The Shining Star

The Shining Star

A fresh stream of perspiration lined Amyra’s face. Her eyes glinted with a sense of accomplishment as she completed her fitness routine for the day. Traces of sunlight fell on her face. Her hair shone and revealed the streaks of brown hiding between the black ones. She wiped those tiny beads with a soft towel when she heard a knock on the door.

“Didi, may I come in?” she heard a voice.

“Yes,” said Amyra and lay on the bed, letting the exhaustion dribble out of her existence.

Lakshmi entered the room and placed the tray on the bedside table.

The steam rose from the coffee and eventually vanished into thin air. Amyra sat upright and inhaled deeply. The aroma enticed her senses, and she felt rejuvenated. There was something special about Lakshmi’s coffee. Something she never found in store brought ones. She sipped the coffee and sighed softly. Lakshmi picked up the glass and bottle of wine from the table and was about to leave when her eyes fell on a box wrapped in shimmery paper. The glittery outside intrigued her and stopped her in her tracks.

“That’s for you,” Amyra pointed at the box.

Trying to conceal the confused look on her face with a partial smile, Lakshmi picked up the box. She unwrapped it, careful not to shred the paper. The box contained a pair of black-colored wedges with sheeny stones embedded in them. The stones sparkled like little diamonds. She ran her bristly hand over it, and tears formed in her eyes. She remembered staring at those sandals a few days back with admiration written in bold on her face. Her eyes had reflected those stones when she noticed Amyra wearing them.

“Hope you liked it,” Amyra’s words disrupted her thoughts.

She turned and faced Amyra. Her face displayed an amalgamation of surprise and doubt.

“I saw you looking at them appreciatively a few days back. So, I bought them for you,” smiled Amyra.

A wry smile formed on Lakshmi’s lips. She took a deep breath and paused for a few seconds. It felt as though she was looking for the right words.

Her boss made a gesture, and she didn’t want to hurt her.

“I didn’t want the shoes for myself. I wanted to make sure that my daughter would be qualified enough to buy herself many pairs of expensive footwears or anything she wishes to in the future,” Lakshmi spoke while shoving the ebbing emotions down her parched throat.

Her reply surprised Amyra. She wanted to teach her daughter to fish and not just hand it to her on an embellished platter. She saw Lakshmi in a new light for the first time in years. And, a wave of respect for Lakshmi fluttered within her.

Amyra thought for a few seconds and suggested, “Consider this a best wishes gift from me. I’m sure your daughter would scale new heights.”

“Thank you for the gift, didi,” said Lakshmi, and left the room while trying to balance a glass, bottle, and box in those tiny hands.
Amyra entered the bathroom and turned the faucet. Droplets of water settled on her soft skin like a shawl, and she felt rejuvenated. The essential oils in the customized handmade soap worked on her skin, and she felt a surge of calmness rush through her. The aroma of lavender soothed her frayed nerves, and suddenly, Lakshmi’s eyes filled with tears, and a tint of pride peeping from beneath them flashed before her. Lakshmi’s words influenced her in ways unknown. It felt strange. Something she had never felt before. Not in years. She wrapped a towel around her delicate frame and entered the room. Seated on the bed, she pampered her skin and then got ready for work.

Lakshmi kept her bag ready. Sliding it on her shoulder, Amyra slipped into the seat. The engine came to life. She usually spent her commute time uploading photographs and reels on social media platforms. But today was different. Leaving her phone unattended, she rolled the window down. Her hair danced in harmony with the warm breeze. The pollutants in the air settled on her face, and her nose twitched but she remained unperturbed. Trees and multi-storeyed buildings whizzed past her, and her mother’s words echoed in her ears, “People aren’t just flesh and blood. They are walking stories. Every person has a story to tell and an experience to share. If only we had the patience to listen.”

And, that made her wonder when was the last time she spoke to her mother. Trapped in the rat race, she had given up on human relations. Her parents handed life to her on a silver platter. Yet she never felt grateful. She had taken her parents for granted. In an attempt to reach for the stars, she pushed the moon away from her. Guilt stabbed her in the heart, and she felt a tide of emotion overpower her. The car screeched to a halt and jolted her to the present.

She got off the car and entered the studio. Everyone greeted her with a smile, and she just nodded at them. It was unlike her. But nothing remained the same that morning. Her cheerful persona seemed to be eclipsed by deep thoughts. Lakshmi’s words had left an indelible mark on her soul.

The designer handed her an outfit, and like a robot following instructions, she quickly camouflaged her grim mood with a dazzling outfit. The beautician worked on her cheekbones, and the hairstylist weaved her hair into an intricate bun. Amyra felt that the style was weird. But she didn’t bother to express her displeasure. She wanted to wrap up the shoot as quickly as she could.

“Come on, hurry up,” the director roared.

