Full Arms and Underarms

By Farha Hasan

Clad in hats, scarves and jackets, I had begun hibernating even before the first traces of snow hit the ground. It was during this deep slumber that I had failed to notice the jungle that had crept all over my body, threatening to reveal the wildness of my East Indian heritage. As my mind went to bed, the overgrowth on my body had reached new extremes, until I could no longer ignore the flora and fauna rearing its ugly head or the two caterpillars that had crept up and permanently perched themselves above my eyes. There was no denying it; it was time to make an appointment…

And so, on a chilly Monday evening, I drove up to the little house in the suburbs I knew so well. The side door was open, and I let myself in as I always do. Stepping inside the warm corridor, I caught snippets of conversation as someone flipped through the T.V. I took a deep breath, and my stomach growled as I inhaled the faint aroma of dinner that had been consumed hours ago. The narrow staircase led to the basement, revealing a room crammed with women impatiently flipping through Bollywood magazines. I groaned to myself; she was running late again!

Chandra, the queen of eyebrows, was behind a curtain pouring hot wax on the supple skin of her most recent victim — and there were three more waiting patiently. Mentally, I calculated how long it would take before I, too, would be lathered up with wax so hot it becomes a second skin the instant it touches your body. It would be at least another hour, I deduced. With nothing else to do, I found a comfy seat on the sofa and picked up a large photo album. Countless brides adorned in reds, golds and ambers lined its pages. Perfect replicas of the Goddess of Wealth and Beauty they stared at me with the same coquettish smile, their hands poised to reveal the intricate henna patterns that hid the initials of their betrothed. I recognized a few of them. It was a small town, and Chandra was one of those responsible for making it smaller. Her reputation for eyebrows was only preceded by that of her uncharacteristically long nose that poked in and out of people's business. Expertly, it sniffed out secrets, misinformation and half truths that she passed on to her clients like a virus.

As Chandra went to work behind the curtain, shaping eyebrows and excavating new gossip, I could tell she had caught the attention of the woman in the green J-Lo track suit and French manicure beside me. Her ears perked up, straining to hear the name Chandra had just revealed. Although she pretended not to listen, I wasn't buying it. I could tell she wasn't reading the Homemaker magazine in her lap. The recipe for ginger chicken would never get made…

So, the eyebrow woman's day went, uprooting hair and information clean off a body the way a shark goes through a bloody carcass: leg by leg, eyebrow by eyebrow until, finally, it was my turn to be stripped down and covered with wax so hot that it slithers on to your body like a snake — sinking its fangs into your skin, devouring all that is in its path. As Chandra warms up her brew, she asks if I want full arms and underarms — and alas, I do.