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Hello there. I am Rapunzel… you don’t believe me? I really am – Rapunzel of the 21st century. Though I don’t have a wicked witch keeping me locked in a tower, I do have the society and expectations of the various ‘well-intentioned’ aunties and uncles who keep me locked in the tower of society’s dynamic definition of ‘decency’. <wink wink>. My braid may not run down the length of the tower, but the society I live in looks askance if I cut my hair shorter than my shoulder. “Good girls do not cut their hair so short. A long thick oiled braid is the mark of a good girl,” our neighbor Pammi aunty passes her daily comment as I open the door to keep out the bag of trash. “But aunty, I don’t have time to braid my hair daily. A quick shower and I am off to college.” I reply. “Sssh!! Nina! Don’t talk back to your elders!” my mother shushes me and pulls me back from the door. “But Ma that Pammi aunty always pokes her nose in my business! Why can’t she mind the oh-so-long think oiled braid of her own daughter-in-law?” I complain. “Nina! You know what a gossip-monger she is! Now she will tell the entire society that you are a rude girl and that you have no manners!” wails my mother. “Why do you care so much about that illiterate lady’s opinion anyway?” I demand with one eye on the clock. “Because she is loud and brash! She makes her opinion known in the most uncomfortable of ways!” shoots my mother. I shake my head and start getting ready for college.
In the shower, I start daydreaming as I am prone to. The fogged up mirror shows me myself but with long tresses. They are cascading in dreamy waves and I am looking like a princess. A sharp pain in my skull brings me out of my reverie. “Ouch!” I have pulled at my tangled hair a little too sharply. I hurriedly finish cleaning up and then get ready in my bedroom. On my way out, I am still rubbing the sore spot my poor scalp which bore the brunt of my daydreaming. At college, my BFF looks at me weird and I am about to ask her what is cooking when the english lit. professor walks in. She brings Shakespeare alive and I am drawn to focus on the lecture. By the time the lecture is over, I have forgotten all about the looks my BFF gave me and am in Shakespeare’s world. At break time, we all gather in the cafeteria and my BFF walks up to me. “What have you done to your hair?” she asks me. “I have showered and accidentally pulled a tangled mess of them to the point of detaching a piece of my scalp. Why? Have I lost too much hair that I look bald?” I ask. My BFF sighs in resignation, “Nina, you haven’t looked in the mirror at all today, have you?”I am now really scared, I begin to stroke my fingers through my hair and at a point, I stop. I am in shock. My hair has grown long. The cascading waves of tresses I dreamt of in the shower… well, let’s just say I wasn’t dreaming! “But how did this happen?” I am almost in tears. “Chill babes! They are actually looking gorgeous on you!” my crush puts his arm around my shoulder in an effort to console me. ‘Wait a minute! Since when did he begin to look at me other than that as a buddy?’ I wonder. But whatever, this feels nice. So I continue my boo-hoo charade for a few moments more, relishing the feel of his arms around me. A few not-very-uncomfortable seconds later, I pull back.
He looks at me as if he’s seeing me for the first time. I shyly lower my eyes. Mentally, I am kicking myself. Where in the world has my self-sufficient and independent self disappeared? Why am I behaving like a quailing little lady? My thought is not even complete yet when I am wonder-struck. I am dressed in a very vintage-looking dress! I don’t even remember purchasing it! ‘Hmm! Must be my mother! She isn’t above surreptitiously buying me something that fits her definition of an adolescent lady. She anyway doesn’t like my daily attire of jeans and tops,’ I feel a little annoyed with her. ‘How dare she mess with my wardrobe!’ struggles the teenaged rebel in me. Meanwhile, my crush hasn’t stopped looking at me. “Nina,” his words sound as if they are coming from far away, “you are looking absolutely stunning today. Your long hair, and this dress, are all so alluring. I just can’t seem to be able to take my eyes off you.” Now I am in a daze. How did I not pay attention to what I was pulling out of my wardrobe this morning? Much to my surprise, even my food selection in the cafeteria seems to be different today. Instead of my staple of cold sandwich and canned juice, I have chosen fresh salad and herbal tea. What is happening to me? My heightened senses tell me that this is not all. I get up to fetch myself a glass of water and I finally notice one more thing that is different about me. Urrk!! I am wearing a pair of extremely effeminate sequined gladiators instead of sneakers! And much to my surprise, I am slowly beginning to feel comfortable with all these changes!
