Mohini entered the ladies restroom to freshen up before going through the joining formalities. It was her first day at the new job.
She opened her bag and plucked out a subtle pink lipstick. She rolled it up and leaned forward, closer to me. With a painter’s precision, she applied it on her lips; which, in my opinion, did not feel need for any artificial colors. Her eyes fluttered as she applied her mascara.
“You are better off without all this.” I could not help but say.
Stunned, she looked behind her; only to find no one there. The voice sounded same as hers. She checked here and there as to locate where the sound came from.
“Hi, it’s me. Here, here.” I said.
She looked at me, and turned even more perplexed.
“Yes, me; the mirror.” I said.
“What?” now, she seemed scared.
“Don’t worry. I am your reflection. I am with you, in all places; in your bathroom, in your bedroom, in the elevator, in your purse; everywhere you go. I am You.”
“How can you speak to me? I can hear you… in my own voice. What is going on?” she wondered.
“Nothing is going on. Only you can hear what I speak to you and only I can hear what you speak to me. I can even listen to what you speak in your head; what you call your thoughts.” I puzzled her more.
Holding on to her handbag, she stood alertly.
I said, “So, I was saying, you don’t need makeup. You are pretty anyway.”
“I know I am pretty. But it is my first day at new job. I need to look great. I want to leave a good first impression. You know what I mean?” she justified as she adjusted her lip liner with a tissue.
“Do I know what you mean? I can see right through you, Mohini. I know everything about you. I recognize the things that you cannot confess even to yourself.” I said.
“Whatever!” She tried to ignore me.
“You want the first impression that lasts forever and earns you some great fruits; may be even at the cost of morality.” I revealed.
She stared at me; in fact, she stared at herself, practically – and ethically.
“Did you hear? Swarali is returning to work from Monday.”
“Really? Wow. I have been missing her so badly.”
“Me too. I am so happy that after going through everything, she has come out even stronger than before.”
“Totally! I can’t wait to see her.”
The news of Swarali’s return to the office spread like fire in the woods.
AveNew Event Managers was a promising startup company. Close to fifty employees, working day and night to make it big, had pledged to make their name reach newer heights in times to come.
Being the bubbly, charming and passionate soul that Swarali was, she functioned as the morale booster for the whole office whenever anyone dipped. Officially, she was the Human Resource Manager.
With her gorgeous smile and stunning looks, she must have impressed many in the past. But beyond everything else, what was the most attractive about her was her righteousness, her kindness and her sparkle. With a few lovely words and a warm hug, she was capable of turning even the saddest day of your life into a day where you would feel like smiling, at least. She knew how to see the brighter sides of everything. She had the skill to see that little ray of sunshine at the corner of a monster pitch black cloud. She had the key; the key to happiness.
‘Welcome Back Swarali. We missed you.’ A huge signboard on the reception desk greeted Swarali as she walked in. She was returning to the office after almost six months. She was the most loved character of the organization, and it showed. Everyone, from the top boss to the peon, waited there to personally welcome her.
“Thank you so much guys!!! I missed you all too and I can’t describe how much.” She said as she hugged everybody one by one.
I had missed her too. I watched everything through the AveNew logo, designed in fancy mirror cutouts, on the wall behind the reception desk. Tagline below me shone in metal sheets. It read, ‘We Value Your Happiness…’
Mohini waited at the farthest corner. She wondered what this fuss was all about. Since her joining a month back, she had heard a lot about Swarali from everyone, but she was meeting her in person for the first time.
After catching up with everyone, Swarali went up to Mohini and offered a hand to shake. Swarali’s eyes flaunted a glint of purity and her smile sprinkled warmth of oneness.
“Hi, I am Swarali. I think we are meeting for the first time.” She said.
“Yes. Hi. Mohini; I joined a month back. I have heard a lot about you.”
“Oh that is cool. I hope you like it here.” Swarali said as her scarf slid from her head and exposed her right cheek entirely.
“Yukkkkkk!!!” Mohini screamed in disgust.
Swarali smiled in response and adjusted her scarf to cover her cheek back.
“What is so yukk about it Mohini?” the boss questioned immediately.
“Nothing. I mean it is just so gross.” Mohini said in defense pointing to Swarali’s cheek.
“Yes. It may be; so? It is not something that she owns by choice. You should pay respect to someone who has gathered courage to come back openly to the world with a face that was tainted without her own fault.” The boss responded promptly.
Priya was Swarali’s best friend in office. She could not absorb it; she said, “Mohini, I think you would agree, at least, a tad that it takes guts to come out to the world after someone throws acid on your face just because you didn’t give a damn to their non sense. After you have been through the pain for months physically, it leaves you with the inner soreness and anger to last on your psyche, forever. You must acknowledge that it takes a spirit beyond human to come out as fresh and cheerful as this girl has.” Priya said as she side hugged Swarali.
