How numbing is vanity?

I'm feeling terrible. The effect of the dental shot would take a couple of hours to wear out. At the reception on my way out I asked if I looked okay and my mouth didn't appear twisted as I spoke. They offered to get me a mirror.

I was not attending a party or any such event where I would be speaking to a crowd. So what was I becoming so conscious about? The few people I would encounter on the way, and home was just minutes away? Who was I afraid of being judged by — shopkeepers on the street, strangers, watchmen, domestic helps, neighbours?

As I stepped out of the clinic and stood near the stairs, a woman in a yellow salwar-kameez appeared from another door. She smiled and I gave a half smile covered quickly with the palm of my hand. I moved a bit to give way as I was rummaging in my bag. She started walking down. She was dragging her feet. Two steps, sometimes three steps, she took for each step of the staircase. Her body was tilting. I just stood there. She was not much older than me. She could have even been younger. People who are incapacitated in any way either seem old or very young, like toddlers.

When she turned the corner, I woke up from my numbness a bit. She was making grunting sounds. From the office she had just left a male voice called back, "Haan, haan, aata hoon (I’m coming)." A man appeared and I thought he'd assist her, but he proceeded ahead with her conveying things to him that he seemed to comprehend. It wasn't a long way down but it appeared to be an infinity.

The lady and I were both on the same ground almost parallel. The man was her driver and he was reversing. She looked at me and smiled, which I realised was not a smile but a frozen expression. I opened the car door for her. One side of her dupatta was on the floor; I picked it up. She kept saying something. I assumed it to be, "It's okay, I do this all the time, but thank you anyway."

I began to walk but my feet seemed heavy. I stopped at a kiosk to enquire about something. The lady there kept staring at me as she answered. It was a stare, except that I forgot what it might be for. It's only when I got home and looked in the mirror that I figured out it was my mouth, twisted a bit due to the numbness of the shot. (The irony is that even on normal days I have a slightly lopsided smile.)

Some power beyond me had decided to show me my vanity for what it was, ensuring that I left it behind as soon as it sneaked in, using a stranger as the medium.

But, to be fair, is this only about vanity? I know that I fear such temporary setbacks might become permeant. This is what paralysis looks like. I do not know what that woman suffered from, but as I walked and a car whooshed past, I began thinking whether she had met with an accident that affected her. Did she have brain clots? Had she been overly stressed?

Could she eat well? Did she attend to her needs herself? Did she choose that bright yellow dress on her own? Were those pumps she wore comfortable? Why didn't she colour-co-ordinate and wear brown ones that would go better with her clothes than the black she was wearing? (Yes, I did think of that too.)

As I write this the effect of the shot is still there, but I can feel it wearing out. In another hour I'll be back to normal. Except that I won't be. I'll know that my mouth will be silently mocking me for moment of superficiality.

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