"Costliest Smile" by Zuha Belgaumi (guest author)

Friends, we continue our exploration of Wild Joy today with a story by guest author Zuha Belgaumi. "Costliest Smile" speaks of a woman chasing her dream despite all obstacles in her way. You'll love the ending! Enjoy. --Amanda


Costliest Smile
by Zuha Belgaumi

It was 8:00 PM and the shops were buzzing with business. People walked around, looking for snacks and cheap wine.

I was standing at the staircase leading to a bar, staring at the wine bottles. My face was covered with a shawl, except for the eyes that had black goggles covering them. In our orthodox society, where a girl is restricted to even dream about wine, here I was standing just in front of it, hiding my identity behind a shawl.

I watched people purchase wine bottles. The bartender--busy like a bee. I had to wait and I felt it dragged to infinity. Finally, when he was not so busy, he glanced at me. I looked left, I looked right, just to be sure no one I know was around, and I dashed indoors.

The moment I stepped in, I brushed my nose with my index finger. I could only smell rotten fruits. My stomach grumbled and it outset a feeling of nausea. The dim red and blue lights fell on the faces, making it difficult to identify people. A few looked at me, dumbstruck. Only then I realized this was a no-entry zone for women.

. . . I realized this was a no-entry zone for women.

I pointed at a particular bottle in the shelf and asked, “What’s its price?"

The person behind the counter took a cursory look at me and asked, "How old are you? Do you have any identity proof?"

I took out my driving license and showed it to him.

"Twelve thousand, five hundred, and fifty-one rupees," he said, taking out the bottle from the shelf.

My excitement nosedived and my eyes popped out. I knew it would cost me dear, but not this much! I reluctantly said, "No, it is too costly."

"Madam, it's a vintage wine of 1953. It is worth the money."

"It's manufactured in 1953?" I asked, shocked. "I do not need old stock. Do you have anything fresh?"

He looked at me, button eyed. Without uttering a single word, he turned towards the shelf, took out another small bottle and, placing it on the table, he said, "One thousand, two hundred rupees."

"No, I want that only," I said, pointing towards the vintage wine bottle. My heart asked, is it necessary? I put my heart's feelings aside and handed him my debit card. He swiped, and my heart skipped couple of beats. Was it required to spend half of my salary? Yes, it was!

I convinced my heart, saying, it is once in a lifetime. People drink to forget a mourning heart; even I want to forget how spendthrift I was for fulfilling my dream.

I decided to start here and finish it here, before someone noticed me. I requested the person at the counter to open the seal.

"Madam, please be seated indoors. We will serve you the same wine in glasses."

"No, I am fine with the bottle."

My reply made him believe that I was not an amateur at drinking. He nodded, opened the seal, and handed the bottle back to me.

Excited, I jumped with the bottle in my hand. My heart was pounding and I was never so happy before. It looked beautiful in my hand. I opened it and turned it upside down. The wine fell to the ground. As the bottle became empty, my joy knew no bounds.

. . . my joy knew no bounds.

In the meantime I heard, "Madam, madam, wait." The bartender came running towards me and asked in anger, “What have you done?" His tone was nothing less than a duty bound army officer court-martialing his cadet. The bottle was completely empty now. He kept both his hands on his head and squatted down. He touched the place where the wine had fallen, and raised his head to look towards me. His look was that of a butcher waiting to slaughter a chicken. I turned my back to him, wiped the bottle with my shawl, kissed it, and kept it in my bag.

To my surprise, I saw a group of people gathered around me, murmuring in hushed whispers. Almost everyone was smiling at me. I was their center of attraction. Did I commit a crime?

At home, I took out the bottle and admired the complex engravings on it. Wow! Such a cute one, I said. I kissed it again and I kept the bottle in the balcony, where it gave company to a dozen other exquisite bottles. I filled it with water, and planted a twig of money plant in it.

This was the cutest bottle in my collection. I had an eye on it for a very long time. My wild joy of collecting engraved glass bottles made a big hole of twelve thousand rupees in my wallet.

Every day I smile looking at it. Twelve thousand rupees for the smile!  I agree, it is the costliest smile! But, a smile is priceless, they say!

Zuha is a software professional from Bellary, Karnataka, India. Her hobby is writing. She likes to interpret the logos and the cover page of the novels. Her favorite author is Erle Stanley Gardner. Find her blog here.

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