The peon too leaped in, “You have no idea what Swarali madam means to us. And what she had to go through in last six months is far from what she deserved; far from what anyone can deserve. You must say sorry to her right now. Right Now! And I am not saying this out of pity on her. I am saying this because we love her.”
“Yes, apologize to her right away.” Everyone said in unison.
Mohini was taken aback with the abrupt attack on her. She welled up. She ran to the washroom.
In the washroom, Mohini cried overtly. I watched wordlessly.
When I thought, ‘it was time’, I said, “Mohini, you knew what Swarali had gone through. Right?”
With weeping eyes, she looked up to me and nodded.
Before I could say something, Swarali entered the washroom.
“I hope you are ok Mohini.” She said and put her arm around her.
Mohini backed off.
“I understand your repulsion. In fact, let me tell you a secret. Even I was revolted by my face, at first. It has only human. So, please don’t feel bad about it. It is completely ok. And don’t worry about what they said out there. They are crazy. They just love me too much, silly people.” Swarali said with a laugh and carried on. “And, if you are hurt by what they said, I am sorry on their behalf. Please don’t cry.” She wiped Mohini’s wet cheeks.
Mohini stared pointlessly at Swarali. I liked what I was seeing.
“Mohini!” I interrupted her thoughts. She looked at me.
“Now is a good time to confess everything that only you and I know. Now is the time to begin afresh. It is never too late to perk up, Mohini.” I advised her.
I could hear her agreeing to me in her head.
“Swarali, actually, I don’t know how to say this.” Mohini said.
“What is it? Tell me. Anything! You can trust me.”Swarali said.
“Actually, since my first day at this office, all I have been hearing around me is about Swarali. How great person she is. How beautiful she is physically and at heart. How everyone loves her. All I hear about is, You! I started hating you for that; even before meeting you.” Mohini was exhausting her piled up anger against Swarali. I liked it. It was necessary. I knew how much it was damaging her inside.
Swarali heard peacefully.
“When I joined this office, I wanted to make sure everyone liked me, everyone appreciated me. I am used to that; everywhere, at my home, at my old workplace. But here, with you around, I could never win that spot. There was no vacancy there, even in your absence, you know! You had done some black magic on them or something. Everyone kept chanting your name all day.”
“So I had decided to portray the bad side of yours whenever you are back to office. And I could not pick any evil in you except for this.” Mohini said pointing to Swarali’s cheek.
“Hmm.” Swarali noted her presence.
“You are doing good, Mohini.” I noted my presence. Only Mohini could hear me.
She continued, “But I had never realized that they loved you so much that they would not even think of allowing anything against you. Instead, they pounced on me, all at once. Why would they do that?”
“As I told you, they love me.” Swarali said. “And they don’t love me for how I look. They love me for what I am.”
Mohini knew that already but she was too arrogant to accept.
Swarali continued, “Mohini, you don’t need to do anything special to win hearts. Everyone has their bright sides and everyone has their evil sides. Even I would have my evil side, I’m sure. I just don’t allow it to surface, ever. That is my choice. And the same goes for you or for anyone. Why do you need to try and force anyone to love you? Be you. Be the good-you. And the world will magnetically drift closer to you.”
Swarali was doing my job. I liked it.
“But with you around, I can never win hearts in this office. Can I?” Mohini queried.
“Of course you can. You know what is the beauty of this whole thing? The same heart can be won by as many hearts as you can imagine. It is not a trade. It is about the share. If they love me, it does not mean they will not love you. In fact, let me tell you, I am the first to love you out of all of us. I love you for being honest and sharing your heart out. What you did right here takes courage. It takes guts to open up your evil part to someone. You have taken the first step, the rest will follow. Don’t try too hard to make someone love you. Love yourself first. Stay someone who would not need to look down while looking into the mirror.” Swarali pointed towards me.
I could not agree more. Swarali was acting in my shoes, it seemed.
Mohini looked at me and smiled. She knew, this would exactly be my words had Swarali not told already. And she even agreed to everything in her thoughts.
“Swarali, you are a gem of a person. They are right. I don’t think anyone could hate you even after trying so hard, intentionally. Not even me.” Mohini had finally started surfacing her better side.
“I am really sorry for everything. I would apologize to everyone out there too. But I am your sinner first. Please forgive me.” Mohini said with best spirits and joined palms.
“Come on, friends don’t forgive because friends never say sorry.” Swarali said.
Mohini untied Swarali’s scarf, looked at her burnt cheek and said, “You are beyond this, Swarali. You are beautiful here.” she tapped on Swarali’s heart.
“And you are beautiful both at the soul and at the face.” Swarali winked.
Mohini spread her arms; Swarali hugged her cheerfully.
I shimmered in the yellowish lights of the washroom and said, “Mohini, I am you; and today, I am proud of being you. Stay good.”
She glanced at me from the corner of her eye. Her moist eyes sparkled to embellish her smile like the diamond on a ring.