Mrs. Dave stood in front of the school gate and a wave of warmth swept through her body. Oh, how she missed this hustle and bustle; kids sprinting to their buses for the best seats, hassled teachers trying to mind them, helpers hurriedly recceing the area for anything left behind, and parents anxiously attempting to spot their wards from the school gate. While she, the Principal Ma’am, stood tall at the balcony on the first floor, her vantage point and favourite spot to quietly monitor her turf.
It had been four years since Mrs. Dave had retired but this school in her neighbourhood never let her feel away from that life. The school bell was audible loud and clear in her bedroom and she often found herself matching its time with her wall clock, silently tut-tutting if it was off by even a few seconds. Old habits die hard, don’t they? She liked having her lunch while listening to the commotion of kids out on the playground during their break. Approvingly for her, the school gate was locked to keep them inside.
Mrs. Dave’s son and daughter-in-law left for work early every morning and returned home late at night. Mumbai traffic claimed both life and time, after all. They had arranged a live-in help to ensure that she was cared for, much against her fraught refusal. Anita, the help, was a vivacious twenty-year-old, with an appetite for movies, gossip, and nail paints. Mrs. Dave admonished her repeatedly for her celebrity obsession, nosing around and inelegant choice of shades; slutty red, garish black, eyesore yellow, and dirty green. This led to Anita flouncing off, for a couple of hours at times. She always returned on time for Mrs. Dave’s meds though.
A loud horn brought Mrs. Dave out of her reverie. She had no recollection of how and when she left her home and came and stood in the middle of the road. Disgusted with herself for stepping out in a maxi, she was further confounded to see heavy shopping bags in her hands. What was she doing there? Wasn’t Anita responsible for buying stuff for the house? Where was she? Had she taken off again? Also, why wouldn’t people stop screaming and asking her to move!
Suddenly Anita appeared in front of her, huffing and puffing and visibly distraught. She sweepingly checked if Mrs. Dave was hurt and gently took her aside, relieving her from the weight of the bags. While a perspiring Mrs. Dave sat on a bench and haltingly sipped from the water bottle Anita got for her from a store, she looked around quickly, to see if anything had been taken. Once relieved, she sat next to her and reassuringly held Mrs. Dave’s hand. Tired but comforted, she smiled back gratefully.
Widowed at a young age, Mrs. Dave started showing signs of Alzheimer’s soon after her retirement. Due to her authoritative and independent nature, she had declined to move in with her son for the longest time. However, a couple of serious health and safety scares later it wasn’t her choice. Anita knew her condition and dedicatedly looked after her but wasn’t without her vices either. She had been creating inflated bills with the help of the grocer and Mrs. Dave had heard her talk with him on phone today.
She had left angrily to return his things, locking Anita in while she was visiting the washroom, when the school gate distracted her and she forgot where she was headed. Incidentally, it was dispersal time and she got caught in the restless moving crowd. Looking at Mrs. Dave’s lost eyes now, Anita felt a pang of guilt. She had to confess to her employers and ask for their forgiveness. They might get upset and ask her to leave but it was a small price to pay for the risk Mrs. Dave had been in due to her. True, the old lady gave her grief but she was a teacher, and even in her disoriented state she had taught her a life lesson today. Honesty.
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