Written by Nandini Sethi
The day started off at the Malhotra’s’ at 7:00 AM by the clock, and not a minute later. As usual, my mother hauled me out of bed, to get ready for a long day of online classes I didn’t plan to attend; then she proceeded to escort my younger sister to the washroom to start off the day with a nice, hot shower.
I took a deep breath to fill my lungs with the sweet scent of honey and jasmine tea, the exact flavour combination my grandmother would have every morning and she flipped through the pages of a gossip magazine, the newspaper laying abandoned next to her.
As my sister and I seated ourselves at the dining table, my father, as he did every morning, dashed out the bedroom in a mad rush to make it to office in time. His breakfast lay cold, his tie crumpled on the sofa, and his loud bhajjans loud enough to make our neighbors deaf.
My mother worked on autopilot, cooking and cleaning at the same time, somehow still keeping an eye on our plate of unfinished eggs. In the middle of pouring a second glass of milky tea for my father, she suddenly stopped in her step, looking at me with wide eyes.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked, mirroring her horrified expression.
“I forgot to pick up the packet of milk from the watchman downstairs!” She spoke in a low voice, not wanting my grandmother to hear about her errors.
“Mom, it’s not a big deal, I can just go pick it up now,” I said, getting up from my seat and putting on my shoes, my glasses, my phone in my pocket, surveilling the room to check if I had forgotten anything. Nope.
That’s when I noticed something weird. As I got into the elevator, I noticed two 15-year-olds eyeing me constantly. I tried to brush it off, but I couldn’t stand the awkwardness and tension anymore. I looked them in the eye in a way to ask them ‘what?’ but they flinched and got off a floor too early. Were they mesmerized by me or intimidated?
As I walked towards the security of the apartment complex, I passed through the garden, hoping to breathe in a bit of fresh air soak in the sunlight, there I encountered another weird couple. They were staring at me, mouths slightly agape, and had absolutely no intention of looking away. A little flushed but more so embarrassed, I tried to hide my face, wondering what it was that suddenly made people realize the true potential of my beauty.
I reached the security and politely asked for the packets of milk. Ram Bhaiya was new to the building, he was timid and quiet, never saying anything to upset anyone. So, when I thanked him while leaving, I expected a shy remark or ‘no, thank you’, in return; but all I got was a blank expression, a gaze that spoke nothing but astonishment.
This was it. Something had changed, I just knew it. I felt like Cinderella after the bippity-boppity-boo, all eyes on me as I flicked my hair in the wind, confidence seeping through my empowered walk. To see what they saw, I took out my phone and started taking some selfies – that was when I saw it. I was indeed looking beautiful, my hair newly washed and combed, my face exuberant and bright. It all made sense now – who wouldn’t be amazed by my buoyant beauty?
Once again, I was met by the two pubescent boys in the lift. And this time as they made sly attempts to gaze at me, I decided to stand up for myself. I was suddenly overcome by empowering thoughts: just because we are beautiful, must we be the subjects to the lustful looks of boys? Is it what I was wearing? It’s 2021, I had the right to speak up and tell boys that staring is rude.
“Hello! Don’t you know staring is rude?” I screamed, on the verge of boiling point.
“No, actually-”, one of the boys stammered, but before he could complete his sentence, I cut him off.
“What? What do you have to say for yourself? Just because I am beautiful you have the right to ogle at me like I am an object?”
The boys remained silent.
“What?” I shouted once again, “Why were you staring? Why is everyone staring?”
After a beat they spoke, “Didi, actually you forgot to wear a mask.”
Moral of the story: to avoid embarrassing yourself, never forget your mask at home!