The Bread Earner
The Bread Earner20 mins 1.2K 20 mins 1.2K
The morning started early for Jhilmil dragging the cart filled with plastic stacks and in it were loaded myriad packets of milk. She was pulling the cart hard to get it out from a big hole of mud it was stuck in. Her little brother Ranu kept pushing from behind, but the cart’s back wheel was stuck badly in the puddle and was only splashing more mud on their feet. The more they were trying the wheel to come out the more it spanned and the weight on the cart was making it more difficult for Jhilmil to pull. “Ohhh...these roads they are real bad when it rains,” she said irritatingly looking at her little brother who was still applying all his strength to help her Didi (elder sister) Jhilmil. After some thirty minutes the cart came out with a thrash and Jhilmil’s young body couldn’t control the heavy cart all tucked up with more than 1000 milk packets neatly kept in plastic stacks. The cart got flipped on the ground and all the milk packets landed on the mud.
“Ranu don’t just stand there....help me pick these up,” Jhilmil ordered his little brother who came rushing to help her. They both hastily began to fetch the packets from the muddy ground and loaded them on the plastic trays. The packets were all covered in mud; they quietly kept picking them up.
“Clean the mud when you deliver them Di, “Ranu said looking at his sister with big eyes.
“Ok....Ok....don’t give me a lesson now...load them fast, “she gently scolded him. When all the packets of milk were loaded Jhilmil made the cart stand upright and began to drag carefully this time. She delivered all the milk to the doorsteps of various houses. She had no spare cloth to clean them, so she wiped the packets with her long t- shirt she was wearing.
Jhilmil was a young girl in her teens, though she wasn’t sure of her exact age as her mother didn’t remembered the day she was born. She had four brothers, among them Ranu was the youngest of them all and the most dearest to Jhilmil. Jhilmil had stepped in her puberty and with this she guessed she was now a grown up as her mother always cried, “You have become matured enough....start looking for some job.” Jhilmil’s body had matured fast; she had become tall like her father. Her father had abandoned her mother some time back for another woman, leaving her behind with five children alone. Naturally Jhilmil being the eldest her mother forced her to work. Her mother took her to many houses where she worked as a maid but couldn’t find Jhilmil a job. Jhilmil wasn’t good at homely chores; she had mostly spent her time playing with boys of her age. Roaming around to many houses for many days and getting nothing in their hand’s, one day out of anguish her mother scolded her badly, even beaten her up and didn’t gave her any food that night. “Earn your food if you want to eat,” her mother had clearly made her point and that night Jhilmil understood that she needed to feed herself as well her family.
Jhilmil began searching for jobs asking in shops to work as a helper. Her dirty clothes and brownish red hair made every shopkeeper give her a look that she didn’t like. She thought why they all ogled her in such way. They all stared at her from top to toe but mainly all of their eyes were stuck in one place just below her neck. She had always been tomboyish dressing up carelessly without any bother or the feel that she was actually a girl. “Why do they all stare me here?” She had asked her mother pointing towards her bosoms. Her mother slapped her hard and yelled at her, “Why don’t you go and ask them and when they will tell you, you tell me.” Jhilmil couldn’t understand what her mother meant, but her shouting surely scared her and the next day she took a shawl upon her upper body and went searching for jobs.
On the way she noticed a young boy dragging a cart of milk. She was instantly attracted. Jhilmil had always been attracted to the tasks that big boys did. She followed the boy and saw him halting in front of a shop that seemed like a milk supplier. That moment only, Jhilmil decided that she would do this job and after an hour of begging she was able to convince the owner of the shop. “Come from tomorrow....and if you don’t turn up then don’t come ever again,” the shop owner yelled harshly. Jhilmil nodded, she was happy, she had a job of Rs. 2000, and it was a good start for Jhilmil. “Aayi would be so happy to hear...now she will not beat me anymore and she will give me food,” she thought within herself and her innocent heart was filled with much glee and enthusiasm.
