Spatial Cogitations

She sat at the table and studied the menu. Should she order the staple fish and chips or chicken wings? Or just a cup of hot chocolate. She had walked the three mile length of the boulevard, curiously looking at the brightly lit shops, stopping for a few minutes in front of a window that caught her eye.
If anyone were trailing her, he would notice that the shops with ethnic Indian wear caught her attention the most. She stared at long skirts with intricate embroidery, and when she saw this beautiful beige tunic, she knew she simply had to have it.
She walked into the showroom and picked one her size and shuffled into the changing room to try it on. She took care to blot the lipstick from her lips before she tried it on. She hated the telltale marks of stale lipstick smudged on clothes by careless shoppers. It made her feel she was trying on someone else’s castoffs and she always took care not to do the same. Small courtesies. That was how she always had been. Thoughtful.
She allowed the tunic to slip over her shoulders and fall about her knees, and studied herself critically in the mirror. The harsh lights did not conceal anything. The wrinkles on her face, the telltale lines on her neck, the pores on her skin showed up almost magnified a hundred times over. Really, she mumbled to herself, if people had any sense, they would have soft lighting that hid, concealed and flattered. Who would want to confront telltale signs of aging? …Ten signs of aging? Her jaded mind echoed the impossible promises of a magical rejuvenating potion that was doing its rounds on television.
Age, to her, was just a number. Yes, she was conscientious about the requisite skin care regimen required of her, cleanser, toner, moisturizer- plenty of it, sunscreen, night cream -the whole regimen, but she could not escape the harsh image that looked at her. After all, the store catered to the twenty somethings who with all the assurance of their lack of years and the promise of the good times that lay ahead did not evidently need any camouflage. They revelled in their youth and coming to think of it, she thought she had noticed a couple of teenagers sniggering at her as she ambled into the store. People over the hill never had the right to enter the domain of the young, it seemed. Oh well, what did she care about that? She was here to splurge and she focused on her image, this time looking for ways the outfit flattered her. Hmmm. Better. Actually, good.
She pulled the tunic over her head and decided she would keep it. She buttoned her shirt, adjusted the collar, applied a fresh dab of lipstick, ran a comb through her hair and walked to the counter, with her new dress. The deed was done. She had a tunic she did not need, she was not welcome in a store, subtly almost debarred from entry because she was too old. Not that she was dressed in a saree or a salwar kameez, God forbid, the attire the younger crowd considered so very gauche. She was in jeans and a shirt, the uniform of all ‘evolved’ urban women. She knew it did nothing to flatter her. She looked best in sarees, but in this day and time, nobody, she knew, draped them and she wanted to do her best to conform and fit in.
She had always wanted to fit in, always do the right thing. Not any more she decided. That was a thing of the past. God, she cringed at how stupid she had been. She shook herself, willed herself not to continue that train of thought and trudged along the road, the trees shielding her from the sun.
Thank God, Bangalore still had trees, despite all the ‘Metro’ work that had made the roads a little more chaotic. She crossed many signals and the welcome sign of ‘Bistro’ caught her eye. She walked in, and stood by the rack, admiring the range of pastries that were on display. She ordered a croissant and a red velvet cupcake and sat at the window, facing the road. Traffic was picking up and there was a steady stream of young people making a beeline to the pub next door.
The waiter brought her croissant and she ordered coffee to go with it. She bit into the croissant that was buttery and flaky, just the way it should be. She recalled the time, she would accompany her husband on his business trips and the business boutique hotels they had stayed at, always offered a huge spread of breakfast. She had been excited to try croissants then and was disappointed that they seemed rather ordinary, almost like chewy layered bread. This croissant was straight from a French boulangerie. Or so she thought, it would define her standard in all croissants, till she encountered something better.
She sipped at her coffee grimacing at the bitter flavour and asked for some water. She had read in some magazine, her husband had brought from his innumerable trips, that coffee was extremely dehydrating, so she had intermittent mouthfuls of water and then lingered over her cupcake, for she wanted to end her treat with something sweet.
