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I knew no one would understand why I needed to do this; and finally, I had stopped feeling guilty. I had one life to live, and I needed to do whatever brought me peace.
The pandemic has been tough on all of us. We have been so preoccupied with the fear of the virus, professional challenges and concerns about social isolation, that we forget to recognise the little changes in our lives that can be equally disturbing.
The new has unfolded gradually this year, and however hard we try, we cannot always pretend that it has been normal. As the year ends, these are some of my experiences when things gradually opened up.
I hesitated but just a bit; then entered.
It had been so long…
How would things have changed in this new normal I wondered? Even though most places had opened up, I had been nervous. Everyone advised stepping out only if we had to.
It was less crowded than it used to be, and thermal scanners and sanitizers were everywhere.
It had felt odd, to see people wear face shields, even PPE. Everyone looked as though they were in a dystopian movie. Suddenly I felt nervous. Maybe I should have called before coming? After all, more than 3 months had passed.
Would he be here?
Why had I assumed everything would be as earlier? After all, the lockdown had brought so many changes in everyone’s lives.
Then, I saw him. Despite the mask, I recognized him immediately. He took a moment longer but came to me as soon as he realized it was me.
“It has been so long…”
“Yes, I was wondering if I would ever be able to come here again,” I replied.
I didn’t mention how trapped I had sometimes felt, stuck at home, attending to demands from the children, husband, work. There were times when I looked into the mirror and would hardly recognize myself… All that seemed a long time away now.
He led me inside and sat me down.
The uncertainty that lockdown and the unlock stage had brought seemed to disappear by the familiarity of the place, and his long deft fingers running through my hair.
I finally relaxed.
“You have started tying your hair.”
“Yes, it has grown so long; and the mask makes it difficult.”
“You should leave it loose. It looks good on you”
His hands were running through my hair, tousling the strands.
Suddenly, it felt like it always had, like the many hurried getaways that I would plan from my busy days balancing family and work. Those had been my respite. I knew no one would understand why I needed to do this; and finally, I had stopped feeling guilty. I had one life to live, and I needed to do whatever brought me peace.
When everything in the lockdown had seemed grey and flat, I had wondered if this was the way it would always be. Even after things had opened up, I had tried not to give in to the temptation and postponed venturing out for a while. The monotony had become too much for me, though. I couldn’t live like this anymore. Wasn’t this self-care, without which I would be the empty cup trying to pour comforts in the lives of others? Pandemic it was, but we also had to get back to our lives didn’t we? I had justified my actions as everyone at home reminded me to wear my masks, keep my sanitizer handy and take extra care when I stepped out.
As his hands reached the nape of my neck, and the pressure changed from light to medium, I realized he hadn’t forgotten ….
“Would you like to try something different today?” he asked.
“Why not? After so long, let us do something whacky today!”
This was a change from the usual pattern.
He would always suggest ideas, gently encouraging me to experiment. On the other hand, I would usually find comfort in the familiar.
But today, after so many months, I surrendered to whatever he had planned for me.
An hour later, I emerged, deeply satisfied, content. I was also looking so much better after a head massage, hair coloured and cut. The greys gone, my hair was again smooth, shiny and with the bounce restored.
A little more than 5 months since everything changed.
They kept locking and then unlocking, and things were opening up.
Yet, for me, nothing seemed to be moving.
I seemed chained to this dull, drab existence with nothing to look forward to.
The weeks had come and gone; so had family occasions, birthdays and festivals. Nothing was helping. Life was bland and dry, even bitter. This tiny virus had made so many things we took for granted seem like an indulgence. Reduced us to merely existing.
But, didn’t life have to be lived?
I couldn’t take it anymore I decided. Things need to change.
“Be careful!” everyone advised
“I need that zest and zing back in my life,” I replied.
“These are difficult times.”
“That why I need the crunch back.”
“But you must stay safe!”
That is the bittersweet reality of today, I agreed. To live, to do and stay safe.
“Yes I will, I promise, but this needs to be done.”
And I picked up the phone.
A tingling sensation, nervousness, as I waited for it to be answered.
Had I been too hasty in assuming things?
What if the number had changed?
What if my number had been deleted?
After all, so much changes in 5 months.
Yes, the cook was back from the village.
Yes, she was back in the condominium.
Yes, she was available when I needed her.
Yes, finally, I would be free of my responsibilities of the kitchen.
I hadn’t seen it.
Clearing messages and email inboxes is a casualty of the 24×7 online lives we seem to be living now, and one that I get to extremely reluctantly.
The single liner had been missed in the many forwards in the Diwali week.
“I am back”
The first few days after gradual unlocking, I had called to check on him occasionally.
The number was unreachable or the calls unanswered.
“No trains” was the brief reply on one of the rare occasions when he answered my call.
Gradually I had reconciled to the fact that the new normal meant staying back home for many people. He seemed to be one of them.
The months dragged on.
I told myself that I needed to be strong and stoic, and to learn to do without.
As things opened up, the cases escalated, as did the lockdown fatigue.
Like most people, I alternated between fear and the need to reclaim my life.
I tried the number once more; after all who else would understand exactly what I needed to pep myself up?
The call was unanswered.
I reconciled myself to a dull, drab festival season.
Now, even the approaching winter seemed colder than usual, without the warmth and vibrancy that I always associated with this time of the year
Until, the message – the message that I had missed.
He was finally back! But, I was unsure. We were all avoiding markets and malls.
Maybe, there was another way to look at it. The quarantine that was recommended after travel was over by the time I saw the message. Surely that was a sign? At least, I was going to take it as one.
Just once, I told myself, or twice…
We would be careful, not slip up on precautions.
So, I opened the wardrobe.
Such nice and soft fabrics, perfect for the winter.
This was the time for the shine of the satin, the feel of the silk, the warmth that my solid dark colours brought.
I quickly got my things together.
“I will be late today, need to go the market,” I said, as I rushed for work.
“Take care. Can’t you have things delivered online?”
“Hmm, just this time,” I replied, and left before I changed my mind.
Yes, just this time. To give the fabrics I had stashed away for months to my tailor. Who else would understand exactly what I needed in my wardrobe, or how I wanted the clothes to fit?
Now, I am eagerly awaiting my silk kurtas and salwars to be stitched for this winter season by my tailor; my masterji who was finally back from his village.
Because, there is nothing like a fresh, customised wardrobe to lift the spirits, even in a pandemic.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: webentwicklerin on pixabay
Shalini is a practicing doctor. After decades of writing long biopsy reports and applications for research grants, she decided to explore creative writing.
She finds inspiration in the routine life and regular people around her.
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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