The next day Jhilmil reached on time and the owner asked the same boy from yesterday to guide her which houses to deliver the milk. There were two carts filled with myriad litres of milk, one was for him and the other for Jhilmil. Jhilmil began dragging the cart but it didn’t move a bit from its place and the shop owner who got little agitated laughed loudly and taunted her “go wash utensils at people’s homes...that’s a perfect job for you. Jhilmil remained quiet and began pulling the cart with all her strength and was able to move it. That day the boy showed her all the houses were milk was to be delivered and the first day of her job went well.
In the afternoon her wrist was aching and her palm’s skin from inside has gone soar. Jhilmil didn’t show it to Aayi; she knew she would only get a thrash from her. But her younger brother Ranu came with a ointment and applied on her soar hands. “Didi...how’s your new job, Aayi was saying that you won’t be able to do it for long.” Ranu asked her with his innocent face. Jhilmil lovingly patted on his head and chuckled, “leave her, Aayi says many things.” Ranu stared at her Didi’ s face for sometime understanding nothing, and after some giggling and laughing along with his sister, the five year old slept right beside her on the floor.
Every day Jhilmil was out early morning before even her Aayi or bothers woke up. She waited for the nights to finish and to get out fast of her small abode, a dirty place among a slum. She was beginning to like her new work; it gave her much freedom from the dirty slums and the narrow smelling gullies where she has been living for long now. She felt good ringing the bells of the doors that opened towards another world and Jhilmil was able to peek through the doors. She always loved seeing the inside of the homes well decorated and neatly kept, they all seemed like heaven to her. The mistress’s opening the doors wearing expensive clothes appeared like fairies to her. She sometimes mentioned it to her mother, “Aayi the women in the kothis are so beautiful and their homes....even more beautiful.” But her mother was too careless to listen to Jhilmil’s words; she rather scolded her by pulling her hair, “Stop dreaming...that world out there is not meant for you. Jhilmil’s eyes became wet and her young heart was hurt. Her mother had her share of grieves and she never talked about them, but her behaviour always remained irritant and cruel towards Jhilmil.
Jhilmil now stopped telling her Aayi anything she noticed from work, but Ranu was always a good listener. His brown eyes twinkled every time Jhilmil mentioned about the people and the big houses she delivered milk to and this often made the little boy throw tantrums, “ Didi....I want to come too.....I will deliver milk with you” But Jhilmil always declined his request. Taking his innocent face in her palms she said lovingly “You are too young....and you don’t have to work now.”
Six months passed away and Jhilmil was doing her job with full responsibility. She never took a day off; her master was happy too and gave some extra cookie into her pockets. With that money, she bought a new sari for her mother and went almost jumping and dancing towards home to give it to her mother. “Aayi...I have bought a new sari for you,” Jhilmil came running that day to her mother, her face bright with happiness. Inside her small hut she saw her mother sitting quietly and tears flowing down from her cheeks. Jhilmil was scared; she went closer and asked nervously, “Aayi what happen....why are you crying? See what I got for you...a new sari,” she took out the newly bought yellow sari from the packet and tried giving it to her mother. Her mother took the sari and threw it on the floor and shouted loudly on Jhilmil “Baba is dead...your Baba is dead.”
Jhilmil’s heart was saddened, and within that moment her happiness turned into despair. Not because her father was dead but because her mother threw the sari such ruthlessly on the floor. She had no feelings for her father, how could she? She never received any love from him. She thought why her Aayi was crying when that man had kept no relations with them. That day she ran away from her hut, as far she could. Aayi never liked her no matter what she did she was never pleased. One whole day she spent sitting inside a hollow circular concrete pipe kept somewhere on a big ground. The place was not known to her but she didn’t care. She didn’t want to return home, to a loveless mother who didn’t even look at her once. Jhilmil cried that day she cried a lot and didn’t realize when it was dark and she had slept inside the concrete pipe whole night.
Next morning she was dragging the milk carts again, she had to come back, for Ranu her little brother whom she loved the most. Jhilmil hadn’t had a morsel of food since yesterday afternoon, her head was spinning. She sat down on the ground for few minutes, her bile was in her mouth and she began to puke. No one came to help her, after some time she gathered some strength and began pulling the cart and delivering milk to their respective houses.
