BEAUTY BENEATH THE SKIN

Stories Apne Apne by Raj Deepali Pandey
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Waking up every morning to the same surroundings is something to which everyone is accustomed. But for Naina, it was a moment of saddening nostalgia. The mirror at the left of her bed, her bridal shoots photographs on the wall were the terrible reminder of her lost physical beauty. Removing them from her sight was the best she could do have done for herself. She stopped watching her face in the mirror, for the act only gave her now a feeling of inferiority complex and low self esteem.

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“Life has been so unfair to her.” She remembered Aryan saying this to her few years back, while they having snacks in a small restaurant which was owned and run by a young couple. The lady just battled cancer and recovered, while the radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions took a toll on her health. The bald head made her wear a scarf all the time, but her smile never faded even a little. All this while she got intense support from her husband, who stood by her side even when she lost hope of a new life.

“I don’t think so.” Naina said munching her fries. “I mean, yes her life has been very hard, but not unfair. She got a loving family who stayed by her side during the toughest phase, and such a doting husband. While the disease takes the tolls on the lives of people, she is lucky to have recovered.”

“And her lost beauty? I know physical beauty doesn’t matter, yet isn’t it tough to face the piercing gaze of the world knowing your appearance is flawed?”

“If your loved ones overlook your superficial flaws, nothing else matters. What if one day it happens to me, will you not find me beautiful any more?” She questioned, her eyes fixed on him in a penetrating gaze.

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“What nonsense are you talking? Nothing is going to happen to you.” He replied in an angry, assertive tone.

“I just want to know, what if such contingency hits me, will my physical appearance repel you?” She insisted.

He held her hand lovingly. “You will always remain beautiful for me, irrespective of your physical appearance. I just meant that this world is cruel as it puts a person in an awkward situation by their consistent piercing gaze. I never gave my personal opinion on how she looks now. Period.”

Three years from then, now she stepped in the shoes of the same woman, the situation in which she imagined herself to be to know her husband’s opinion. Two years back she was diagnosed with leukaemia, which blew her world to smithereens. Aryan, as he promised that day, stood by her like a pillar against all odds. It took her two years to recover completely. The deadly disease left her, but the pessimism took over. Her lost beauty filled her with a feeling of self aversion and pity. Every time she walked past the mirror, she tried not to look at it. Her long hair, which were apparently the best asset of her beauty, was something she pined for the most. Despite Aryan telling her how beautiful she looked, she couldn’t make peace. She knew, he loved her long tresses more than her. She loved teasing him by making such remarks often, “My hair,  it’s always coming in my way. I think I should get it chopped off.” “Don’t you dare, or I’ll never talk to you again.” He would speak in an angry, authoritative tone. Now, that her hair were no more, she was filled with guilt, as if she has hurt Aryan. She always wondered what he felt while looking at her face. Did he still love her, or was just filled with sympathy?

She got herself a short haired wig. Though Aryan never approved of it. “Your hair will grow back in no time. And you look beautiful even now. Why do you need that?” He exactly knew what made her do that. A girl like Naina, for whom superficial appearance was of least importance, would have never tried to be decorative beyond certain limit. Her low self esteem made her accentuate her features.

“Do you still find me beautiful?” She asked him once, out of the blue, while they were looking at their wedding pictures. He glanced at her, not surprised at all. He expected this question, sooner or later. He sighed, and replied with a smile. “Don’t I tell you everyday that you are beautiful?” “And you only say that to make me feel better, because now my beauty is ruined.” “You only used to say that even ruins can be beautiful.” He patted her cheeks. “But I was wrong. Ruins can never be beautiful. What’s beautiful is the idea of a ruin once being an imposing, magnificent structure with a glorious past.” She countered him philosophically. He looked in her eyes. They were pensive, filled with tears. He didn’t feel like talking or consoling her, only to prevent any kind of outburst of emotions. He left the room quietly. His silence and indifference was too much to bear for Naina who was already trying to recover from the trauma of the disease and low self esteem. She broke down into unstoppable sobs.

Aryan had always been a doting husband, one who always had her back in every decisions of her life. The diagnosis of cancer shook him from the core. A man who never believed in the existence of God, was always seen moving his lips in silent prayers during every chemotherapy session, praying for the least pain and most mental strength to her. His life revolved around Naina, his beloved wife, and the thought of her struggling to escape the clutches of death would send him to shivers. Why on earth would he not find her beautiful? Just because she lost few pounds, or because she lost her long tresses? He knew he had to do something to make her understand the insignificance of her looks to her.

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Morning rays of the sun entered her room through the frosted glass of the window.  The warmth of the golden rays in the month of February felt soothing on her face. She got up, stretched her body and went back to bed again, in accordance with her age old lazy trait. But she got up with a start, remembering it was her job interview that day. Now that she was regaining her health, she had decided to start her life afresh. She got up and looked at the table beside her bed. A flask and her favourite bone china coffee mug was placed there. “He never forgets my morning routine.” She smiled to herself as she thought of Aryan who brewed tea for her and kept it within an arm’s reach for her before going out for his morning walk. Pouring the steaming tea into the mug she started thinking of how her interview would be. A little nervous though, she went to get ready for the big day.

After an hour of messing with her wardrobe, between the formal outfits, she settled for a pink chiffon suit which Aryan got for her when she once told him that she had all colours in her wardrobe except any shade of pink. A mischievous smile appeared on her face, when she remembered him looking at her with utmost shock, and saying “I thought pink is a mandatory colour for a girl. All girls love pink don’t they?” She laughed and said, “Really you think so? Then bring me one pink outfit, of your choice.” The same day he got it and while handing it to her, said “I don’t want my wife to be short of any colours in her life.” His smooth pickup lines always made her blush, even after four years of marriage.

She dressed herself, lined her eyes perfectly, applied the lipstick. A final task awaited her, wearing the wig. She opened the closet where she kept her wig. A waft of fragrance hit her nose. A beautifully woven bouquet of red, pink and white roses, with an envelope attached to it, was placed beside her wig. Her face lit up with joy. She caressed the flowers, feeling their soft petals. Carefully tearing the envelop she found a note, “I wish you all the happiness and success which you so rightfully deserve. You are beautiful, both inside and out, even these flowers must be envying your beauty. And remember, even if you don’t succeed today, you’ll get endless opportunities in your life. You have remained fearless and determined during the toughest phase of your life, so don’t let the trivial issues and people put you down in life. All the best. Loads of love.”

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 Those words brought a pink tint on her cheeks, and her eyes welled with tears of joy. She folded the note and kept it in her purse, and arranged the fresh flowers in a vase kept in the corner. She took the wig out of the closet and went to the dressing table. But she didn’t wear it. After five minutes of staring at herself in the mirror, with millions of thought in her mind, she went back to the closet again and placed the wig back in it.

As she was about to leave the room, she saw Aryan standing at the door, smiling at her affectionately. She went to him and hugged him. “I’m waiting for my hair to grow back again. Tickling you with the fake tresses while you’re asleep is not at all fun.” Both of them dissolved into laughter, the first hearty laugh in those two years.

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