Nagalakshmi lowered herself on to the cracked red oxide floor and stretched her legs out before her. She leaned against the rusting iron frame of the bed and slid a hand in to the dusty space that lay beneath, searching for the small jar of Tiger Balm. She found it behind the rear leg of the bed, slowly pulled it out and unscrewed the shiny hexagonal lid inscribed with foreign lettering. It was a daily ritual; one of many minutiae of her life that was dragged out for as long as possible to fill up the seemingly eternal hours after lunch and before nightfall. Nagalakshmi inhaled the familiar, overpowering smell that emanated from what was left of the stiff orange balm that clung to the glass walls of the jar. Her finger scavenged about inside the jar before extricating a tiny pea sized dollop which she split in to two smidgens and rubbed in to the sagging skin that covered her knees.
The balm was a precious commodity. But unlike the small box of saffron that sat on the top most shelf of Nagalakshmi’s kitchen and came down only important festival’s it was a daily treat.
Both were gifts from Nagalakshmi’s niece as was the cordless telephone and microwave. The girl was a thoughtful child, always bringing her a little something when she returned from abroad. The phone was useful (though initially on noticing the absence of coiled wire Nagalakshmi thought it was broken) but the microwave scared her. It flashed and groaned loudly and needed special vessels. And what use did she have for it anyway? Her one ring stove took care of all her cooking needs. But she kept it all the same, storing surplus provisions in it and using the top as a makeshift shelf for her prayer books. When her niece visited, Nagalakshmi was careful to empty out the microwave of grains and pulses and clean it.
“It’s so very useful” Nagalakshmi would tell her “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Yes, her niece was always bringing her useful gifts. Mostly. But she didn’t visit as often as she used to, so it was important that perishables were made to last for as long as possible.
It would be another six months before her niece arrived. Nagalakshmi leaned against the cot and reached for the tiger balm again. Her knees still hurt. She looked inside the jar at the meagre remnants and satisfied herself by deeply inhaling its scent instead.