“Memsahib...can you give me something to eat?” Jhilmil asked in one of the houses. She had never done this before. It ashamed her to ask for any help, but today she was not able to bear her hunger. The woman from the house gave her two stale chapattis and some pickle in a poly bag. Jhilmil took it and began eating hastily. The woman who was watching her with certain irk said, “Easy....don’t eat so fast.” Jhilmil slowed down a bit she was feeling embarrassing already. She replied with food filled in her mouth, “I had nothing since yesterday.” This answer of her’s made the woman shut the door on her face immediately. Jhilmil understood what the woman thought and she left one chapatti uneaten on her door.
“Where were you? Tell me where you were the whole night....you bloody whore?” No sooner Jhilmil sat her foot into her house her mother began to slap her hard; she kept beating Jhilmil until her own hands were sore. Jhilmil’s whole body ached that night; she wasn’t given any food again. Jhilmil’s body has stepped into womanhood and showed every sign of it, albeit her extreme hard work didn’t made her feel the hunger as much her mother did by not giving food to her often. Her curves were becoming prominent and she now had to cover herself with a stole or tippet all the time. For this too her mother scolded her, “Look at you...why those peeking out such early?” Her mother often scolded her and Jhilmil cried in alone for getting blamed for something she had no sense yet. The outer world’s eyes were also teaching her that she was a woman apart from her mother. Still her naive mind didn’t know why her mother often called her a whore? Aayi’s continuous gesture of irritation and her tortures was developing hatred in Jhimil’s mind against her mother and often she felt like escaping some place far, far away from this life. But Ranu’s innocent face brought tears into her eyes and she couldn’t.
“Hey.... go get yourself a new dress,” her master had given her a little bonus a week before Diwali for her hard work and Jhilmil this time really bought a new dress for her. A pink salwar kameez and got it stitched from a tailor. She didn’t buy anything for her mother or brother this time. She too wanted to look beautiful this Diwali, especially for him whom she has began to like. She and Heera, the boy who supplied milk along with her have become much close to each other and shared some time together sitting on their respective carts after finishing delivering the milk packets. Heera was a young boy in his early twenty, dark complexioned, sharp features he was the son of a mason. Together they had dreamt of a good life, they talked about their future and how much they would love each other even after marriage. Jhilmil shared her grieves with him, in him she had already seen her future husband and trusted that she could tell him about her rude mother and how badly she treated her. This gave her heart much solace and she felt light. Heera too loved listening to her and often he bought her cheap gifts like a hair band or a bracelet which she kept clandestinely far from the reach of her Aayi.
“What does whore means?” Jhilmil had asked Heera casually one day and listening to her question he kept gazing hard at her for some time. “Why do you ask?” He questioned her rather jokingly. But Jhilmil was timid she kept asking again and again and Heera was laughing loudly the more she was willing to know what does the word meant. Suddenly his face grew serious and he mumbled drolly, “You really don’t know?” She shook her head from left to right, with full excitement and her eyes twinkled. She was sure that it didn’t meant something well else her mother wouldn’t have tagged her with the word. Yet her youthful mind and her age made her more curious and she said smilingly, “Bata naa... (Tell me).”
“Ok...let’s meet some place alone and I will tell you everything.” Heera said with a frown.
‘Where? She asked with her eyes prying upon him. He asked her to come to a cemetery behind the slums situated some 2 kms away from the city. It was a lonely place and people avoided going there. “Cemetery?” She asked loudly with her eyes big and rounded. “Why scared?” he said in a rather taunting tone and with a wicked smile resting upon his face. “I am not scared of anything....I will come.” She replied this time in much bold and confident voice. “But you have to come there...late afternoon when ghosts rise from the dead. Who knows we might spot one!” he murmured in eerie tone trying to scare her. “I am not scared...I will come,” she replied while giving a slight push on his shoulder with her hands. And then they both kept gazing each other for a while with a smile.
