The first ray of sun touched Durga’s warm skin. Her eyes opened to see Raja sa’s face the first thing in the morning. He was fast asleep. His lips, so passionate just a few hours ago, rested quietly. Durga touched his moustache fondly, curving it upwards on the end. Seeing that her attempts failed each time, she giggled. Raja sa was still fast asleep. She stretched her arms and slipped out of the bed. Dressing herself, she kept looking at him, smiling to herself. Strange emotions filled her bosoms. She felt light and fresh like a newly bloomed daisy.
The sun rose in the sky and the dawn was at its full vigour. Durga stood beside the window watching the birds chirp, the flowers dance at the touch of the wind, and felt the warmth of this strangely intimate environment. The world seemed to get clearer as if it was veiled under a crimson mist she failed to notice until now. The colours were brighter, sunlight more vivid, and the fragrances, sweeter.
She turned to look at herself in the mirror. Her tousled hair was like wild black waves. Her lips were no more stained and all the kohl was smudged. Yet she had never felt so beautiful before. The choli, she observed was torn at places and the dupatta was crumbled as if a piece of paper. Yet, they carried the touch of Raja sa, was the witness to their fondling, smelled like him, therefore, were now dearly special to her.
She was lost in the reflections of the night that had just passed when a soft moan brought her back in the moment. He turned to lay on his back with his face facing her. His mouth twitched a little and fingers stretched gently before he finally opened his eyes to see her standing in front of her. He smiled dreamily as if he had not seen her, as if she was unreal and just a figment of his imagination. But there she was, Durga, standing by the window. The light fell on her delicate feminine silhouette as if giving it a shape. He could not have looked away now that he knew she stood there, very much real.
She was smiling with a joyous glint in her eyes. Her face shone, reflecting the story of the night they had spent together. Love and affection were, as if, marked in an indelible ink on her gestures and expressions. When she moved, she moved in love. When she touched him, she touched in love. When she lay her head to rest on his chest, it pronounced nothing but love. It wasn’t that Durga was the only woman Raja sa had ever made love to but with her it was different. Not so much in the lying, cuddling, fondling, caressing, or even in the final act of sex, but in the thoughts that flowed meanwhile.
He had often seen women as a mere personification of beauty – a means of visual and sensory pleasure – an object with animation so to say. He had caressed them before but as a gardener who caresses the flowers, appreciating them for their beauty merely. But with Durga, he couldn’t help but be aware of her emotions. She was gay and passionate. Her body moved in a rhythm as if on the notes of music that only she could hear. And rhythm, contrary to a beautiful object, cannot be possessed. It can only be felt, praised, or denounced at once. And Durga,could evidently, not be denounced at all.
Wrapped in white sheets, they stayed still in each other’s embrace for hours when finally there was a knock at the door.
“Maharani ji ka bulava hai hukum.”
Dropping the white sheets, they finally parted. One last look and he was gone as if he never were there.
“Chal kanchani, aa gayo tharo ghar.” announced the man with expressionless face and an orange paagad.
Durga stepped down the vehicle and walked towards the familiar kothi in front of her. She was home. She had bathed in the same tub as the previous evening. Sinduri had offered a more comfortable apparel which she gracefully accepted. Durga stood in front of the gate waiting in a white lehnga choli and matching laakh bangles.
She was about to knock again when she heard someone walking towards the door.
“Coming”, the person called out and the door flung open at once.
“Durga!” exclaimed Kaashi in a tone that was both excited and bitter. “You’re back.”
Durga smiled without answering.
Such cold greetings were expected of Kaashi. It had always been like this since they both were kids. Competitive and jealous, Kaashi had always shown contempt towards Durga. “I don’t know what people see in her! Her beauty and sweet talks only conceal her true behaviour which is nothing but wicked.” she had always claimed. Whether she herself believed in these statements or not, no one could ever tell. Not even Kaashi herself for that matter. She hated how Durga could make people fall in love with her immediately. “Wench” she would call her. “She loves attention so much, she would turn into a venal whore at the cling of a dime.” In truth, Kaashi was little when she fell in love with a boy who lived two plots away. They would play together until Durga was brought to the kothi. Attracted towards Durga’s beauty, the boy almost forgot Kaashi. Even when he would be with Kaashi, he would talk about Durga at length until Kaashi changed the topic. Her only friend was stolen by a girl she knew nothing about. Since then she has been loathing the girl.
“So how was it – your night at the palace?”
“It was… pleasant.”
“Who did you spend your first night with?”
“You might want to guess.”
“One of the Raja sa’s soldiers?”
“His cousin or distant relative?”
“Good God, did you then spend the night making friends with women in the harem?”
“Who was it then Durga? The suspense is starting to get on my nerves.”
“Raja sa.”, Durga could barely conceal the blush of her cheeks while Kaashi stood there staring at her and then burst into a fit of loud laughter.
“What?” Durga suddenly became aware of herself.
“Did they serve you liquor too or did you spend the night with your eyes closed and mindlessly? Have you had a dream so vivid you cannot differentiate it from reality?” she could barely speak with all the laughter.
“I am not lying or narrating a fictitious story, it is him who I spent the night with. Why would you say that?”
“Cause only special and extraordinary women who are fairer than the moon itself get to sleep with Raja sa, not a kaali-kalooti like you.” Kaashi held her stomach that was soaring with laughter. Her eyes stung with gay tears and failed to see the hurt that her impolite haasya had caused Durga, who quietly moved away wondering whether she was too ordinary and if he will ever think of her again.