Highlighter | The Daily Star
09:29 PM, May 27, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:12 PM, May 27, 2020


"Mahira, help me with the plates!" Sabera shouted from the kitchen.


Mahira sighed. She knew her mother was calling her just because she felt like she needed to call her. She really didn't need her around since Jamila was right there beside her, helping with the chores. Yet, Mahira dragged herself to the kitchen.


Her mother, Sabera Begum, had a towel wrapped around her hair, and hustled from one corner to another. Jamila sat on the floor, slicing some onions and carrots.


"Yes, Ma?"


Sabera stopped in her tracks and looked at Mahira as if she was a ghost, "Yes, Ma what?"

"You called me just now to help you with the plates."

"I did?"


Jamila giggled which earned her a scathing look from Sabera. But it had no effect on Jamila. She rather smiled broadly and told Mahira, "Ammijan, you go to your room and get ready fast. I'll help Apa."


Mahira came back to her room and slid her new dress from under her pillow. She didn't know why she kept her Eid attire always under a pillow but it was what her mother did and so she did it too. The dress was a crimson salwar kameez with sequins and ribbons framing the bodice. She quickly changed to it and sat in front of her dressing table.


Jamila stepped into the room, then quickly retreated and stood on the threshold, knocking fervently on the door.


"Khala, you don't need to knock that hard all the time," said Mahira, without looking up from her assortment of beauty paraphernalia but she knew Jamila was grinning as she said, "Or else how would you hear, Ammijan?" She took a seat on one of the sitting stools and looked up at Mahira.


Mahira smiled at the mirror and started her work. A thin coat of foundation over the skin, a light splash of blush, and then she was shaping her eyebrows. Jamila, all the while, looked at Mahira with apt concentration.


"Your saree is nice, Khala," Mahira said while lining her eyes. Jamila blushed, "You think so? I bargained high for this," she proudly beamed, "My husband also said it looks nice on me."

"He's home again?" She nodded, "It's Eid."


Mahira didn't say anything. Jamila has been working at their home since she was a baby. Her husband disappeared from time to time and showed up randomly at her door, asking for food and money. They had requested Jamila to leave her husband and stay with them many times, but she never did it. No matter what, she always went back to her home.


"What's this?" Jamila pointed to the palette box Mahira had in her hand.

"Oh this? This is called highlighter."

"What does it do?"

"It gives a shine to my skin," Mahira grinned, applying it to her cheekbones. "See?" The highlighter caught the sunlight and gave her a dewy glow.


Jamila nodded knowingly to which Mahira teased, "Want some?"

Jamila only smiled.


The bell rang.


Mahira felt a knot twist in her stomach. She knew her mother wasn't going to open the door. She was almost getting up when Jamila motioned her to sit back. "I'm getting it," this time she smiled ruefully.


Mahira's father, Mr. Farhad Akhter, entered their house like a thief. He sat down on one of the couches timidly and looked around. Jamila took the bottles of beverages and borhani and the tub of curd from him and went to the kitchen.


Mahira stood up. Taking a deep breath, she tiptoed to their living room.

"Mahira, dear!" her father gushed nervously. "You look beautiful, like a red doll."

"Thanks," she smiled, "Ma bought the dress."

Farhad smiled back.


Almost on cue, Sabera entered. She was clad in an oyster-coloured silk saree. It was so simple, that too with no makeup at all, yet Mahira felt like she had just stepped out of a retro movie.


"Hello, Sabera," Farhad said quietly.

"Hi," Sabera greeted evenly.


Mahira knew it was going to be awkward for a while, like it was their whole lives. Mahira's parents had been divorced since she was five years old. They never remarried and lived separately and only on occasions like Eid and Mahira's birthday did they all reconcile and act like a "normal" family. But in spite of it all, the cogs of their broken family fit somehow. It didn't fit snugly, it was perhaps a closure they found over time, like old, warped threads stretching over tentatively and touching each other.


"The dishes are set," Jamila called them. Farhad was the first one to get up.


"Why didn't you wear the dress your father sent you?" Sabera whispered to her daughter. Though Mahira lived with her mother, Sabera never let her dwell too much on that fact. "You are as much a part of me as your father. Who you are living with doesn't count, as long as you exist, you're a part of both of us," she had told Mahira when she was young and threw tantrums about it.


"It's too lilac, Ma," she shrugged.


The dish was laid with all Farhad's and Mahira's favourite dishes. Farhad absent-mindedly sliced a boiled egg in half and handed it over to Sabera's plate. Mahira smiled, "Does he ever realise he does that every year?"


Farhad dug into the food, praising them awkwardly but they knew he really loved it. He and Mahira took a second helping of the desserts and chugged down ice cubes with the beverage. Sabera watched them quietly, repeatedly nagged Jamila to eat more and chatted a bit about her online business with Farhad.


"I'd better go now," Farhad finally said after their lunch and shot a glance at Mahira. She nodded and got up to open the door. Farhad heaved a deep sigh and muttered a quiet goodbye. Sabera wasn't there. She had already gone to her bedroom.


"Why can't Eid stay a bit longer, Khala?" Mahira sulked afterwards while Jamila was wiping the table.


"If highlighter--" Jamila struggled to pronounce it correctly, "--makes you look brighter, shinier, then why don't you put it all over your face?"

"Because a bit of it does the trick," replied Mahira almost instantly, "Too much of it would look unnatural."


A sparrow flew in and perched on their window sill, as Jamila stopped wiping the table and looked at it. She meekly extended her finger to touch it but it took flight into the Tuscan sun sky.


Jamila smiled, "Exactly."



You can reach out to Maisha Nazifa Kamal at 01shreshtha7@gmail.com

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