Kalpana stared at Shyna in wonder! No matter how many times she looked at her, she always felt as though she was gazing at a masterpiece. Shyna ma’m was probably one of the  most beautiful among the clients who came to the beauty salon where she worked. A peaches and cream complexion, with huge limpid dark eyes fringed with thick lashes. Kalpana often wondered why she bothered  coming to a beauty parlour in the first place. Nature had endowed her with so much beauty that it was not necessary for her to seek assistance from human beings.

And it was not just beauty that made Shyna attractive. There was about her a quality that could only be called “glamour”. She looked like a film star and probably lived a life like one. She wore the top brands in clothing and  expensive jewellery in the most casual of manners. Her bags and shoes were obviously the best that money could buy! She drove a Mercedes and all those boys who worked downstairs at the valet parking service fought with each other not just to park it but have those few moments with her when she handed them the keys.

Kalpana, who had joined the beauty parlour as a trainee six months ago often longed to be given an opportunity to attend to her. But Lakshmi who was Shyna’s regular beautician jealously guarded her prized client. The closest that Kalpana had come to attending on Shyna was to give her a pedicure.

As she had scrubbed those lovely toes, she had wondered how anyone could be so beautiful! People at the parlour said that Shyna ma’m was almost fifty four years old. But it was difficult to believe it. One could not  imagine that she was a day older than thirty!

Kalpana sometimes thought about the kind of man that Shyna must be married to – handsome like the heroes of the movies that she was sure of. He must be worshiping the ground those lovely feet landed on. If she was driving a Mercedes, he  must be flying around on  a plane was her belief!

When she had told this to her boyfriend Ravi, he had laughed his head off…!!!  She had been most hurt – the way Ravi laughed at anything she said. “As if I am some sort of an idiot” she grumbled. “May be I should just dump him and marry someone else. Someone with more money than a plumber” she thought angrily! But as a girl brought up in an orphanage she knew she was lucky that she had atleast someone who cared for her. So what if he was a plumber? He did not drink, earned decently and had even taken her home and introduced her to his parents as the girl he wanted to marry. Now how many boys would do something like that?

“Kalpana.. Do you think you can manage a facial for Shyna? Lakshmi had to go out suddenly”  asked Lavanya the manager of the beauty parlour in a whisper.

Kalpana could hardly believe her luck! She would get Shyna ma’m completely to herself !!! She was happy, nervous and excited all at once as she started getting the things ready for the facial. She was impatient to feel that silky skin under her hands. She would tell Ravi today about how a fairy’s skin felt!

She wiped the cushioned table on which Shyna would be lying down during the treatment. She opened brand new jars of cream and lit the aroma candles as she waited for Shyna to enter the cubicle.

Kalpana watched awestruck as Shyna walked in and sat down on the couch in the cubicle. She was so close that Kalpana was afraid to breathe. Shyna’s  mobile was ringing. She rummaged through her bag for her phone with one hand as she took off her sandals with the other. Kalpana gingerly took those sandals and put them on the shoe rack. She was afraid that her stubby work worn fingers might damage those delicate straps.

Shyna was now taking off her clothes and trying to get into the robe that was laid out for her. Kalpana fussed around picking up the clothes and putting them on the hanger. She unfolded the robe and went round to help Shyna wear it. It was just as Shyna turned around to slip her arm into one of the sleeves that Kalpana saw them..!!! She froze in action staring at them transfixed!

Red welts – they criss crossed that beautiful bare back..!! There was only one way those marks could have found their way there !! Kalpana knew that very well. She had spent her entire childhood cuddled next to a mother whose back had turned like that every night until the day she had decided to end her life. She remembered the sound of the leather belt swishing through the  air and her mother screaming in pain until her father fell down exhausted in a drunken stupor.

Shyna was now lying down on the table. As she wiped the lovely alabaster skin with cleanser Kalpana remembered another face she had wiped similarly ten years ago with Eau de cologne . A tiered face with eyes that had closed on a life of violence. She looked at the face under her hands now. It felt as cold as her mother’s. What was the difference she wondered?

Yes, there was a difference – the face she had held in her hands on that day had been that of a dead woman while this was a face of a woman who was only pretending to be alive!