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By Amit Sarkar
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Amit Sarkar
All rights reserved.
The advent of springtime in Galacian country and the beautiful city of Divol was gorgeous. The enchanting natural panorama and the entire atmosphere came alive with vernal splendor. Flowers in deep colors—crimson, yellow, violet, and blue—blossomed on the high trees, spraying the sky with floral tints that were dazzling in the bright sunlight. Streams of the Xian and its tributaries reflected the prismatic color of the flowers blooming on the trees on the banks. People in Galacia country went into an ecstasy of spring madness. Everywhere they danced to the beats of drums and the music of the flamenco guitar, castanets, and flutes. They sang both traditional and innovative folk songs with romantic, even erotic, contents. It was a time of rejoicing; the city held public festivities, and people made sweets and eats in every home. People in the countryside and towns put on their best dresses and danced and sang in euphoric frenzy. During this time, many young boys and girls, while dancing together, got engaged and wedded. It was indeed the greatest annual festival of the Galacian country.
The students of Divol College decided, as they did every year, to participate in the springtime celebration held at the general playground of the city of Divol, known as Juegos del Rey, or the King's Playground. Legend had it that the ruling kings of ancient Galacia had played polo on the large field that was now the venue of cultural shows and political rallies. The students erected a stage and a tarpaulin canopy for the audience to sit beneath while enjoying the show. Aaron requested that Mayu join the celebration and participate in dancing and singing. Aaron composed and conducted the music for her performances. She joined the rehearsal for the dance. She was no longer shy after participating in the college social, and she became friendly with Aaron. Because of him, she could be a radio artiste. She admired his talents and his humility.
One morning, before the spring festival, Mayu's classmate Benedicto, popularly known as Benito, brought a paper box to the college and offered it to Mayu. She wondered what could be in the box. Benito whispered with a smile, "A small gift you will need for the dance." Embarrassed, Mayu opened the box and found a beautiful silken dress for the dance. Mayu hesitated to accept the gift, but Benito asserted in a firm tone, "You cannot refuse me. You have to accept it."
Mayu had never expected such a commanding tone from Benito. She had a feeling that Benito was perhaps getting jealous of Aaron because she had not only learned Aaron's compositions but also was participating in the rehearsal conducted by him on his own composition of music. She thought that if she refused the gift, Benito might explode, as was his nature. She quietly took the box, wondering what she would tell her mother about the gift. Benito walked away as she stood holding the box containing the gift. After school that day, she carried the gift home and quietly placed it in a dresser drawer full of other clothes. Perhaps nobody had noticed, because nobody asked her about the box she had taken to her room. However, she felt uncomfortable about concealing Benito's expensive gift from her mother.
On the evening of the spring festival, Mayu took the dress to the function and put it on in the green room behind the stage. She danced together with others on the stage before a packed audience. Aaron was conducting the music. Mayu's parents attended the show to watch Mayu's dance. After her program was over, her parents left for home in an autorikshaw. The celebration was expected to be an all-night show. Mayu thought that she would go home after her part of the show was over. Most of the old people had already gone home or went home soon after midnight. Only young men and women stayed back to watch the show. Nonetheless, the crowd was still thick. After midnight, Mayu thought about finding an autorikshaw or a cab outside the crowd to go home. Backstage, Aaron and Mayu congratulated each other, and she took leave of Aaron to go home and came out from backstage to the rear side of the field. The area behind the stage was comparatively darker and quieter. Suddenly, she discovered Benito leaning against his motorbike. She couldn't avoid him. He gave her a smile and said, "You looked beautiful on the stage. I was admiring you from a distance." He asked her to get into the rear part of the seat of his motorbike as he started the vehicle. Mayu told him that her parents were in the crowd and that she had to find them and go home with them.
"Forget that," said Benito. "They have already left in an autorikshaw. I'll take you home. Please don't make any fuss here, before so many people. Just get on the seat. I saw your parents leave. They came only to see your dance and left the place after the dance was over. I don't think they asked you to wait for them. Did they?"
"Of course they didn't tell me to wait for them," replied Mayu.
She could not tell him another lie. It was true that her parents hadn't told her to wait for them so that they could go home together. She also thought it probable that they had left after her dance. Besides, she thought that Benito must have seen them going back in an autorikshaw, as he'd said. He wouldn't lie to me, she thought.
For a moment, Mayu didn't know what to do. Benito might create a scene if she refused. However, she was afraid that Benito might take advantage of the situation. She hesitated. She didn't know what to tell him. She only murmured, "I have to go home; I cannot go with you."
