Mehreen Ahmed

Dappled Lights

Two women sat on the brink of a Long River at sunset. One had a salt and pepper mane, the other a shaved head. The salt and pepper haired woman held a red lantern. She pressed her lips until her cheeks dimpled. Her pupils darted over the rippled waves. Her eyes appeared dull and teary, eye bags sagged underneath.

She had a bulging pouch on her lap tied up in double knots to its middle top. The first two knots were tied out of two ends of a square loincloth forming rectangles; the remaining end rectangles of the cloth were knotted over the first knots.

Boats arrived and left. She didn’t get on in any of them. She yawned, but she was lucid as she communicated with the shaved head. The shaved head woman nodded. Salt and pepper took out a water bottle from her pouch, and offered it to her. Leaning against the great banyan, she then spaced out.

A sprightly teenager, she was a dancer in the academy of the fine arts. Her dance steps were as nuanced, as she was poised. The centre stage scented the lily perfume she wore in rich profusion. Her mane was dense monsoon rain, long and flowing down her slender waist.

Her fame spread a fair bit into the wen. That people could smell her lily odoured body, even as they breathed, heard her anklets ring, and felt her delicate moves when they dreamed. Whom she allowed to be close, and whom she didn’t, all hinged on her mood.

A certain man then came along one evening, she was dancing on the floor, the man entered and unlike all other men, boldly crossed the floor and held her hands. He too began to dance with her following her intricate choreograph.

Naive as he was, she took it upon herself to teach him all; taught him how to dance, forever they shall dance. In her beating heart, dance reigned supreme; it melted any walls. They stepped outside the dance court into The Garden of Love and Delight. Entwined like vines, they danced as she unlocked the secrets of her arts to him; the dance which had been locked in her heart. This garden was their shrine.

She felt replete, she realised she had been incomplete. By far, her reality had been a confusing blur until now, a deficiency which had barred truth from entering, had it not been for him. The duo danced in the dappled lights in The Garden of Love and Delight; within the shrubbery, boughs and the vines; broad, aged leaves of the banyan trees, whose twisted knots made for a sturdier dancing plain. The duo danced till the glowing lights of the Sirius, the bright Dog Star, illuminated the night sky.

One night, however, since day and night were equal to the dancers, who had lost count of time through countless encounters, without tomorrows or yesterdays or todays anytime, one day she made herself unavailable for the schooling of this young man.

She neither appeared in the court, nor into the garden, but made him wait until he departed, despondent without understanding what had happened to her overnight, had she been in an accident? Looming dark clouds gathered in the ceaseless sky; a storm was coming on; thunder cracked the firmament.


Still, he hadn’t given up hope; the young man had a dull thought; perhaps she hadn’t come because she couldn’t. Perhaps, she got held up in the storm, which was about to start soon. As the day progressed, all dreary and white, wherever she was, his groins groaned, as did all of his body parts ache, including his soul.

In the thick of it, the plot thickened. At midnight through many harrowing plights, the young man came and went away in vain as the mistress never came, such a shame that she was not even in his dream. Until now, he was able to remain steadfast, not any more. His pain grew, no more than he was restive. This academy had become a barren place.

It soon came to pass that the mistress had disappeared without a trace, as though she had dissipated. She wasn’t seen on the dance floor any more, when he’d peeked through the open door one night, there was another young dancer, who looked at him through the corner of her keen kohl eyes. He wasn’t mesmerised.

Enticing as she was, when her seductive glances failed, he wondered why this had happened. What had happened to the pleasures of his flesh, why could he not be aroused by this new enchantress? She approached him in person and took his hands in hers.

She led him into her own bed-chamber of brick and mortar, away from the besotted Garden of Love and Delight. The severance from his own mistress formed shards of glass bruise, made this a cold place; a cold case; walls were closing in; he felt claustrophobic; it betrayed an emotion. Here, Kohl tried to pick up the pieces, to piece him in.

Why was it futile? Why had she failed? Kohl asked. Was she any less in the art? He returned a smile and said he needed to retune himself to the new tunes, readjust his moves, if only he could, none of it was her fault. She must dance along with or without him.

A moment of self-realisation, his own mistress had once taught him, only too perfectly in tune with nature that his flesh had absorbed it all. Kohl looked at him, bemused, what school of philosophy was he in? Why was his young heart so hard like the chhurpi aged cheese?

She understood nothing of it, and retreated into her chamber with a frown of reproach which the young man saw but scratched his beard to leave her to her flutters and moans. He had embarked on a different path to seek out his elusive mistress; smitten by her, he would wait it out; a lifetime of waiting, maybe, he resolved. Maybe, it was all his fault; a scathed self-criticism unveiled a deluded notion.

Godot had waited. He did too, like him he waited for the phantom, the woman who never returned. Who owed it to him, to own up for what she did, who vowed under a white noon moon, never to leave any time soon. Why had she become a Godot phantom? Or Lilith, perhaps? He, a sea-farer, was going to return to the seas after all, at some turning point of the waves, or travel to another port where he would dock his ship, hence Lilith decided to rebel and leave?