She was glad people were not staring at her as they had done in the past, a few years ago, when she had begun going out on her own. Taking herself out to dinner, or to tea was becoming a regular weekly ritual. At first the waiter would ask, ‘Is madam waiting for someone?’ She would smile sweetly, bat her eyelids, and say no. Sometimes she would snap, and rudely place her order. Why was it necessary to have a companion, for heaven’s sake? Every relationship was different, it took all kinds of people to make the world. So what if she wanted to watch a movie, it wasn’t mandatory to drag someone else along. Thank God, things were changing now, a single woman on her own was not considered, soliciting company. Even if she were, it was nobody’s business, she thought to herself.
She had stopped accompanying her husband on his work-related travel, since there was nothing for her to do then, staying in hotel rooms and cities did not give her the kind of magic that for instance, Tokyo had done, to a neglected wife in the movie ‘Lost in Translation’. She felt ruefully, if any movie could define her life, it would be ‘Lost in Translation’ albeit without the charms of Bob Harris. Well, she was no Charlotte either!
So, she had stopped and he didn’t seem to mind. Driven by work and other associated thoughts, he hardly seemed to notice her absence or presence. Alone in an empty house. Blessed, blessed feeling. She loved to have the house to herself. The welcome peace, the non-adherence to time schedules, not cooking a meal, making do with toast and tea, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No fighting for the remote. Sleeping in, reading, she absolutely loved the reading. She would stay home for days without stepping out, sometimes ordering food from the local eatery.
When the boredom and sameness of her mundane existence got to her, she would pull on a pair of jeans, a cotton shirt and go out. Random treks in the neighbourhood. Or expeditions to the shopping district or the local mall. She could spend an entire day at the mall. She recalled a Woody Allen Bette Midler movie- Scenes from a Mall, released way back in the early nineties, and marvelled at how people lounged about idly, leading a life of leisure, following the impulses of the heart, being spontaneous. She recalled how she had watched, fascinated, as the lead actors moved up and down escalators, and wondered at the sheer drama of their lives. She did not grudge them that for she had had enough drama to last her a lifetime. That brought her back to reality.
The friendly waiter was hovering, and wanted to know if madam had enjoyed her coffee. She left him a generous tip and walked all the way to the Metro station where she had to wait for just three minutes before she boarded the metro that would take her home in precisely nineteen minutes minus the ten minute walk home, from the station.
As she sat in the silence, for it was a Sunday and there were hardly any people, she thought that all she needed now was her space and her time to be hers. Providentially, it worked. She had all the time in the world, and she was free. She wasn’t interested in forging new relationships or renewing the old. What mattered was her time. Age was certainly catching up and she had no more time for niceties, and small talk. She walked away when conversations meandered, or took on spiteful undertones. Intolerance? Maybe. She didn’t care anymore. She needed nobody. She was complete, all by herself.
People pitied her for what they believed- she was afflicted by the ‘empty nest syndrome.’ But she thought it was a blessing. Her home reflected the condition of her mind- empty of sorrow, anxiety, eagerness to please and the need for acceptance. She didn’t understand why people needed to fill every moment with so much activity. It was much more peaceful to simply be, just exist. When she knew what she wanted, lived her life on her own terms, it wasn’t necessary to be in search of that elusive companion- a husband, a child, a friend or an acquaintance almost paled into insignificance.
Of course the downside was that people told her she led such an empty life. She was warned she might be alone when she died. Her husband would probably be touring the land, her friends might not look in for days and her children would be too busy to bother about her. However, all she knew was that she couldn’t control the way she died. She could at least choose how to live, popular opinion be damned. After all, the idea of ‘empty’ was all about the perception.
So what if she died alone. She never needed any companion but silence. Never would. And death would certainly give her that. Till then, she would revel in empty spaces and be free.

Empty

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