Hunt­ing for an aide

They came in dif­fer­ent kinds.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Bhanu Chan­dran

She was dev­as­tated. Not be­ing able to move on her own and hav­ing to de­pend on some­one for all the ba­sic needs was the big­gest pun­ish­ment for some­one who had been fiercely in­de­pen­dent all her life. Through fight­ing, ar­gu­ments and mis­un­der­stand­ings; the bond of a moth­er­daugh­ter, thrives and sur­vives. And just like this, their love, care, kind­ness and re­spect never dies.

Sheila waited for her mother to ar­rive from the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre. Her hus­band Satish was to ac­com­pany the am­bu­lance bring­ing her. It was al­most three months since her mother was ad­mit­ted to the cen­tre af­ter hospi­tal­i­sa­tion for a week.

One morn­ing as her mother woke up, she just couldn't walk. Years of suf­fer­ing from acute rheuma­toid arthri­tis had taken a toll on her bones. Her leg and knee mus­cles weren't strong enough to hold her tiny frame and so gave in. She was dev­as­tated. Not be­ing able to move on her own and hav­ing to de­pend on some­one for all the ba­sic needs was the big­gest pun­ish­ment for some­one who had been fiercely in­de­pen­dent all her life. She even re­fused to move with them from her home in New Jersey af­ter her fa­ther's demise un­til she be­came very sick.

Her mother Shyama of­ten used to re­mark, “de­pen­dence is death”. She would add, "I should go the day my use­ful­ness ends.” They tried to di­vert her mind with mu­sic, movies etc but, since she was an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, the state pro­vided an aide for her for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Sheila's only brother had mar­ried an Amer­i­can woman and even though she was a gem of a per­son, her mother couldn't vibe with her. They lived in the west and even when her fa­ther was alive, Sheila's par­ents would just

visit them for a week. Sheila got busy with her sons get­ting them ready for school. Though Vi­jay and Vi­nay were only eight and six, she started train­ing them to do small chores and learn life skills. Both Sheila and Satish held high po­si­tions with multi­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions and were very busy. They had a Ben­gali woman as a house­keeper, who also drove the kids for their var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties.

"Asha, will you pack the lunch for the kids while I get my mother to brush and have her cof­fee?” she asked.

"Han, didi. Don't worry. I shall get them in the bus,” replied Asha. ‘She is a god­send,’ thought Sheila. Her mother Shyama was al­ready up and was try­ing to get on the wheel­chair.

"I know you are very busy. I feel ter­ri­ble about trou­bling you. Where is the aide who is sup­posed to be here at eight?” she asked.

"Ma, you know how these agen­cies are. They keep send­ing dif­fer­ent aides ev­ery day and they take time to lo­cate our home,” said Sheila.

"What can they do, Sheila? There must be so many peo­ple like me. They need to cater to all of them,” smiled Shyama.

Just then the phone rang. Their new aide an­nounced that she was on her way and would be there in 10 min­utes. Their 10 min­utes was al­ways a half hour. Sheila smiled to her­self. She got her mother set­tled in the bath­room and hur­ried to make her cof­fee. As the aroma of the cof­fee was per­vad­ing the house, the door­bell rang.

"Good morn­ing," said the Ama­zo­nian woman.

Thank good­ness! She is big and can eas­ily move mama,” thought Sheila. "Come in,” she said. "My name is Edna. Where is the pa­tient?" asked Edna. Sheila led her to her mother's room. Her mom was wait­ing to be shifted to the wheel­chair from her bed.

"I am sorry. I have had back surgery. I can't lift her. If you shift her to the chair, I shall give her a sponge bath,” said Edna.

‘Oh blimey! You need not have come,’ thought Sheila. She just smiled and helped her mom to sit on the wheel­chair.

Edna was re­luc­tant to do any work. She took min­i­mum 10 min­utes to say "yes" to any chore she was asked to do. When Sheila tried to teach her to make oat­meal for her mother, she said, "I am not even sure if I would be com­ing to­mor­row. So you bet­ter make it. If they make me per­ma­nent, I shall learn how to make it."

Sheila was shocked. Some­how the day passed and when the agency called to find out about Edna, Sheila was can­did and re­quested them not to send her the next day.

The next morn­ing, sharp at 8 a.m., she got a call from the agency and they said, "We are sorry. We are try­ing to lo­cate some­one for you. It might take time. We will def­i­nitely send some­one by 10 a.m."

‘There goes my meet­ing,’ thought Sheila. ‘If mom comes to know that I had to post­pone my meet­ing for her sake, she would feel bad. I must pre­tend that I can go late.’ She hur­riedly made a cou­ple of phone calls to her of­fice and rushed to her mom's room.

"Mama, looks like the aide is go­ing to be late to­day. I shall take you and fin­ish all the ba­sics and then she will take over,” she smiled. Shyama looked up.

"Are you sure? I heard you say that you had a meet­ing in the morn­ing."

"Oh ma, that got can­celled,” said Sheila.

