Day 367 of the pandemic. Rubina trudged with her little suitcase inside a posh locality and looked around. Bangalore was never this hot but lately the heat had become unbearable. It started making Bangalore look like a different city, uncannily similar to a lot of metropolis and yet the city still had that self-effacing humility of a small town. She took a moment and closed her eyes and then lifted her suitcase and went to the first floor of the building. A young woman opened the door.
“Namaste! I am Rubina, your beautician.”
“Come in,” said the woman.
Rubina pushed her suitcase inside and looked around. She was inside a majestic house. The room was decorated with ferns and plants and had white furniture. There was a huge balcony in the living room overseeing a park.
“Come inside here,” ushered the woman.
Rubina nodded and followed her. This was one of the best houses she had ever been in. She had been working in a beauty parlor for the last ten years. The pandemic allowed her to sustain her skills because a leading technology app with home services hired her and hence from the last one year, she had been servicing the white collared women of Bangalore.
“You can set it up here,” said the woman. The room was subtly lit and had a single bed which was perfect for facial and pedicure. The room had series of bookshelves one after another.
Rubina prepped everything neatly with her potions, creams, masks, gels, wax, steamer, and lots of tissues. She cleaned her hands and called the lady.
The lady entered and lied down on her bed. Rubina scanned her face and that was the first time when she always really looked at her client. Though her eyes were shut, her eyebrows squirmed. She was not relaxed. There was a sense of tension and an unease on her face, her shoulders, her entire body. Rubina usually took this minute to set the tone of her duties. She lightly touched the woman’s face and gently moved her hands to massage her shoulders. The woman finally relaxed.
“I see you have taken the super glow facial mam. The facial will be for one hour. I will start with a gel massage, then scrub and exfoliate your face. I will then follow up with a cream massage and finally the face pack,”
“Ok,” said the woman.
The woman sighed and asked, “What is your name?”
The woman gave a small smile while keeping her eyes closed.
‘There is something about her. Something is not right,’ thought Rubina
As Rubina massaged the lady they spoke about the lockdown, the jobs that were lost, work pressure. Slowly her client was relaxing. Rubina had therapeutic power to relax her clients very easily. She was from Gangtok. She knew early on that the north-eastern women were easily trusted by most women from the other states, probably because women from other parts of India knew extraordinarily little about the north-eastern residents or probably because her calm yet serene eyes made women who met her feel secure with her steady gaze.
Whether these women were Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, they were always comfortable with Rubina. Most of the women were working in high paced corporates and tipped her well whenever she put in that extra bit of effort. All these women were so different and yet had one thing in common – an eternal chase to sustain their youth and the need for beauty.
As she scrubbed her client’s neck, she realised the woman shuddered a bit every time she touched the back of her head. As Rubina continued to massage she saw something red on her midrib. On further inspecting it she realised it was a small bruise.
“Do you want a back massage?”
“No. I don’t think so. I have a backache.”
“Ok mam. I have a cream which will help you with the problem on your chest and back.”
Rubina waited. She could feel her client’s muscle tensing and her teeth clenching. Rubina, continued massaging her neck and all the way to her hands. This time she loosened her hand pressure furthermore and she massaged her wrists.
The woman sighed and said a faint ok.
The woman turned and exposed her back. It had all kinds of marks and bruises. Rubina quietly scrutinized the woman’s back and looked at it as if it was a ghastly painting. She quietly applied the gel and with her fingers carefully massaged each red and purple mark. She could feel the dry tears of the woman each time she breathed.
“Do you see this a lot?” asked the woman, her eyes still closed.
“Sometimes,” she answered.
“Worse than this Rubina?”
“I am not sure.”
Her mind reeled off to one of her clients who was working while Rubina was giving her a pedicure and at one point, she got a phone call. She broke down crying holding Rubina tight. She wiped her tears and then continued working again on her laptop. To this day Rubina was not sure what the phone call was about but she knew that cry. It was normally the cry when a relationship ended and young women in despair did everything they can to look more than what they were, not knowing what they were already more.
“Mam? Are you married?”
The girl laughed loudly. She kept laughing till her tears finally rolled from the corners of her eyes.
“No. I am sure you have not seen anything worse. I am not married.”
Rubina stopped. The woman turned back and for the first time looked at Rubina.
“What do I know. I travel from one house to another, and my life depends on two-hour interaction and a string of stars. If I get anything below four point five, I must go back to a refresher training or get lesser clients. These five stars is all what I know now. Imagine your entire life revolving around ratings and reviews from people whom you have met for few minutes only?”
The woman looked at her sadly and nodded.
“It was my choice. I chose to survive,” said Rubina. She was afraid that would offend the woman. She hoped the woman knew what true survival meant. She hoped that this compassionate lady knew that survival is a blessing, a kind of life stimulant which gives you a purpose. The woman stared at Rubina blankly. Rubina looked down and continued massaging her client’s foot.
“Mam if you had to rate your life today what would you do?” asked Rubina.
After, finishing her services the woman thanked Rubina. “My name is Ashi,” said the woman.
“Don’t worry. I’ll give you a five rating and a great review,” smiled the woman finally.
“Thank You Mam,” smiled Rubina.
As the woman was about to close the door, Rubina called, “Mam?’
“I would give you four stars too.”
“Not five?” laughed the woman.
“The last one is for next time we meet again. When you decide and choose,” said Rubina boldly.
“I will get that one-star Rubina next time. Maybe then you have to up your game.”
Rubina nodded and headed off. Her phone vibrated and saw that her client had given her five stars and a long review. A message beeped in her mobile phone with appointment details of her next client. Rubina lugged her suitcase to the next house on a hot summer afternoon.