She stood up and walked to the couch. Seated on it cross-legged, she posed for the camera. Consciously, she tried to draw her lips into an upward curve but failed. Many attempts later, the director was satisfied with her work.
“Take a break,” he scoffed and walked away.

She sat with her face buried in her hands. No matter how hard she tried to focus, images from that morning came rushing before her. She felt weak in her gut.

Her co-star, Mili approached her and expressed her concern, “Is everything okay? You seem lost today. The shot was simple, and you’d usually finish it in a wink. But it took a considerably long time today.”

Her mind acted in a wayward manner and meandered in the dark and unmentionable alleys.
“I’m okay,” she tried to evade the topic with a gentle smile. Mili left her alone, and Amyra wondered, “Why does Lakshmi interest me so much? What story do those weary eyes behold?’

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and she returned home tired to the bones.

 Amyra woke up earlier than usual, the next morning. She drew the floral drapes and embraced the sun’s rays. The warm light alleviated her angst. She felt the air leave her lungs at a slower pace than usual. Peppy tunes played in the background, and she swayed freely. Unlike the movies, she danced on her accord. She danced for herself and not to entertain the audience. And, that filled her heart with happiness and gave her a sense of purpose.

Lakshmi knocked on the door and entered.

Amyra looked at the clock and thought, ‘Always on time.’

A faded but deep scar on Lakshmi’s back caught her attention. She had noticed a similar blemish on her forearm a few weeks back but conveniently ignored it. That sight left her agitated. She shifted on the bed uncomfortably and weighed the options. Lakshmi was wiping the dust off the furniture, and Amyra felt she had to clear the cobwebs that obstructed her mind. Work could wait. She sent a quick message to her manager. Not wanting to be disturbed, she placed the phone away.

“Lakshmi, what you said about raising your daughter to be self-reliant got me to think. Also, I noticed a scar on your arm and back. How did that happen? ” Amyra uttered the words she had rehearsed mentally.
Lakshmi turned and faced Amyra.

“Why didi?” surprise seeped into her voice. Amyra never had a conversation with her. She was an empathetic boss who treated her with respect. But given her busy schedule, she never stopped by and asked Lakshmi how she was doing. It was unusual. But it felt good. Someone inquired about her for the first time in years. She gently closed her eyes. Her expression turned grim, and her cheeks turned red. It felt like she was reliving those experiences one more time. She caressed the faded scar gently as though it was the key to her past. Amyra saw her eyes twitch and her fingers form a fist. Did she strike the wrong chord?

Before Amyra could contemplate further, Lakshmi spoke, “That scar is a testimony of the pain I once endured. My life wasn’t easy, didi. My parents forced me to get married at an early age. I wanted my parents to be happy and peaceful. If that meant getting married against my wishes, I was okay to make the sacrifice. But my life after marriage was a nightmare. My husband was a manual laborer. Every night, he returned home in an inebriated state. What started as verbal abuse transformed into brief spells of beatings and name-callings. I endured every bit of pain and insult. Crying myself to sleep most nights, I prayed for better days to dawn upon me. I honed my skills. I cooked a variety of delicacies and decorated our humble home with whatever little I had. I took care of myself and made sure that I looked beautiful for him. I did everything a good wife would do. But nothing satisfied him. Every swig of that poison he consumed made him more beastly.

Holding onto a glimmer of hope that he would change and treat me better, I continued to put up with him. I grappled with fear and anxiety. I was blessed with a baby girl and found my silver lining. Her innocent eyes instilled within me the desire to live. The moment she caught my finger with those tender hands, I decided to fight for a better life. Fight for her safety and happiness. Also, I felt that having a baby would transform him into a better person. Little did I know that monsters never change.”

Beads of sweat coursed down Lakshmi’s face. Her muscles tightened, her jaw became firm, and she crumpled on the floor. The cloth she was holding had creases all over it. She gasped for breath while she battled the demons within her. A part of Amyra felt guilty for questioning her about the past. She walked to Lakshmi, sat by her side, and offered her water to drink. Lakshmi gulped the water in a go. Amyra held her hand. A sense of comfort rushed through Lakshmi. She leaned against the wall and stared at the ceiling. It felt like her life played before her like a movie. Silence ensued for the next few minutes.

Stroking her hand gently, Amyra said, “You don’t have to talk about it. I’m sorry, I asked.”
A mere imagination of the ordeals she had gone through made Amyra shudder.

“It’s okay, didi. It has been a while since I have spoken to someone about how I feel. No one ever asked how I was. My parents asked me to adjust to him. My mother said that it was okay to get beaten by my husband. Those purple marks and blood stains failed at melting my mother’s heart. You thought about me, and I’m thankful to you,” Lakshmi’s voice was soft yet firm. An unspoken strength peeped through her cadence.

She took another sip of water and made room for her emotions. After a few seconds, she continued,  “One evening, I returned from the market and saw that he was trying to strangulate my daughter. Her skin had turned pale and was on the verge of turning blue. I felt rage dart through my veins, and I grabbed him. He pushed me away and cursed me for giving birth to a liability. I tumbled and fell. But, I gathered every ounce of strength, I had been preserving within me and hit his head with a jug that lay on the floor. Blood trickled down his face and formed a pool. I ran to my baby and clutched her close to my bosom. She cried, and I comforted her by rocking her back and forth. He lay unconscious in a pool of his sins when I packed whatever clothes and food I could in a small cloth bag, took the money, and left. With help from a friend, we left the town that night. We reached Mumbai after two days. Taking shelter in abandoned tunnels, I tried to keep both of us alive. Hunger eventually bit us, and I worked at roadside stalls. I washed utensils and did every job I found while having my daughter wrapped in a cloth around me. All I wanted was to keep my daughter safe. On one such night, I met Krishna, your driver. Looking at my plight, he suggested I work for you. He promised to talk to you. I thanked him, and he kept his word. The rest is history,” she sighed and stretched her legs.

Tears that were restrained in those orbs now coursed freely down her stained cheeks. It felt like a weight was lifted off her shoulders, and she was at peace with herself. She finally let the steam off and could breathe freely. Amyra felt at a loss for words.

She hugged Lakshmi and felt her heartbeat. “Thank you, didi, for everything. If not for you, I would not have been able to sustain myself. I will always be indebted to you. You helped me when no one else did,” said Lakshmi and hugged Amyra.

Amyra nodded and looked away, trying to conceal her tears. She took a deep breath and held Lakshmi’s hand tightly. And, they sat by each other’s side without uttering a word. The silence felt comfortable. The socioeconomic boundaries were wiped off and they found a friend in each other.

“Didi, you are getting late for work,” Lakshmi excused herself after a few minutes and left the room, giving Amyra time to reflect on her life. A translucent bottle on the bedside table grinned at her, and she felt remorse stab her. She was a well-established actress, a star.  Still, she never found her life gratifying. A few years back, she was attracted to a male co-star. A few well-wishers from the industry had warned her that he was a player. But she didn’t pay heed.

 A hypnotic pull made her glide in his direction only to be stomped upon mercilessly. Apathy crept through the door and brought with it anxiety and depression. Her mother suggested she consult a therapist, and she snapped at her.
“I’m not crazy,” she had yelled over the phone.

But her mother didn’t give up. She visited Mumbai and stayed by Amyra’s side. Amyra used her mother as a pincushion and dumped all the bottled emotions on her. A year had passed but there wasn’t any improvement in her condition. Mood swings made her throw tantrums. Her face had lost its glow. Directors found it difficult to work with her. She was on the verge of losing assignments. Camera, fame, and money gave her an adrenaline rush, and she couldn’t give that up. It was when she gave in to her mother’s advice and consulted a therapist. A few sessions later, she felt better. But she wasn’t able to sleep. Sleeplessness made her cranky. So she requested the therapist to prescribe pills to help her sleep. A few nights of undisturbed sleep rejuvenated her.

Her world was rosy and almost devoid of any thorns. Her job brought with it its share of challenges. But she was in a relatively comfortable place. There was no reason for her to feel helpless. Lakshmi’s nightmare-filled anecdotes motivated her to reevaluate life. Through the partially opened door, she saw Lakshmi work at a fast pace. Her life was plagued by terror. But she gave her best in whatever she did. She did the simplest of jobs with great precision and that made her special. Her dauntless attitude inspired Amyra.

She felt blessed. Understanding and supportive parents, friends who were just a call away, and a luxurious lifestyle, she had everything she needed. There was no reason for her to feel dissatisfied with life.

Lakshmi was a real star. A star who shone on the darkest of nights. Behind those big, wide eyes was grit to give her daughter a better life. The rough hands were evidence of the uphill battle she fought every day. Despite the adverse circumstances, she flashed a pleasant smile, and her words reflected gratitude. She rewrote her daughter’s fate, not succumbing to destiny’s games. Wasn’t she a role model? She inspired Amyra to live a better life. That thought filled Amyra’s heart with light.

She would expand her horizons and work harder. She would improve her relationship with her parents and shower them with the love and respect they deserve. Gratitude will become her way of life.

 She stood up and played a song. Closing her eyes, she pictured herself amid flowers and butterflies. Her heart flapped its wings and she felt at ease. In harmony with the tunes, she began to dance. The choreography was tough. But she would give her hundred percent. And, prove herself to the world one more time. Every day was an opportunity to turn a new leaf and paint refreshing hues. And, the newfound “Just go for it” attitude would help her ascend the ladder of success at a faster pace.


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