All around her Mary Mathew saw only despair and desolation. There wasn't a glimmer of hope anywhere. Her husband, who did no work and drank from morning till night and was a compulsive gambler, was the biggest and sharpest thorn in the crown of thorns on her head. He even stole from the meagre amount she earned as a maid. Her ageing, wiry and wrinkled mother, who depended on her for everything, was a depressing sight. The sad and hungry looks of her two children – aged 10 and six – often brought torrents of tears out of her eyes.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years without any changes in her life. There were limits to the burdens any woman could bear. Mary had surpassed all those limits. People in her village of Anthikad, in Kerala's Trissur district, often wondered how long she would be able carry the onerous burdens of life.
Then came the blessed bolt from the heavens. God smiled at her. A technician -- working in Muscat, Oman -- living next to her thatched mud house in Anthikad village, came on his yearly vacation. No stranger to her plight and sorrow, George was persuaded by his wife to find a job for Mary in Muscat.
After a two-month vacation, George returned to Oman. Through friends, he arranged a job for Mary as a maid with a respectable Omani family. Soon afterwards, he sent her the visa. It was for free. Mary was lucky. Such fortune rarely came anyone's way.
Mary soon left for Muscat, leaving behind her two children with her mother. And while working with the Omani family, she started learning driving on George's advice. Within a year, she got the driving licence.
George, who used to visit her regularly, told her that she should save enough money to buy a 'free visa' and a car before her two-year contract with the Omani family expired. She could then become a free-lance driver, pick up women from their homes and drop them at their workplaces and bring them back after work as many expatriate women workers in Oman did not drive.
Six months later, Mary got a driving licence. Two years soon passed by and George helped her purchase a 'free visa.' Next, she asked her Omani employers for what is termed a 'no-objection certificate' to work elsewhere. The Omani family did not want her to go and offered a salary raise. But Mary told them of her plight and need for more money. They then agreed to release her from their employment.
Mary soon brought a car and started making money. She, at last, was happy and contented.
This happiness, this contentment did not last too long.
On her first vacation to India, after four continuous years of work, Mary was frantic to meet her two children who had added four years to their lives. She hoped they were now more stable and happy. She had been sending enough money to her mother for their food and other expenses. With the money left over after their expenses, she wanted to start building a new home after demolishing the mud house in which she was born.
For a week after arriving home, she had a great time with her children. They went to the movies and often ate out in restaurants in Trissur town, about 12 kms away from Anthikad. A week of bliss overcame the loneliness of Muscat. Her husband would often come to her and she would give him some money for a drink. There was nothing more between them.
One morning, after breakfast, Mary went to her mother. Rather haltingly, she asked about what remained of the money she had sent in the last four years.
'I had sent about Rs 5 lakhs. How much do you have, mother?"
"Nothing," her mother replied. "All of it has been spent."
Mary was stunned for a moment. Her mother said that most of the money had been given to her four siblings. They had needed it for their studies. But the fact was that none of them had any kind of qualifications that could get them work. At all hours of the day and night, they were at home. Mary's money provided them with enough food three times a day.
"Since you are the eldest of the lot, they are all your responsibility," her mother added.
Mary was tongue-tied. Yes, they were her responsibility. But not anymore.
Mother and daughter rarely spoke again. Two days before her month-long vacation ended, she packed the children off to her in-laws home. Her father-in-law, knowing of Mary's plight, agreed to look after the children and save part of the money she sent for their expenses. He also vowed to never let his son touch even a paise of her money.
Mary is back in Muscat. She is still where she was when she first left her village for Muscat. Four years of her life have been lost. She's now sending enough money to her father-in-law for her children's expenses. And she has started a non-resident savings account in a bank in Trissur town, far away from the eyes of her relatives.
Mary is determined to see that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.