|Image credit Buzzaria|
Both the shop and Riju were new to the neighbourhood, he had moved here just over a year ago, and could still remember getting the flyer for its inauguration, the name spelt in a mix of upper and lower case fancy faux-oriental fonts, promising happy hours of shopping and a mix of quirky and exclusive. He had read it casually and forgotten of course, too raw from the break-up still, too self-absorbed in the puffed up ramifications of it, with sorting out his new place both inside his head and outside of it. He had not noticed anything for weeks, though the banners on the shop window had screamed for attention every morning on the way to work. He only saw it when the mannequin was dressed oddly one day, an east-west fusion of accessories and attire that somehow did not gel, the colours clashing just as much as the styles, and he had stopped a minute in front of the glass window and wondered what had gone wrong, his professional eye arrested, somewhat disturbed even. That was when he had first become aware of the mannequin.
It was strange enough to see a mannequin like her, totally unlike the others used in the trade, the plasticky uberslim dummies with impossibly shapely pert-curves and unreal tummy-hollows. This one looked like an actual person, her hips proportionately ample to match her great height, her breasts showing a hint of sag, her smile revealing one slightly crooked canine in a minute but significant acknowledgement of reality. She looked as though someone had taken extreme care in the making, a person with great eye for detail. And usually her entire get-up in the window reflected the same observant eye, the colours in unusual combinations but almost always near-perfect, the accessories bold or understated but always pulling the look together, the props harmonising sometimes, at others in striking contrast but always just right. He had not paid attention to all that before except most perfunctorily.
So he had been astonished by the very faint frown lines, her smile that seemed a bit forced, strained as if she was fed up of showcasing the slightly off look. He did not know what to make of it, was she always like this, or had she put on the look along with the outfit? He thought his eyes were playing tricks and he looked away and quickly looked back; and no, she was frowning a little harder even, there was a look of unmistakable urgency in her eyes. As if she would say “Don’t just stand there, do something, you dumbass!” any moment. He had stood unresolved for some seconds before he scribbled “Please consider changing bangles to silver cuff. Just a suggestion, please don’t mind,” on a post it note and put it into the suggestion box shaped like a surahi next to the door.
By the time he had got back in the evening, she was wearing a broad silver cuff and as he had drawn up close he had seen that it had embellished devanagari engraved on it. And that one little detail had changed her from almost frumpy to funky. Someone had painted “Thank you for your suggestions” on the surahi in bold fuchsia letters, or had that message always been there beyond the sphere of his attention? He was strangely moved and unnerved as well, but he had put it out of mind sooner rather than later. Too much going on in his life to pay attention to the imaginary frowns of life-like mannequins.
At that point there was still some small hope, albeit simmering low on a backburner, that Yamini, or Yummy as she insisted on calling herself, would see things his way and get back together. He still remembered all they had done together, the anniversaries of privately valued events, insignificant in themselves when they happened, but momentous now after the break up. He had to stop himself from calling her by reflex at odd hours in the middle of some distracted daydream.
Sometimes he would set two mugs on the counter-top and pour out the coffee while half asleep still, black and rich like she preferred, and then come to when the dark liquid splashed into the whiteness of the ceramic, and correct the number with a stricken face which there was no-one to see. He would hurry into the institute and perhaps an undergraduate student with a swinging thick bob and a similarly crazy-beautiful shoulder-blade would stop him in his tracks thinking that she had finally given in and come looking for him here, and his heart would leap into his mouth and then sink instantly back at knee level when the girl would turn her face and wish him respectfully and she would be nothing like the one he had thought her to be, transformed from his fantasy into his student after all, in just a half-swivel of head. He learnt to live with a residual level of disappointment always swilling inside him. Coping kept him busy, and distracted as well.
Meanwhile, the mannequin turned out to be habit-forming. He remained unaware, but his steps would automatically slow while he passed the shop in the morning, she was usually dressed up, ready in the daily ensemble, looking him in the eye as he ambled past. There was no fixed pattern that the window dresser followed, and the mannequin showed off traditional attire as often as she modelled western, carrying off the entire spectrum from demure to bold with equal aplomb. Without any conscious decision making on his part, she became a mascot for his days, sending him on his way with a splash of colours and a smile as a promise for the beginning of it, and marking it still with the same smile when he got back.
This is an excerpt from my short story The Mannequin, inspired by a mannequin in Buzzaria in Delhi, though she is somewhat different from Riju's mascot :) and of course, she and Riju and their story is completely fictional.