she talking to him at all? Didn’t she want anyone to hear what she was about to tell him?

He wished she would look into his eyes while she talked. What was the exact colour of her eyes? Would her pupils dilate while looking into his eyes? Should he just go to the kitchen?

He also wanted to watch her lips move. Did she have a hint of a moustache?

‘I am very peaceful here, when I work. Washing dishes is so monotonous yet it gives me so much peace. I get time to think. Here I dream. And you know what I dream about?. You. Sometimes I think how you would have been if you could speak . Would you have said two kind words to me?

‘I know what I feel for you is wrong. I cannot fall in love with my boss’s son. What is love? Do you know? Anyway, I feel secure in your presence.’

She got up and came out suddenly, startling him.

The book he was reading lay open in his lap. She kissed him softly on his cheek. His eyes watered.

‘Thank you for just being here, I know you won’t let anyone know about this moment of ours. It’s our little secret,’ she whispered and moved towards the bathroom to wash the clothes.

He couldn’t believe what had just happened.

He wanted to write it all down so that he could relive the moment again and again.

He rushed to his bedroom.

He began writing it all down.

But then he stopped. What if she found it and then hated him for not being deaf?

He couldn’t jeopardize their relationship. Or whatever had just started between them.

He was almost about to tear it when he felt someone behind his back.

It was her. Her hands dripping with soap and water.

She reached for the paper and let it go damp in her hands.

She didn’t say a word. She picked up some dirty clothes and went back to the bathroom.

A hurricane in his heart, with every scrape of the brush on the clothes he felt his heart tear.

Usually the moment the bathroom door closed and the lock clicked he would imagine her doing a little pirouette before she squatted to wash the clothes.

And many a times he imagined her slip while pirouetting and he would come to her rescue.

But now, he did not imagine anything. He screamed.

Silent screams.

If his screams could have been heard…