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Shweta Agarwal

Abstract Fantasy


Shweta Agarwal

Abstract Fantasy

In my life the celebrity is Me

In my life the celebrity is Me

12 mins 242 12 mins 242

After many days, Madhuri opened the wish list in her Amazon account. It was empty but for one item: A classic red crystal wrist band. She clicked on the thumbnail image that directed her actual page of the wrist band. In that page, there were multiple pictures of the band from different angles. It was aesthetic and glamorous. What attracted her most was the one crystalline rose drop that bedecked the main chamber in circular form. The strap was a deep burgundy. If she closed her eyes, she could feel the smoothness of the material as if it was right around her wrist. The buckle looked strong and durable. Priced at seven thousand and five hundred rupees, it was the kind of band that a celebrity would carry on her to the opening night of a movie. She would team it up with a matching one-piece dress and an expensive purse.

Nothing but that. Minimal and perfect.

Except that, Madhuri was no celebrity. She was an overworked employee at a multinational corporate firm. Her day started with calls onsite and ended with client calls. Throughout the day, she scanned through tables and queries and made Excel reports.

Her manager, Mr. Mishra, was a bald, grumpy man in his fifties. He overpromised the clients and overworked his employees. Errors happened, things escalated quickly and Madhuri sat on her desk filling root cause analysis reports. Yet, the job paid bills and enabled her to send money home. She was grateful for that. She still remembered the day when she had put the bracelet in the wish list. It was beginning of February, the weekend right after she got her first salary hike. Unlike most weekends, that Sunday she was not required at office. She woke up in the morning, made herself a cup of coffee and sipped it while browsing through the news shorts on her phone. Afterward, she applied a face mask and put two cucumber slices on her eyes and lay down on the bed, relaxing. Thirty minutes later, she went for a bath. The water

was lukewarm and soothed her skin. All her tiredness seemed to melt away. After the bath, she was back on the bed, a wet towel wrapped around her head. She was browsing through the online shopping portals. She had been working for the past year but had hardly bought anything for herself. The band felt just the right thing to buy. It was overpriced for her budget. Her father was retired. Her sister would only start college. Madhuri could not afford to indulge herself as much. She kept looking at the bracelet and debating with herself on the pros and the cons when the phone rang.

Her mother’s voice was rushed and full of tears, “Mini... your father... your father fell down the stairs. He has broken a leg. It’s paining so bad... Oh, nobody is in the house...Your sister is still at school... What do I do? Oh my God!”

Madhuri’s first instinct was to cut the call, throw essentials in a bag and take the first flight home. Then she took two breaths, processed what her mother just said and decided that the right thing to do for the moment was to calm her mother. “Ma! Ma! Stop crying... stop crying... okay? Listen to me, just ask Mrinal Uncle to take Baba to the hospital. It is going to be alright, okay? I’m going to cut the call now... I will send some money. Take out some cash from the ATM, okay? Just keep calm. You have to be strong. It’s just a broken leg. He’ll heal... it’s gonna be alright...”The line disconnected. Wiping a tear, she closed the shopping portal and logged into her e-banking account.

A couple of days later her father was discharged from the hospital with a cast in his leg. That was when Madhuri returned to the shopping website, led on to the bracelet by the ad placement algorithms that were powered by her browsing history. By then, she was almost broke: she did not have money to spend on a bracelet even half the price. She sighed and put it in the wish list. That was February.

March fifteenth was Vivek’s birthday. They had been in a relationship for the past three years. Vivek worked in Pune, where Madhuri had gone to college. He used to live in an apartment opposite to the girls’ hostel. One rainy day, Vivek had dropped her to college on his bike – she had been waiting for a bus for the longest time and had a test to write. After that day, they fell into the habit of running into each other. Soon, Vivek proposed to her. Madhuri was thrilled to accept his proposal.

However, things were a little rocky these days. Every day, Madhuri found it harder to find Vivek on the phone. He had got a promotion and seemed to be always busy at work. They were speaking less and less. When they found each other, they only talked about how difficult it was at work and how tiring each day was. Soon, the words ran out. Eventually, Vivek dropped off, mentioning some errand that he had to run. Yet, every occasion filled Madhuri with promise and hope. She made resolutions when New Year came, planned her parents’ anniversary and Vivek and her sister’s birthday. It made her happy: planning. She had hoped Vivek would come to meet her in Bangalore on his birthday. It was convenient that it was a Friday. She had initially applied for leave. But Vivek neither agreed nor disagreed to her plan. When he finally said that he would be in a client visit that day, she canceled the leave, ordered a tie and a box of chocolates and arranged for those to be delivered to his office.

April brought good news. Her sister, Meera, had secured top position in IITJEE entrance examination.

“I made it, Didi. I made it!” Meera shrieked on the phone. Her mother sounded as thrilled as her sister. Her mother was repeating the first look on her father’s face upon hearing the good news for the third time when Meera snatched the phone and said, “Didi, you have to get me that phone now. You promised!”

“Oh, this girl,” Madhuri could hear her mother say, “Did will get you the phone. Don’t you have the slightest patience? Silly girl!”Under the layer of the mock admonishment, Madhuri could sense her mother’s silent approval of her sister’s demand. It felt right. Meera deserved it. She had made all of them proud.

She went back to the online shopping portal and ordered the phone that Meera had been asking for for the past several months. She remembered the wrist band in the wish list and went there. She lingered there for a while, silently admiring it- its crystal rose, the softness of the glorious band, the embossing. She imagined that celebrity in the dress and the bracelet. It was a momentary vision and then blurred away. It made her happy. Happier than her sister’s IITJEE results had made her. A slight hint of sadness raised its head too: there was always something or the other to buy/do for someone else. Yet, she never seemed to have the money or the resources to do something for herself. She was like a hamster in a wheel, going on and on about life, without ever getting the chance to take care of herself.

