The face that stared back at her was beautiful. Her hazel eyes were kohl-lined and heavy. They could make you fall into dreams or wake you out of it, if you stared long enough. Her lips were painted red. Like those of a geisha, except that they smiled quite often. Her fair skin was unscarred, unblemished. Loose, deliberate strands of hair hung around her face, slightly wind-blown. Rapt men and irked women were testimony to this picture of beauty.
As she looked into the mirror, she hated the face that stared back at her. Whoever said: A thing of beauty is joy forever, objectified the holder of that beauty, its only contention being giving others some uncertain joy. She opened the door and entered her tiny mansion of solitary confinement. There were many mirrors, like ugly reminders.
She went straight to the largest mirror in that room. It was just one room. One big room, filled with mirrors and clutter- they call it a Studio Apartment. She sat down in front of the mirror and began the daily ritual. The unmasking. She opened her vanity case and took out her weapons of mass detoxification. Removing the layers of chemicals and colors and the dust of appraising glances and now exasperating compliments was a tedious task. At times she thought of abandoning the process from inception and throwing away that vanity case. She wasn’t a model or an actress or any such personality who would be required to put so much make-up. She was a mere accountant, euphemistically called number-cruncher.
She remembered her first job interview. No one cared whether you topped in your local slums or in the country. Your love of numbers wasn’t their concern to nurture and appreciate. She looked at those eyes, heavy with shame and lies. She took off those hazel lenses and her mind went back to the second job interview. He could not take her eyes off her. He loved numbers too, he claimed.
The kohl and liner were wiped off with slight force. The cotton was black. She smiled faintly at the stark difference between her life and the cotton. Next were her lips, the chic red had to be gotten rid of. She recalled the day she got her first promotion. Her boss had said he loved her smile. As the veneer came off, she thought of all those promotions and bonuses and the climb up the ladder. Success has a price- that of buying the entire Bodyshop collection and fitting it into one small vanity case. She blamed herself for her own restriction. But the complacency wasn’t as easy to take off, and it was anything but tedious.
She stood naked before the shower and looked at her reflection in yet another large mirror. The face that stared back looked young and tired. The flawless complexion was just a by-product derived from the long drawn course of removing scars of past abuses. The bland eyes were heavy, still, with shame and grief now. She knew she wasn’t ugly. But she wasn’t as beautiful either. With that realization she let the cold needles of water sting her. The pain was welcome. It made her feel alive. Like the last time someone had seen her without those layers and had loved her like that and she had begun to love herself too, then. It had kept her alive and undone for a long while. But naked souls keep you exposed. Love can get violent at times, and having vulnerable souls didn’t help. She untangled those long tresses in the water. Shunted images of those tresses being pulled and her screaming from pain silently burst from some recess of her mind. But she quickly put them back in their hidden place. She was a fast learner. Reminding yourself of past miseries wasn’t the best way to pretend being someone else in the present.
She stepped out of the bath and began readying herself for another day at work. The numbers came to her naturally. Work involved a lot of smiling and allowing yourself to be looked at and assessed. She wondered at the vanity of women. Make-up was multipurpose. It could be used to hide the shameful scars as also to highlight some other etchings. She would know- she had mastered it long time back. And she showed her skill now, as she stood before the mirror, gloriously done. She evaluated herself carefully, like an artist scrutinizing, sifting for errors. She caught the faintest of lines beginning to form. She dismissed it as one of the inevitable signs, of a proof of having survived. Make-up may spoil your skin, but it protects you, within, she told herself lamely and gave a rueful smile to the mirror.
Work beckoned- that 10-hour workday, in which this thing of beauty drudges through the paces.