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June 21, 2015

The Bag Lady

Illustration by Salil Sojwal

Togged up in a body-fitting dress, Priya makes an appearance at a well-attended shenanigan. Taking a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of bags and baubles, author Rupa Gulab pens an exclusive short story for Verve

“You’ve got to be joking! I will so not wear that ugly, blingy gold frock,” I protested and shoved it back into Maia’s hands.

Frock? Did you just say frock? You’ve got to be out of your tiny mind to trash this dead sexy designer number as a dowdy aunty frock! And, hello, you are not coming out with us in prehistoric drainpipes and boring black tees again. Your lack of fashion sense brings down the tone of my company,” she hissed, and shoved it right back in my face.

I yelped as sequins violently poked my right eye.

“Drop the prehistoric drainpipe bit. They flatter my legs, and super legs never go out of fashion, okay?”

Anjali moaned. “My thighs are fat, my knees are knobbly and my lower legs look like matchsticks. If I had legs like yours, I’d flaunt them, not hide them in dull denim.”

“At least try the dress on,” Maia insisted. “See for yourself how you look in it.”

Maia’s the most determined of the three of us. She’s the boss from hell: pushy, overbearing and terribly frightening. I don’t know why I’m working in her PR firm, really.

“Take off your bra before you put it on. It doesn’t need one,” she barked.

I sighed and slipped into the dress. Whatever little there was of it, that is.

Anjali moaned again. “Your clavicles. Just look at your clavicles. If I had clavicles like yours, I’d wear strapless tees for the rest of my life!”

Maia snapped at her. “You’d have clavicles too if you stopped eating junk food!”

I sighed. “Oh, leave her alone. Maia. She’s not fat. Just pleasantly plump.”

“Yes, like a pigeon fluffing its feathers,” Maia sneered.

Anjali gurgled like a pigeon fluffing its feathers.

I turned to the mirror to look at my clavicles, and screeched. “My cleavage! Oh my God, it looks more like a deathly ravine!”

“If I had a deathly ravine like yours,” Anjali began enviously, but I cut her short.

“Okay, I’ve had enough of looking like a pendant Bappi Blingy Lahiri would wear on a chain. Where are my own clothes?”

“Hang on,” Maia said in her usual bossy voice. “Let’s complete the look first, just to see the total effect.”

“Oh come on, Priya,” Anjali said cajolingly.

Maia pushed me towards her dressing table stool, sat me down and applied goo on my face. I have to admit that I did look ravishing at the end of it all.

“Here, try these on, we’re the same shoe size,” Maia said chucking a pair of stilettos at me.

I twirled as Anjali took photographs of me on her cell phone.

I was so caught up in posing for Anjali that I was taken by surprise when Maia grabbed my arm and dragged me out of her front door.

“What?” I stuttered as the front door slammed.

“Oh shut up and start walking towards the lift,” she said and handed me a handbag ­— LV, no less.

I stayed rooted to the spot. “I’m not going out in public like this,” I said firmly.

“You are representing my company at the charity do tonight, so consider this a uniform,” she said coolly.

“Hey, that’s not in the contract. I resign,” I protested.

“Aha, you still owe me three months — the notice period. That’s in the contract,” she said triumphantly. “Now stop with this silly coyness and listen carefully. This is my biggest rival’s PR event — I need the two of you to pay careful attention to every detail. We’re going to poach a few of his clients tonight. Goddit?”

Anjali and I nodded.

As soon as we reached the hotel, the three of us parted ways to schmooze. I was almost immediately surrounded by a bunch of drooling men. I gave them a hasty spiel on the company, handed out business cards and dashed to the buffet table. As I helped myself to canapés, trying not to bend too low, a familiar male voice whispered in my ear.

“Tut. You’ve made yet another mistake in your life, Priya. Wrong cause again. This is a cancer awareness event, not a slut walk.”

I wheeled around to face Akshay, my almost-ex. I say “almost” because I almost went out with him in college. I clutched the fabric around my cleavage.

“I hope you’re not going to say I was asking for it,” I said in a tight voice.

He had the grace to blush.

“Sorry. Tasteless joke. I think you look terrific.”

“And what was my first mistake?” I asked.

“To forsake me for J Sunder, the geek who air guitared his way into your heart,” Akshay said smoothly.

“He did not air guitar, he played real guitar,” I said defensively. Though why I even bothered to defend J Sunder who cheated on me with my best friend (which is why I don’t have a best friend anymore) beats me.

“He tried to play real guitar,” Akshay said kindly.

“Oh bugger off,” I muttered and strode away. The slut-walk remark still rankled. Perve!

Safety pin! You need a safety pin, my brain urged me. I dug into the beige LV handbag Maia had shoved into my hand (she had refused to let me carry my battered black sling bag) but it contained nothing but my house keys and my phone. The liar said she’d transferred everything!