Jhilmil who had began to love him, understood the idea behind the whole thing, she knew Heera wanted to take her out, far from the world’s eyes. And to this she felt excited, to meet him in a lonely place where there would be no eyes against their love. “Perhaps he might be planning to ask me for marriage” she thought on her way home and also thought of many wonderful things about her life with Heera, things she often daydreamt about themselves and this made her soul float with hopes towards a better future.
Jhilmil knew she needed no permission to take from her mother because she never cared what Jhilmil did the whole day? Where she went, who were her friends? To her Aayi she was non-existent. And every time she tried to talk or tell her mother something she only got beaten up. This time too Jhilmil decided not to tell anything, she knew if ever Aayi came to know about Heera she would have killed her anyway. Jhilmil was excited; she wore the same and her only nice pink salwar kameez that she bought on Diwali. She shampooed her hair today and combed her brown hair which mostly remained tangled due to dust and her carelessness. She put nail paint, eye liner on her small eyes and lipstick on her dark lips. It was her first special meeting outside with Heera. They mostly talked on their duty times and then came back home. She had never met him before outside like this, thus today she wanted to look beautiful than the other days.
Jhilmil reached the cemetery half an hour early and found that Heera hadn’t come yet. The place was a desolated one. The shrivelled trees standing still and dried out land bearing cracks, gave her goose bumps and the breeze flowing too had a strange rattling sound when it passed touching the leafless branches of the dead trees. Jhilmil galloped into that huge place, looking for someplace safe. She began to gaze around here and there but saw no human figure and not even a bird or squirrel. The place seemed dead with a bizarre kind of rotten smell filling her nostrils and she had to cover her nose with one end of her georgette tippet. One moment Jhilmil felt like running back home and never come here again, but she knew if she ran away, Heera would laugh on her and she didn’t wanted to be a joke made of her. She finally spotted a low heighted rock in one place and sat over it, resting her chin on her hands she prayed, “Ohhh Heera....please come fast,” she said to herself and sat quietly waiting there in the middle of that huge cemetery.
Suddenly she held her head with both her hand, and fell down unconscious on the ground. She felt like something very hard hit her head from behind and before she could see or understand anything she lay facing the ground and there was complete blackout. Jhilmil was lost in another world; everything was blank, no thoughts, and no dreams all null. She didn’t realize how much time had passed away. Her eyes opened a little to a blurred view, with loud noises of laughing and talking entering her ears. Her head ached, it felt like it was going to burst any sooner now, she tried to bring close her hands to feel something heavy on her cheeks but realized that they were tied to something. And soon she saw that both her hands and legs were tied to a tree trunk that was laying flat upon earth and she had no clothes on her body. Jhilmil now began to pine in pain; she was struggling hard, shaking her hands and feet trying harder to get free. She then heard the voices came near her and was shocked to see Heera and his few friends laughing over her callously. “Heera...save me,” she shouted and began to scream loudly, “Help...help.” The boys kept watching her scream and then one of the boy covered her mouth and yelled at her, “keep quiet....nobody can hear you here.” “Yeah...that’s why we chose this place!” another boy said and then they all laughed out madly. In the midst of this Jhilmil’s eyes were only on Heera, she kept gazing at him and he was not able to look into her eyes.
No sooner she was awake; which the boys were anxiously waiting for, they all began forcing into her for once and myriad times. Jhilmil was in deep pain. Her matured yet delicate body was suffering unbearable torture. They all did the brutal act going till satisfied and then she was left alone in the cemetery naked and tied with blood oozing from her chastity. She fainted in too much pain. When her eyes opened it was dark, she could feel myriad insects walking on her body. They bit her, ate her body but this pain was nothing to the pain those boys gave her. Jhilmil was lying in the jet black forest like cemetery, she was fearful again. She wished hard she didn’t see a ghost or any shadow, her heart was pounding faster in fear. She was moving her head and her eye balls rotated with the slightest noise like rattling of the leaves, even the breeze swishing was eerie to death. Jhilmil’s body was weak for losing blood from her head wound and she began to fall asleep but she was forcing herself to stay awake, but finally she dozed off.
