It’s eleven a.m. and the power is out. Normally it goes out by nine, so I already feel like I’ve gotten two free hours. Unable to work on the computer, or to catch up with my Facebook life, I do the dishes.
I wash the dishes in cold water, because in this land of exotic amoebas, kitchens don’t have hot water; I use medicinal smelling hand soap because I am out of dish soap; I can’t go to the shop to buy dish soap because the garbage men might come while I’m gone.
The garbage men come nearly every day, except when they don’t, like yesterday, and the day before. And now, the bin is overflowing and starting to smell bad. They usually arrive in the morning, but sometimes they arrive in the afternoon. I can’t leave the trash in the courtyard downstairs while I go out because the street dogs will tear it apart; and then our neighbors, who are all Brahmins, will see what’s left of the beef bones I give to our dog, and chase us out of town with pitchforks and flaming torches. And I can’t leave the trash on my own balcony until tomorrow because the rats and the bandicoots will chew through the plastic to get at the trash, leaving a pile of plastic chips and rotting garbage sludge waiting for me when I step out of the front door in the morning.
Outside, the street is rumbling from the generator down the block; it always kicks on when the city power kicks off. After a few minutes, the fumes from the generator will float up to my window making the apartment smell and sound like a giant truck is idling just outside the front door.
Another half hour passes; there is still no power, and still no trash men, so I start in on the laundry. Before India, the only things I ever washed by hand were lingerie and the occasional sweater. I fill one bucket with laundry soap and water and soak my husband’s shirts, and feel like I should get a medal. Then, one by one, I pull them out of the bucket, spread them out on the tile floor of the bathroom, and go at them with a scrub brush and more soap. I knead and smash the soapy shirts, then rinse them out in a bucket of fresh water, then again under the tap. When the water runs clear, I wring the shirts until my arms hurt – twisting as much water out of them as possible before hanging them on the metal drying contraption I set up on our balcony.
I used to do all this on the rooftop, smiling at the Indian housewives and maids washing clothes on the surrounding rooftops. I’d watch their technique, scrub when they scrubbed, then slap when they slapped. I’d feel the sun on my back and watch the eagles swoop and listen to the crows caw to each other from the tops of the giant trees. These hours in the morning sun made me think I might never use a washing machine or have to join a gym again.
But these rooftop sessions lost their lustre one morning when I caught sight of a man spying on me from the next roof, while crouched down behind a water tank. It was clear what he was doing. My response was exactly the same as every other time I’ve been molested, grabbed, flashed or peeped in this country: I went inside, locked the door, and curled up in a fetal position for the rest of the week.
The power crackles on for a few seconds and then disappears. Another hour passes. I make a sandwich with the last of the almond butter I brought from home and the honey our friends brought us at Christmas. For years I’ve existed on almond butter and honey sandwiches; now they are rationed delicacies, sticky treats to remind me that someday I won’t be washing clothes by hand, in a dark bathroom, in a house that smells like diesel fumes, waiting for the trash men and hoping they get here before the bandicoots.