The Pretty Frock

He hadn’t had breakfast today. It was possibly still lying on the old stone floor. The wife had been in a rage over something. Sunil wasn’t sure about the something though he had an idea.

“Is this the time to report to work, Sir?” the manager at Pune Delight mall jeered as he saw Sunil arrive. Standing at the main gate with his hands on his hips, he looked the epitome of a perfect predator for unsuspecting latecomers. In his brown shirt and even browner skin, the manager resembled the devil in uncanny ways.

Mumbling a meek apology, Sunil rushed to the elevator and pressed the third floor button. “Women’s ethnic and western wear” was the section he handled, along with another guy and a woman.

Both were already on duty. The woman, rather bedraggled in her yellowing uniform, was wandering between rows of clothing. The guy was arranging different coloured denim-skirts in a corner. He was a young bloke, still in his late teens. There was even a light song on his lips.

At only twenty-five years of age, Sunil’s hairline was already receding. He couldn’t remember the last time he had woken up excited about the day. Sunil almost envied the guy his cheer.

But then, he surmised, that guy wasn’t married.

Lately, Sunil had been feeling frustrated with his job. It entailed endless hours of listening to women of all ages discussing colours and sizes with rabid enthusiasm. Moreover, the ones who were the most enthusiastic were often the ones who left empty-handed.

He had always worked as a shopping assistant. He liked the term, euphemism though it was. “Assistant” sounded highbrow and official. His former job had been at a store in southern Pune and had paid better. But they shut shop and rendered him jobless till he landed one at Delight.

How would the wife react to a visit to the mall? The last time he had gifted her a dress was on her birthday three years back. Oh the birthday came every year of course but he hadn’t been able to afford a gift for the previous two.

“What do I wear it with Bhaiya?” a woman in her early twenties enquired. She was holding a pretty frock in hand, bejewelled with little stones. “Do you have some earrings that match?”

The frock was exquisite, thought Sunil. He wondered if the dark-skinned, rather plump girl could do it justice.

“We have some in that area Madam.” he pointed to an enclosure toward the right. Now his wife would have been another ball game. Even in her sweaty brows and faded saris, she looked beautiful…

“Do you think I should buy it?” the girl turned to her companion with a pair of earrings in hand. 

The companion – a man who was probably her beau – was stifling a yawn, positively disinterested in the proceedings. “Totally sweetheart.” he announced presently. “You’ll look lovely in it.”

The girl beamed, clearly pleased with the praise. She checked the colour contrast in the full-length mirror on the side, placing the frock and the jewellery next to her skin.

Women look divine when they smile, noted Sunil. If only he had praised the wife a little in the morning. “I loved the pau darling,” he could have said, “never mind the bhaji was burnt.”

The couple was moving toward the cash counter. Sunil smoothed out his tidy pants as he saw them go. Though the uniform was last year’s, the wife ensured it got the best benefit of the detergent.

Monday morning at twelve wasn’t peak business hours. Barring the two attendants, the couple and the cash counter guy, there was no else on the floor.

“Excuse me madam.” Sunil called out to the girl with the frock.

She turned around, an eyebrow raised.

“I forgot to show you the new violet colour that’s arrived for that dress. Won’t you have a look?”

The beau looked indignant. The girl looked happy. Concealing a smile, Sunil held the black frock as she searched for a violet one.

Sunil glanced around the mall and deftly walked away from public sight. Quickly stuffing the dress into a polybag he scampered to the back-door elevator.

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