Malli, was the sixteen-year-old daughter of Yellamma who worked as a maid in the houses near their shanty. Malli did finish school, and want to go to college, but her mom could not pay the fees. So she landed up looking after her two-year-old sister when her mother went away to work.
But suddenly Yellamma fell sick. She tried drinking hot liquids, gargling with hot waters, swallowing store bought painkillers- But nothing worked.
The local doctor prescribed some pills. But they had money to buy just one dose. That did not work either.
That’s when Yellamma called Malli to her bedside.
“Many of the ladies from the houses I work in, have asked if you will work for them, till I am better. But you know the money they pay will be very less.”
Malli looked at her mother uneasily. She knew what was coming.
“You know Shanta madam has always been asking for you to join her. She called me yesterday. You know she will pay much better than what you can earn by doing the house-work.”
Malli was silent for a minute. Then she looked up at her mother hesitantly and said,
“Ma, you know how I hate both Shanta madam, and what she does.”
“I know dear. But what other option do we have. You and your little sister have’nt had a proper meal since two days. The doctor says I need to take atleast three doses of medicines before I can hope to get well. I have already borrowed a huge amount from all the houses I work in when it rained and we had to rebuild the hut. We need to sustain till I am better and can start working.”
Malli looked dejected.
“I promise you that it will be only for a few months. Once I am well and start going to work, I will find money for you to learn that computer course. Then you can stop working for Shantha madam.”
Malli entered the house with trepidation.
Shantha madam was a middle-aged lady, wearing a gaudy pink sari with a gold sequinned blouse. Her lips were stained an orangish-red with the constant chewing of betel leaf.
At this time of the day, there was no one else around her.
She tried to say something but all that came out of her mouth was an orangish spittle. She gestured Malli towards a room with a thin curtain.
The middle aged guy in the room was sitting on a chair. When Malli told him that she was there to learn work, he made her sit near him and explained a few things.
Among other things, he taught her to hold it in the right angle and start by licking it to make it stiff. He explained that the more stiff it was, the more easily it could enter the hole.
Malli, continued to lick the thread before she inserted it into the needle. As a newbie, her first job at this tailoring centre was to stitch the buttons on the dresses.
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