Albeit, the dance was flash; in a flash, it had fleshed out onto the esoteric realm. Such was the nature of their dance—in the moment, it had mediated through the body and reached a zenith into the souls; her anklet bells chimed an undying finesse.

The body and the soul went hand in hand, philosophy of religion, as Aristotle held. In its intrinsic oneness, the body couldn’t function without its soul. Bereaved, his own soul had broken down, starved, long gone. The academy had mirrored such flashes of self-realisations, that these dances were well beyond the physical expressions.


The beaches were lonely, oyster shells lay bare, amassed and garnered strength along the coastline like a garland of growing void etched in his heart. He could have had anyone. Sailors had a wife at every port, the cliché goes.

Tides were tied with time. Just as tired, the ship was bound to their flips of tiered motions. He used this time well. He used the seas to look for the phantom, and to try to turn the tides around. But glad tidings awaited still, scarce, he braced himself for the worst as he continued to search. Was she just plainly fanciful, chiding, or seriously dancing with him? His heart was brimming with many questions, and with many quiet expectations.

Still, she was close by, her breathing was intense upon him, the winds sprayed the sultry smell of the sea; swelling waves crept in and cringed out on the ocean shore, he heard her lulling a moonlight lore, as though, she still protected him and tried to preserve this rare dance of sanctity. Or was it all a fallacy?

He persevered. It was a virtue. Was she even beautiful? While they were engaged in the dance, he had not noticed enough to see through. He beheld beauty when he saw her chiselled, dimpled cheeks framed within the delicate bones of her face. Her face shone every time he closed his eyes now, her sighs into his ears. He danced a tango with her. He smelt her scents.

Her crooked dance fingers dug into the porous skin of his neck, beauty was only skin-deep, her allure, and her unfailing wisdom cut the insides of his turgid heart, he heard her sweet callings, her raw moans he heard them as fresh as yesterday, to which he responded with a slight, ‘oou?’Until his hammock swung in the misty ocean brew.


There was a clue. Words had speared through the wild night why the enchantress had disappeared; he was spared, drunk in sorrow they hadn’t caught his ears. He thought he was all ears. An unnamed merchant had asked her favours to teach him about the art, who wanted her as a flavour of the month to which she had refused, because she already had a partner, the one she had favoured.

But the merchant was livid. He made an extraordinary threat. He strode across the dance floor and ordained that he would behead her if she continued in The Garden of Love and Delight with another man; that he would behead the man too. She wouldn’t fawn him, but fled like one to lie still into the dark so she couldn’t be found. She escaped to the southern fringe of the city by the Long River to live in solitude, with her mother who had enrolled her here as a child to learn the ropes, and the arts.

She wasn’t just a nameless educator. She had a name that she went by in the academy. Her name was Nirmala. The young man’s name was Siddhartha. She didn’t have the courage to tell him, because she feared the wealthy merchant, a powerful man, would come after him and have them both beheaded. Instead, Nirmala started a calm life in hiding with her mother. But every morning she walked up to the river and moped for Siddhartha, hoped for a reunion, in a new version.

Her mother was blind. But a seer in blindness, she noted that a page had been turned in her daughter’s life. A flower had blossomed in her heart as she doted on a man. She felt her profound sorrow. One day, however, she heard Nirmala throwing up. She perceived the nature of the malady for it was a sweet love child she carried. With little to eat, her mother asked Nirmala to find work for the sake of the child, at least.

Nirmala wasn’t showing at that stage. She found work on a farm, not too far from where they had lived. This farm grew poppies, mace and nutmeg where Nirmala’s job was to crush the mace and the nutmeg. The resin from the nutmeg often clouded her breathing space. The poisonous powder gave her dizzy spells.

Weeks of hard toil at grinding, inhaling the nutty, mace powder in a mortar, one evening before sun-set Nirmala lost consciousness. An on-duty supervisor tried to wake her up but she couldn’t, so the employer had to be notified, who wrote back giving instructions of her sack. His reasons were too simplistic, that she was unfit for work. Why else would she faint?

But she recovered. Nirmala found herself out of a job. Determined to get her job back, she wanted to meet the big boss. Here was a situation. Unfair, it sure was to relieve her from her duties. She asked the supervisor to arrange a meeting. After much deliberation she agreed, and a meeting date was fixed on the Monday week.

This day, Nirmala decided to dress to kill. She wore her best costume and jewelry to impress him. She knew this would work. She was exceptional. However, she didn’t know who her boss was. She put on her magic lily perfume which her mother could smell and hear the anklet bells; she feared the worst. She fumbled through the door to ask.

Nirmala sprung a surprise and told her what had happened at work. That she was meeting the big boss to get her job back.Which was why she was dressing up to conceal her pregnancy. However, her mother told her that this wouldn’t fare well. With a sense of foreboding, she forbade her to meet him but to look for work in another place.

Work was hard to find, and being a court dancer, Nirmala had even fewer options. Looking at herself today, she knew that her job was going to be reinstated. She was tempting fate. Her mother panicked and advised Nirmala against it. But she paid no heed. Clad in gold jewely she had from her dancing days, she looked stunning like she always did, when men lay at her feet.

