KumKum’s eyes absentmindedly fell on the red sheen of those high heeled shoes over and over again.Those lovely red color shoes right out of a fairytale. Then in a flurry forgetting the urgent world she pondered over the shade… blood red …mmm apple?….mmm tomato… red chilli ….. As if nothing else was worth noticing in that place.
The mansion was filled with activity, songs, gossip, giggles … hassled faces … happy faces..leisurely faces …beautiful faces….smell of marigold and vermillion.It was a different world .Mesmerising, captivating ,enchanting. The grandness of the house and the precious interiors made her feel she stepped into a palace. Yet the moment that pair of red shoes captured her attention everything else blurred.
A sudden nudge from Ramesh , her uncle, brought her back to her purpose. He had already unravelled the henna boxes and the fragrance had started romancing with her nostrils.The precious oils and the meticulously picked henna leaves that were tenderly treated and converted in the most exotic and magical paste .Ready to transform dreamy bridal hands into vermilion splendour of a hopeful exciting future.
Kumkum’s family was well known for their henna quality and their artistic flair for decorating bridal palms .No wedding of any significance in the town went without them. They were a traditional must for ‘Mehendi ceremony’. This was Kumkum’s first visit to a ceremony. She had been learning the art of preparing the henna paste and drawing the mesmerising patterns through those well stuffed cones. They were six of the family at that rich Mehendiceremony .It was several hours work. The bride was a priority and her henna was to be extra special. So of course it was her uncle who was to make the patterns ,he was the best .Kumkum was given the duty to help in making cones and keeping the henna fresh and applying the oil dabs for better results. Though she was expecting to do a few hands of the relatives of the bride while she left home that day. But somehow now the thoughts of vermillion were replaced by an alien royal redness.
She had seen heroines in movies wear such elegant shoes and dance . How they managed to do that was mindboggling for her. Perhaps it was some ‘ special effect’ as the hero’s stunts. Such high heeled shoes can’t be real, she had convinced herself. Those red pointed heels had shattered her theory completely. Though in a pleasant way to her surprise. No less than unexpectedly discovering the eigth wonder of the world. They belonged to the bride and when she wore them and walked without support or tripping, Kumkum was overtaken by a strange urge . Her feet went tingly.
She was happy when the bride retired to her room for the henna to be applied on her feet . Kumkum accompanied her with her uncle and aunt. She stayed there after the design was done to apply the oils . She didn’t mind that her uncle did not offer her to apply any designs on the relatives. She was too preoccupied with her desire. The shoes lay near the door below the curtain oblivious of the secret admirer.
The vermillion had started peeping through the shrinking dried crusts of the deeply green henna. The oil still glistened on the bride’s palm. Kumkum scrutinized her palm and adviced “ You should scrub off the henna and do not wash with water for a deeper color”.
The bride smiled at her and “ You know a lot about henna. What is your name ?”
“Do you go to school?”
“Yes… eigth standard…..
“What do you want to become when you grow up?”
Kumkum was a little taken aback. That was a novel query for her. Before she could answer anything the bride was called by some elder of the family. Kumkum started wrapping up the things . She capped the oil bottles . Collected the henna cones and as she was doing that she felt tingly in her feet again. The bride did not wear her shoes when she went out because of the henna on her feet. Their was no one there and now the desire was too strong to ignore.
Kumkum moved towards the door as if hypnotized by those royal red shoes . Her heart was pounding but she had to be quick before the bride comes back. She put her right foot in the shoe and as she tried to get her heel in and suddenly she felt a surge of adrenaline. She was lifted up on that pointy heel. She inserted the left foot without delay in the left shoe .A little wobbly though she had risen to a couple of inches taller then herself. The inside of the shoe felt strangely comfortable and cool. She dared to take a step ahead with her wobbly knees when she heard the foot steps. Now the thrill was replaced with fear and her mind got tangled between the thrill of stepping ahead and the wisdom of pulling her feet out . Before she could resolve the conflict she felt a sudden sharp pain in her right ankle as it twisted with a jerk.
Her eyes watered a bit and her face was flushed with pain but she ensured to be back to her earlier spot. She slowly gathered her things and bid goodbye to the bride who smiled back at her unaware of Kumkum’s littled adventure and accident.
The next morning Kumkum’s mother discovered a mysterious bright red swollen ankle and was sure that some’ totka ‘ (black magic ) has been done on her child. Her uncle however took her to the doctor who applied a bandage . But her mother stayed sure of the ‘totka’ as Kumkum never complained and very often looked at her bandage and smiled.