Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wearing My Skin: A Short Story

I met a school friend, rather a “crush” of mine, after 25 long years. He is one of those that I have dreamt of meeting again often, as he is one of those few guys who I was very interested in when I was young, back when I think I was prettier than I ever would be in my entire life.

He was devilishly attractive to me those days. He made eyes at me for hours - he was obviously smitten. I think we also went out together a couple of times. My friends giggled his name to me, and yes, I remember sighing his name in my sleep in those days of yearnings. Before we could get around to being more than casual friends, life and ambition intervened, and we drifted apart, and while I never really missed him, I have always wondered what it would be like to meet him, and see his wicked smile that I loved so much back then again.

So, I met him again yesterday, after years and years, and guess what, he still looked the same! Devastating and fiendishly attractive still to me. I am a sucker for good looking men whose eyes dance when they smile, and whose lips pout – lips that hint of a ravishing kiss, and steamy love bites. He looked older, of course, but his maturity sat him well. Years had not taken away the innocence in his eyes, his arms were still taut with strong muscles, and his hair while graying at the temple, became him awfully well.

And me, oh, the intervening years have not enhanced me much. Rather, the other way around. I look the worse for my years.

I was never a beautiful girl. My dad told me I was charming – but every father thinks so, and I never thought much of it. Several admiring men friends that I gathered when I was young also told me that I was sensuous and alluring, though not rapturously beautiful, but I always thought that their lust made them say such things. Not that it bothered me much. I was different from other young girls. I hated doing all the things that girls have to do to look pretty – the waxing, the plucking, the painting of the face, and other feminine stuff. I was a careless person with appearances, am even now, and back then, scrubbed only when I had to, wore good clothes only if I was forced to, dressed up only if I could not refuse and so on. I think I was just a lazy person. Clothes, hair and shoes bored me. I was more interested in people, world, ideas – and just having fun. I never felt that it mattered anyway, as it never made a difference to the crucial issue of being attractive to the opposite sex. I had more boys as my friends than girls, and I regularly received love lorn looks and notes from a few of them, and could flirt the heart out of boys that I was interested in. I was one scruffy young girl, but I was a confident, happy one.

Womanhood and corporate career changed all that. Stepping into the adult world meant that I had to trim my nails, brush my hair and wear freshly laundered trousers and shirts to go the office. Being a wife and marwadi bahu entailed wearing a matching bindi with the saree and the fancy clutch, with the right dash of lipstick, and the weekly trips to the parlour to peel off layers off my hirsute body. Being a business person meant that I had to dress to look in control, and look “Arrived”. I had to make sure I merged and belonged with the power dressing crowd, and I learnt the art of coordinating colors and accessories to create just the aura I wanted – feminine – but not overly so, smart - yet non-threatening, territorial – but not adversarial. I also learned to sheath my claws and cloak my boorishness, and learnt to eat daintily, curbing my desire to speak with my mouth full as I entertained classy men and women.

I did not really enjoy this much, but I did it because I had to, as I really did want to achieve growth in my corporate life, and appearing to be a sophisticated urbane woman was just one of the things that had to be done for it. Younger girls would sometimes walk up to me to ask for tips on how to dress the way I did, not surprising since I did a fairly competent job of exuding the image I wanted to.

And now, after being a mother for a decade, I have steadily been moving back to my older days. I have no need, nor desire to impress, belong or be approved of. My daughter loves me with a completeness that overwhelms me, no matter how I look or what I wear, and my husband depends on me with a thoroughness that can only be achieved through decades of loving and working together. My friends and I chat for hours, in identical élan, in designer or at-home dresses, in five star hotels and park benches. I am, once again, very comfortable in my skin and my place in the world Рeven better, as I have outgrown the rebelliousness of my younger days by growing a thick hide that is impervious to the malicious, look-me-down stares from snooty waiters, classy socialites, trophy wives and reproachful mother-in-laws.

As for the men-folk who were my colleagues and friends, I don’t even think they noticed the change in me – not the one from the young gauche girl I was, to the urbane woman I once became, and now the contented hag that I am growing into.

As my childhood crush looked at me yesterday, I could look right inside his brain, as his brain toted me up. Body – Fat and overblown. Clothes – Probably expensive but carelessly chosen and much worn. Teeth – dark and beginning to yellow, Chin – with a hint of the crone-like hairs that sprout on all 40 something women, Shoes – comfortable clods, that obliterated any style, Bag – the kind that most probably held at least 30 things in it, and definitely not Prada. I could see him evaluating me using the scales that were handed down to him by the Style-check gurus. Hmmmm – I could actually hear the conclusions his brain was coming to. This woman is not worth a second look anymore, he finally clunked to the conclusion.

I could not suppress a chuckle. It was sad to see him so disappointed. He was, no doubt, congratulating himself for not pursuing his love interest in me, way back then. I could see the way he desperately looked around to locate his classy wife, who looked amazingly young for her age and delicate. He surely wore her often enough to his office parties, and was surely envied a whole bunch. They made a pretty pair.

The wife floated by, and after the gracious introductions and the careful touch-but-not-smear-lipstick brush with my right cheek, she shimmered away, my childhood crush in toe. After a hurried conversation with him, she threw a furtive glance back at me as her husband looked on sheepishly. She probably slept with her corset on, I thought, as I struggled to suppress a grin.

So, that was that, I said to myself. This is what he looks like now. Do I want him still? He tempts, surely. It would not take much to fan his earlier unslaken thirst. But do I really want to?

No, I decided. It really isn’t worth it. Did I really want to get into the rigmarole of pleasing, attracting and holding men? It is painful, this beauty and holding-a-man game, Too much work, not much of a prize - even though I admit the man is a delicious hunk. There is’nt much more to him than being just a piece of forbidden, casual lust – is there? I will pass, I thought, I have better things to do, and I looked around for my giggle of girls.

They weren’t far away - my brood of youngsters, friends of my daughter, who were lounging close by, and smirking at some hunk of their size. I had agreed to chaperone them for this wild club side girls only party, and they seemed to be having a rollicking time. I heard one of them scream for me, "Auntie, come on into the water – it is cold!" - and I decided to indulge, taking off my frumpy dress to reveal a even frumpier frock style swim suit, to frolic in the water with them.

I prefer being a hag, I told myself, as I surreptitiously trod water behind the girls, wanting to drench them unawares. And did they scream when I did! That was fun!!