The drops clung to the sides of the tap and dropped down grudgingly. The old man deftly removed the dysfunctional tap and his myopic eyes peered into the darkness of the rusted iron tube.
“There seems to be some blockage, memsahib. I need to break down part of the wall, try and figure out where the block is and put in new tubes.”
A wave of anger swept across Reshma’s face. Things always seemed to go wrong at the wrong times, she thought to herself, while smoothing down her designer silk saree. Prerna was throwing a back-to-India party and the kids were conveniently enjoying their summer vacation at their grandparents’ place. She didn’t have any time for plumbing problems now.
“How long will this take?”
“I can do this in 1 hour, memsahib”, he intoned in as eager a tone he could muster. “My shop is just a kilometer away, I can go on my cycle and get the tools in 15 minutes. I will get cement and do the finishing so that everything is pucca. You will never have another problem with the tap”
“And how much do you want for this?”
“It will take Rs 500 roughly, if it isn’t an air block”
“500 is too much. Whom are you trying to cheat here?”
“No, memsahib. I will have to get a pump to blow out the block which I have to rent from outside. And I need to buy new tubes also.”
“Reshma, are you ready? I have my car waiting outside to drop us at Prerna’s place” Asha walked into the kitchen.
“Asha, come right in. Your new earrings are lovely and you look positively resplendent.” Reshma gushed. “Just give me a few minutes to finish talking to the plumber here.”
Asha looked at the tiny, thin old man whose torn clothes flapped around him and the rickety old bicycle that was leaned against the kitchen wall.
“I can’t pay 500. I will give 250, you do it if you want, else we will get another plumber.”
Asha looked at him as he was peering through his thick spectacles, trying to convince Reshma to give him his rightful wage and her heart went out to him. She had been very close to her grandfather in her village and had been devastated when they lost him to cancer. This old man reminded her of him, in a vague way. He looked like he was lifted straight out of a poster for HelpAge India and the thought that he still had to work hard to earn his three square meals, brought a rush of tears into her eyes. “Reshma, I think he deserves Rs. 500. We had something similar done at our house recently and our plumber charged even more. So give the poor man his due.” she admonished.
Reshma stared at the man, who seemed looked at her like a five year old would eye a cookie jar. It was getting late for the party and she had no desire to argue with Asha who was ride back from the party as well. She convinced herself that he looked honest and reluctantly agreed. “Ok then, 500 it is. You can start the work right now.”
A small smile twisted the corner of his lips and his face seemed to somewhat melt. Asha danced a happy jig in her mind and even Reshma was glad that Asha came when she did and said what she said.
He started singing as he worked. He was right, there was a blockage somewhere down the pipe and soon water was gushing out of the tap. He cleaned up meticulously after he finished and took the money, making a tidy profit. He bent his head in reverence at the huge picture of Lord Balaji in the living room and cycled out of the mansion.
Then he got home drunk to the gills and beat his wife.