Tell Tale

The rooms lit up in purple with a splash of white from the worded light telling you where you are. There are posters of the 70s, The Beatles, and lyrics of songs you’d look up on your way back home. The wall of mirrors on the left corner would add space to the studio but the illusion is broken with frames in matte bronze, brown and unfitting geometric shapes. You can smell the leather from the couches huddled in the centre with sufficient cushions in different textures of white and, cream.

There are just five of us here – four employees and, one customer. I’d come unannounced, without taking an appointment hoping that if I showed up before they had even opened would allow me to squeeze into the schedule before it started. Convincing them wasn’t rocket science; every business always wants more business. Plus, no one turns down the first customer in this part of the world. Twenty minutes later, I was prepped and, comfortably lying down on the work-chair with my t-shirt rolled up and tucked under my bra. The girl with chestnut at the tips of her bob-cut smiled at me as she got ready to start working.

“Ready?”

“Yes.”

She asked me to take deep breaths as she dipped the needle in ink darker than a moonless midnight. She brought the needle to the apex of my ribcage. Her eyes were a very clear brown. As I felt the first prick, I wondered if this was a mistake and, if it would be better to keep quiet or to converse with her while she pricked art at the centre of my chest, simultaneously. I felt the fourth prick before either of my thoughts finished. She asked me if I felt any pain and I realized that I hadn’t paid attention to that yet. But after two pricks of thought, I concluded I didn’t feel this pain. I decided to make conversation about her work to test the waters of her concentration. She responded with brief answers before elaborating and telling me stories beyond answers to my questions till it was just her telling stories. She told me how the first one she got was when she was twenty-two and, how she’d cried during the process in pain and after the process in happiness. She raised her left wrist to show me “Hope;” tattooed straight out of a typewriter. She told me she got it three years ago; three years after she’d entered this business. I asked her what made her wait three years. She told me about the number of customers who came for cover-up tattoos as an attempt to avoid the process of removal.

“My tattoo should grow with me in meaning – either as a memory or as a lesson.”

She asked me the story of mine. I told her this was the fifth time I’d come to a tattoo parlour and the first time I’d entered it. I’d made matching tattoo plans with meaningful people but never managed to go through with it. I hadn’t slept for two nights when I drew the design she was currently pricking into me. It had elements I’d carried from my childhood into my youth in a box of memories and reminders. And it had taken me another two nights of analyzing before deciding to end my virginity by tossing a coin. I didn’t tell her that I’d taken her reaction to the design as my final validation.

Three hours of art and conversation later, she told me it was done. The studio had six employees and ten customers now. I walked over to the wall of mirrors and took a deep breath before looking at the reflection of my torso. There it was, a perfect replica of my sketch, falling perfectly over my ribs. I traced my fingers lightly over it, along the feathers and the arrows. This was no mistake. I beamed at her as I admired her craftsmanship a while longer.

Twenty minutes later, I walked out with my t-shirt tucked in loosely at the waistband of my jeans, and a little story that I’d written over the years, drawn into my skin.

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