Creamroll11 mins 22.1K 11 mins 22.1K
One last stroke of the Kajal-stick and her eyes were outlined perfectly now. Anita examined her face in mirror, took a close look of her lips and picked up her maroon lipstick to give her already marooned lips a darker tone. She then turned, took a look at her side view, straightened her back and felt a little annoyed to see her increased but still non-noticeable belly-fat. She turned again and had a final inspection of her complete appearance. Her skin-tight sky-blue shirt and black pants were giving her an elegant presence that she always wanted to have. It was hard to guess that she was thirty six. While still being in front of the mirror her focus shifted back on her lips and her hands were about to pick that lipstick again but stopped as the ringing phone interrupted a zoned out Anita. It was twenty passed eleven, and she realized that she was getting late to catch a cab to office.
Anita pressed 21 on the lift panel. As the lift doors got closed, she realised that she had completely forgotten about the earphones which were plugged in her ears when she saw a blur reflection of herself in those doors. The playlist in her phone was playing “Hookah Bar” seventeenth time now. Taking them off, something on her lips in the reflection caught her attention. She drew lipstick from her purse and started rubbing her lips with a smidgen sense of anxiety. While doing that, she stared back into her eyes in reflection. The moment paused for her and so did she. Something made her squeeze that lipstick hard, hard enough to ruin its cylindrical shape. It was the eighth time in last forty five minutes that Anita was using that lipstick but this number was less than the number of cigarettes she had smoked since morning. Anita entered the ODC with a smile but her eyes were empty. Guilt was the only emotion she could feel at the moment.
“Good morning.” Nivedita wished her as Anita reached her cubicle. “You completed the presentation. Right? Surendra will be on his way in some minutes.” “I need to make some last corrections.” She replied with a dead expression.
Anita had joined this firm three years ago, and Nivedita had been the closest person to her in office. A well-wisher, a mentor, though some years elder than her but a genuine friend. They had been sharing the same cubicle for four month since Anita got promoted to her new profile. She was well aware of the fact that Anita was not in her best days. And she got even more worried after reviewing the presentation prepared by her. There were many glitches in the presentation and Surendra was a tough task master.
Nivedita found it hard to concentrate on her work when Surendra sat beside Anita on her desk examining the presentation. But to her surprise, he did not mention anything and passed it on. Nivedita was relieved. She anxiously looked at Anita but got disturbed the very next second when she noticed something. Anita was still hesitating to have an eye contact with her. She started for restroom and the other one followed.
Anita could feel the minor shivering in her fingers when she was applying lipstick in the washroom. Suddenly Nivedita stormed in, walked to her, and said, “You need to talk to someone. You know it.”
“I can deal with my problems, Nivedita.” She kept marooning her lips while facing the mirror.
“Yes, I can see how you are dealing with them. By unhooking first two buttons of your shirt when you are wearing a 30b size on a breast of size thirty two. Just before the presentation.” Nivedita said all that in one breath and paused. Anita stopped rubbing her lips but kept looking into the mirror. After some moments of silence Nivedita said with a mellowed down tone, “Why? Just to escape a scolding. A bad day. An underprepared presentation. You were not like that. Listen…”
“Stop. Not a word more!” Anita turned and stared back hard at Nivedita, “Now, I am going to go into that cabin to pee in peace. Are you going to follow me in there as well and teach me how I should remove my pants so that I can appear a good girl to you? Hmm?” Anita slammed the door of the cabin and sat on the toilet seat.
Nivedita was stunned. Anita heard her going outside. She put her elbows on her knees, held her forehead and gazed at the empty, white door with her moist but vacuous eyes. All she could hear in that silence was an inner voice, “Stick in there Anita, Heal yourself. You are a winner.”
“He was a born loser. You should have left him years ago.” Ruchi lit a cigarette and passed the lighter to Anita. Anita bent forward to light hers. They were in Khau Gali, just by the side of their office, having their evening break. It was five in the evening and the aroma of hot omelettes, smoking cigarettes and boiling ginger had taken over the ambiance of the street.
“Believe me, your broken marriage is nothing less than a blessing to you. Who was he? A so called artist, a struggling writer or a screenwriter or whatever. Come on Anita, you were the Man of your house for so many years. His ego could have never swallowed that.” Ruchi continued while Anita was quiet, taking those puffs, and emitting them at null. She was not even looking at Ruchi who was speaking non-stop, “It was bound to happen. And why do you worry at all. You are independent, earning good in a well-known firm. Be free. I wish I could be in your place.”
Anita was still mute. Even though the smoke around her was paining her eyes, she was not even blinking. Her gaze was fixed at something. Something only known to her. For a while, she stood immobile, and the next second, “let’s get back to work” she said with a dry composure and started back to the building.
Seven days later, Anita was standing in front of the mirror in her room. She checked her entire attire and started for office. She boarded her cab in time, and forgetting the earphones was not bothering her any more. Anita reached the destination and delivered an impressive presentation to the clients over their new approach to meet deadlines for the ongoing project, and was lauded too. This was the same presentation, which she was preparing the previous week. Several apologies had been made to Nivedita as well but it couldn’t mend what her words had ruined.
It was half past four in the evening and Anita was in a compulsive need of a smoke. This time she ask Roshan to accompany her. Roshan was a colleague, though eight years junior to her. But they used to share a good rapport with each other. Recently Anita had stopped having those coffee or smoke breaks with him. Common small talks were the only communication they had had in last four months. Roshan twenty six and was too busy in his own life to be perturbed about this.
