Twenty Years

He wakes up before the crack of dawn, and he rubs his eyes, which are tired, the eyelids rubbed raw from rubbing them all day. He doesn’t sleep much, but how can he, when he has a family of five to support? He wakes up at the crack of dawn, and changes into a clean – clean is a relative term – cleaner shalwaar kameez. He walks into the kitchen, where he can smell the fried potatoes, and hear the sizzling of the oil. His wife has been up an hour before him, and she sleeps even less than he does. She is just finishing up the final batch of samosas. He kisses her on the neck, one of the few interactions they have, one of the final displays of intimacy, even though they love each other as much as before. They just don’t have the strength or the energy anymore.

She helps him put all of them in his cart, and off he goes. He goes to the riverbank because he has been going there for twenty years, twenty years he has gone, and stood in the hot Indian sun, and for twenty years, he has tried to sell samosas to make enough for his growing family.

He stands in the sun, as he has for twenty years, and he hears insults, as he has for twenty years.

Mischievous kids swearing at him, to prove to their friends that they are badasses, people rolling up in sleek cars, getting samosas from him, counting their change, as if they do not trust him. Every time he sees that last part, his heart breaks a little. He is an honest man, he is doing an honest day’s work. He has been doing an honest day’s work for twenty years. The windows roll up silently and the cars roll away. The blast of air-conditioning coming out of them goes alongside.

For twenty years, he cycles his cart back, slowly, legs hurting, sore from standing all day, throat raw from shouting, “samosas, get your samosas”. Twenty years, he puts all he has collected and counts the money with his wife. And every now and then, she miscounts her pile to help him relax. To make sure he does not kill himself from the stress of trying to feed herself. And every now and then, she goes out and sells her body to make ends meet.

Twenty years. It has been a long time.