“When you said emergency, this isn’t where I expected to find you.” Avnish said exasperatedly as he shifted uneasily and got his laptop bag off him. His unruly hair mirrored his state of mind; confused and all over the place. Renu pretended not to hear him and uninterruptedly continued revering the diamond necklace adorning her beautiful neck. At 40, youthful and elegantly groomed, she could easily give any 20-something a run for their money. Avnish, in contrast, with his greying hair and ample waist looked older for his 43 years. Right now, the bags under his eyes looked even more pronounced. Had she managed to catch him off-guard or was he vain enough to forget about their impending Diwali shopping? Couldn’t she be more specific on the phone?
As Avnish settled in a chair next to her people around them threw furtive glances at him. They must be wondering whether I’m really with this queen, he thought to himself. Renu, however, seemed oblivious to anyone else’s presence. She was a woman on a mission. Only with this gorgeous trinket would she shine brighter than all the Diwali diyas in her neighbourhood. Why was Avnish being so irksome though? So she said she was at the hospital in front of this jewellery store and asked him to rush at once. Would he take time off and join her for shopping otherwise? Fine, he had been at work but was here now, couldn’t they just get on with it?
Having no easy way to say it, Avnish whispered, “Renu, I transferred my bonus to Mom this morning. Dad needs urgent bypass surgery and she was crying incessantly over the phone that she couldn’t arrange the money. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I wasn’t expecting this. We can’t afford the necklace right now. Can we please leave?” Her expression changed from excited to hurt within moments but anger was what she really felt. Her eyes burnt through him even as the salesgirl looked on quizzically. Without uttering a word she removed the necklace and walked away, not giving it, him or anyone a second glance.
She furiously stomped on the footpath and was instantly surrounded by a group of children, muddy and dressed in tatters. Wary but cornered no less; she reached for some change in her purse to get rid of them. She was about to toss a few coins at them when the oldest one of about 8, said out loud, “Madam, hum bhikari nahi hain. Diya le lo humse.” He pointed at his mother sitting on the roadside with a baby sucking at her bosom. Colourful Diwali diyas were laid out in front of her. She hopefully eyed Renu and signalled her to get a closer look at them.
Renu moved hypnotically and her anger seemed to dissolve with every step she took in her direction. The lady wore a torn sari with several off-colour patches. Her bony frame made Renu wonder about the nourishment the kid was getting from her. Her face was grimy but her features were sharp, pretty even. She seemed strangely content. Renu couldn’t help notice a thread with black beads around her neck. “Kya wo mangalsutra hai?” she asked hesitantly as she got closer. She smiled and said, “Jitna bacha hai. Baaki sona to gaya, Madam. Bech diya pati ke ilaaj ke liye. Diye le lo na. Diwali pe ghar mein sajenge.”
Avnish had rushed to Renu’s side by then and was surprised to see his elitist wife talking to a roadside vendor. Later, Renu left with some diyas and Avnish walked next to her for a while before blurting out in zest, “I see the festival of lights has lit up your mind too!” Renu gave him an icy stare while suppressing a smile.
Suddenly, the expensive diamond necklace from the store had seemed worthless to her. She would show it off to her friends and gloat about it but would she ever feel the same content this woman did with her thread of black beads? The ragged poor woman had unwittingly done the unthinkable. She had made Renu see within and beyond herself. By losing out on the necklace she had found herself!
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