Shades of Grey

It is blazing hot here. The embers that are flaking from the skies are the kind that singed our indoor plants when they transited from our old apartment to the new. There is an endless expanse of haze outside. From here, I can’t tell the sky from the sea. There is no horizon in sight. It’s all an oppressive grey, the hot air heaving like a labourer plodding in his work overalls all day.

The doorbell rings presently. It is another one of those who have been helping us to shift and set shop over the past week. They are men to whom the summer isn’t an insufferable ordeal, like it is for us. They have long since given up the luxury to fret and fume over their sweat. So they wear their summer fatigue stoically. I always wonder if they must have been saints in a previous life to bear the prolonged absences, distances and the drudgery thus. Or have they perfected the art of concealing their despair, unlike us, the privileged?

As the man steps in wiping his forehead with his overall sleeve, I see his stark, weather-beaten face and run into my unset kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Rizwan.’

‘Have this before you start your work’, I say, regretting I had nothing else to offer. Neither juice nor laban.

‘Shukriya, madam. Aapki meherbani,’ he says softly as he empties the glass and asks for a refill.

‘Sorry, Rizwan, it’s all I have,’ I say as I return.

He smiles understandingly. His smile reaches his eyes that reflect deep, unspoken gratitude.

I take note. Grey eyes. Lined with a smile.

It reminds me of the monochromatic desert summer outside.

I gaze through the freshly hung sheer curtains, past the arid emptiness. The sky and the sea are still cloaked in an even grey. But this time, I imagine there is more of white than black in its shade.

I glance at Rizwan. He has got down to work, utterly ignorant about the trick his silvery smile did to the bleak, blistering day.

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