As soon as Laila saw Shirley Adams breeze into the beauty parlour she was certain that Shirley would look out for Veronica who was off duty today. It was unusual for Shirley not to have fixed an appointment earlier with Veronica. Her dazzling smile, her bright eyes, clearly indicated she was in a celebratory mood.
“How come you are free at this time?” asked Najma, the in -charge of Miracle Beauty Parlour.
“Oh I have taken half day off from work. I need to get a lot done. Where is Veronica?
“She is on leave.”
“Anything special you wanted to get done?”
“Special? Najma, it’s my fifth wedding anniversary. Veronica kept a tab on the important events in my life. How come she is not here?”
“Congratulations Ma’am. Sorry, I forgot the day; in the rush of work. Veronica had an emergency. Her mother is hospitalised. I have another appointment or I would have personally attended to you. But Laila here is also very good.”
Shirley had barely noticed Laila: the girl looked so dull, in her drab dress and was so shy and self effacing. She wondered whether she should take the risk. She appraised her critically. The girl was young about twenty two, of average height, fair complexioned and even featured but her long straight hair was very severely tied in a tight bun; she could look pretty if she changed her hairstyle and dressed in brighter colours . Shirley was however impressed by her quiet dignity and air of competence.
“You are a trained beautician?”
“She has a diploma in Beauty Care and Hairstyling from a well known Institute in India and nearly a year’s experience.” Najma informed
“Really? OK then. Will do. I need a facial and my hair styled. Hope you’ll guide her Najma.”
“Sure. Laila, first wash Madam’s hair. And prepare the ingredients for the herbal facial.”
“It’ll take you some time to get to know my preferences,” Shirley calmly explained to Laila. “Veronica was an old hand. I used to have a different hair styles for the four important occasions. Besides our respective birthdays, there were four occasions we celebrated: our first meeting, our first date, our engagement and wedding. For my wedding anniversary, I want the braided style, like the one I had when I got married “
“You are very lucky ma’am, to have so many events to celebrate." Laila murmured, a shadow crossing her face at Shirley’s gleaming smile.
“Yes. I am. We love each other as much as we did on our wedding day. What about you? Are you married?”
“Yes.” Laila’s voice was low and subdued.
“Our families knew each other very well –family friends.”
“Then you two must have liked each other.”
"Our families were conservative. We were not allowed to meet or get to know each other.”
What she couldn’t tell anyone was that their marriage was one of convenience. Imroze had married her on the rebound and her parents had accepted the proposal simply because he was an engineer and a Green Card holder. An average looking girl like her with no dowry couldn’t have got a better match.
“More than family conservatism, it’s also because of Laila’s nature. She is very reticent and shy. It might be because she was sandwiched between a brilliant and beautiful sister and a much pampered younger brother.” Najma intervened overhearing the conversation.
“But why should you have an inferiority complex. You too can look pretty, if you make some effort. Surely your husband is not against your looking good. Does he wants you to wear the veil or insists on wearing such drab dull colours.”
“Nothing of that sort.”Laila replied.” he is very liberal.”
“Then doesn’t waste time my dear. You’ll not be young again. Make yourself and him happy.”
Laila pondered: was Imroze happy with her? He had wanted a smart, outgoing and stylish girl like Yasmin, the bride his mother had chosen for him.
“When is your wedding anniversary?” Shirley asked
Laila hesitated and then mumbled, “Day after tomorrow.”
“Wah! That’s great. Must give you a new look. I am sure Imroze will be pleasantly surprised,”Najma said.
“I don’t know. He has been seeing me like this: simple and plain since I was a child.”
“He may like you as you are. But will be happy to see the transformation.” Shirley piped in. “Men get bored easily. They desire variety: in dress, food, companionship. So if you don’t reinvent yourself, they may look elsewhere.”
“Imroze isn’t that type. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to please him. So it’s settled. The day after, you have an appointment with me, early in the morning. OK. No excuses.” Najma said
Laila nodded but she wasn’t sure if it was the appropriate thing to do. She didn’t know how Imroze would react. It would remind him of the painful incident which led to their marriage. She could probably consult his sister Kubra who stayed nearby and who had been her sister Asma’s a close friend.
Kubra was delighted to see her.”So what are you planning for your wedding anniversary? This is your first, together.”
Laila was quite taken back at the matter of fact tone of her question. It seemed as if Kubra had taken for granted that they would be celebrating their anniversary like all normal couples
“Kubra you know the circumstances in which the marriage took place. Do you think Imroze would like to be reminded that he was rejected by Yasmin and had to marry me.”
“Oh forget Yasmin. Imagine a modern, educated girl like her agreeing in the first place to marry a man without meeting him and then creating such a scene. But Mamma was also very much to blame: she should not have concealed the fact of his artificial arm from her. ”
“But I am surprised that her family wasn’t aware. Most people knew of the accident in which Imroze lost his left arm.”
“Now let’s forget the past .You must move on. Imroze definitely wants to. He has put that incident behind him.”
“Yes, of course. What makes you think he hasn’t? Take my word for it. He has got over it. He is happy with you. But he is not sure about you. He thinks you are withdrawn. Perhaps because you were pushed into the marriage and are conscious of his defect.”
“I am not! What makes him think so? It is true that I had not been prepared for the marriage. How could I? I was given just two days to get used to the idea.”
“Do you regret it?”
“No. Certainly not. I always liked him. But I had never thought of a future with him or for that matter, with any one in particular. But I am sure I wouldn’t have got a nicer person than him.”
“Then you like him. So, show him. He needs an affirmation.”
“How? I do try to make him as comfortable as I can. Has he ever complained?”
“Laila, you have played the handmaiden too long to Asma. I know, she is a stunner .But now, you have to come out from her shadow. No one is comparing you to her. He does appreciate your house keeping skills. But he is also looking for companionship. I know you are nearly eight years younger to him but he is a fun loving guy.’
“I know. He used to be very witty. The way he imitated Muneer uncle –it was hilarious.”
“He also likes going out, seeing plays, eating out. He likes to see his wife well turned out– not a drab.”
“Najma wants to change my hair style-–cut it short. Do it up in a high pony tail.”
“That’s a great idea. But you need to wear something more colourful. Enough of beiges and greys. There is a magenta suit in your trousseau. Imroze likes that colour and it will give a glow to your skin.” She went and opened her wardrobe and took out a jewellery box.
“Here’s a string of rubies to go with it.”
“Kubra you’re so ...” There were tears in Laila’s eyes.
“Now, no getting senti .Tell me about the effects, later on.I want you to start your memories from this day onwards.”
That day, from the moment she got up she was in a whirl of excitement. And Imroz too seemed to have a spring in his walk –or did she imagine it? Was he aware of the day?
And Najma true to her word really transformed her .She hadn’t imagined she could look so attractive. Evening came and she wore the magenta suit and ruby studded danglers, and a string of rubies around her neck. She glanced at her wedding photograph, placed on the mantle. How pensive Imroze looked in the photograph? Otherwise his pleasant face was so relaxed. And she looked so pale, so tense and diffident–so different from her present self. She wondered at Imroze’s reaction. She looked at the clock. It was seven. He should have been home by now. Where was he? She rang up his office. There was no response. He was perhaps on his way with Mukesh, their neighbour and Imroze’s close friend with whom he shared the car pool.