"I know what you're thinking," said Benito. "I will take you to no other place. I will only take you home. Trust me, and just get on the backseat." Like a spellbound being, Mayu climbed up onto the rear seat of the motorbike, not knowing if she was doing the right thing. As Benito's motorbike moved, she was scared she might fall off. She held him tightly from behind.
Benito did not betray Mayu's trust. He drove her to Trachy, and Mayu guided him to her home. Immediately after she got down from the motorbike, Benito once again said, "You look beautiful." Then he drove off before she could thank him or tell him anything else. He did not utter any other word. For a while, Mayu stood still on the dimly lit road, trying to comprehend Benito's exotic behavior. She had wanted to thank him for the ride and had desired a more cordial parting. Was he offended for some reason? But there was no reason for him to be offended, thought Mayu.
The main door of her home was bolted from inside. She knocked on the door. Her mother, Anulana, opened the door. She asked Mayu, "Did you come all alone in an autorikshaw? Did anyone escort you? We thought that the function would continue till morning and you would wait until the function was over and then, in the morning, come by bus. So we left after your dance was over. How did you come? We were anxious for you. I could not sleep. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine; I was dropped by one of my class friends," she replied.
"Did your friend drop you by an autorikshaw? I heard the sound of an autorikshaw, but I thought that it might not be you traveling at this hour of the night. I thought it was someone else—someone who came to another house in the neighborhood."
"No," replied Mayu, "I was dropped by my friend Benito on his motorbike."
"Motorbike! How could you manage to sit on the backseat of a motorbike?" asked her mother.
Mayu couldn't resist smiling at the manner in which her mother wondered at her motorbike ride. She mumbled, "Yeah, I could somehow manage."
"You never told me of your friend."
"He is my classmate, and there is nothing special about him to tell you," replied Mayu.
Anulana looked at her daughter intensely and thought that it was better to not ask her anything more about her classmate. She noticed the dress Mayu was wearing. She said to her daughter in a lighter vein, "This is a beautiful dress. Is this from the college? You did very well. You looked beautiful on the stage. We were feeling proud of you."
Mayu quietly said, "This dress is a gift from my friend Benito."
"It must be very expensive. How could your classmate present you with such a costly dress? And you accepted the gift from your classmate?" Mayu kept quiet. She had no answer to her mother's questions.
Anulana did not ask her anything more about the dress. Mayu could feel that her mother disapproved of her accepting the costly gift from her class friend and riding on his bike to come home. But there was no point provoking her by uttering any more words. Anulana asked her daughter if she would like to have something to eat. Mayu replied in the negative.
Before they parted to go to their respective rooms, Anulana, in a low but audible tone, said, "Please think this over. It may be better to return the dress tomorrow to your friend and not to ride on the backseat of his motorbike. You are now a grown-up girl; you should be able to take care of yourself."
As the mother and daughter spoke, Chiran, Mayu's father, was on the bed, pretending to be fast asleep. He didn't want to interfere in the conversation.
Mayu quietly went to her room and sat on the bed. An ocean of tears rolled down her cheeks. She silently sobbed, hiding her face against the pillow. She didn't know why she couldn't resist her tears. Were they due to Benito's behavior? Or her mother's suggestion to return the dress to Benito and not take rides on his motorbike? Or due to her father's silence even though he must have overheard her conversation with her mother?
The first ray of sunlight percolated into her room through the splits in the curtain of the closed window. She could guess that outside the window, the night was dawning into a bright morning. She had not changed her clothes. She had sobbed and then probably fallen asleep for a while. After some time, she got up from the bed and locked the partition door. She quietly undressed and changed into pajamas. Freshly washed pajamas gave her a soft, comfortable feeling. She unfastened her brassiere and felt free. She carefully folded the dress Benito had given her. She put it into a secured drawer. She went to the bathroom and washed her face to remove the makeup, and then turned the light off. She climbed in bed, drew the cotton sheet to cover her body, and closed her eyes, trying to sleep.
But she could not sleep. She was in a state of wakeful slumber. This was the first time her mother had asked her so many searching questions. She could feel that her anxious father had not been asleep and had overheard the conversation between the mother and daughter. Did her father approve of what her mother had told her? Mayu couldn't sleep. Her mother's words, though not strictly abusive, had implied suggestions of disapproval of her conduct. Mayu was conscious that she should not have accepted the dress as a gift from Benito. But how could she explain to her parents that she'd had to accept it under compelling circumstances—that refusal to accept it could have created a more difficult situation? Her mother's words and their implications wounded Mayu's self-respect. But how could she explain that she had wanted to accept neither his gift nor the ride on his motorbike? Everybody misunderstood her. A gush of tears again drenched her eyes. She could not resist the outburst and pressed her face against the pillow.
