The Maid

Pity was the last thing she needed, maybe it was even a little insulting, but that’s all he had to offer as she left.

A few days ago she flew in like she always did. She was always turned around, looking out to the street while the doorbell still rung. When the door swung open, she’d turn, and with formal greeting head straight in. He would stay out of her way, but like the ears of a cat would follow every step. Far too often he’s look around and feel something out of place, something missing. He was wary, and watchful when he wasn’t indifferent. But that day she was a was a bit nicer. Meeker? He pushed the thought outside and went out to the balcony where he could rock the cane chair a few inches shy of the late morning sun. From here he could see and ignore most of what happened inside.

A few cushions paled with age were moved around and leg was swung onto a reading table. He looked out at the sun coated sprawl of buildings, rented houses that cannibalized former homes. They rose irregularly, their bones of steel sprung out of the roofs of many, the grilled windows unable to protect against dust. They were all he saw except for irregular burst of green and glass behemoths at a distance. She spoke again.

He hardly head what she had said. Her contacts were lost she said, she wanted help she said. A few days later she nicer still, said she wanted help. His curiosity was sufficiently piqued. He tried piecing together a mystery as she asked him how to block a number. Her’s was an old phone, a worn touch pad that poured light through faded keys. There was no block option. It wasn’t one of those call drop numbers. This was a person. A person who had called frequently, late into the night she informed him. She asked if it was possible to have it blocked at a store. He doubted that was possibly and shrugged no longer interested. He told her to try. Late into the night… It’s a little more serious than call drops then. “Bored pervs” he though to himself.

Today she asked for his number. She’d lost her phone. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d gotten rid of it to escape the calls. He remember her husband, a loud, brash plumber he couldn’t stand for too long. He didn’t see the plumber being much help. He saw her fly away like usual but felt disturbed. Maybe he should have done something more. A phone wasn’t cheap,it must have cost her dearly to get a new one.She might have asked for help but maybe it wasn’t his business to offer help.

She joked that she must have forgotten it somewhere. Her laughter seemed awkward. He offered her his usual curt smile. She carried on as always,back to the un-speaking self, having found her way of coping while he stayed out there perturbed. His indifference made him feel guilty but soon he was lost to thoughts about the city before him.

The Glass House

I understand why she can’t stand the house, some people don’t mind being seen so much as having to see.

Down a wide, green, cobbled road, after the sleepy houses that have been around since the end of the British Raj, is where the family’s new house in Mangalore is hidden away. These large house that could have only existed in a time that has passed, are now green with moss, have plants booming in untamed corners, roofs collapsing, red tiles cracking and adventurous dogs (who take advantage of the very uneven terrain, frequent slopes and drooping trees to climb onto the sunny remains of roofs). The newer concrete  houses with aged cement, mossed paint, and small yards are also lonely as their owners also decide to leave town and live in countries where their children work. New, luxurious apartments have sprung up in the area. Smaller but very charming little apartments that have housed at least one generation also line the road, bolder than the behemoths drawn to the back of their plots.

Our house, the glass house, is down this road, down a small cobbled slip that runs down a gentle slope. A white house and a white car, clearly built by a man quite a lot of money and very little taste or reservation, guards the entrance to the lane. Travelers often stop to look twice at the awkward, white stone and wood, built in what is unmistakably supposed to be inspired by old Indian mansions. On the other side is a grey moss covered wall, and large trees that hide a large house behind it. On the other side of this entrance is a path to a large apartment.

Behind the awkward white house is an empty plot with old house that is surrounded by wild grass, and has a roof which has crashed to the ground.  It has a curious amounts of books inside, which are now a sickened shade brown. Behind this empty plot is our landlords house, and after that is our house. After the grey compound wall on the left, which houses a large grey house with a well forested garden, and a lonely old man, is a large courtyard and a two story house rented to three people. This house, with resilient wild flowers and plants exploding all over it, would have been rented to four people if there wasn’t a property dispute going on. Behind it, at the end of the street next to us, is a pink four story apartment that looks like a house. It does a poor job of hiding the street behind it.

Anyone who walks onto the tiny street is immediately spotted and heard by everyone on the street (maybe even by the people on the street behind it). Many species of bored housewives,canines and felines have eyes ready to pounce on anything that stroll by. The residents of the apartment can also steal glances unnoticed and unobstructed through our street and the next from their elevated windows. The awkward inward folding gates to our house is guarded by the Muslim women who are always drying clothes at the bottom of the apartment, the three families in the house before it, and the matron of our house.

She is always in her living room that looks straight at the gate. She asks adroit questions that’ll help her determined the age and occupation of at least three generations as she smiles and permits you to open the gate. Walk down along her house with an endless supply of young relatives sticking out of the many windows, and up the stairs try to avoid the inquiring stares from the living room of the people who live below us. The stairs end at our house which faces a window to our landlords house. You can often see their feet or upper torso as they leave the bedroom and head to the kitchen.

On the left you can see the entire street, and the entire street can see both you and into the first bedroom of the house. Above these house you can see another apartment from where you can once again be observed unnoticed. On the right you can see a basement. We used to live in the large apartment above the basement.It’s surprisingly populated for a basement. You can also see part of a large, old house behind it.The house is a perfect rectangle. Enter the living room and you can see straight down to the end of the house and into the street behind us. You can peek into all the room on the right and through their windows. You can also look left and once again see the basement and the house behind it.

There’s a strange man who’s always at the basement. They tell me there must be something wrong with him. The something is likely to be a physical condition but I’m not sure. He stand there, mostly during the afternoon, motionless between the always locked office and the three stairs to the elevators. He is clad in unassuming formals, well-worn old shoes and has rapidly graying hair. He talks to a few people occasionally, but never leaves his post. You’ll never seen him moving and you can’t afford to look at him because his post lets him look right at you.

Every room but the washroom(which has just one window) lets you see and be seen from at least two sides. Every side seems to have a conversation float by, every direction seems to have someone who look away when they catch your glance. no other house on the street must be able to see as much as we can, no other house can be seen as much as we can. She tells me it’s like the walls and roof have collapsed just like in all those old houses. I wonder what the view must be like from inside those shattered mansions.