“Oh! What an exquisite piece of work” My mother gushed. “The colour pink heightens your complexion.” I blushed. The soft, warm texture of the cloth was like a caressing balm “Take it ma’am,” Said the vendor. “I wonder,” Said I, “Is the warmth of the wool required? The city does not freeze in December like it used to do before” “It’s not just plain wool. It is cashmere!!!! The pink and white with a dash of shimmer will work wonders for you”, Said the charmer. I was in two minds but my mother seemed so sure. She nodded a “yes” before I could detract. The shawl with the intricate satin threadwork was wound over my shoulder to see the final effect. The haggling began thereafter and over an hour later the tender text of shell pink moon shine was signed forever as mine.
It was a whispered tale of secrets camouflaged in white. A dash of silver added a touch of suspense where there was none. I placed my cheeks on the shawl and almost felt a kiss “It’s so pretty!” My voice was nothing but a hiss. That season Christmas was white. Winter was a freezing journey through ice laden roads. Every hearth shivered. Beneath every mantel a crackling fire roared. I praised the All Mighty for the loving embrace of the shawl and never let it be anywhere but around my shoulders small. After all it was mine. I held high my head in pride and let the cashmere weave sparkle just below my neckline where in the hollow glistened a daub of prism refracting the glory of carbon in wanton delight.
One fine morning I woke up to a dull grey sky. The sun played truant. The greenery well nigh robbed of hue and shine. I looked for my shawl to twine it around my soul. But alas it was nowhere. Neither in the cupboard nor in the closet next door! I scouted every nook and corner of the house. I shrieked and cried. I sobbed and hiccupped and at the end of the day my maid I fired. She did not say much. Just looked at me for a while in silent reproach and left my home for good.
I felt the first pang of guilt.
A week later….
I was traveling through a dull cityscape lack luster and stone cold. Dusk was deepening and night stood bold at the doorsteps. I shuddered in the thermal cocoon of my car. A beggar approached as we halted at a traffic light. He gesticulated wildly for food and fire. I avoided his eyes and looked in particular nowhere.
My second pang of guilt rose and fell in deep layers.
As the car wheeled a little further I saw a leper squatting by the road side. The traffic was too heavy to fly past the sight. As the head lights illumined the patch. I started. What was that? Sagging shoulders, a lone crooked arm, a bulbous nose, bruised eyes with thick bags underneath and an ugly gash running down the left side of his cheek. His attire was tattered and torn and nothing much to cover the battered form staggering without support. Around his balding head he had mud splashed, unkempt, askew, unwashed for days, a pink flimsy cloth thread bare. As the tyres rolled closer to the pavement I saw him bend and kiss the asphalt with unfaltering reverence and piety. It was time for his evening prayers.
I turned my face away. The wetness of my cheeks had stolen the warmth away of the pink and silver shawl I had found the very next day in one remote corner of my almirah, where I had in absent minded hurry tucked it away. There was no time to say sorry to my maid whom I had fired just the day before. I rushed to her hut but her kith and kin said, “She left the city, madam, the previous day.” I came back with halting steps. Her reproachful stare haunted me night after night day after day! With the taunt of the cashmere like a strangling knot around my neck – a burden of a life time, a sin which crushed my soul to pieces. As the car started to roll I pressed the window buttons and let the glass slide down. Just next to the leper as luck would have it we pulled up for a while. I, on a moment’s impulse unwound the shawl off my shoulder and threw it away with a whispered wish in the air. And lo and behold! It landed where? Just on the shoulder of the vagabond leper o’er there. Startled he turned around to see who it was. I smiled and waved as the car sped past.