Monika has keys to my house and she often stays out late nights attending social events or visiting friends. It is part of her job, she argues. She believes it is important to attend parties to meet informally with her clients.
She has broken my house rules many times. Paying guests always do that and she is no different. When they come looking for a place to stay, they agree to all house rules. They agree to
1. Come home before 12midnight or else inform me if they are late,
2. Not waste electricity and water,
3. Keep the kitchen clean,
4. Not bring their guests home.
The house rules are followed diligently for one full week, and then there is a memory loss. It’s always me who has to adjust. My house, my rules, but it is difficult to maintain discipline. I mean what should I say if she is ready to leave, dressed up for a party at 11pm? What would her parents say? Would she listen? Sometimes I think their parents have thrown them out of their house for being so aggressive and disobedient.
“Go on, lead your own life and let us lead our own in peace” I imagine them standing outside their door in the middle of the night while their parents scream loudly, disturbing the neighbors.
It’s a slow death for me too, to see them live with so much irresponsibility. It is normal to see them wasting water, using electricity in broad daylight and making mess in the kitchen. Many times, I want to shake them vigorously to bring sense into their brains. There are moments when, instead of nagging, I shut myself in my room and pretend that they don’t exist
“You cannot bring any guest home, understand that.” I had told Monika firmly when she first came to see the room. “And don’t you think I will not know if you do so in my absence. I will. I live in a friendly neighborhood. They are watching. They will inform me if you do.” She had nodded her head meekly when I had explained the rules in details
Neighbors are my extended family. They become alert when my doorbell rings. They inquire about my personal outings. They will even bring home cooked delicacy just to snoop around more than it is necessary. I cannot expect privacy from my neighbors. But my neighbors didn’t know that Monika had twin sister, neither did I
Each time I went out, she would sweetly ask me about my whereabouts and what time was I expected back, then she would decide if it was safe to invite her twin sister home.
Her twin came home regularly in my absence but my neighbors didn’t notice. How could they? Both were tall, thin, fair with large eyes, well-chiseled features, mirror image of each other, the only difference being in the length of their hair. Maya had short hair reaching up to shoulders while her twin sister had long hair reaching to her waist.
“Good morning Ma’am” she murmurs, toothpaste foam thick around her mouth, lock of her hair covering her left eye. Her warm grey tee shirt covering her hips, her legs long and smooth, she is bent over the sink, barefoot.
Ouch! These doorbells leave me no moments of silence. I envy those who hire help to answer the doorbells. RamPrasad comes everyday. Dress in dhoti and faded kurta, scanty, salt and pepper hair, a big bamboo basket on his head, he smiles exposing his one stained tooth as he lowers the basket before I can even refuse. He brings selective seasonal fruits, bright yellow oranges, tiny bananas, apples, melon, green papayas, strawberries.
“Come only once a week. Don’t come everyday’” I scold. I feel obliged to buy fruits from him because he is old and dares to climb up two floors to bring fruit to my house.
He argues and complains about hard times.
“What to do madam, sales are very low and everything is so expensive.” Reluctantly, I buy one kilo of fragrant apples and one big melon.
I turn back and see Monika still at the wash basin, rinse her face. Her hair rolled in a bun, high up and she is dressed in thin muslin nightgown.
I frown but decide not to comment on her change of clothes; instead I say, “That’s a long time to brush your teeth, no?”
She says nothing but disappears into the room.
I stand there, with open jaw, staring at her room door.
Oh no! Again the doorbell.
“Madam, you need to sign this circular. Society meeting is scheduled for this Sunday” says the watchman.
I take a pen from his hand, quickly signed under my name.
Back into my living room, I take a duster and begin to clean the door.
“Didi, do you have an aspirin? I have a severe headache” I looked up to reply but I am distracted when I see her again in long grey tee shirt and short hair like I had seen earlier. With towel in her hand, she is standing outside the bathroom.
I have never seen anybody change clothes with so much frequency.
My medicine cabinet is well stocked with pain killers, cough syrup, ointments, bandages, heat pad, blood pressure monitor, blood sugar accu-check. From the bottle of aspirin, I remove two tablets and walk into her room.
The room is spacious but obnoxious. There are clothes on the bed and on the floor. Books, magazines, cosmetics cluttered on the dressing table, empty coffee cup on the side table.
“Here take the aspirin, this should relieve your headache” I stretch my hand. I am surprised once again when I see her in thin muslin night-gown.
“How many times do you change your clothes?”
She looks at me blankly, pouting.
“I said that how many times do you change your clothes?”
“But, but, just once ma’am” she stammers
“Earlier I saw you in long Tee and now I see you in nightgown”
“Thank you didi” I hear her chirpy voice from the other side of the room.
Confused, I turn around to see the replica of Monika standing behind me, smelling fresh, her wet hair tendrils dripping drops of water on her arm.
I look from Monika to her sister and back again, my eyes wide open
“So sorry didi, we came home late last night from the party and I asked my twin to spend the night here. I am sorry I didn’t tell you.”
I stood there fuming at their deceit.