Sugra and I

Sugra and I (Part 2 – Another World)

(Continued from Part 1)

~ Marium Sattar ‘09

When I was 14, we had a new servant who was of the same age.  Her name was Asma.  She spoke in a mix of Urdu and Sindhi and peeled with laughter when I couldn’t understand her.  I used to teach her English.  We pretended that I was her teacher and she was my student.  I would teach her new phrases while helping her around the house so that we could accomplish her work faster and she could leave early.  As soon as she returned home, she would have to take care of her four younger siblings while her parents were at work.

When I helped her to clean, I only slowed her down of course.  To wash dirty dishes and iron clothes, I took ten times longer than Asma.  Yet, my parents applauded my efforts and humored me.  I beamed proudly.  They sniggered while telling their friends “Sarah is trying to teach the servants English.”  While it was a game for me, for Asma cleaning up the mess left by others was part of her daily routine.

The first winter that Asma worked for us, there was a brusque temperature fall.  On several occasions, I would see rickshaws resembling rockets; heaters jutting out of them on the way to being transported to their new homes.  It was during this chilly winter that Asma began to cough, a cough which would worsen every day.  When I questioned her as to why she wouldn’t wear a sweater on the way to work to avoid the morning chill, she replied obsequiously:

“Bhaji, I don’t have one!”

“Well why don’t you buy one?  What is the cost?” I implored her, sticking to our roles, as teacher and wayward student.

“I don’t know because I have never bought one before,” she told me as if I was the one being silly.

I told Asma to find out the cost of a new sweater, thinking I would spend my Eid money on her; a worthwhile expense.  I could not tell my parents of my plan to help Asma as they always advised me against giving money to the poor.  I felt a thrill at the thought of going against their will.  The next day Asma came home, she told me the cost of a used sweater; 75 rupees.  I took a 100 rupee note from the stash of money at the back of my closet.  Crumpling it into my hand, I passed it on to Asma when no one was looking.

As the bill was transferred from my smooth palm into Asma’s callous palms, the constant reproaches of my mother echoed in my mind.  “Don’t give them money.  Money only wets their appetite!”  Don’t all people deserve to be happy? I asked myself.

The following day, Asma came to work with her new sweater.  I felt proud of myself for affording her the garment; my thirst to perform a good deed, quenched.  When we were alone together that day, she whispered to me: “My sister’s husband was at work yesterday in our village, and his hands got burned while he was working.”  At first I avoided her eyes and behaved as if I had not heard her.  She repeated her words furtively, still trying to meet my gaze.

“My sister’s husband was at work yesterday in our village, and he burned his hands up to his elbows while working in a factory.  His family has no income now that he is out of work.”

“Oh?”  I feigned interested.  I felt numb.

“He needs 700 rupees for the doctor’s fee…”

I left Asma then.  My heart was guiding me to the stash of money I had kept in my closet, but my legs were directing me in a different direction.  Don’t all people deserve to be happy? I asked myself again.

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