He would start work at 7pm sharp. Not a minute early, not a minute late. He did his job with pride, standing tall as the little town went about its life. He would watch the little boys racing down the lane, middle aged women on their way to the grocery store, the old men who’d walk down the lane for their daily dose of Indian politics and healthcare prices. The town hadn’t changed in years.
His eyes drifted to the group of young wives who sat by the park opposite him. Huddled together, painted nails, eyes drawn, their hands marked with the pale orange of fading henna. They seemed to converse in giggles. He sighed. He had seen young girls turn to beautiful brides and beautiful brides turn to scornful mothers-in-law. Only a matter of time, he thought, before their youth gave way to rough hands, pale sarees and sweat stained blouses.
She cannot even make tea. God knows what her mother taught her, sighed the middle aged woman as heads shook and tongues clicked in sympathy. Every evening, they would meet at the grocery store before making their way to one of their houses. He would peer into their windows, watching them sit around the table, discussing recipes, daughters-in law and maids over hot chai and Marie Gold. Sometimes, one of their son’s would travel abroad. Foreign chocolate, she’d say as she handed them the box, smiling smugly. The others would reach for it, trying their best not to look impressed. Helives were simple. Their evenings would go by in petty conversations, only to disperse in time for their evening TV serials. Like yesterday, like tomorrow.
The old men would stop by often. Holding him while they caught their breath. He would eavesdrop on their conversations, listening to their daily diets, what their grandchildren were studying and who they thought was corrupt. He watched them silently, reminiscing the times some of them would run past him on their way to the cricket field many years back. It felt like just yesterday. His heart sank as he watched them walk away, their thick glasses seeming stronger than their fragile frames.
By 9pm, the streets got emptier. Husbands got back from work. Young wives walked fast, hoping to make it home before their mothers in laws. Mothers stormed onto the streets to drag their sons back home. He’d watch the old men go about their evening prayers and pills. And the grandmothers immerse themselves in the grievances of a richly dressed, emotional lady with perfect hair.
Every evening for years, he had watched the streets come alive, and fall asleep.
He stood still on the empty lane, watching them disappear into their homes. The lively street was cold and lonely in minutes. He was used to it. He had watched over that lane for as long as he could remember. A stray dog walked up to him and curled up near his feet, warming them a little. He smiled, watching as the curtains were drawn and lights were switched off. It was his favourite part. The town slept softly. Each of them drowned in their own escape from reality.
For those few hours, homework, back aches, dinner, acne and inflation were no longer problems. For those few hours every night, the wives, the mothers in law, the maids, the husbands, the youngest boy and the oldest man in their town felt exactly the same thing.
At 7am every morning. A little boy hurriedly copied the homework in the shaky van on their way to school. A son got dressed for the mundane job his mother was so proud of. An old man tried finding his glasses to find his painkillers. A young wife chopped the vegetables for breakfast sleepily, wishing her mother was around to help, while the nostalgia and onions competed to claim her tears.
At 7am every morning, each of them woke up to new struggles.
At 7am every morning, the street light drifted into soft slumber. Oblivious.