Shalini didn’t feel the need for an answer. She observed herself in her pocket mirror. Those dark circles under her eyes have made her face so dull. She got a little bit worried. Her beauty is her only asset. And how well she knows it. She adjusted her dress, applied some lipstick to bring in the fresh look and got ready for a new day.
“Yes, Mahesh, did you tell something?”
Mahesh knew Shalini very well. So, he didn’t mind her ignorance. He hates Shalini from within, but he can never deny or ignore her professional skills. He is also jealous of her as the manager of the hotel always sides with her in case of any divergences between them. Mahesh knows the reason. Many permanent customers book a room in their hotel only because of Shalini. Shalini also thinks that she can attract anyone with her beauty and indulgence. Mahesh can never compete with her in this trait. Sometimes he gets annoyed with her flirting and frivolous nature. But, who is he to complain.
“Shalini, this is for you.” Mahesh extended his hand to hand over an envelope to her.
Shalini’s face brightened. She was expecting it. She snatched the envelope from Mahesh’s hand. She glanced at the name of the sender and immediately put it inside her purse. How much anxious she is to read the contents inside the envelope. She felt happy and also confident. Oh God! How much she expected this! Smile came into her lips automatically. She remembered the handsome guy she saw in the hotel gym. She was instantly attracted. Hiding from a corner, she watched him doing his exercises. His body was nicely toned.
Last night was too much. She drank a lot and now the head is banging. She took a pill in the morning, but it has failed to act, maybe due to her heavy dose and lack of sleep. Now, it has again started. Oh! Why does she forget? Why she loses control? She always tries and she is always unsuccessful. Last night that bustard took full advantage of her drunkenness. Now, her whole body is aching. Every time she pledges to be in control of herself but after a few drink she forgets everything. She also thinks of not indulging in such thinks. She is no more a teenager. All her friends are happily settled. Though she is still attractive enough to catch glances, she feels insecure sometimes. As if, one day she will wake up in the morning and look at the mirror to find her to be grown old. Oh! God! How much she hates old age. Without her beauty what will she do? Shalini shivers thinking about it. This stupid manager will definitely sack her from her job as receptionist. Her life will be a hell than without a job. She remembers the phrase long studied in her schooldays and murmurs inside “Make hay while the sun shines.” She says to herself, “Oh! Shalini! Come on! Be serious! Catch someone and settle down!”
She comes back to the real world as the phone rings. She composes herself and picks up the phone and speaks in her melodious voice “Reception, how can I help you Sir.” After hearing to the guest she says, “Sir, I am sending someone to attend immediately.” The manager, Mr. Mehra was by her side then. He enquired her about the call. She said, “Sir, the guest at room number 117 called. He has some problems and asked me get them attended immediately. He was also enquiring about you, Sir.” Mr. Mehra instructed her to go to room 117 immediately and check about the problems by herself. He also told her, “Shalini, remember, he is a very important guest of our hotel. Please see that he is satisfied.” Shalini stood up and moved forward. She could sense the greedy look of Mr. Mehra on her bareback. Shalini understood what Mr. Mehra meant. She always complied to and never questioned him back. It was a win-win situation.
She gently knocked the door, instead of the bell. The door opened immediately. She was prepared for the humiliation. The wolf will never let her to be in peace, but she has to submit. After about half an hour she came out. Mr. Mehra gave her a sarcastic smile. She went to the washroom and looking at the mirror said to herself, “This is what you are, Shalini! A slut! Someone who sells her soul for a salary.” Tears flowed from her eyes spontaneously. She neither tried to stop nor did she wipe it away. She felt like a prostitute. She couldn’t differentiate herself from that of a prostitute. She felt hurt. The prostitutes are far better than her, they are open, they sell their bodies for a living, but she is selling both her mind and soul. She felt cheaper. But, she is unable to leave all these and go. It has now become a part of her life and she is also addicted to it. She cannot live without drinks and without this job it will be impossible for her to maintain this lifestyle. Her family is treating her like a queen as she supports them. She is their goose who lays golden eggs for them.
Suddenly she remembered the guy whom she tried to seduce yesterday. He was someone whom she found to be different. He seemed to be indifferent to her beauty and that made him more attractive for her. She likes challenges. She wanted to direct his attention towards her. She wanted to have a drink with him in the pub, but he politely refused. How can anyone avoid Shalini! She was astonished. She had to accompany the bull and he tore her apart. Her body began to ache.
She went to Mr. Mehra and asked his permission to leave early today. She knew that it would be difficult for Mr. Mehra to refuse as she had done her job by making the client happy.
She reached home early and her early arrival was not anticipated. Her sister was with her boyfriend and they were talking with one another. She smiled at Manab and went inside. Her mother exclaimed to her, “Shalini! You have arrived so early. I have good news for you.” “What new mom!” Shalini was curious now. Her mother didn’t tell her anything and went to the kitchen. She came with a cup of coffee and some sweets and said “Shalini, Manab’s parents have agreed to accept Sabita. I want the marriage ceremony to be solemnized soon; preferably in this month itself. I know it will not be difficult for you to make the arrangements.”
Shalini looked at her mother with surprise. Sabita, her sister, is four years younger to her. Now, her mother wants her to arrange money for her younger sister’s marriage. But, what about her? Shalini’s words stopped in her throat. She felt like crying aloud. Instead she kept mum and went to her room. She felt that her own mother has started treating like a money vending machine. Her mother never cared for her, never tried to understand her feelings, her sentiment. Shalini looked outside through the window and tried to brush away from these thoughts. Suddenly, she remembered about the envelope in her purse. It was from the man who treated her differently. She opened her purse and tore the envelope and opened the letter inside. It read, “Shalini, you are a nice girl. Life has made you like this. But, you still have time to mend. Pursue a new path and enjoy the beauty of life. My best wishes are there for you.”
Shalini couldn’t move. She stood like a frozen person. Every word of the letter stabbed her. She tried to seduce that guy! She is now feeling ashamed. He made her see what her attitude to life is. Shalini read the letter once again. This letter is the mirror from where she had fled away all these years. The mirror, which reflected her inner life. The mirror in front of which her naked emotions are so vivid. Tears began to roll and she cried loudly. With a blurred vision how can she create a new path now?