There was a time, not so long ago either, that Roma was terrified of getting old. Well, not getting old, really, because that was inevitable, but of looking old. It was a kind of phobia, more intolerable, because she could not bring herself to talk about it, even to her best and closest friends. She regularly had panic attacks in the mornings while she scrutinized her face in the bathroom mirror, mistaking a pillow mark for a wrinkle or discovered pouches under her eyes or a grey hair peeping out in spite of the regular tinting. Her bathroom scales had to endure her twice a day weight checking procedure. The shelves and cabinets in her bathroom were so crowded with all kinds of beauty enhancement products that her husband now used the guest bathroom. She regularly spent a small fortune on makeup and beauty enhancers. She had a good job, almost as good as her husband, and so she had never felt guilty about her obsession.

The truth of the matter was that while Roma was comely enough, she could not be described as beautiful or sexy. And while she spent oodles of money on creams & lotions, her dress sense could at best be described as unimaginative. She always looked neat & well groomed, but no one ever turned to look at her when she entered a room. Yet she had dreamt of being beautiful all her life. And when the duckling did not turn into the swan she wanted to see in the mirror, she concentrated on other skills – she was an accomplished musician and very professional in her chosen field of work. But she had never ever been able to come to terms with her looks. It was a well kept secret, though, and not even her husband was totally aware of it. But all that was before, before that fateful Thursday – the day she qualified as the watershed day in her well ordered and ordinary life.

She was on her way to work, sitting at her favorite window on the suburban train she took to work every day, the latest copy of her fashion magazine open on her lap as she marveled at the extraordinary beauty of the skeletal models. Lost in a day dream of buying a shocking pink silk dress that would make heads turn, she hardly noticed the woman who sat down next to her. To begin with. The strong heady perfume made her turn her head, and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw the beautiful young woman dressed in a bright pink dress – just like the dress she was looking at a few minutes back. Her makeup was immaculate, her manicured finger nails perfectly varnished with a nail polish the same color as the dress. The toenails peeping out of dainty sandals were perfect too. And her face was familiar, really familiar, though Roma just could not place her – was she one of the models she admired so much? Or an actress? But why would they be on a suburban train in the peak hour? Why would anyone dressed like her be on a train at all & not in a sleek limousine?

While Roma pondered on all this and tried hard not to stare at the young goddess sat next to her, she just could not prevent herself from looking at her from the corner of her eyes. She sat perfectly still, only her hand strayed from time to time as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ears. Well, mused Roma, even gorgeous women had nervous tics, after all. Roma was often gently teased by her colleagues about the same gesture - they said it was stress related. Roma knew otherwise. It was automatic, the way some people chewed their nails or smoothed their skirts. Something to occupy themselves – while they waited at traffic signals, for instance, or sat beside the swimming pool waiting for the kids to come out. She smiled to herself, and looked out of the window as fields & houses & roads raced past….

Roma must have dozed off, for she suddenly became aware of the familiar ugly block of flats that she saw everyday just before her station. The young woman was gone, but there was a small silver purse lying on the seat. Roma was aghast – her co-passenger had forgotten her purse on the train! Images of losing her own purse raced through her mind – the total helplessness of being without your lifeline to existence! But the train had stopped in her station. She grabbed the purse & hurried to the door – determined to contact the owner as soon as she got to work.

But that was not to be. She arrived to find the whole office in turmoil, because a very minor cabinet minister had suddenly decided to visit their organization. Or not – depending on his schedule and fancy. But a small army, led by the peppy receptionist, was scuttling all over the lobby, scrubbing, dusting, trying to make the wilting plants cheer up. Upstairs, people were desperately updating reports, pulling out spreadsheets or printing out colorful charts of performance indicators. Roma was instantly commissioned to quickly edit and then print out the last quarterly report, and then get the meeting room ready for video projections. In spite of all this panic, Roma kept thinking of the woman on the train, and hoped for a moment of calm to open the purse so that she could contact its owner. She worried too – if ever she had to go to the police station to hand in the purse, what would they say? That she had taken precious hours to report a purse forgotten on the train? She was distracted and almost let slip an enormous tautology in the report – she breathed in relief, having avoided the fire and brimstone session from her boss. After that, she became totally focused on what she was doing, and it was only after a longish period, when she absolutely needed a trip to the bathroom that she grabbed the silver purse, hoping that the young woman was not stranded somewhere….

