I try to walk a bit faster. I know am late and someone was waiting. I stand impatiently in the building lift and rush out once I reach my floor. The door opens even before I can ring the doorbell. 'Oh, there you are!' she says, relief flooding her face. 'I have an important concall today and he's teething.'
Madam hands me my favorite person. The cutest toddler, Anuj, who has been under my care since he was a four-month-old gurgling infant. Madam, his mother, is relaying out instructions to me but I don't read her fully as Anuj is giggling and pulling at my hair. She then disappears into the bedroom with her laptop. She's working from home today.
Anuj starts crying. I know the drill well. I sing to him as I make his bottle. Lukewarm, just the way he likes it. Then I sit him down with his favourite story book. No, I don't know how to read English well, but I can recognize the pictures. After all, I passed class eight in my village with flying colours. 'What do we do with educating you Shanti?' my parents had said. 'Enough, now go live with your uncle and make money for the family.'
So after six years of odd jobs in numerous households, I came to this home as a nanny. Madam liked me as she found me 'gentle and clean'. I'm used to children; I have three younger siblings. So Anuj took to me quickly.
Anuj. Such an angel of a boy. He's beautiful and well-behaved, just like his parents. I remember the first time I saw him. I felt so happy and his mother looked like a good lady. I joined them immediately.
Madam was skeptical at first. She taught me everything thoroughly and treated me well. How to change Anuj's diaper and wash hands after. How to make his food, how to sing his favourite songs. How to open out the pram and walk him around the building park. Slowly, she warmed up to me and trusted my ability.
She is a good mother. She loves Anuj a lot. She is highly educated and works tirelessly for the sake of her career and a better lifestyle. I am no one to judge her. Why should I? It's because of her wish to pursue a job that I have such a great opportunity to work here.
Anuj is my stress-buster. He makes me forget my loneliness and family problems. Oh, oh! He's had a tumble. He's crying for his mother. I pick him up and calm him. Madam briefly pokes her head out of the door, nods her head and disappears into the room.
Its lunch time. Anuj's mum comes out and finishes the lunch I made with lightning speed. 'Give Anuj some strawberry milkshake in the evening and make chowli beans for dinner,' she instructs me before rushing back to her laptop. 'He doesn't like strawberries and chowli will give him gas,' I wanted to tell her. But, I kept quiet.
It's been happening often now. Anuj and I have been together so long that he's become a part of me. I have seen him grow, achieve his milestones right before my eyes. I want to bring him up the way I know, dress him the way I like. I want to apply powder and kajal to his cherubic face to save him from nazar (evil eyes). But I know madam won't approve of it. 'Don't do things as per your wish, Shanti. Do as you are told,' she will say.
I feel upset at such times. Like I did when they installed those cameras in the house. 'We trust you, Shanti. Don't feel bad. We know you love Anuj, but after all, we are his parents and would like to be vigilant about him,' they had said. But I understand.
Because I'm like his mother, but cannot become her. I love him like my child, when I know he's not mine to love. He is joined to me by an imaginary umbilical cord, and it ends there. So who am I? I'm a mother on rent, a temporary fix. I have to hold my guard. Sigh, it's an occupational hazard.
Madam has stepped out of the room for tea. She plays with her son. 'Madam, Anuj said 'apple' today when he saw it in the book,' I tell her proudly. 'Really? That's amazing. All thanks to you Shanti. It's because of you that I can balance both, my work and my child. Now, could you take him downstairs to play? He's getting restless,' she smiled.
I grin as I carry a flailing Anuj. This is what I need; appreciation, to lick my wounds that would otherwise heal slowly. We both need each other for our sanity. The relationship is symbiotic.
(Names changed on request)
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