I spotted Maia chatting animatedly with a bunch of people and handing out her business cards (she’s the Queen of Schmooze) but I didn’t approach her. She’s not the sort to carry safety pins. I scanned the room for Anjali and there she was, sitting all alone near the buffet table, stuffing vol-au-vents into her mouth.

“Gimme a safety pin, Miss Piggy,” I said sternly.

She looked up guiltily.

“I shan’t. I know you’re going to try and cover up. Why do you act so prissy, Priya? If I had a bod like yours, I’d walk around in a bikini. Maybe even stark naked.”

“Okay then. I’ll tell Maia that you were on a carbs binge,” I said sweetly.

She meekly dug into her handbag and handed me a safety pin.

The restroom was packed with women refreshing their make-up or gossiping. After I restored my modesty, I strode out and took the first cab home. On the ride I thought about Sunder the Slimeball. He really was a creep. Big mistake to date him. I’d chosen him over smooth and sexy Akshay because he looked scruffy and innocent — in short, a keeper. Sure I lusted after Akshay, but he was way too cool for me — besides he was known for being a serial dumper. Sadly, that scruffy, innocent look got Sunder a lot of action — obviously many women are as strategically challenged as I am.

The minute I reached home, I took the same cab back to the venue.

There were no house keys in my bag. Or my phone. Just someone else’s stuff. Omigod. I’d obviously picked up an identical LV bag in the loo!

I had to pacify the irate cabbie by saying that I’d pay him immediately and rushed in to confront Maia who was chatting animatedly with another bunch of people and handing out another bunch of business cards.

“Gimme 500 bucks ASAP,” I hissed in her ear.

“Whatever for?” she asked, looking very surprised.

“Because you didn’t lend me a limited-edition LV handbag,” I snarled and rushed off to pay the cabbie.

Then I went up to the dais, swung the handbag dramatically in the air, and boomed into the mike.

“Someone has got my handbag and I have theirs.”

As about a 100 women delved into identical beige LV handbags, I caught sight of Maia grinning sheepishly. Bah.

No one owned up and I spent the night at Maia’s, since it would take more than a safety pin to break into my lock! Anjali decided to spend the night with Maia too, as it had been ages since we had had a sleepover. She ate vast quantities of ice cream and Maia and I were too distracted to stop her.

I couldn’t sleep so I wouldn’t let Maia sleep either. Our conversation went like this:

“And that blasted frock didn’t even have a pocket, so I lost my phone in the handbag too,” I fumed.

Maia didn’t correct me for calling it a frock this time. She said sorry instead.

“I’ve become the victim of a fashion victim,” I moaned.

“Sorry,” she said again.

“Idiot!”

“Sorry.”

“Cretin!”

“Sorry!”

Rinse. Repeat.

For the first time ever in her life Maia was not having an animated conversation. A phone rang suddenly. We jumped. “It’s not mine,” both Maia and Anjali said in unison.

The ring was coming from the LV handbag. I almost slapped my forehead. How silly of us not to inspect the contents of the bag for clues!

We opened it and I answered the phone — and a very fancy phone it was too!

“Hello,” I said in a tremulous voice.

***

The Dear Old Lady Voice on the phone said she’d send someone to Maia’s house the next day with the correct bag. We cheered.

It was a Sunday and we were still sleeping when the doorbell rang. I kicked Maia. She kicked Anjali instead. Anjali kicked me out of bed. “It’s your bag. You get the door.”

I didn’t bother to wash my face, just grabbed Anjali’s crumpled shirt lying on a chair and quickly pulled it over my tee.

“You!” I gasped as I answered the door.

“You?” Akshay said, sounding equally astonished.

I gaped at him as he handed me my bag.

He grinned wolfishly and leaned against the doorpost.

“Er, this is an exchange programme. Where’s my grandmother’s handbag?”

“Oh, right. Come in,” I said. I sat him down and hastily made for the bedroom. I brushed my teeth with my fingers, splashed water on my face and tried to make myself presentable. Oh yeah, and I applied tinted lip gloss too — just to make up for my dishevelled welcome. Okay, that’s not true. I wanted to look nice.

“Coffee? Tea?” I offered Akshay.

“Me?” he offered in return.

And why not? I’m a big girl now, I’ve been dumped before, I thought to myself. Though I pretended I hadn’t heard him, of course.

We didn’t have time to have a cosy conversation because Maia and Anjali emerged from the bedroom while I was making coffee. But here’s the thing: he made sure he took my phone number before he left — yay!

Anjali is crushing on Akshay. She swears that if she ever finds a man like him, she will never eat carbs again. Maia says I owe her one, and that I should apologise to fashion. So, yeah, fashion, sorry. However, if this doesn’t work out, you’re going to be in my black book again.

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