I am rushing to meet you. My arms are pockmarked with cold. Leaves fall around, and sunlight slithers through the boughs. Everything is the colour of fire. But I am not seeing any of it. The world blurs past, or I am a blur. Music in my head blocks out all sound. The world is a sound waiting to be silenced.
I am thinking of you, your hands on my neck, your fingers in my hair, your palms grazing my shoulders, weaving constellations of my bones.
How I wished to come undone.
The road is a familiar one. Past the courier services, past the shutters of that one tiny cramped store, the size of my jean pocket, past the ATM, past another ATM, and then you, your world. Or a piece of it.
The beauty parlour. Ladies only. Next to the medical store, and the eyewear shop.
I walk in, the door chiming, into the wet darkness. Until I see your eyes, two mirrors, reflecting the faint light from the crack of that door. Like an animal’s.
The world’s found only in the eyes.
I nod to you, and say, “Eyebrows and upper lip.”
There’s another woman next to you, but I turn to her only when you aren’t around.
Today she’s as noticeable as the black couch on which the customers wait: accustomed yet immediately forgotten when it’s your turn to get served.
You lead me to the black chair, and the tube lights flicker, come alive. The room is light.
I stare at my half visible face, at the mask.
And you have me shed even that.
“Upperlip first,” you say.
You lower your face close to mine, a thread weaving from your teeth onto your fingers onto the space above my lips. It’s a dance. It’s a poem. I don’t know how to read it. But I feel it.
I feel the thread grab onto the faint traces of the visibilized hormonal rush, and yank it out. Grass in children’s hands.
You ask me to purse my lips. Then release.
You direct my tongue to this corner of my mouth, then another, thrusting my fuzzy upper lip into the spotlight of your eyes. Sometimes I flinch, but you don’t stop. You are in a trance and I am entranced.
You ask me to bite my lower lip, and the dark corner of the mouth, the one above the chin, just below the lower lip, is now light.
Your thread unwinds, and so do I.
Now the eyebrows.
I say, “Remove the extra. Leave it thick.” You nod. It’s an old trick. Everyone says to tell the parlour wali to remove the extra, because if you say nothing or say something else, they reduce your eyebrows to evening shadows.
Parlour wali. She who works at the parlour. But you have a name, and so does your profession. But they see you as just the same.
The same instructions, the same obscure person.
Tucked away like a promise to be remembered later, only to be forgotten.
I almost did too. While tying my shoelaces, I had to think a little to recall you. And then my tongue coughed out a name.
But I won’t invoke it now. You are leading my fingers above and below my eyes, stretching the eyebrows. I am your canvas.
The thread between your teeth again, and you begin to unstitch me.
You call out for another pair of hands. But I am not seeing anything. Eyes closed; I am in your hands. Weeks of exhaustion pull at me. Your threads pull at mine. I am coming undone. I am coming undone.
You’ve seen the acne scars. You’ve seen the anxiety marks. My nails are cracked. My skin hangs from the corners of these nails. The nail beds are as dark as the bags under your eyes. This body isn’t pretty. Because life isn’t.
But I don’t care. I don’t care that you are seeing me. No one sees me this closely. Your breath on my face, like a clap of the sparrow’s wings, disturbing my lashes.
I know you aren’t judging me. You see us all. The hair, the spots, the scars. You see it all, as we all lay ourselves in your hands. God and devotee. The abject surrender, unspooling onto that chair, a bundle of threads, only to weave ourselves back into a person as we get up and get out. Pretty for a brief second.
You pull my eyebrows this way and that, the soft roughness of threads, the roughness of your fingers, the soft coldness of tweezers and scissors, and then done. I am done.
But this isn’t why I seek you out.
You lift the mirror to my face. I see my blurry vision. The eye brows arched and neat. The blank space above my lips. The only clear patch of skin on a clouded face.
You proceed to dust off the flecks of hair. The bristles. Now, the cold moisturiser.
Slowly your hands knead through my eyebrows, climbing over the bridge of my nose, across my forehead. They pause over my temple, and then enter and burn the face of God within. They run through my hair, and trickle over my shoulders, into the dark recesses of my neck. They thumb down on my blades, and like a knife, I wash over the chair.
You have me by your fingers.
No more body. No more somebody’s. Flesh and bones and sinews. Sleep gathers into my eyes, pooling into my core, and darkness never felt so sweet, so divine…
You pluck me out.
Groggy and disoriented.
The tapering light in that dingy parlour. The cracking leather on the chair. My splintered face in the mirror.
The smell of powder and moisturiser and perfume. Someone’s phone rings, a popular Bollywood song punctures the stillness. The world rushes past outside. I am here. I am aware. I don’t want to be.
I smile at you. You smile back.
“Oh and one more thing,” I say, in Hindi, “Underarms, also.”
I do love the pain of hot wax.
What are minutes? What is time? In that corner of your world, Time has been smashed. Only the hands whirl. Soundless, ineffective.
You ask me to undress. I am Eve after that bite of apple. The bite of shame. This body is a fruit. You turn your back. I wrap myself with a freshly washed towel. The black straps of my bra wink at you.
There’s no shame in your eyes. Or whispers of judgement.
Yours are the eyes of God. Empty.
I lay down. You lather the wax. A strip of cloth. Yank. No pain.
You press your fingers into the softness of my arms, the skin tingling with the hairlessness. The pores are empty. The cold fingers on the tender skin. How many such bodies have you emptied?
You smile at me. I smile back.
Your back to me, I unwound the towel. Shirt back on.
You leave the room. I tuck my feet into my shoes.
You walk towards the cashier. I follow you.
The cash register pings. I turn to look. You are gone. Swallowed by your world.
I stay by the door, collecting myself. All these chairs, these hands. I walk towards you. You are on the phone. No more God; now a girl.
You look at me, a smile twitching at your lips.
“Thank you, Maya.”
You smile. I smile back.
The door chimes. Light beats down on me. My skin rises in deference. I stumble through the streets, past the stores, back home, my name forgotten at your door.