“Wake up....wake up you whore.” Someone was shaking Jhilmil’s bare body. She opened her eyes and felt relieved to see some human figure. Alas! Seeing the same boys standing from yesterday circled around her, her face became pale with fear as if she had seen a ghost. Again her relief was turned into a painful fight of forceful male bodies pushing hard into her. Jhilmil began to scream this time with all her strength and one of the boy slapped her hard on her face and then tied her mouth with a piece of cloth. Heera noticed amid her struggle, myriad tears flowing from the corner of her eyes and the drops fell on the ground. Suddenly he yelled at the other boys “let’s go...stop it...enough I said. Let’s go. Do you want to get caught or what?” he said in a serious tone. The boys who wanted to play more with a fragile woman’s body were not in agreement. And after some time and few minutes of argument among themselves, they all ran away leaving Jhilmil behind in the same condition like yesterday.
This brutal act continued for five days in a row, and finally Jhilmil’s fragile body began to give up, she showed no struggle, no rebel, her lifeless body was last and for all getting eaten up by the two legged monsters. They kept doing it but the fun part was over for them, she had become lifeless and this made the boys’ bloody game tasteless. “She seems dead....what should we do? They asked each other. Jhilmil’s bare body barely breathing was able to hear them talk. Their voices fainted in her ears, still she heard Heera’s voice, “Let’s do it for last today, and no one comes back here again....ever. Understand!” he yelled.
“Bhai (Brother)....what to do with the body?” one of the voice asked. “I said no one ever comes back...don’t you get it. There are many vultures for that.” Heera replied in the harshest tone. Before leaving they untied her hands and took away the ropes along with them. Jhilmil had no sense left, but her breaths were still going on.
“Didi...Didi” Ranu’s sweet voice was mingling in her ears. It was raining and Ranu was pushing the cart from behind. The cart’s wheel was stuck in the puddle and Jhilmil was dragging it hard. The more she tried the more the wheel jammed, Jhilmil was wet with mud all over her body. She acquired all her strength one last time and the cart came out but Jhilmil couldn’t control it and it got flipped and all the milk in the plastic racks fell on the muddy ground. Her dream was over; drops of tears began to flow from her eyes which she wasn’t able to open anymore. She had to go now but she didn’t want to leave. Not for Ranu her little brother whom she loved the most. All the images became clear, her cuddling Ranu, playing with him. Suddenly her body bent like an arch, she experienced pain for one last time. A slight shriek came out of her mouth and she breathed her last breath. Jhilmil was free from her agonizing pain and her breaths became lost somewhere in that rotten smelling breeze of the cemetery.
She came five days ago to this place with many dreams and hopes for the future. Jhilmil was missing for almost a week now and slowly many days passed away. Her mother never searched for her. No one did and no one missed her either, except for Ranu. “Aayi where is Didi....when will she come? He asked many times but her mother only shouted. “She will not come....she has abandoned us like your father. Now eat your food.” Ranu’s little heart didn’t believe her mother and tears rolled down from her cheeks. He still believes that his Jhilmil Didi will come back someday.
A much longer time had passed away after that incident and life is going on at its normal. The milk shop supplier asked Heera one day, “Hey where is that girl? Heera shrugged off and the owner instantly said, “these people are like this...give them little more and their behaviour change...huhhh. Move on you lazy one...won’t you have to deliver milk.” The shop owner shouted at Heera and he began pushing the cart with a villainous smile and a face that showed no qualms or guilt of abducting an innocent girl to death.
“Where is your daughter? I don’t see her around these days,” one of the maid working in the kothis asked once to Jhilmil’s mother. “She ran away...just like her father.” Her mother replied wittily. “She earned only 2000, what is 2000 nowadays? Her money was next to nothing...besides she gave me nothing,” Jhilmil’s mother added wiping the sweat on her forehead with the yellow sari Jhilmil had bought for her. The other maid kept staring at her face for a while and then left saying, “Poor thing.”