Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.
Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.
The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on.
The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.
The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.
And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs.
Everyone knew how much she loved the doll. Then one summer a distant cousin had visited their family, a small girl her own age. She too had fallen in love with the doll. They both danced in tune with the doll to the songs from the radio. When it was time for her to leave she asked Mrs Kumar for the doll. And Mrs Kumar gave it to her, no one stopped her, in fact, they lauded her selflessness. Mrs.kumar had hoped that the doll would not go, that she would somehow stay with her, but the doll had happily nodded her head and left with her cousin. She never saw the doll or her cousin again. When she cried her mother consoled her saying she had just learnt the importance of sacrifice.
After all these years standing in front of the window watching the doll nod across her reflection, Mrs Kumar wondered about the price of her sacrifice. As the doll nodded some more, Mrs Kumar wondered if she had really ever given the doll away as much as become the doll. As the doll continued to nod something stiffened in Mrs Kumar’s neck. She still did not know what she should do, but she now knew what she wanted to do.
Mrs Kumar walked into the old supermarket near her house. The man at the counter recognized her and stood up, ” Namaste Amma, what would you like to buy today?” He said.
Mrs Kumar gulped hard, but she looked around the supermarket. She knew it well, well enough to run it in fact. She pointed at the board on the front window, “you are looking for sales girls?”
“Yes, Amma, do you know anyone?” The guy asked confused.
“Yes,” Mrs Kumar took a deep breath, “Me.”
It took some more convincing but Mrs.Kumar did get the job. The hours were crazy and the pay was not that good. But it was the first job she had ever had, and there was something oddly comforting in arranging groceries neatly on shelves even as her own life was thrown into disarray.
Mrs Kumar didn’t realize that it had been a month until the owner passed her an envelope with her salary. Mrs Kumar’s hand trembled as she took the envelope. She counted the notes again and again as her feet began to feel firmer on the ground. She knew what she was going to do first. She had watched the doll every day on her way to and from work. She knew the doll was still there, nodding at her.
Mrs Kumar walked into the shop with the certainty of a long lost innocence. She pointed at the doll and asked for her. She knew the exact price even before the cashier had to tell her. She counted out the notes and placed them on the counter, her hands didn’t tremble this time. The cashier asked her if she wanted the doll to be wrapped as she was fragile. Mrs Kumar said it would not be necessary anymore, she held the doll gently in her hand and brought her back to her childhood home.
Mrs Kumar placed the doll on the old tabletop. She had to hit the old radio a couple of times before it would play any songs. Mrs Kumar turned to the doll with watery eyes and a sinuous smile as she gently touched the doll on her head. The doll began to nod as if remembering a long lost tune. Mrs Kumar joined in, dancing with the doll, giggling at first before bursting into the same laughter she laughed all those years ago. Life seemed to have come full circle. She still did not know where the song would lead her, but this time around she knew for sure that this doll would dance to her own tune.
Picture credit: By Alamelu Sankaranarayanan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17915492