As the bell tolls end of college day, I pick up my books and look for my bag. And lo and behold, there is a dainty looking but roomy satchel in place of my trusty back-pack! Now why am I not surprised? After all the feminine changes I have been undergoing all day long, nothing holds the power to faze me. I pick up the satchel and carefully tuck in all my books and pens. Another one of my friends is looking at me in shock. “What?” I signal. “You just packed in all your books and stationary in an organized way!” he mutters. “Yes, so what about it?” I shrug. “You? The self-declared slob of the college packed it all in so nicely! Are you sure you don’t have the flu or something?” he teases. “Or something” I quip. “Thankfully your sense of humor seems to be intact at least!” my crush joins in on the conversation. This putting an arm around my shoulders is getting old real quick. I primly take his hand off my shoulder and he puts it right back on. “I’d like to walk you home today,” he says. “If you don’t mind, that is,” he corrects quickly when he sees my annoyed expressions. I agree and we begin to walk towards my home. “Don’t you have to go to work today?” I ask him. I have a crush on my crush mainly because he’s so eager to earn his way through college. He works at a nearby shop for a few hours after college to earn the fee-money. His parents are super rich, but they have taught him to earn his own finances early on. “I do, but I’ll go a bit later,” he replies. As we walk on, I see him behave in the long-forgotten manner of gentlemen. Opening doors and pulling out chairs for ladies is now considered quite passé by the college crowd. So I am surprised when he places his hand on the small of my back to guide me towards the zebra crossing. He is even chivalrous enough to shadow me into the inner side of the road while he walks on the ‘dangerous’ side.
We reach home and I turn to say good-bye. But he walks me right up to my door and asks me to open it. Now I am confused. However cool and chic I may be, inviting friends – male friends over while my folks are away at work has been a line I have never and don’t intend to cross. I am about to refuse when he says, I’ll leave as soon as I hear you lock the door from the inside. I give a mental shrug to this sudden burst of chivalry and take out my set of keys to the apartment. I have just inserted the key into the lock when who else but my oh-so-favorite Pammi aunty steps out of her door. Sometimes I wonder if she has a special antennae fitted only to catch me at inopportune moments. “Who is your friend Nina? Won’t you introduce us?” she pokes her nose. “Of course aunty. This is my friend Al and we study together in the same class,” I reply unhappily. Pammi aunty extends her hand to Al and says, “Hello Al, I am Nina’s neighbor. You can call me Pam.” I almost drop the keys when I hear these words. ‘Is Pammi aunty flirting with a college boy?!’ I wonder. I hurriedly open the door to my home and ask Al if he would like to come in. “I’ll take a raincheck Nina. I only wanted to make sure you reach home safely,” he says while smiling at Pammi aunty. “Oooh!! They don’t make gentlemen like you anymore. Are you sure you weren’t born a decade too late?” she asks. I am shocked! Pammi aunty is definitely flirting with MY crush!! What do I do. But I need not have worried, for Al smoothly cuts in, “Oh no! My cousin is a cop and he told me that pickpocketing activity in this locality is rampant at the moment. They are targeting young college going girls and stealing their mobiles at knife-point! So I walked Nina home today.” While talking, Al guides Pammi aunty toward the exit of the building, and their voices get weaker and weaker as they near the outer gates. I shut the door and lean against it. What a weird day this has been. I think I’ll go sleep it off. Maybe when I wake up after a nap, I’ll be my old self again. But do I really want this dream day to end? Al finally noticed me, my professors did not scold me at all. All the beautiful and hot girls at college were shooting daggers at me all day long. I feel as if I was a modern-day Rapunzel today with who else but Al being my knight in shining armour. The way he stepped in with Pammi aunty was a masterstroke. With these wonderful thoughts in mind, I head to my bedroom for a siesta.