Annie lay still, as still as a corpse. But she was alive, more alive than any of us. For she had to fight; she had to win over little battles that made up her life.
Her room was not a room at the working womens’ hostel I stayed in. Rather it was the space that joined two rooms with the main passageway. She occupied one of the two aluminium beds that lined the sides of the space, and had a medium-sized suitcase underneath the bed, to call of her own. She used the common bathrooms, and hung her wet towel and worn clothes on the metal railing that roofed the bed. She did not own a locker as in all probability, she did not need one!
Very few of the girls were aware of her existence. She worked nights while we slept inside our comfort zones. On Sundays, while we lazed around the common mess and consumed the ‘news-sance’ blaring from the mounted television, one part of the mind hovered around Annie. What would she be doing right now? The girl who occupies the side bed and owns only a suitcase that lay in gay abandon, what kind of a girl was she?
Was she simple living and high thinking or careless and wanton? The latter was an easy assumption while the former got us nosy, and in good spirit too!
A girls’ hostel is crazily busy on a Sunday. Girls are running around beautifying themselves – exfoliation, deep pore cleansing, herbal hair oil massage, pedicures, manicures and facials made from all kinds of ingredients from the kitchen. Basically, just about everything that society has burdened them with eons ago.
But, a chosen set like me, stayed at the rooms and indulged in small talk. While we flipped through our news dailies or women’s magazines, and spoilt ourselves with extra Sunday coffee, we got talking and somehow the conversation drifted towards that girl who occupies the side bed. This is how I came to know so much about her.
But, one day I stumbled upon much more of her story. Being an immigrant, I wasn’t much welcome by my then room mates. It so happened that they locked me out of my room, as part of their torture tactics to drive me away. Banished from my room, I set up a temporary base on the unoccupied bed, adjacent to Annie’s. I took a day off from the job and stared at the motionless body in the next bed.
There she lay – the girl with a suitcase and no room of her own. Having no willpower to reclaim my room, I continued to wonder about Annie. She had no room to reclaim!
Annie, eventually awakened from her light dream world, and I smiled at her at once. She was frail with dark circles under her alert eyes. She might have travelled a hundred life years but her body belied that – she looked like a partially malnourished adolescent girl with no dreams shining in her eyes. I wanted to know her story.
Annie took a liking to me as I was exiled just as her, even though for a frivolous reason. And she lightened her heart to me – Annie was a single mother of a six-year old girl and worked at an outsourcing venture, mostly in the graveyard shifts. Very harmful for the human body cycle but a great boon for people who study or work in the day, just like Annie.
Annie’s mother had passed away after a long illness during her school days and later she got a step mother. Her step mother didn’t bother much with little Annie and the family grew to include two more step brothers. Her dad gave her all the love in the world; he even took her on foreign trips. But, as destiny played out, Annie’s dad passed away from illness too, eventually leaving Annie to fend for herself. All the property and belongings were taken by her step family.
Annie then worked as a teacher and found moral support from her paternal aunts. But, this too did not last long as love invaded in the form of a man who said he cannot live without her. She married him and soon found out he had no stable income nor the will to give her a good life. He was a loser looking out for someone to fend for him.
Then there was trouble with the in-laws so much so that a small gathering of all his relatives accused Annie of being a loose woman. She left to never return but to her horror found out she was carrying a baby in her womb. Since then she has been working hard to make ends meet, however, the poor soul missed out on the joys of life with her daughter. She had to be at work the whole day so the little girl stayed with Annie’s aunt.
Her story was getting brighter. Annie had by then managed to save enough to bring her daughter – who was turning six – to stay along with her. But, destiny had more in store. Her daughter’s headaches were diagnosed to be caused from a tumour developing in her brain. Annie took help from the church and the community, who all roped in enough money for an operation to remove the tumour. This chain of events had taken a toll on Annie for the last seven years, without her ever realising it since the time she had left her own home.
Annie said she cannot cry. She knows no pain for she had surrendered to God above. But, I had tears in my eyes and they just wouldn’t stop!
Annie left the hostel soon thereafter as she was able to rent a decent flat near a school for her daughter. And I know she will be very happy in there always.