On the table lay the old steam iron. A little rusted on the sides, it stood on its base. The handle was wearing off the pale blue color and was now patchy back. Behind the dilapidated table and a little shabby shop frame was a huge pile of clothes. Tons and tons of clothes. Some were neatly hanging from the old glass showcase, on the plastic green, red, blue, white and pink hangers. Most of them were lying in the cloth sacks made from the household dupattas.

Amma emerged from the door behind. Round shouldered in a peacock green saree wrapped around her with the finesse and precision of someone who has been doing the same for ages. She had a few grey hairs which had been neglected due to sparse use of hair dye. Her well-oiled hair was neatly tied in a tight bun behind her. Her face showed no signs of aging. Although her round spectacles with ochre yellow frames did enlighten the audience about her old ways and age. Her eyes sparkled with experience but the trail of flowers in her bun also indicated that there is still a little girl inside her.

She walked unwaveringly towards her workbench, tucked in the pallu of her saree and started ironing the clothes. This was her daily routine from morning seven to night nine. Apart from the one hour break for lunch, she stood there ironing clothes all day. She would pass her time by observing people walking up and down the tiny lane. Some regulars used to wave or give a polite smile as they passed. She had become such an expert at her job that she could do it without looking. Her experienced hands had withstood many burns and few marks still remained.

Now here begins the real tale, one day a strange women came to the village. She wore beady dresses with frills on the ends. She was laden with silver jewelry and big rings on her fingers. She had an Om tattoo on her wrist which was slightly visible through the gaps between the many bangles that she was wearing. Her name was Meena. The people of the village started various kinds of rumors about her. Some called her a witch practicing dark arts while others thought of her as a runaway from the performing troops. Strange fact about people is that they are repulsive of anything or anyone who looks or behaves remotely different from them; be it animals or other humans. Naturally, Meena did not have any friends in the village.

She became a regular customer at amma’s. Since, she (Meena) did not have much work of her own she would often hang around amma’s shop. Soon they became good friends. Meena found a special friend in amma. Although, they had a major age difference it seemed as if amma understood her. And it was true the other way round too.

One day, Meena came to amma with a strange looking stole. It was shiny red color made of velvet. It was adorned with shiny maroon beads on all sides. The beads were huge. Meena told amma to keep it safe with her until she returns. When amma enquired about where and why was she going, all Meena had to say was I will be back soon.

Days went by and then turned into months. There was no news of Meena. The people of the village were least bothered; for them it was a huge relief. Amma was worried but there was little she could do about it. She went on with her daily routine. The stole lay buried under the huge piles of clothes. One day, when amma was cleaning she found a broken bead from the stole. The bead had a piece of paper folded inside.

The very next day amma closed her shop and left the village for good. The villagers tried looking for her but had no clue where she had disappeared. As the days went by the villagers thought that the wicked witch, Meena had enchanted poor amma and taken her away to hell. They stopped looking. Years went by; someone took over amma’s shop. While cleaning they found a piece of paper lying on the ground. The following words were scribbled on it,

“Do not imprison the child inside you that wants to dream. For you have only one life to live and only yourself to love.”