The Phoenix Tattoo
The Phoenix Tattoo9 mins 468 9 mins 468
Twenty-nine year old Mahika stood before the mirror in her bathroom. Her chubby cheeks were gone, there were definite signs of wrinkles around her eyes and lips. The dark circles beneath her eyes spun stories inside the heads of onlookers. She no longer cared.
Unfettered, she undid her pink, blue and rose-gold silk scarf turban and let it fall on the ground. She wouldn't need it anymore.
Mahika smiled at her reflection as she ran her fingers through the short fuzzy hair growing patchily on her head. It had been almost five months since her adjuvant chemo treatment was over. Now was the time to stop hiding and spread her broken wings.
She picked up the trimmer she'd ordered online and plugged it in. After fifteen minutes Mahika laughed with tears in her eyes. Her buzz would sure attract a lot of judgmental eyes on the busy streets of Kolkata, but she was done with all of that.
Mahika quickly cleaned up the bathroom and tossed the scarf into the dustbin. As she took off her t-shirt, she paused and stared at herself at the mirror. The smile seemed to fade for a brief second but she commanded it back and hopped into the shower. Mahika took a nice warm shower, cleaning herself lazily while humming to Taylor Swift's 'Shake it off'.
Once she was done, she tiptoed out of the bathroom, dripping wet, and picked up a towel from the bed. The drapes were shut so, she had no intruding neighbours to worry about.
Mahika hummed as she opened her tiny wardrobe and decided which clothes to wear. After tossing around clothes for five minutes, she settled on a bright yellow t-shirt with little sunshine emojis printed all over it and a pair of pale blue jeans.
She quickly dressed up, picked up her sling bag, took her credit card from the drawer inside the cupboard and set off. As she locked the door, she felt butterflies in her stomach. Was she truly ready?
Mahika stepped out into the sunshine and it took less than a second for a rickshaw-puller to gawk and an aunty to drop her jaws.
Unfazed, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked up the address she had noted the previous night. Then she booked an Uber and waited.
Ramesh was her driver for the day, a very polite guy from Bihar or Jharkhand. Mahika liked that he didn't stare or even if he did, he managed to mask it with a smile.
From the lanes of Bhawanipur, the cab swam through the busty traffic and rolled to a stop before the South City Mall within thirty minutes. Mahika paid him and he bid her goodbye. "Ram, ram!", said Ramesh. Mahika murmured it back.
She stood on the footpath and tried locating the tattoo parlor. It took her a couple of minutes but she found it and walked in for her appointment.
"Um, hello. I have an appointment with David," she told the red-haired receptionist girl whose tag read 'Richa'.
"Of course!", she smiled and turned to the computer. "What's your name?"
"Yes, your appointment is in ten minutes at 12.30. Please take a seat in our waiting area. We'll call you shortly."
Mahika sat down on a soft-cushioned chair and looked around. She liked the decor. It was minimalist and yet very sophisticated.
Mahika turned around startled and saw a wheatish skinned, short black-haired, very tall and thin yet muscular man, both hands covered in tattoos of what looked like a tiger and leaves. "You must be David", she said.
"Yes indeed," he beamed. "If you're ready, follow me. Let's get acquainted."
Mahika followed David into another smaller room with similar minimalist decor. There was a mirror on one wall and paintings on two. Another wall, the one with the entrance door, had shelves full of products. There was a small bed like structure in the middle, a small stool and a big chair with back-rest, head-rest, arm-rests and leg-rests too.
"You can keep your things on the table there." David pointed at a tiny table in the corner which she didn't notice before. She kept her sling bag on the table and looked at David who pointed at the chair. He helped Mahika on to the chair and seated himself on the stool beside it.
"So, have you ever gotten a tattoo before?", he inquired.
"No," said Mahika nervously.
"That's ok! There's no need to be nervous. Most clients are first-timers and they all have a wonderful experience. So, what do you do?"
"Well, I'm between jobs, to be honest. But that's ok, I am also planning to move to Mumbai next month. I'll be working with a small breast cancer survivor support group."
"Ah, I see. Well, you're stronger than you know," smiled David.
"So, what tattoo do you wish to have? Let's discuss that."
"Umm, I was actually thinking of a colourful phoenix."
"That's an excellent choice. Do you have a design in mind? You can show me. I'll also show you the designs we have with us." David left his seat and took a big binder from one of the shelves.
The two of them went through several designs in the book as well as on the internet. Mahika finally settled on one which was to be a mixture of one she'd found on the internet, in terms of design, and another from the book, in terms of colour.
"Now that we know what you want, question is where do you want it?"
Mahika hesitatated for a second and said, "I need to take off my t-shirt to show you."
"Oh, of course. Please feel comfortable."
Mahika closed her eyes, took a long breath and took off her t-shirt. "Here, I want it on my chest."
David quietly observed her chest. Her breasts were reduced to two long scars and her thin stature almost revealed her ribs.
"I want the phoenix wings on both sides and the tail to go down to my navel," Mahika continued.
"That's a good choice," whispered David. "Let me walk you through the process."
David explained the process to Mahika and told her about the after-care procedures. Since Mahika had requested everything in one single session, David had reserved the entire day for her. After getting comfortable with each other for over half-an-our, the tattooing slowly began.
Mahika felt each pinch of the needle but it was nothing compared to the horror of IV repeated once every two weeks for six long and tedious months. Naturally, she didn't flinch once. David was extremely patient, always making sure his client was comfortable. It took more than six hours to finish and Mahika wept when she finally saw herself in the mirror.
An elegant phoenix feathered in red, blue, green and orange hues captured beautifully in a moment of flight was just the perfect symbolism of what she went through the past year.
"Thank you, so much, David. You don't know what this means to me. This is... This is so beautiful." Mahika broke down crying.
David smiled and held her arm, overwhelmed. He never had a client like her. "Umm, hold on."
David quickly left and came back with what looked like a painting. "I also make paintings for a living." As Mahika stared inquisitively, he continued, "I never intended to sell this but I want to give this you as a gift." He turned the canvas around to reveal a charcoal depiction of an angelic being. "This is my impression of the archangel Michael. I want you to have it. Please do not refuse."
Mahika was speechless. She hesitantly stood up and took the 20x24 canvas from David's hands. It was so beautiful that she couldn't take her eyes off it.
It took a little time for Mahika to collect herself. David brought her a glass of water in the meantime. "Listen, there are some restrictions till the tissues heal. Come, sit. I'll ask Richa to pack the painting for you and get a bag for it."
"Of course... Thank you so much, David." Mahika smiled, tears in her eyes, and handed him the canvas so he could give it to Richa, who had just walked in, smiled, took the painting and left.
Mahika listened intently as David listed out everything related to post-care of the tattooed area. Once he was done explaining, he made notes for her on her phone and marked it as important. "Thank you," she smiled.
It was almost evening by the time she got dressed and paid the bills. Mahika was hungry. It had been a long day. She shook hands with David and warmly hugged him. As she walked out of the tattoo parlor, the bag of the painting in hand, the lit up South City Mall greeted her like an old acquaintance. She crossed the road and walked in, searching for food.