Washed face the neatly pulled back hair that brought

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washed face, the neatly pulled-back hair that brought out the arresting shape of hercheek-bones. The slim, straight body, the taut belly, the sinuous curve of breast and hipthat the old green sari didn’t quite hide. (But perhaps the sister was only imaginingthis.) Then he said in a voice which still sounded annoyed that he was willing to try herout for a month or so, but only if his wife took full responsibility for anything that wentwrong.“I will,” said the wife, giving him a smile of grateful brilliance and clasping his handin hers, though she knew that the old aunt frowned on such forward behavior on thepart of wives. But the sister, who sensed that the husband was not really annoyed at all,crossed her fingers under the table to avert bad luck and said a prayer for her sister.That was how the maid—let us call her Sarala—came to the house.
The maid was as good as her word. Quick and alert, in a few weeks she learned all thatthe wife showed her, from embroidering baby diapers to mixing medicinal oils accordingto the special recipe passed down to the wife by her mother. And she was a hard worker.Up at dawn, she would be waiting on the balcony with a pot of the basil tea consideredparticularly beneɹcial for pregnant women by the time the wife emerged from thebedroom. Once the husband left for work, she dusted the wife’s dressing table, lovinglylining up the combs and brushes, the little pots of kumkumand sindurand kajal, andarranging in their velvet cases the jewelry the wife was increasingly too tired to putaway. She washed her ɹne cotton saris by hand and dried them in the shady part of theterrace so they would smell sun-fresh without the colors fading. She massaged the wife’sswollen feet with the medicinal oil and never tired of running down to the kitchen tobring her up a glass of chilled nimbu-paniwhenever she felt nauseous. Even in the hotafternoons when the rest of the servants disappeared for their siestas, she would sit inthe passage outside her mistress’s bedroom, hemming one of her petticoats or letting outa blouse, and keeping the little girl, who often woke early from her nap, occupied withtales and rhymes so she wouldn’t go in and disturb her mothers sleep.Sometimes the wife would call out in her gentle voice, “Why don’t you go and liedown for a bit, Sarala? I don’t mind if Khuku comes and plays on my bed.”But the maid would always say, “Oh no, Didi (she had taken to calling her elder sister,just as her own sister did), I’m not tired. You please rest. Khukumoni is no trouble atall.”At ɹrst the sister regarded the maid’s devotion to the wife with suspicion. (And yes, itmust be admitted, even some jealousy. She didn’t like the business of the maid callingher sister didi, a title that was rightfully hers to use. A hot resentment pricked at herwhen she heard the wife speaking to the maid in the same aʃectionate tone she usedtoward her own sister.) She had never come across a servant quite like her. Even the old

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