Last woman standing

Last woman standing

It's a standing job, she says, folding the clothes that are left outside the trial room.

When the escalator deposits you gently on the well-lit floor, you are hopeful. Cheerful faces of  numerous attendants make you believe there is plenty of choice and that you made the right decision coming here to shop. The endless racks of clothes; slim, smartly attired mannequins; hangers with trendy clothes dangling temptingly within reach; placards showing the ‘buy one get one free’ or some such discount, which, when you later sit at home, clear-headed with a full meal nourishing your insides, turns out to be a not so great a bargain after all.

Two hours later leaning against the mirror outside the trial rooms shifting weight from one tired foot to the other, I sympathise with a boy in a similar predicament who is helping his girl choose clothes; or rather is holding clothes while she emerges from the trial room repeatedly in strange clothes, looking unhappy. My kids too are taking ages, following a strict rule that anything mummy likes is certainly not in fashion. Resigned to gazing at my reflection in huge unflattering mirrors, wishing the din the music is creating would stop soon and wondering why the company running the mall is trying to create ice age conditions, I decide to chat up with the other woman standing.

She is dressed in a security guard’s outfit – a smart grey and black shirt and trousers, complete with belt and shoes. Sadly, her toes stick out of the black school shoes, which I guess rightly to be her contribution to the uniform.

“The job? It’s okay. We need the money,” she replies to my query about her work. She has children who are married, though I had guessed her to be younger. She says she is around fifty. She had been a housewife till her husband gave up driving the auto rickshaw after a heart problem. She had not wanted to sweep and wash vessels in houses to make ends meet, so a relative had brought her here. They are entitled to a day’s off in a month, but any extra holidays means a slash in pay or a firing. “It’s a standing job,” she says, folding the clothes that are deposited outside the trial room, keeping a sharp look out for anyone trying to steal clothes. “Customers have to complain about the low temperatures and loud volume,” she laughed when I ask her how she manages her long hours in such conditions.

“Now, I feel being a maid would have been more relaxing,” she says wearily as another group of women troop into the trial rooms. “You’re right. That would definitely have been a better choice,” I tell her thinking of the girl who works for me. Uninformed holidays, afternoon naps, visits to fairs and temples in her villages, numerous relatives always in need of her help to visit the doctor, building a home in the village… She spins stories, and retains her place in the six houses, taking home a pay packet no one has the heart to tamper with.

Sitting with my daughters in a warm café, eating hot chips and burgers, the shopping done to their satisfaction at last, my mind goes back to the last woman standing – her job depends on it.

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