She opened the purse in the privacy of the bathroom and quickly riffled through to find something that would enable her to get in touch with the young woman. After the first cursory glance, she did a more thorough check – but there was nothing that disclosed the identity of the owner. No ID card, no driving license, no cell phone, no phonebook, no credit card…. Instead, she found a jumble of things - compact, lipstick, eyeliner, blusher. There was a small silver backed comb, exactly like the one she had received as an anniversary present a few years back. The makeup items were of the same brands too – the purse could have belonged to her. Incredibly, there were no keys in the purse and no money at all. She came out & emptied the contents of the bag on the small dressing table, thinking that there might be a hidden compartment where all the valuables were kept. She felt the lining and found no hidden pockets. She now turned the purse upside down, and a small card floated out on the tiled floor. Roma picked up the card quickly. There was no name or address on the card, but only a telephone number.

Roma was somewhat reassured, certain now that the woman had another bag where all the essential items were kept. She would definitely not be stranded because the purse contained nothing really useful. So she decided that there was no real hurry to get in touch with the owner, and she would do it once the whirlwind in the office died down. Submerged by all that she had to do, she almost forgot about the woman and the purse. Almost, but not quite – she kept puzzling about why she had looked so familiar….

It was only much later in the evening, once dinner was over & her husband installed before the sports channel, did Roma have time to pull out the card again. For some strange reason, she had said nothing about the incident to her husband, not even the fact that she had someone else’s purse in her possession. Now she went into the bedroom and dialed the number that was on the card, only to get a cryptic message that informed her that they can’t take her call right now and would she please leave a contact number. Soft music played in the background as Roma hesitated. She was rather careful about giving her telephone number, so decided to leave it off till the next day. ‘Must be her work number’, she thought to herself ‘of course no one is there to answer the phone’. She started getting ready for bed, scrubbing her face in front of the mirror, and the answer came to her in a flash – the woman on the train looked a lot like herself. Of course she was much younger and much more beautiful, but still, the resemblance was incredible. Roma shivered, and tried to concentrate on what she was doing. But she slept fitfully that night, troubled by strange and disquieting dreams which she could not remember after waking up. And the pouches under her eyes were very real this morning.

Her cell phone beeped as soon as she got on the train. It was a text acknowledging her call last night and requesting her to call up at her convenience. Roma decided to use the commuting time to place the call. It was picked up on the first ring.
‘Good morning. How can I help you?’ said a very pleasant voice.
‘Oh hello’, said Roma ‘I am calling this number for I think one of your employees had forgotten her purse on the train yesterday’.
-‘I don’t have any employees’, said the voice ‘only partners. May I know your name please?’
Roma gave her name, thinking that the conversation was not really going the way it should. ‘Look’, she said, ‘I don’t even know who the purse belongs to. Did any of your partners tell you about it’?
‘Yes. She lost it on the train yesterday, and would be very glad to get it back’.
‘I can post it if you give me an address – there was none in the purse’.
‘I’m sure my partner would like to thank you in person. Look, why don’t you come around this evening, on your way home? Our office is just around the corner, on Garden Lane. You can’t miss it – it’s the only house on that street with a rose garden. Shall we say around six, then?’

Roma agreed and switched off the phone. Only then did she ask herself the question - how did the person know where she worked? It was really spooky. Also she had worked in this office for a long time now, and thought that she knew the area very well. But try as she might, she could not remember a street called Garden Lane, or a house with a rose garden. ‘Maybe it’s just a tiny bystreet, and I’ve never had any reason to go there’ she thought, but the feeling of unease would not go away. It stayed with her the whole day, and she thought about asking one of her colleagues to accompany her that evening. But she felt strangely reluctant, just like the evening before. She worried about not being able to find the place as well and somehow hoped that she wouldn’t be able to – now that she had an address, she could easily drop the purse at the nearest police station and request them to deliver it. The thought cheered her up a bit – she can always decide what to do once she finished work. If Roma’s colleagues noticed her nervousness, they didn’t remark about it, which further boosted Roma’s confidence. It was almost six when she finally made up her mind – she felt a peculiar longing to see the young woman again.

