This story was inspired by an incident narrated in a TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeOumyTMCI8) by a social worker in India: Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala, an organization that rescues women and children who are victims of trafficking and prevents them from entering prostitution.
‘Conditions Apply’ was published in the June issue of magazine ‘Siliconeer’, a monthly magazine in West Coast U.S.A for South Asians. It can be accessed via this link: http://www.siliconeer.com/past_issues/2013/june-2013/Jun13-Siliconeer-Fiction-Conditions-Apply.html Here is the story in its entirety:
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The birds returning to roost on the mango tree outside set up a racket while the wall clock inside ticks steadily towards six o’clock.
“The day flew by so fast!” exclaims Sudha.
“That just confirms you enjoy volunteering here”, Priya smiles up at her, “even if it is only boring administrative work for now, right?”
Little do they know; their ordinary workday at the Asha Home for Destitute Women is plotting secretively, devising a plan on getting itself flipped on its head.
The narrow gate across the scrubbed courtyard that reeks strongly of disinfectant creaks open. Through the office window, they both see the tall woman in an elegant pastel orange chiffon sari walk in and stoop over the visitor’s register at the entrance to scribble into it. The diamond ring on the lady’s bobbing finger winks at them from afar.
Sudha smoothes out the creases on her dress and tucks a wayward strand of hair neatly behind her ears. She begins to tidy up her desk. Watching her frantic movements, Priya bursts into peals of laughter. “Oh yes! Make sure to impress your idol this time, too!” She teases.
“Shhhh!” Sudha tries to silence her as heels clip-clop towards the door. Still giggling, Priya goes into the kitchen at the back to check on the evening meals while Sudha hurries over to welcome her favorite visitor. Pleasantries are exchanged and the lady settles down into a chair.
“Let us get down to business right away,” she hands Sudha a check.
Sudha’s eyes widen as she glances at the trailing zeros in the amount on the check. “Thank you for helping us out so generously every month.”
The woman shrugs her delicate shoulders. “One must do what one can”, she states matter-of-factly.
“What a great woman!” Sudha thinks to herself for the hundredth time since the rich businesswoman first came to donate money for the Home six months ago.
The woman watches her write out a receipt for the donation. “You had told me last time that the destitute women here are being given vocational training as part of their rehabilitation. How are they doing?” She casually asks.
“They are doing very well. We even have women here who can use computers.” Sudha says proudly.
“Wonderful!” the lady murmurs thoughtfully. “I have a request to make, then.” She continues. “My daughter-in-law has started an interior designing business. She is looking for someone to help at small tasks at her office. The pay is good. It will be simple work, really …”
“Oh ma’am! We’ll be so happy to help! We have just the woman you are looking for here at the home…” Sudha cuts in eagerly.
The donor nods approvingly. But her voice is low and serious. “Sudha, there is something I need to mention …”
Sudha stops writing to look up at her.
The visitor leans forward and clears her throat. “Don’t send anybody who is … you know … one of the HIV positive women. Please don’t send any of those.” She says firmly.
A cell phone starts to ring. The woman fumbles through her purse and retrieves it.
“Hello?” She answers the call. “Yes, I’ll be there soon.”
“Sorry, I have to go now. Call me when you find someone suitable, ok?” She tells Sudha and still talking on the phone, hurries out of the office.
The kitchen door opens. Sudha looks up sadly at her HIV positive friend standing cross-armed in the doorway. Priya’s mouth is set in a grim line, “Do you know that old saying? Beneath their fancy clothes, everyone is naked.”
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I was moved by an incident narrated in the talk mentioning how people look at HIV positive victims, showing how their acceptance in society is lacking. Here is a video of the TED talk: