Colors of Darkness by Riya Chawla

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Her loose salwar swayed, to and fro, slowly, from where she sat on a low-seat, her head bowed down in concentration, her left hand holding a wrinkled, dry and dirty soles of a foot and her right hand trying to cut through the thick, dull, dirt-stricken nails. Her face, expressionless and her eyes, unblinking.

After her relentless effort on those rigid toenails, she looked up at him, eyes wide and said, ‘Done’. He lifted his face up from an unfolded newspaper and glared through his spectacles – his potbelly hiding half of her face – and then, sitting up straight, he put both of his legs on her lap and glanced at each toenail for a minute. Half-satisfied, he slid his feet inside his green-slippers, and said in a rough, coarse voice, ‘I’ll go freshen up now. Get my hair-color ready,’ then, chinning-up and touching the sides of his beard, he continued, ‘look at all this new hair, they’re all white. You’ll have a lot of work to do here.’
Nodding silently, she left the room.

The television blared mutely in the room, spreading vivid colors in the darkness. Red, green, blue. She tore open the plastic and began preparing the mix. Yellow, pink, white. Half-emptying the tube and adding another liquid, she picked up a broad paint brush from the number of brushes she owed and began blending the hair-color. Ivory, beige, brown. Her hands swayed in circles. Her gold-bangles clinked. Silver, grey, black. Her eyes stared into the darkness of the colors and her mind fled her back to the time she used to paint.

Blue, lavender, burgundy. Her cheeks flushed red and brushed on a shade of green. Crimson, daffodil and violet. The bandana stopped her hair from falling. Her naked hands were full: full of colors from the serene white-oceans that she painted, full of colors of the high golden-trees, and full of colors that the silver-Sun painted in the red-sky. White canvas turned into a shade of her artfulness: a shade of the silences of her voice and a shade of her selfless might. Her white tee-shirt was turned into a color which had no name, she painted for art’s sake.

A loud screeching noise of a chair and a grunt of a middle-aged man brought her back from her trance. She startled back to present and trembling, her hands moved faster.

‘Are you going to take forever?’ he asked.

‘It’s done, it’s done!’ She said hurriedly and carried the bowl of dark hair-dye.

He sat with his eyes looking at the ceiling, his chin raised, and said, ‘don’t leave out any hair.’

With her fingers gracefully moving the paint-brush, swirling on the white roots, turning them a shade of brunette; and with the fine brown strokes on the sides of his white beard – like she was giving a final detail to her artwork – she dyed his hair to a darker shade. Nobody would have known how much she craved for such days.
But then, the TV was turned off. The room, kept still, in the colors of darkness.

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