He caught up with her when she was ambling towards Churchgate after a not-so nice day at work. Marathon meetings and telecons had constantly interrupted her day. And now she craved some alone time. She didn’t know his name, but she recognized him as the guy in the office cafeteria. More than the face, she recognized his voice, when she’d pick up her landline to call for a quick sandwich every evening.
He introduced himself with his name, hoping she’d recognize/acknowledge him. She did, much to her own surprise. It was a little awkward to begin with. But he kept it simple. They exchanged perfunctory details, who stayed where, how good/bad/comfortable each of their commutes were, what were their respective timings like, etc.
He was rather blasé that he had a 12-hour shift on most days. That he got into work between 6 and 7 each morning, supervised the cooks make breakfast, take down breakfast orders, supervise lunch, do the billing, prepare for snacks and tea, clean up for the day, et al. All in a day’s work! Five days a week. And here she was moping about having to work hard.
He also had a longer commute. But she had never seen him without a smile.
Once they had dispensed with the mundane, he asked her if she enjoyed her work. She muttered a distracted yes and deflected the question towards him. He paused, as if to collect his thoughts. He said he didn’t think there was anything else he could do, if he didn’t do this. “Madam, mein padha likha nahi hai na. Isi liye. Nahi toh, mein aap logon ki tarah computer ke saamne baitha rahta poore din. Aaram se. Lekin abhi mein sirf yahi kar sakta hun,” he replied.
His words conveyed little or no regret. He was very matter-of-fact about it. He didn’t want pity. He simply sought a casual, light-hearted conversation outside the workplace. He thought he had earned it, after a sincere day’s of work.
And he probably went home, with yet another smile on his face. Oblivious that this one simple conversation would leave her feeling so very inadequate.
Meanwhile, in another part of the world, a teenager was upset that he would have to resume school in less than a week. He was to join ninth grade. More number of subjects to prepare for, for number of books he would have to read. He was troubled about how he would cope with it all. Maths, English, the sciences, his head was in a tizzy. He usually fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. But sleep eluded him that night. The fear of academics and the pressure to live up to expectations gnawed at him. He went to one of the city’s elite schools and was also privately tutored at home. But he hated having to study.
He pushed aside his blanket and began pacing around the room, almost delusional that getting worked up in the middle of night about academics was actually going to resolve anything. He went to the balcony for a change of scenery. He glanced up his servant’s family of four sitting down for dinner. The mother was plating food for both her children, a boy and girl, while the man waited patiently. He sensed laughter and camaraderie and a sense of light-heartedness. In their poverty, he saw relief from academics. “These kids no have tuitions or anything. They just have to do okayish in school and then find one or two houses they can cook in and clean,” he said to himself. “Such a simple life they have!”