Fi­nally around 10 a.m., an aide ar­rived. Sheila was dis­ap­pointed. She was huge but looked as though she had shed litres of tears very re­cently.

"My name is Nikola. Show me the pa­tient's room,” she said. She qui­etly per­formed her du­ties but re­fused any food of­fered by the fam­ily. "Are you okay, Ni­cola? Is any­thing trou­bling you?” asked Sheila. That is when she broke down and nar­rated her tale of woe.

"I have four chil­dren from three hus­bands and now the lat­est hus­band has left me. With great dif­fi­culty I brought up the chil­dren, ed­u­cated them and now that the older chil­dren are work­ing, I do ex­pect some fi­nan­cial sup­port from them. They re­fused to help me and refuse to leave the house to find their own ac­com­mo­da­tion. I am tired of wait­ing on ev­ery­one,” she cried again.

Sheila tried to pacify her. She prayed that the same woman shouldn't come the next day. The week­end brought an aide named Rosy who turned out to be a bless­ing. She was com­pe­tent, smart and knew her job.

"Can't you come on week­days too? I can talk to the agency,” said Sheila.

"Un­for­tu­nately I can't. I am a so­cial worker and work for four days a week but I can come on week­ends def­i­nitely,” she said. She made a cou­ple of phone calls and fi­nally turned to Sheila and said, "So it is fixed now. I shall be com­ing on week­ends.”

"Thank you. I am very re­lieved,” said Sheila.

Mon­day dawned. Sheila had a con­fer­ence call at 9 a.m. and she hoped that the aide would turn up on time. She felt happy when she heard the door­bell ring at 8.15 a.m. There stood a young girl with a phone in her hand. With one eye on the phone and an­other on Sheila she in­tro­duced her­self.

"I am Jenny. I am the new aide."

"Come, Jenny. I shall take you to my mom,” said Sheila as she led the way to Shyama's room.

Jenny al­most did dance steps as she moved. She looked so young that Sheila asked, “how old are you, Jenny?”

Mon­day dawned. Sheila had a con­fer­ence call at 9 a. m. and she hoped that the aide would turn up on time. She felt happy when she heard the door­bell ring at 8.15 a. m. There stood a young girl with a phone in her hand.

“I’m just 23, but I have two daugh­ters, three and eight.”

“You had a child at 15!?” Sheila couldn’t hide her shock. Jenny smiled a smile of great achieve­ment.

When Shyama asked her if she would mas­sage her knee with med­i­cated oil, Jenny ap­peared shocked.

"See! I cut my fin­ger while cut­ting the fruits this morn­ing," and she showed a mi­cro­scopic wound which re­quired a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to see.

She was wed­ded to her phone. She would con­stantly watch movies and Shyama had to make an ef­fort to get her at­ten­tion. She had her ear­phones on con­stantly, and could never hear Shyama call­ing her. One day, Shyama was try­ing to take a nap, as she did not sleep much in the night. How­ever, Shyama was dis­turbed by the con­stant buzzing com­ing from a place in the room.

"What is that noise, Jenny?" ques­tioned Shyama drowsily. Jenny stared up at her look­ing con­fused, as she un­plugged one earplug from her ear dili­gently, as if it were her child. "Oh, I was just watch­ing a video," she re­sponded un­apolo­get­i­cally, to­tally obliv­i­ous to the noise her phone was caus­ing. Shyama then swiv­elled her head back to the other side the bed, an­noyed at Jenny. It took her a great ef­fort to block out the sound and fi­nally go to sleep. ‘Surely this can’t go on,’ thought Shyama. ‘I must re­port this in­ci­dent to Sheila. Some­thing must be done.’

Sheila came to know of the in­ci­dent, and called the agency to send some­body much older. Of course, they re­sponded as usual.

"We are so sorry. To­mor­row we will send an­other aide. She is a good one. Her name is Mary. She can be your per­ma­nent aide."

Sheila rolled her eyes, and sighed heav­ily. She heard her son Vi­jay scam­per­ing out­side the room. Vi­jay chuck­led to him­self. “So far, ‘per­ma­nent’ means two days,” he snig­gered, and Sheila swat­ted him away with her hand.

When to­mor­row fi­nally ar­rived, a slight rap­ping at the back en­trance awoke Shyama, and she shouted, "Come in," as she knew it was Mary. Sheila was also there to wel­come her, and she opened the door. There stood a frail, el­derly, lady.

"Hello. Is this Mary?" Sheila stayed calm on the out­side, but seething in­side. This lady was per­haps older than her mother! ‘I meant old but didn’t mean that old’, thought Sheila. Mary re­sponded with a con­fi­dent voice. "Yes. May I see the pa­tient?" With­out re­spond­ing, Sheila es­corted Mary to her room. "Wow, she's very pro­fes­sional!" whis­pered Sheila to no one in par­tic­u­lar, af­ter ob­serv­ing Mary help Shyama ful­fill her daily needs. At 12 noon sharp, Mary came out from Shyama’s room, with a warm but stern look on her face.