Roshan held two cups of tea while Anita lit her cigarette. They sat on the platform near the cart in Khau Gali.
“I love the smell of this deeply brewed tea.” Roshan smelt his glass of tea as the steam clouded his face.
“And I love this place. The Khau Gali.” She looked around her.
“Hmm.” Consented Roshan and a silence followed the moment as they found nothing to talk about.
“You must be thinking, why after so much time suddenly we are sitting here, together.” Anita broke the awkwardness.
Roshan chuckled a little and replied, “Not actually, I am considering this as one of those pleasant changes I have been observing in you for last few days.”
“Observing! Or stalking?” Anita elbowed him lightly, “By the way, what changes?”
“For starters, your lips, they are not looking like a maroon colour hording to me anymore.” Anita giggled while Roshan continued, “And… and you are smiling more, Talking more. You seem fine now, better. I mean after whatever happened…” He stopped to check himself. He knew he had struck a wrong chord. “Did you try vada paav from that new cart?” He attempted to change the subject.
“No, don’t change the topic. Actually I can talk about this, I mean about anything. In fact for that matter” Anita paused for a moment, “I will tell you everything. Yes, I will. Surely. A hundred percent. Definitely.” Anita seemed to be convincing herself as she let out a puff.
“Yes, I am listening.” Said a puzzled Roshan. It was unexpected for him. They had had discussions previously as well, but neither of them had been about their personal lives or secret feelings and now, Anita was about to share story of her marriage to him. Roshan felt a sense of intimacy, which was rare but he maintained a neutral expression while she continued after finishing her cigarette.
“So, you know about my marriage. Nothing new in that. We loved insanely. We got married. Life happened. Love died. I was doing well, he was not. Our egos did the rest. He left and I thought I will deal with it. I have never been an emotional being. I was much stronger, and a decision-maker since my school days in Jabalpur. But this time it was a deep cut. I tried to ignore all the pain and I tried my real best. I let myself drown in work. I started having my lunches with my mangers discussing business all the time. Tea breaks, gossips, I left all. I even stopped having breaks with you so that I can spend more time with higher officials to make an impression or maybe to avoid a bad one. I wanted to grow more, to progress faster. And obviously I failed. I became miserable.
So the next step was distractions. That turned into addictions. Weird ones. I smoked. I smoked a lot. I turned myself into a chimney at home and in office, oh man, that stupid lipstick and what not! All I was trying to do was to keep a hold on to my success. Keep that image of strong, successful, working-woman untarnished in whatever way I could. The tag of ‘a working woman’ is all what I had. I was proud of that tag. Proud of being successful on my own even though being a woman. Hush…” Anita took a deep sigh.
“And it took you four months to realise that you are not that strong.” Roshan passed another cigarette to Anita.
“It took ten minutes.” Anita looked into Roshan’s eyes and held the cigarette with a smile. “You see that lady? That chaiwali?” She gestured towards a cart, “Last week, I and Ruchi bought cigarettes from that cart. Ruchi was talking some shit, I was not even listening properly. But that lady, she had all her concentration centred on Ruchi. She was staring at her sleek grey sari, her bangles, her lips, at everything. Constantly. She was noticing how Ruchi was talking, her hand gestures, with a childlike aspiration in her eyes. But the next moment, she blinked and her face got peevish. All the aspirations were replaced by a blank.
Her six year old son came to her pleading for Parle-G. I think He mistook her flat face for anger and stopped persuading. Strange part was that I could relate with that nothingness on her face. It was worse, I knew, worse than sadness.
What are those circumstances when you stopped empathising with everyone, even with your own child? How it feels when you have pictured an image for your future and then realize that life is nowhere near to it? It will never be. Somehow I knew exactly how she was feeling.” Anita was getting lost deeper and deeper into her own description of events.
“She picked one cream-roll from the cart and sat on a plastic stool. The child had been told to cater to customers while she was eating the cream-roll. After a few minutes she saw a customer arguing with the child. Although being aware of it, she kept eating until that cream-roll was not finished. After finishing it all she waited for some more seconds. It was not laziness or fatigue but delusory. Eventually she wiped her palms and stood up. It was evident on her face that she had no will to go back but she did. The customer was asking for one rare brand of mouth freshener, she offered some replacements and customer finally bought one. My eyes were stuck at her, still there was no sign of happiness, but she was standing there, unrelenting, stronger, and carefree.
That moment she unconstrained me. I was free from the burden of an image that I had created for myself. It took her a cream roll and five minutes to get back to her job and I thought I was a strong, powerful working-woman. I was not. She was better. Better than me at least and I took myself so seriously all this time. All I needed, was to embrace my pain, not to ignore it. To accept the fact that I am not happy. To accept that all of this really has happened to me and it is not going to get any better, so be it.” She stopped as her raised volume interjected a period in the narration.
After a thoughtful pause and a deep sigh, she concluded, “Life takes turns. Sometimes you excel, and sometimes you barely survive. You just have to make a graceful shift and get shit done. I was missing at the grace part. I guess. Anyways, what do you say Rohan? I mean… Roshan.”
“I will say that you just did the toughest part as well. You shared it all. You are going to be fine, Senior. Even though I am happy about it, but curious as well. So let me ask it. Why did you share this all with me? I mean, why me?” Roshan looked at Anita.
“Well…Do you really think this question is important? I don’t think so.” She stood up and looked at Roshan.
Roshan stared back at her, thoughtfully, and responded with a smile, “I think the same.”