She looked at her reflection in the full length mirror one more time. The large, red bindi, dark kohl, bright red lipstick. She looked perfect, she thought. No, not perfect. She was not perfect. Not today. She corrected herself. But yes, she looked beautiful. She grabbed the pallu in a bunch and adjusted it around her sleeveless shoulder. A good amount of her cleavage was showing over the loosely thrown pallu of her white and red saree. But she didn't care. Not today.
Eric Clapton was singing Wonderful Tonight in the background, in the old gramophone she had inherited from her dadu. She took a deep puff from the Black and stubbed the rest of it in the ash tray on her dressing table. She made a mental note to empty the ash tray when she got back. She took the bottle of perfume she kept on the table and opened its glass lid. She tilted it gently and took a little of it on the glass applicator. She dabbed the perfume on both her wrists and took a whiff of it. She looked at the mirror again and smiled at herself.
"Look at you!", she said to herself.
She turned off the record that was playing and moved towards the door. She slipped into her sandals while balancing herself against the wall. She took the car key from the key stand by the door. She paused for a moment. No, not today. She didn't want to drive. She hung the key back on its hook.
She unbolted the door and stepped outside. She looked to either side of the veranda on the floor. No one. The next moment, she reprimanded herself for doing that. Why was she behaving like a thief? She headed straight towards the staircase. She didn't want to take the lift. She literally ran down two sets of stairs. She had a spring in her steps, a glow in her eyes, and the naughtiness of a 5 year old in her grin.
The watchman on the apartment woke up from his slumber on hearing footsteps. He was very little used to hearing footsteps. Nobody took the stairs unless the lift was not working. Not even the people on the first floor. He could smell her even before he saw her. The evening breeze carried the scent of her perfume way before her. And then she emerged from the building. And she was a sight to behold.
He ogled at her shamelessly. She looked alluring. Her sumptuous cleavage and high navel made him drool. He was so mesmerised and carried away that he forgot to look away when she neared him. Usually, she gives him a smile whenever she passes by him every day. But no, not today. Today, she didn't even throw a glance in his way.
She hummed the lines from Wonderful Tonight as she moved towards the gates of her apartment. She wondered if she will get a taxi in time. As she emerged from the confines of her building and stepped into crowded street, she drew the attention of more people. A teenager who passed by her muttered some dirty remarks in Bengali under his breath. She pretended not to hear them. Not today.
She stepped out of the footpath and onto the road and extended her arms out to hail a cab. An old, black and yellow taxi slowed but moved past her. It had passengers in it. For one moment, it looked as if the taxi driver was willing to ask his passenger to disembark then and there itself, and take this new passenger to her destination. She wasn't that outrageously beautiful for a Bong. Or bold. But today, she was different. She was voluptuous. She was vulnerable. And she oozed a boldness she had never known.
A couple of minutes passed and a taxi slowed down to a halt in front of her extended arm. The driver was an old man. He peeped through the passenger side glass and asked, "Kothay jabe?"
"Dada, Princep Ghat", She replied, leaning closer to the window. She didn't want to be heard by her onlookers. Not that anyone could hear her. But nevertheless, she didn't want to take a chance. Not today. You never know who will follow you.
The greying old man nodded his approval. She twisted the handle of the old Ambassador and got into the bucket seat in the back. Old velvet, she thought as she brushed her hand against the seat. She leaned back onto the seat and closed her eyes. Thoughts came running towards her, and soon, she was drowned in them. She didn't realise that she had drifted into a sleep and was dreaming. She was in an open place; too crowded and noisy for her taste. Amidst all the chaos, she heard his voice booming over the others. Princep Ghat, it said.
"Meye, amra pouchhey gechhi." It was the old taxi driver's voice that shook her up from her dream.
Did he just call her beti? Not didi, but beti. She smiled. For the first time this evening, someone had held her in a non-amorous way. She smiled and asked, "Bhara kato?"
She paid the driver and got out of the taxi. The taxi sped away with a loud noise. Once again, she looked to either side. She prayed that no one she knew was out there tonight. Not today. Nobody was there. The ghat was deserted except for a few couples. She took a deep breath and walked towards the ghat.
(Might be continued....)