I heard my voice being called but decided to ignore it for the moment. I was tired and I hoped the person looking for me would give up and go find someone else.
“Revathi!” the shout came again and this time I could make out some amount of irritation and indignation in it. It was Amma’s (mother) voice - she sounded angry. And no one in his or her right senses let Amma get angry!
I called out, “Yes Amma?” a moment before the door opened and my Amma – an overweight, middle-aged woman with a face painted with mascara and deep-red lipstick – entered. Staring at me crossly, she asked, “Didn’t you hear me yelling, Revathi? What were you doing?”
I feigned surprise to hide the fear inside. “Sorry, Amma, but I was having a small nap. I was tired. That’s why I didn’t hear you…”
She did not believe me – I could detect that from her face. But she did not say anything except, “Get ready, child.”
My face crumpled. “So soon, Amma? I am so exhausted! Can’t someone else …?”
Amma interrupted. “No one else can, Revathi. Mr. Menon is coming. He will be here in ten minutes.”
I knew Mr. Menon well. He was one of Amma’s favorites. I nodded my head in resignation. “Ok, Amma.”
She smiled at me – a satisfied and victorious smile – and exited the room closing the door behind her.
I walked back to my bed and lay down on the sheets. Immediately, my eyes migrated to the myriad cracks on the ceiling. There were so many of them and I knew each like the back of my hand. I knew this room so well! The shuttered windows, the faded curtains, the broken mirror that reflected my haggard face … this room had been my home for as long as I could recall.
I tried to dam the river of memories in my brain and return to the world of reality. I did not have time for daydreaming. Like Amma had said, I had to get ready – there was a lot of work coming up and the day would be a busy one. As it usually is.
I was basically an actress – the girl with a thousand faces. I was at times – a child, a sister, a daughter, a wife or even a mother. I had learned to wear the masks so well that I had forgotten who or what I once was. All memories of my past lay locked away in an obscure, dark room in my mind…and the key to the door that led to this room had been thrown away.
At times, faint pictures did appear in my mind. Of the Sun washed mud house in the midst of others; of a pleasant-smelling woman who kept hugging me close to her, whispering words of love; of a tall gruff man who would pat my head affectionately when no one was looking. I did not know where these recollections were from or whether they even belonged to me, but I liked to think they were of my life before I came to live with Amma. Fifteen years ago.
Fifteen years in this house! I could not believe it! I had been living here for a decade and a half! And there were others who had been here longer, leading the same life I did.
My life? It was like a wheel that kept turning … a monotonous novel, with chapters that went on and on… never stopping, never ending. My name – the name I was born with? I didn’t know it. I had forgotten. Did it matter anyway? An actress never has just one name. An actress is never twice the same.
My home? This shabby room and that claustrophobic enclosure that was conveniently termed the toilet. My parents? I am not an orphan – no! I am lucky – I had an Amma who looked after me. She cooked me food, bought me clothes, wrote the script for my roles, and maybe … even cared for me a little.
I had a father too. He selected the people who could come to see me perform. In other words – my audience. Not everyone was permitted, you know! After all, people had to pay to watch me act. My friends…? The lizards and the roaches… and the other girls here who were my fellow actresses. We shared a lot in common and I had known some of them for the past fifteen years.
And my audience? All those men who visited me…at times just once, but sometimes more often…they appreciated my performance.
My eyes spanned the walls once again. Why did I feel as if I was in a cage? I had a home, parents and a vocation that I had practiced (and perfected) during the past years. I knew that my home was different once, and so were my parents… but the wheel had to keep turning, didn’t it?
Suddenly, pangs of hunger ran through my twenty-year old body, but there was no time for food now. For there were voices in the corridor outside my room… and the noise of a key scraping against the lock on my door.
I heard the faint tinkling of coins as it changed hands, the sound of the door opening and then closing… and then I heard the voice of a man: ‘Hello dear!’
The day had begun. My audience had arrived… the show would shortly commence.
The curtain slowly rose.
I closed my eyes, pasted a smile on my face, and pretended to be on stage… will someone please applaud for me in the end?