I was walking down the street the other day and passed by the bridge under construction. To be honest, I was now annoyed by the entire procedure. Those roads had been shut for civilian use since almost two months and the bridge looked far from being complete in its structure. Managing movement through the other routes and treating the one-way road as the double one, wasn’t exactly convenient to say the least. But well, we put up like we always do. Apart from this irritation, if there was anything else that had become a feature of my routine it was the face of that lady which I saw every day. Monday to Friday, I would leave for work at seven and leave from work, for home at eight. And I saw her every time. She would sit there cutting stones, lifting weights, cementing bricks and everything else that the average labor would do.
While it was a huge group that worked for that construction, it was her face that caught my eye and her face that seemed familiar. There was something about her that made me want to know more about her, talk to her and interrogate her. There was a demarcation of duties allotted amongst the laborers. While men worked in one corner, performing the more rigorous and exhausting tasks the women would be tending to the jobs where physical exertion was least. She, on the other hand, was an exception. I saw her juggling between both the sides, as though she refused to let her sex decide the kind of work that she would be performing. She had a face that radiated will and grit. By the ways of her work and her demeanor, she looked like she was ready to take on the world if it comes down to it. Her body spoke the language of professionalism and focus. She seemed oblivious and unconcerned by anything else. I wondered if their contractor paid her extra for those extra efforts. I wondered if she ever got her due. I wondered if the other female workers ever exuded spiteful vibes, aimed at her and this juggling that she chose to imbibe. I wondered if they ever burned in envy for the strength she exhibited was not something they could match up to. I wondered if they ever made her feel inferior for exhibiting such a violation of customary, societal norms. Amidst such worries, I wondered if the male workers ever took her seriously or not. I wondered if they treated her as eye candy and another source of entertainment. I wondered if they accepted her as another co-worker peacefully and without letting any other identity and the attached stigmas, cloud their judgment. I wondered whether she was the mediator between both the sides or was the recipient of their criticism. I wondered if she was the role model emanating perfection and idealism for both the sides or if she was their idea of cynicism and preposterousness. And then I wondered if conformity even bothered her. I wondered if she cared enough to be a part of either of the groups which would accept her as a member. I wondered if this was her concern or anywhere on the list. I wondered if it made a difference to her. I had seen her with children a couple of times, or more. Presumably hers, the kids would be in school uniforms and carried backpacks. I had seen them sitting there and waiting as their mother worked, cutting stones and lifting weights and cementing bricks. Once I saw her sitting with the two boys and eating. Just her children and her, while the others sat in their groups of two, using gender as their binary divide. I had searched her face for the look, the look of distress from being excluded. All I could spot was patience and calm; a peculiar serenity that she would even eat her food with. With the same tranquility, she had dropped her kids off to the exit of the construction site and had gone back to work.
So I wondered again. I wondered if she was the bread winner of the family. I wondered if she compensated for that drunkard husband who had to be kept unaware and uninformed about the money and savings she held, so her kids could go to school. I wondered if she was actually married to a supportive man, who earned enough for three square meals and permitted her to independence and freedom in terms of her life and her decisions. I wondered if she was a single mother, borne down by the weight of the upbringing of two young children. I wondered and I wondered. I wondered till my mind ran out of ideas and my resources were exhausted. I wondered till there was no longer a perspective left to view her life from. I wondered till I was occupied with another thought. I wondered till I found myself wondering about the strength of a woman and the power she embodies. She gave food to my conception and amusement of the might a woman possesses and the vigor she flaunts.
The bridge would be constructed some day and my life would come back on track. I wouldn’t see her anymore. I wondered what she would do next and what benchmark she would set for a passer-by to ponder upon. I wonder who the next stranger would be, that she would mystify and amaze with powers that she just naturally demonstrated and an aura that she carried. I wondered and I wondered.