She helped her­self to a cup of wa­ter, and col­lected the var­i­ous things needed for Shyama’s lunch. When Shyama re­quested her to have some lunch, she said, “All that I have is a heavy break­fast and din­ner. I don’t have any lunch. Noth­ing will tempt me.” Shyama was amused to no­tice her im­pas­sive face . When asked if she would give Shyama a shower, she showed the list of chores the agency had sent them and said, “No means no, Shyama. This paper says only a sponge bath should be given.” She sounded so stern that Shyama burst out laugh­ing.

“I am 66 years old. I used to lift peo­ple when I was young, not any longer,” Mary added with­out smil­ing.

“To safe­guard your back, you might not want to come to­mor­row.”

“All right then. To­day shall be my last day. I hope you find some­one that can lift you up. I’m sorry.” Shyama knew what it was like to not be able to com­plete tasks that she used to be able to do. For the rest of the day, Shyama had to put up with a sponge bath, and she could not go to the bath­room as of­ten as she needed. Ωwhen it was fi­nally time for the aide to go, Mary gath­ered her bags and said, “I’m off, now. I hope you find an aide that suits you.” Shyama nod­ded, and waved her good­bye.

By now, the agency knew the drill and they said the same thing to Sheila again. “We are so sorry. But in our de­fense, Shyama re­cently came from the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre, and it will take a week or two to set­tle things.”

“All right, all right,” sighed Sheila, “Who will come to­day?”

“An­other woman. She’s pretty good also. Her name was Martha.”

Martha was very pe­cu­liar. She could sit for hours star­ing, do­ing noth­ing. She was a re­luc­tant worker pre­tend­ing not to hear when she was called. She con­stantly ar­gued with Shyama about which god was more su­pe­rior. Shyama her­self was some­what re­li­gious; she did sim­ple prayers ev­ery day, and she watched peo­ple go­ing to tem­ples on the TV.

How­ever, Shyama came to re­alise very quickly that Martha was a fa­natic about her re­li­gion. She brought the Bible to work with her ev­ery day, and she would sit on the din­ing room counter, read­ing it again and again. She would even re­fer to books as to how to in­ter­pret the Bible.

This was go­ing on for weeks, and even though Sheila came to know about it , she could do noth­ing, as she could not risk los­ing an­other aide. One day, Sheila was work­ing from home. Vi­nay was read­ing a book af­ter break­fast when Martha came in. She gave the Bible to Vi­nay and

How­ever, Shyama came to re­alise very quickly that Martha was a fa­natic about her re­li­gion. She brought the Bible to work with her ev­ery day, and she would sit on the din­ing room counter, read­ing it again and again.

in­sisted that he read it. Vi­nay was look­ing for a means of es­cape.

“I am an athe­ist . I don’t be­lieve in god. So there is no sense in my read­ing this,” he said.

Shyama was watch­ing the whole scene with­out com­ment­ing. The next day marked the end of Martha. She called the agency and told them.

“I don’t want an aide who would try to con­vert my child’s re­li­gion.”

Fi­nally they sent an aide named Me­lanie. The mo­ment Shyama laid her eyes on her, she knew that this woman had come to stay. Me­lanie didn’t dis­ap­point her. She was ex­tremely ca­pa­ble, pa­tient and pos­sessed a great sense of hu­mour. She han­dled Shyama with great pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

“You both seem to vibe very well,” smiled Sheila.

“I am sur­prised that the phys­i­cal ther­a­pist said that she may not be able to walk. I have han­dled worse cases and made them walk,” said Me­lanie.

“Wow! If only you could do that , I would be eter­nally grate­ful,” said Shyama.

Me­lanie started small ex­er­cises and mas­sages with Shyama to strengthen her knee mus­cles. Within a week, she made her take a few steps with the help of her walker. The walk­ing dis­tance grad­u­ally in­creased. Within a month, Shyama could walk to the toi­let, din­ing room and liv­ing room. They were thrilled. When the phys­i­cal ther­a­pist came on the next visit, he was pleas­antly shocked and couldn’t help ex­press­ing his sur­prise even though his prophecy about Shyama’s abil­ity to walk failed.

Me­lanie made their life a lot eas­ier. She was prompt and punc­tual. She be­came a part of their fam­ily. Shyama was walk­ing now with­out the walk­ing stick , slowly mov­ing around , do­ing her own chores, of course with an aide. Days rolled by. One day as Sheila waited for Me­lanie to come so that she could leave for work, the door­bell rang. Sheila was all ready to leave for work . She took her hand­bag and lap­top and went to open the door.

There stood Jenny with her land­mark fool­ish grin. “Me­lanie had to rush to Flor­ida to at­tend to some fam­ily emer­gency. She won’t be back for a few weeks and so the agency sent me as a sub­sti­tute,” she said. Sheila heard a big thud and rushed to at­tend to her mother who had fainted from the shock. Do your work with your whole heart, and you will suc­ceed - there's so lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion.

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