Unedited excerpt from my memoir. ©2019 Sylvaine Francine
When I first arrived on campus, the girls’ building was at full capacity, could not accommodate me. Instead, I was sent to the boys’ dorm to settle in a small apartment on the fourth floor. The boys, always, keep the elevator door open for me. But, even in the thick of the heat and drenching humidity; I ignore the elevator and climb up and down the staircase. They stare at me and don’t understand. I exercise this way.
Sometimes in the evening, three or four young students knock on my door.
“Good evening ma’am.” A few pairs of dark brown eyes face me.
They inquire about the level of insecticide in my apartment.
“Is the device plugged in? Turned on?”
“I believe it is.”
“Can we check for you, ma’am? Do you have enough still?”
“I think I do. But, of course, please come in. It is right there,” pointing to the electric outlet. They remove their chapalas, leave them in the hallway. Barefoot, they step in.
The transparent plastic insecticide holder is filled in, plugged into the electric outlet and turned on.
“Make sure you close your window at night.” One says. Another follows with:
“Anything broken that you need help with? Please tell us anytime. We will help you.”
“Thank you. Nothing is broken, but if I need help, I will let you know. Very kind of you.”
They leave; Chapalas back on their feet and hands joined over their hearts in Namaste. They turn back a couple of times toward me and nod their heads. I smile at them and then close the door. Well, in a group they find courage to approach me, I tell myself. A curiosity for sure, I wear the short white jacket of the student, as they do. They know I am not part of the faculty who wear the long white jacket. So… who am I?
Students who attend the schools on this campus come from wealthy families.
The campus holds an Ayurveda medical school, a homeopathy school, a dentistry school and, to be built in the near future, a business school which will offer an MBA.
Every day, two maids in their cotton saris, come to clean, sweep and wash the staircase, the dorms’ floors, and my apartment. Armed with brooms, mops and a bucket of water, more dirty than clean, they move fast, heavy braids of dark hair down their backs. Shyly, they smile at me and we attempt to communicate. They are genuine in the interest they take in me and I wish we could understand each other better. I want to learn about women’s conditions from women. This wish is granted once I become friends with the physiology professor and visit her at her house. I enjoy our meetings and talks. We discuss many subjects as we play with her son, a sweet toddler.
Vaidya D. wants me to focus on my studies rather than prepare meals and I want to stay away from spicy-hot cafeteria food. The solution: I have a cook, a woman whose husband is on staff. He brings me a tiffin—three or four round stainless-steel containers that lock on top of each other with a handle to top it off. Lunch and dinner appear daily. I hear the clanking of the elevator and a knock on my door. The prepared food, spicy-fragrant but never spicy-hot, keeps me off kitchen duty. I so appreciate this. I feel spoiled, so well taken care of. No shopping, cooking or cleaning for me—although for breakfast, I am on my own.