by Carol Gino
He called her Rai-Rai, she called him Raj.
They lived in India during a particularly turbulent time in the class wars and though he had an important job and old money from his family, he never did feel secure.
She was the most precious thing he owned, and each morning as he left her at the front gate of their large lavishly furnished house, replete with all necessities, mammoth cupboards filled to bursting with delicacies, brass and glass tables covered by golden threaded fabric and smooth and glossy ivory china, he felt frightened.
He’d hired several male and female servants to keep her company and to entertain her. She played the sitar, took lessons from a master. Spent her days in large leather chairs surrounded by the finest books collected from around the world sent for monthly, chosen by himself for her education and her pleasure.
It wasn’t just that Rai Rai was beautiful, though she was in fact, with her charcoal slanted eyes semi hooded by her long dark lashes, but that her intelligence shone brightly through those eyes. She smiled enough to make any man happy, her small white teeth even as they peeked from behind her full crimson lips. She was a delicate creature in stature, but her personality and the spirit in which she lived her life overshadowed her size and made her seem somehow stately.
One morning Raj was dressed in white. Golden buttons on his shirt and jacket. His dark hair resisted the pomade he had applied and curled in arrogant wisps around his forehead and his collar. His dark mustache was wide enough to neatly cover the only scar on his dark silken body, a cut on his lip caused by a bite from a cur when he was very young. His fine straight nose gave him a regal air, but it was his light blue eyes contrasted against his dark skin that made him most striking. Of course the fact that he had no idea he was so handsome made him even more endearing.
Their love was a love from the Heavens. Both knew that from the earliest times. They met first when he was seven, she just five, and even then, once she smiled at him he was lost. He wanted to cry when the time came for him to leave her father’s house, but his own father promised that when he reached his sixteenth year, he could return to marry her. And from that day when he first met her, through all the years that followed, he counted the days on the wall of his room, under his bed, with a small sharp stick. He was obsessed by her, and she by him. And so both worked hard at other things to bring themselves momentary peace until they could again be together.
That morning Rai Rai was already in the sitting room meditating when Raj walked in. Dressed in a crimson sari, sitting cross legged on her mat, her eyes closed, her attention within, she could feel him enter the room and sit alongside her. The candles on the small altar before them flickered. At exactly the same moment Rai Rai opened her eyes, so did Raj, and in that instant each smiled at the other. Raj helped her up and they went into the dining room for breakfast.
He told her about what he expected of his day, she told him she was going to finish “The Brother’s Karamasov” and learn to play a new song for him. When she walked him to the gate, he told her as he had for every morning in the last eight years, “Don’t leave the house, my darling. Stay close. I’ll rush home to you as quickly as I’m able.”
Rai Rai smiled and bowed her veiled head and in a spontaneous gesture of childlike affection, she stood on her toes to kiss him on the cheek through her veil. Raj looked quickly toward the house to see if the servants had seen. Then he smiled at her. “Go play. Read,” he said, “When I come home we’ll make love.”
She stood at the gate and waited for him to disappear before she could turn back to the house. When she did, she walked silently past the greeting servants and locked herself in her room. She took off her veils and her clothes and lay naked on the bed in the hot April day dreaming of Raj and the love of the night before. She ran her hands over her smooth young skin. She stood then and looked in the one secret mirror he had hidden in the closet and saw herself. Thin, small firm breasts dark and upturned, thin almost boyish hips, long shapely legs. She looked pleased with herself when she dressed again to go downstairs to read in the library.
It was after the noon meal that she decided. She told the maid servant she had a headache and that she would go up to her room to rest. She insisted she not be awakened, that she would come out once she had slept and her headache was gone.
Then Rai Rai gave the woman a list of chores to be done by her and the other servants to ensure that they would be gone for a time. Once she heard the back door slam and knew the house was empty, she sneaked into the maid’s room and took one plain black sari and a thick black veil to take up to her room. She dressed quickly hiding her own clothes in the dark wooden trunk at the foot of her bed. Then she swiftly walked down the steps and out into the courtyard. No one around, she slipped out the front gate and walked around the house toward the field behind it.
She walked for almost an hour. The field was overgrown with tall grass and weeds and yet she felt as though she floated. The warm breeze blew the veil and she pulled it off her face allowing the wind to caress her cheeks.
Oh the glory of the sun and the wind on naked skin. She looked around the field from deep within its center and saw not one solitary soul. She felt a shiver down her back as she slowly began to unwrap the sari. She let it and the veil fall to the ground. Naked she let the sun and the wind play with the smooth young skin on her body. They with the fingers of the grass tickling her, she lay down on the carpet of green. She forced herself to stay awake for several minutes and then afraid she wouldn’t be able to for much longer, she quickly dressed and almost ran back to the house.
Rai Rai scaled the steps to her room two at a time and managed to turn the key in the lock of her bedroom door just as the back door opened and she heard the servants returning. Her cheeks were flushed from the sun and her own excitement and yet she felt guilty that she had disobeyed him. That she had such pleasure without him. That she had felt so free and warm and wonderful. Rai Rai promised herself that she would not sneak out again. She would not betray Raj again. And yet…over the next two years she broke that promise several more times.
On that last day she did the same as always. Dressed quickly in the thick black sari, covered her face with the heavy veil and slipped carefully out the gate when she was sure no one would see. But this time instead of walking around the house toward the field, she walked toward the town. She had wanted to see the bazaar for such a long time, wanted to go to the market like any servant woman and yet once when she asked Raj he looked so displeased she never asked again.
She hated to keep secrets from him, she hated when displeasure crossed his face and his worry gave him a look like the setting sun, but she hated as much being locked away like some precious creature protected but completely removed from life. She didn’t resent him for it, she knew it was his love for her and she treasured that. Looking at him still warmed her heart like watching the beautiful sunrise but this part of her that required freedom, that shouted from within that she must move into life, was stronger even than her love for him.
Once in the market, listening to the vendors squawking to the children playing, looking through the wares, she could hardly contain her excitement. She felt so alive, so elated, so free. Even the smells of the rotting food and old fish did not dampen her joy, nor did the feel of the crowds pushing against her.
Suddenly she saw some bright red pomegranates and her mouth dry from the heat and the excitement moved her toward the small stall. Their was a tall turbaned man standing there, not hawking, just waiting and so she approached. She asked him for three pomegranates. She seemed startled for a moment when she spoke and she was not sure that he understood.
She repeated what she wanted.
The man’s eyes shifted around the market quickly. “Seventeen Rupees,” he said quickly. Rai Rai reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold coin. She held it out toward the turbaned vendor.
The rest happened very quickly. From behind she felt someone grab her, and then felt a sharp slice across her throat. As she began to fall, someone tried to grab the coin but Rai Rai closed her hand around it. Tight. The market thieves used the same sharp knife to cut off her hand as they had to cut her throat. But by then she didn’t feel it. She was above them, watching the turbaned vendor trying to staunch the blood from her neck and shouting for help and he tried to stop the fast streaming blood from her arm as it pooled onto the dry desert floor in the crowded market.
Rai Rai stayed long enough to watch when Raj came, she heard him cry as he wrapped himself around her now almost dead body. “I told you not to go out,” he said. “I told you to stay at home. I tried to take care of you…”
And then she watched as he lifted his head to the sky and with raised and shaking fist shouted to the heaven’s, “You took my heart….!”
Rai Rai promised herself before she moved into the tunnel that they would not be separated, she would return to love him. They could not again be lovers for this time had been perfect…but she would return again to take care of him as he had taken care of her…..