In May, Madhuri hit a new low in her relationship. She had tried contacting Vivek for past one week. He had not responded to any of her pings or her frantic, unending array of calls. In the end, she messaged him:

“If you cannot be with me when I need you, what is even the point of this relationship?”

The grey tick marks dutifully became blue. But no reply came from Vivek for over eight hours. In the night, he messaged her: “I’m sorry Madhuri. I can’t deal with this right now.”

She messaged back: “Right... you can’t deal with it. Do you even care about what I am going through? What kind of relationship are we in?”She made three typing errors while writing the message. The tears blinded her eyes but her fingers were furious. It was just too much now. She was tired of the endless cycles of speaking and not speaking and then begging him to speak to her. She wanted it to end. She wanted an answer. A permanent solution.

“Madhuri... come on now. You’re not in college anymore. You have no idea how hard it is for me here.”

“Oh right! And I am just chilling. You work in the PMO’s office, isn’t it?”

“And that’s exactly why I have stopped replying to you. You’re just impossible. Immature and stubborn and always sarcastic.”

Madhuri’s fingers tightened around the phone. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and fought a strong urge to hurl the phone against the wall. She focused on typing.“Oh right... so it is my fault now. And what about the thousands of pictures you keep posting from work and your team outings? You have all the time in the world to do that. But you don’t have a minute to say even hi to me. Tell me, how long does it really take to type hi?”

Vivek’s status changed to typing. Then it vanished. Madhuri waited for an hour but no response came. She cried herself to sleep and woke up with baggy, puffed eyes the next morning. There was no response from Vivek yet. She messaged him, “I am breaking up with you. Once and for all. I am done with this shit.”When no reply came after four hours, she wrote again, “I haven’t seen a meaner person. For God’s sake, can you not send a freaking reply? You lost all your sense of humanity with that stupid job of yours. You were someone who spoke of love and all those romantic jazz. Such lies. I can’t believe I wasted three years with you.”

His reply was shorter than the time is taken for her to count till ten. “Think whatever you want.”

Madhuri cried some more after she read the reply. She felt like a squeezed, overused tube of paste. Something that had crossed its useful life. A bitter spit rose through her chest. She went to the bathroom and rinsed her mouth. In the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror stained with toothpaste foam and oil. She looked at her puffed, red eyes. She felt the throbbing pain in her temples and

decided never to contact Vivek again.

However, forgetting someone was not like deleting a table in a database. The harder she tried, the more she remembered the simple days of their courtship. To her friends, Vivek was a catch. He was good-looking and earned enough to ride a Royal Enfield. Madhuri knew of girls who would give anything to have a chance with Vivek. Yet, he had been a doting lover. What changed? June came and went. Madhuri had more and more questions. She kept hurling them at the digital version of Vivek on Whatsapp. No longer she cared about the promise she had made to herself about never contacting him again. It broke her heart that something that they had worked towards for three years had come to nothing.

In the nights, she slept poorly. With Vivek, she had planned a future: a lavish wedding, two kids – both girls with Vivek’s eyes and wavy hair, and biannual trips across the country and affordable foreign alternatives. The picture was perfect.

Sometimes, when she woke up breathless in the night with a pain in her chest, she felt like someone had thrown a jar full of black ink at the perfect picture, ruining all the beautiful details. She cried for hours. What hurt her most was how heartless Vivek had become. He had not bothered to call or text her after she broke up with him. Did he not care a tiny bit about what she was going through? Did he not realize how sad and depressed she was? Really, how busy could he be that the status of his relationship was not of any concern to him?

In July, her reporting manager changed. Ms. Jaya Basu was one of the youngest managers in the company, with an IIM degree in her slick resume. She wore narrow grey skirts and striped buttoned-down shirts. Some days she wore suits. Her hair was tangle-free and cut to shoulder length. She spoke with a slight American accent. Four years of work experience in a top finance consulting firm in the US, people said. The men in Madhuri’s account enjoyed the change of scenery. Suddenly, they started spending more hours at work. At times they even offered to take up Madhuri’s work if it involved direct connect with Jaya. Every morning, Madhuri struggled to pull herself from the bed and make it to the office. Jaya’s popularity somehow fueled her insecurity. Would she ever find a man like Vivek?

At least someone like the Vivek she knew in college? Gradually, the grapevine brought more news about Jaya Basu. There were rumors of

how someone in HR had asked Jaya out and had been bluntly refused. Someone else at lunch talked about the policy changes Jaya had been planning to bring about. It would redefine the way the teams worked with clients. Over the next couple of weeks, Madhuri started to see the difference herself. Madhuri sat on multiple calls with Jaya where she aggressively pushed back on the client requests and suggested improved ways of doing the tasks. The clients became more reasonable with the requests and deadlines. Jaya Basu, in spite of her high heels and expensive watch and dresses, was a force to reckon. She was not someone you could mess around. Working closely with Jaya, Madhuri began to feel confident in herself that she had not felt in a long time. She looked at Jaya and tried to chart out the history that had made Jaya into who she was. Did Jaya ever feel as weak as Madhuri did? What was the secret of her success, her confidence? With Jaya, everything seemed to be in perfect control. Or was it the other way round?

When salary was credited on the last working day of July, Madhuri opened the long-preserved wish list and hit the order button. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the celebrity in the short dress and the bracelet. The celebrity now had a face: it was her own.

The journey had begun.

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