We were all sitting around after dinner, the remnants of the meal lying spread-eagled on the table. Some of us had moved over to the plush sofa on the balcony because she had. Our section was screened from the other diners by a half wall that cordoned off the table and the balcony giving us a sense of the exclusive. She was relaxed, her legs stretched in front of her. The lights from the city far below lighted her hair that shimmered around her with an ethereal glow. Who was she, really?
Of course we knew who she was. She was famous. But we had expected more of her from the shared meal but she had remained largely a listener and all of us had turned loquacious to cover up her silence.
She sat on the sofa delicate, elegant. Her dainty pedicured feet peeped from under the soft blood red silk. One by one we gathered around her in poses of fake repose attracted by those large dark eyes that held many worlds within. Maybe she would reveal a slight chink, a tear in that dignified yet charming armour she wore at all times. We waited for the crack so we could widen and slide in.
It happened quite suddenly. Had it been a film, the music director would not have lost the opportunity for some energetic rousing bowing by the violins. He came on to the balcony and sat down on a high stool he had pulled over from the side. He was not part of our group. Nor had we seen him earlier. She was lost in a reverie and had not noticed the man. He sat and stared at her with quiet menace until she looked up. If there was recognition in those dark eyes, she did not let us see it.
“Sorry for intruding,” he said to us in general. He had a light airy voice. “but I would like to speak to my friend … just share a memory … a fond recollection.”
Some of us nodded but stopped as soon as we realised how absurd the nodding seemed.
“One can’t miss your face these days even if one wants to. It’s everywhere … wow … The country girl has made it big. I just thought I should share a rather beautiful memory I have of you,” the man continued.
His voice slid along the balcony enveloping us all in its shimmering writhing coils. We couldn’t speak. All that chatter over dinner had drained us dumb.
He went on.
“It was the night after the festival … beautiful, moonlit … The colourful streamers were still there fluttering in the soft breeze. The sand looked golden and the shrubs that stood at intervals in the expanse looked like guards with dreadlocks. From behind one, I saw out on the open sand in the clear moonlight a shameless figure rise and fall, rise and fall in sluttish delight. But I kept it a secret … all these years … not wanting to wound … to save reputations … for I knew the man beneath.”
We looked into the lovely face. The dark eyes betrayed no fear. Was this the chink? The tear? Was she great …? Who was the man beneath?
We were roused from our dreams by her voice as familiar and crystalline as we knew it; each word a shot of molten silver.
“I have a memory too. And because you’ve been generous I too feel like a share. It was the night after the festival and the silvery sand was strewn with the remains of merriment. Hiding behind a bush I saw in the moonlight a man astride another and an oar rise and fall, rise and fall in maniacal delight. I wanted to scream but it got caught in my throat. I hid a fratricide.”
She was breathing hard now and her eyes flashed bolts of lightning. The man cowered.
“It’s still there, the scream, caught in my throat with a question. Had I loved the right man?”
Her voice had lost its silvery sharpness. It was now mellow with pain. The word hung in the air. Fratricide!
Our tongues lolled out, our noses sniffed the air, we bared our fangs. Fratricide! Our digging instincts were aroused. We no longer cared for crumbs from the goddess.
The man slunk away, whimpering.
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