Short and stubby fingers. Long, bony ones. Fleshy palms. Green river-like veins trailing from wrist to knuckles. Fair hands so smooth that butter sliding over them would appear rough. Hardened skin with corns borne out of labor and lack of care.
He loved them all. They enthralled him beyond imagination.
Each one told him a story that he was eager to know.
Like the last time he was mixing shades of blue bangles for the lady of the visiting diplomat. Her hands, though neat and manicured still told a sturdy tale. After all, she had worked as a stenographer for a lengthy period of time, apart from working with thimbles and needles, and washing the clothes and dishes for even longer.
But all that was in the past. A past that her present would never disclose.
Except when someone looked at her hands.
He had. And he smiled at her, the knowing smile which shows both awe and empathy. She had smiled back, grateful that he hadn't said a word about what was obvious on his face.
She knew that he knew. It did not matter how. They were united in secrecy.
Another time, he had set eyes on a few cuts and burn marks on a homely maid's forearm. Punished for not being handsome enough, not bringing home enough money, and not being a good wife or mother.
He had seen them all, and they had shared that awkward moment with grace and simplicity. There was nothing tactical or inappropriate about it.
There had been no infidelity or sacrilege. It was possibly the purest form of understanding between any two individuals. Unconditional and unspoken.
He tried to sketch them a few times to preserve the memory of that vision and silent conversation. He made a mess of the entire experience. So, he stopped drawing. But his enchantment with this unusual hobby was far from over.
Working at a bangle shop suited him just fine. Though it did not pay enough to buy the new jacket that had caught his fancy at the Chor Bazaar, it gave him unrestricted access to all types of women and their hands. And with that, he was content.
"Chhote, aa gaya tu?"
( = So, you're here )
( = Yes )
"Chal, pendant ke counter par khda ho ja. Bhole ki chhutti hai."
( = Take care of the pendant counter. Bhole is on leave )
( = But...)
"Arre, chinta mat kar. Teri choodiyon ka dhyaan Monty rakh lega. Waise bhi auraton ko choodi dekhni hai, tujhe nahi"
( = Dont worry. Monty will look after the bangle counter. Anyway, the ladies are interested in bangles, not you )
The entire shop guffawed. A few clients looked at Chhote, they were not sure what they felt though the poor chap looked crestfallen. Most unknown sorrows are met with indifference.
Somebody's world was crumbling, and all they felt was indifference....
After all, intact bangles do not mean somebody's dream isn't broken.