She towered over me like a lone poplar tree. She was four years older than I was at the time she came to live with us. Sita was the eldest of her siblings and her father had sent her to Kathmandu so she could contribute to the family income.
Ten-year-old Sita’s job was to babysit for one of our relatives—two babies watching one another. When a bunch of grapes disappeared, the employers decided to dismiss the babysitter. Sita was just being a child picking and popping into her mouth something she liked the taste of, but she was supposed to be an ‘employee’ and expected to behave like an adult.
Her father insisted that she stay in Kathmandu, and so the child remained, moving from one home to another, as employers tired of her antics. One of them had to yank her off the balcony railing, after which, she was sent to ours.
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When I asked my mother recently why she had accepted a child as helper, she said it was because she knew that she would be sent somewhere else if not to ours, and that she thought a house with two girls would be safer for her.
Sita showed up one afternoon on the motorbike of her former employer at our home on the outskirts of Kathmandu. She was carrying a small bag of clothes. She was wearing a kurta with traces of lint—something I had seen my relative wear before, now altered to fit a 14-year-old.
I had met Sita before when I had visited my relatives, a radiant face resting on tall, lean limbs. Her eyes were light brown and her hair the same colour, resting in an array of curls over her forehead and her temples. She did not look much different when she arrived at ours. And neither did she look nervous for someone coming to live in a new place.
My mother and Nini got busy after her arrival, making arrangements for a bedding of a single mattress, a pillow and a blanket. She would sleep in my room, on the floor. I couldn’t understand the arrangement, but I got used to it.
She folded her bedding every morning, arranging it under my bookshelf which hung on the wall. If sometimes she saw me sitting on it with a book between my fingers, she would tell me to get off in fluent Newa: “Maicha! Ana makhu.”
Sita made our home hers, quickly. She was expected to bring my sister and me to the bus stop everyday and help Mam run errands. But Mam complained that “the child” delayed her. Clearly, she also made her laugh.
Mam, with wisps of gray sticking over her head would sit under a tree in the afternoons, smoking her beedi. On a hot day, she would fall asleep under the tree, and Sita would get to work, poking her ear with a leaf. Furious, Mam would clench her hand into a fist and threaten to hit Sita. “This girl has too much energy. Utauli, chakchaki!”