All sorts of thoughts ran through her mind. She thought of the dance she had performed at Aaron's instance. He was artistic and accommodating. He treated everyone kindly, as a patient teacher did; his love of music was pure and unquestionable. Benito was just the opposite. She didn't know what she would do with Benito. Sometimes he was good and helpful, but sometimes he behaved in an obstinate manner. Most times, he was helpful, but sometimes he behaved as if he had the right to be hard on her; he behaved like a warden. What is my relationship with him? She wondered. They had come to know each other as classmates, just as she knew her other classmates. But he had been imposing himself on her—at times, most unreasonably. Again, she thought that she could not help but like him for the sheer reason that he was so compassionate to her and always tried to help her. But why had he given her the expensive gift of the silken dress, knowing full well that she could not love him? She thought Benito was like a child—always guided by the primary impulses. She didn't know what to do with him. Lying sleepless on her bed, she continued to think about Benito. She recalled clasping his muscular body from behind on the motorbike. The body-to-body contact had been thrilling as she grasped him with mixed feelings of fear and anxiety. As the motorbike had tilted on turns, she had clasped him more tightly from behind, pressing against his back. She had liked his manly body odor mixed with the smell of the pomade or perfume he used. She had enjoyed the motorbike ride! She didn't want to think anymore. She felt ashamed at her own thought.
There was a knock at the door. She got up and opened the door. Anulana stood by the door with a cup of coffee in her hand. She said, "It's almost eleven o'clock. Your father has left for his office. Could you sleep for some time? Do you have college today?"
Mayu shook her head.
Mayu and her family lived in a residential cottage in the small railway town of Trachy, in the state of Galacia in Jejunam. The archipelago of Jejunam was a cluster of islands on the high seas. A mountainous plateau in eastern Jejunam, covered with thick forests, was connected by land with a fairly large country called Tapuania. From some unknown antiquity, aboriginal tribes inhabited Jejunam until the late fifteenth century, when Spanish, Dutch, and British adventurers attempted to enter the islands to explore their resources. But the Jejunamese tribes resisted the attempts. At last, in the seventeenth century, Spaniards invaded western Jejunam and established their posts in a couple of coastal villages. Within a short period, they converted the villages into a port city that, over the course of time, became the capital city of the Spanish colonial rule in Jejunam. The city of Kayate was named after one of the two villages in which the Spanish laid their first post. As Spanish colonial rule spread all over western Jejunam, the Spaniards built roads, buildings, and railways, modeled after the city of Madrid. They also built plazas, squares, gardens, and cathedrals using Spanish models. The Spanish language was introduced as the medium of education and administration. Educated classes of Jejunamese people adapted Spanish names, and many of the towns and villages were named after Spanish towns and cities. Although Christianity spread in Jejunam, a substantial number of people, especially in the villages, continued to adhere to their aboriginal religion, worshipping Lord Chiresota as the Messiah of God. Jejunam was dotted with the temples of Lord Chiresota and Catholic churches built by the Spaniards. Spanish names were used for Jejunamese men, places, and important buildings and plazas built by the colonialists. Spanish schools and colleges and the University of Kayate brought in waves of Western enlightenment to the remote islands of Jejunam. Educated classes of Jejunamese people were virtually imbued with the Spanish culture and way of life. There remained a wide gap between the colonialists and the indigenous people, especially of the villages, who could not go to school to be neo-Spanish and who maintained the traditional lifestyle of the islands. Nonetheless, it was hard to find a man without Spanish name. Women, however, mostly had local names.
Eastern Jejunam, or the Galacian country, however, continued to be under the rule of a powerful tribal monarchy that resisted Spanish expansion. It was only in the early nineteenth century that Spain could spread its suzerainty over eastern Jejunam. As the Spanish colonial rule was established in eastern Jejunam, many Spanish-educated people of western Jejunam were brought to eastern Jejunam as aids to Spanish rule. They were employed in various echelons of the colonial government as well as in trade, commerce, and education. The Spaniards established schools, colleges, and universities to educate the local people through the medium of the Spanish language. Simultaneously, they built roads, bridges, and buildings and laid rail lines to facilitate transportation. Eastern Jejunam, although it had no ports, was rich in natural resources, with spectacular scenic beauty of forests and beaches. Eastern Jejunam, thus, was a tourist attraction. The Spanish gave eastern Jejunam the name Galacia, after a district in Madrid.
Excerpted from Mayu by Amit Sarkar. Copyright © 2013 Amit Sarkar. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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