Roma hesitated only for a couple of seconds before turning south on the broad avenue, and found Garden Lane without any problem. It was a quiet little street lined by small bungalows, and Roma wondered how she had never noticed the street before. The house itself was easy to find as well – the rose garden was indeed splendid, very different from the humble gardens of the other houses. The dusky evening and the fragrance of the flowers calmed her down immediately, and she felt no apprehension to ring the quaint brass bell. The door was opened instantly by the young woman on the train, as if she was waiting right behind the door. Roma was greeted by a charming smile and ushered into a very elegantly appointed room. The subdued lighting, the very low oriental music from hidden speakers, the comfortable sofas were definitely designed to make visitors welcome and feel at ease. Roma sank down into the leather couch while the young woman settled down opposite her. Today she was dressed in a turquoise dress and looked even more beautiful. Roma took the silver purse out of her satchel and handed it over. The girl thanked her profusely for all the trouble she had taken to return it to her.

‘It was no trouble, really’ said Roma. ‘Hey, I don’t even know what you are called. And yet, we seem to have very similar tastes. I had to look through your bag to find an address, you see, and saw that we used the same brands of makeup.’
‘My name is Diana’ said the woman, and Roma smiled.
‘Very appropriate name’, she said ‘you are so beautiful. And Diana was beautiful too, wasn’t she?’
‘She was also the moon goddess, Roma, the ultimate woman in some ways. Did you know that she never married, and so is eternally independent?
Roma blinked. Mythology was not her forte. But there was something in the tone of the comment that made her brave.
‘So are you like her, then? Do you do whatever you want to do?
‘Yes, I can and I do. Also, like her, I hunt’ smiled Diana
‘Hunt? No, you can’t be serious. Whoever hunts in these days?’
‘Oh, I hunt the dreams and desires, Roma. Of people. You, for instance’.
‘How can you do that?’ Roma blurted out. ‘You mean to say you know what my dreams are?’

For a few seconds, Diana did not answer. She looked into Roma’s eyes, a deep disturbing look, and Roma suddenly became a bit apprehensive. What was this all about? What was this strange place? Why did she feel like she was obliged to sit there and listen to this young woman? Why did she feel that there was some kind of bond between them?
‘I am you, Roma’, said Diana softly, after what seemed to be an eternity. ‘Don’t you see that?’
Roma almost fainted. Was this woman mad? But why did Roma feel that she was telling the truth?
‘I am what you want to be, Roma. I am your imagination. I am your dream. I may also be your destiny, if you want it’.
‘What do you mean, Diana? That you can be my destiny?’
‘You can become me, Roma, and fulfill your dreams. Your dream of becoming  a beautiful goddess, the world of men at your feet. Men, who love you, desire you but fear you as well. Because you are the ultimate woman, slave to none’.
‘You mean that I shall become you, Diana? Young & beautiful for ever– like a female version of Dorian Gray?'
‘No Roma. You shall live your dream if that is what you choose. But like all choices in life, it would be irreversible. And I must tell you one thing before you decide – beauty is enchantment, beauty is power, and you can use it or abuse it. It will be your choice. But if you incarnate Diana, you shall have no hearth or home. Ultimately, you shall be alone’.

Roma closed her eyes. She saw a jumble of images – her stodgy unromantic husband, her Alpha Male boss, the men she met at social gatherings – whose eyes glazed over as soon as they had figured out who or what she was and zeroed on the unattached attractive females. She thought of the endless household chores, the constant struggle at work to prove that she was as good, if not better than her male colleagues. She thought of the dull weekends in front of the TV, the spaced out visits to the local Chinese restaurant, the perfunctory unimaginative sex. All this in a backdrop of the glamorous photos of her magazines – the romantic places, the exquisitely decorated houses, the perfect couples – the beauty of it all. She opened her eyes and looked at Diana, and nodded, only once.


The local papers had a small insert in one of the most unnoticed sections next day where a distraught husband had reported his wife missing – she just did not return home from work. The police conducted a very detailed investigation. There was nothing at all to explain the disappearance. There was an intense search, and they dragged the nearby river and the lakes. They found nothing.

The other news that made the headlines of all papers, local & national, was about a very beautiful woman who had taken the modeling world by storm. The tabloids followed her story for months, faithfully reporting the wild parties, the brief liaisons with the rich & famous, right up to her meteoric rise to the front cover of Vogue.

[APARAJITA SEN. 19 May 2013 at 23:48]


No comments:

Blogger Widgets
Powered by Blogger.