Muthulakshmi stretched her back. It was a tiring day. She had scrounged through many dumps today but had not found much. Enough for the regular plate of gruel maybe, but nothing for the tin-box – her nest egg. She eased her aching back and looked across. Yes, there she stood; at her usual place…
Opposite the road was a bungalow. A huge house with glass doors and fancy lawns. Swings on the balcony; dogs at the gate; sprinklers in the garden… one of those beautiful looking houses. “A dead house”, Muthulakshmi always thought when she looked at the massive structure across the road. She had never heard laughter, noise, or human chatter anytime. It just stood there, like a mammoth structure; representing what; she never quite understood.
It was on one of her regular days that she first saw her. A woman on the balcony of the house. She was so surprised seeing someone out that she had stopped and gaped at her for some time. Leaning across the balcony, resting her face on her hands the woman seemed to be taking in the world around her. She was still on the balcony when Muthulakshmi lugged her bag and trudged away from the dump.
After that the woman was there every day. Sometimes with a cup of tea in her hand; sometimes with a book; sometimes even before Muthulakshmi arrived. Sometimes leaning against the wall, she seemed to be lost in some world; other times eagerly peering outside she seemed to be exploring the world. Observing her had become as much a part of Muthulakshmi’s routine as detecting iron pieces in the dump.
“She seems so sad”, Muthulakshmi one night told Raju. Raju laughed. “You and your imagination!! What sadness would she have living in the lap of luxury? She does not have to worry like you thinking about the coins in the tin-box. Come let’s eat. See what I’ve got today”. Muthulakshmi excitedly took the eggs from Raju and the woman on the balcony was forgotten.
Raju and Muthulakshmi were married for 8years now. They did not have children, but their love for each other made up for all the lack. They adored each other and the years had only brought a deeper sense of understanding and contentment. Together they collected and sold scrap. Life in the big city was difficult; and they lived from day-to-day. They had seen better days. Raju used to work as a security guard in a garment factory, but then the factory closed down. Disaster struck one-after-another, when their hut caught fire and they lost all that they had. Raju met with an accident and he broke his leg. Their cycle was scrapped. It had seemed like the troubles would never cease. Their love and courage seemed to be what kept them afloat. As Raju slowly recovered, Muthulakshmi suggested scrap dealing. Initially he was hesitant but then the thought of her having to starve was unbearable. And that is how they started selling scrap. Their dream was to collect enough in their tin-box to buy a cycle; then replace their roof from sheet to thatch; then a cycle shop; then a regular shop. They snuggled close to each other talking about their dreams, a ritual they followed every night.
It had been a very hard week. Saleable stuff seemed to be hard to get and the dealer was not giving them much. He seemed to have some different plan. He had just given Raju half of their usual rate. They had hardly put anything into their tin-box the whole week. Muthulakshmi stared at the woman on the balcony and wondered… “Yes, Raju is right”, she thought. “What could bother her?”, She could see the glitter of the ring on her finger from this far. Just by looking at her dress, she could make out it was the fancy stuff she saw the dolls wearing in the shops. The woman was talking on the phone. Raju had told her once about it. He said you could send letters through them. You could even see your friends and talk. Muthulakshmi found it hard to believe, she almost thought he was trying to fool her. But then Raju never made fun of her. She smiled thinking of him, a familiar warmth filling her. Muthulakshmi sighed… at least Raju’s leg was almost healed. Now if only they could do something other than scrounging the dumps…
The ringing of a cycle bell startled her out of her trance. She turned around and squealed with delight!!! It was RAJU, pedaling furiously a brand new bicycle!!! He had a huge smile on his face which changed to laughter seeing her expression. “Raju!!?? Whose is this?” “Ours my dear Muthu… this is our new bicycle”. Muthulakshmi jumped and clapped her hands. “But how? From where? Who gave you?”, she bombarded him with her questions. He laughed aloud. “I will tell you. Our scrap picking days are over, dear. . I will tell you everything. But first come, let’s go for a ride”, Raju said. Muthulakshmi happily ran towards Raju and their new bicycle. For a minute she thought of leaving behind her sack, but then “a penny earned is a penny saved”, she thought. She happily perched on the carrier. As she hugged the sack with one hand and held on to Raju with the other hand, she turned round and looked at the woman.
The woman was eagerly looking at them. She seemed to be smiling, at least that is what Muthulakshmi felt. As the cycle moved away she saw the woman lean against the wall and look at them with what she thought a kind of yearning.
She looked at the receding figure of the woman and it dawned on her. She- Muthulakshmi, the scrap dealer had what the woman in the bungalow didn’t. She was far richer than the woman; and the woman longed for what she had in life.
For Muthulakshmi had love and the happiness of love in her life; and the woman had only longing and yearning for what she knew she could never find in her riches.
- “Shiny Kesavan”