Short Story 2018 Longlist, Proma Bhattacharjee

The Yellow Dress

1

Priti wore the green kurti again. It was very simple, not quite suited for the dandiya night. That’s ok, she told herself, because unlike the girls in her neigbourhood who liked everything blingy, she preferred subtle. And besides, it was the only one she could afford after saving for six months.

She tried styling the kurti in different ways, sometimes with a contrasting pair of leggings, sometimes opting for the monotone look. The reflection in the mirror pleased her every time, but something was still missing. Even her treasured oxidized necklace did not help.

Eyeing the yellow dress for the thousandth time, she let out an audible sigh. The dress was not her size, it was quite loose. She had tried safety pins, but they only helped in distorting its shape.

Twirling before the mirror, holding the hair up, she kept telling herself that green was her colour and a bit of makeup and some danglers will do the trick. But the consolations did not manage to bury the voices in her head that kept urging her to pick the yellow dress, lying only an arm’s length away.

It was hers for the taking, the one thing that will shut up the snooty girls who thought she did not belong, that she should not forget who she was. Oh, but she did belong, she was intelligent, beautiful, hardworking. She was more industrious than all of them put together.

She made her decision. Adept with the needle and thread, she picked it up the yellow dress. Fifteen minutes later, the piece of fabric sat on her body like second skin. Made of a flowing chiffony material, the colour brought out the flecks of gold in her light brown eyes.

She looked like a queen.

2

The dandiya night was everything she hoped for. To her satisfaction, the girls kept giving her envious looks. Why won’t they? Today she was Cinderella without the 12’o clock deadline.

One of them even complimented her begrudgingly.

“You look pretty today, the dress is really nice. Where did you get it?”

“Oh! My uncle got it for me, just for tonight. He knows how much I like dandiya…”

The neighbourhood boys also looked at her appreciatively, maybe the first time ever in the nineteen years of her life.

That was the best night of her life.

3

She woke up late the next morning. She rushed to the laundromat, half panicking. She was supposed to be there at least 45 minutes ago.

Entering the place, she heard a commotion. A woman and a young girl were telling something loudly to auntyji, her employer.

“That was our Kusum’s dress she was wearing,” screamed the woman. “Kusum, tell her.”

“Yes, of course,” said the girl, “everybody saw it. Radha also said the same thing. We even took her photos last night. I am sure it’s the same dress. How on earth can a laundry girl afford a dress like that? And besides, it’s a huge coincidence that she wears it three days after I gave it for dry cleaning.”

“There has been some mistake. She won’t ever do anything like that, she is simple and honest child. The dress is already dry cleaned and ready for pickup.” she heard the flustered auntiji say.

Spotting her at the doorway, auntyji almost ran over to her.

“There you are. Priti dear, there has been a terrible misunderstanding. Go and bring Mrs Bhandari’s clothes. They are washed and pressed, right? Please go quickly and bring them.”

Priti did not move. Her legs felt as heavy as rocks. She had forgotten that the dress was due for pickup today. She had not realized that Kusumdidi would be at the function and might recognise it. She clutched the bag tighter to her body. The yellow dress was still inside with the stitches intact, a faint smell of her perfume and sweat still clinging to it.

 

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