In the nagar, stall holders banter with passers-by
words filling the air like a chorus of crickets after the rains.
Hadija’s smile greets my Sunday morning approach
Her hair, jet black, plait thick as rope, hangs nonchalantly over her shoulder
her saree’s colour steals from beneath her apron wrap
bangles glisten and jangle as merrily as her chatter.
Comfortable in our Otherness we Namaste and Namaskar,
ask after each other’s wellbeing, as she reaches for a bird
fresh for her regular customer.
Two poles and a remnant wall hold proud the side-less stall’s rattan roof
plastic tarpaulin shading the polished metal sheet of her counter
as its rests on cinder blocks and straddles the caged birds below.
To one side a ubiquitous large blue plastic basin sits hatted by a food umbrella.
To the other her butcher’s block, worn down by repeated cleaver blows -
a tree stump, stained red in blood.
She skilfully breaks the bird’s neck, removes the skin,
buckets castoff feet for the poor, discards unwanted innards,
until pointing a tentative mu lagibi bahut achi
gets it added to my parcel of meat chopped up Indian style.
A bemused smile teaches me Kalija, my only Telugu word.
© Sheila Ash, 2018