Softly, I walked out to meet him.
They say that I walked with a sway, my hips making snake shapes in the air. My breasts tight and high, shamefully unconcealed. My eyes red with lust. My hair unbound. What they don’t say, or don’t wish to see, is that I always walked like this. I have always looked like this.
Did he recognise me?
Older now, creases pressed into the corners of his long, lotus-petal shaped eyes, shadows of deprivation in the hollows of his dark body; so dark that they call him blue. I was older too, and I felt riper. I was queen of this forest now. My brother had finally allowed me to rule it on my own. I understood the people who lived there, passed through there, even hid there. Sages, demons, demigods, yakshas, apsaras. I was curious about them; their ways, their ideas. Their loves. Their desires.
‘You spy on them, Surpanaka?’ Ravana looked a little disgusted when I told him.
I raised my eyebrows. ‘The only way to learn about the people we rule, brother, is to watch them when they don’t know we’re looking. I mean them no harm.’
If I hadn’t started the spying as a game, as a distraction from boredom, a distraction from being courted by Lanka men, demons whom I had known from a child, whose philosophies and conversations I had learned by heart, I would never have found him.
I was young, but he looked young, younger than his younger brother. I watched them from behind a tree with silken skin, my body blending into its grey-purple. They were the students of the sage Visvamitra, and served him carefully, cooking his food with their delicate hands, pressing his feet when he lay down to sleep. The younger brother offered to keep watch first – actually, demanded it, with the eagerness of jumping palace pets, puppies with gold collars. My quarry rolled his eyes, but I could see he enjoyed being trainer. So did I.
I returned to my mansion in the forest and slept, imagining him beside me. Such a different kind of body – slender and broad-hipped, with hair that was smooth, free from the unruliness that plagued our people’s hair. Don’t imagine, though, that the unruliness within, that desire that stalks the blood, was mine alone. I know you have felt it. I know he had felt it. Perhaps, as I lay there, she felt it as well, sleeping on her virtuous bed, in her city to the north.
We had already received word that the brothers were returning. She came with them, the woman who had already tasted, several times over, the pleasures I had only dreamed of sharing with him. The whole of the south was mourning their exile, brought about by a stepmother’s vengeance, a woman’s whim. Toppling a king’s reputation, tattering the hopes of a dynasty.
‘Winning power for her own son by displacing the son of her co-wife,’ Ravana had shrugged.
So now I watched him again, and felt my body tingle, for I was ready at last to make him my own. He sat with his princess in the shade, caressing her hair, eyes distant. She shifted uncomfortably, aware that they had an audience: the younger brother, a more muscular, intent guard dog now, perhaps beyond training. And there was me too – did she sense me? But I had no fear, only a need to show myself to him. One thing I noticed though. Before, they had held only bows. Now, they had daggers tucked into their waistbands.
And still I walked out, soft and sure, from behind the tree. She noticed me first. Her eyes widened. I like to think it was with envy; for you see, I walked alone, while she would never be allowed to do so.
The guard dog brother called his name, sharp, alarmed, waiting for orders. And finally, finally, finally I looked at him and he looked back. Our gazes met under the beat of the sun, and the heat of it trickled down my stomach.
I left bloodstains in the grass as I walked home.
I didn’t look back.
Image: Stefan Steinbauer
Aparna Ananthuni is writer and illustrator from Melbourne who is working on her first novel. She currently writes for Indian Link newspaper, and her fiction and illustration work has been published on the Story City app, as part of Jaipur Literature Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival 2017. She is also the illustrator for Poetry Corners, a book of migrant women’s poetry. Her other interests include South Indian classical music and dance, and South Asian women’s literature. Her work can be found at aparnaananthuni.com.