She had also tucked something else in her clothing. Nirmala hid a small kukri, inside the nivi, the top fold of her body, should the boss’s behaviour turn sour and unworthy. She hoped for the best outcome although she didn’t know his true intent. Who was he anyway? She never met him, just the supervisors these fine days over at her job stay. Mace powder was sprayed in the air from grinding, she hadn’t strayed, she still had some self-respect left.

She kissed her mother’s forehead, and asked her to kiss her back on her dimples. Nirmala took a deep breath and stepped outside into the open. She walked towards the mace farm in her white loincloth. A single garb costume, wrapped around her shoulders and waist and extended around her two legs, was belted with a gold waistband across her underbelly of an exposed satiny midriff.

On her way, she plucked a fragile white lily from a roadside tree, and slipped it into the masses of her tightly plaited tressy. Her fair skin looked translucent, her classical nose dazzled a diamond stud; gold conch-shell for earrings, matched the golden anklets and the intricate bracelets, the gold band around her forehead. What people wouldn’t pay, and pray to be with her? She fell prey to a vile merchant’s foul play.

He played her. But she had her nose in the air, she proceeded towards the farm, and stepped up as she neared it. She swaggered as she paced. Had she not fainted, she would have made it to the top? Faint-hearted she was not. If she made it as an enchantress in her court, then she could make it here too, as priestess of nutmeg crushing load. This was a different kind of a dance to switch into, this new dance mode.

Her life went awry. Siddhartha’s child made her wary. She felt weary. He was chasms away, and she couldn’t dance in her court, she was never a trout, a potent cocktail mix of the merchant’s threat pulled her into jeopardy—The Garden of Love and Delight, once full of unspoken pledge had become a place of discontent.


One step at a time. Her nimble feet wore the red alta dye. She proceeded towards the gated mansion where her employer waited to meet her this clear day. A slight autumnal breeze murmured a tune and blew some curly locks across her fine facial bones, the guards opened the gates. She entered and walked along the way, such a long walk, where his mansion stood at the end of this peat path.

A maid let her in through solid mahogany doors. She led her down a mosaic corridor, dimly lit into a room of many ornamental sofas and high-backed chairs where yet another door, a door within a door, within a door bridged this long wormhole of a corridor.

At last, the last door opened, she stood on its precipice, and saw a man standing several steps below, a wine glass in hand. She was ushered in by the maid; the maid left rapidly; she was hemmed in on all sides, all doors slammed. She climbed down the long staircase, shortly.

He turned around. She was astounded by whom she saw, too late. Who else, but the formidable merchant, who had caused her so much distress. She stood rooted to the floor petrified in her mind and banged her head hundred times for not listening to her mother who had cautioned her. She tried to turn around to flee.

Fight or flight. The villain squinted and gasped, “You? Is this really who I think it is?” He strode towards her, and looked straight into her long lashed eyes. He smiled with a twinkle of victory in his own, while beads of sweat emerged on her upper lips, he slid a finger down her bare shoulders. His grasping ten, dug into her velvet arms; he pulled her closer while she trembled with fear.

Of course, he was willing to give her a job, but not the job of a crusher of the nutmeg and the mace, but to fan a fantasy he had been gnawing at all along, she’d gone missing. Now she was here, right under his nose with all the doors closed.

The thought of the child knocked her back to cognisance. Transience of all things on earth as her dance with Siddhartha, but, but meaningful. She thought of it, as she fought her angry tears for not listening to her seer mother. She knew she had the kukri, but her reason prevailed. That killing this man would only bring more danger, inevitable jail, possibly the gallows. She tried to negotiate.

“Could I have my old job back, please?”
Even she thought she sounded naive.
He laughed. “What I’m about to offer you is much, much worthy of you? All this? All this could be yours if you taught me to dance, and made me slave and student to your nuance.”
“I could do this no more than you could grind your own mace. I’m with child,” she said.
“I remember why you shunned me at the academy. I had vowed to behead you if you didn’t submit.”
“I beg you, I still can’t, I carry a baby inside of me.”
“Then I shall imprison you at once, I don’t care about the baby you carry in that impure womb of yours.”

No more than a sugar daddy, that was his proposed offer? Her hand fumbled through the folds of her clothing as it reached down for the kukri, she took it out and lunged straight into his eyes in frenzy, she punctured one of his eyeballs, until the man’s vision blurred, he screamed in agony. A pool of blood was formed on the mosaic floor behind all the sound proof doors.

Done. Blood was on her hands too, she hid the kukri under her layered clothing, running up the stairs, flung open the doors, one after another running along the corridor. None but his own doing, she staggered and stumbled, and made her way through this fluid wormhole. Back on the peat path, the guards were having tea and a few chats, while she unlatched a small gate, they didn’t notice, she slipped through it.


She entered her hut; she was befuddled. She asked her mother to pack a cotton pouch because they would have to leave as soon as possible. Thankfully, the merchant was blind only in the one eye; he had not died. But the sore eye was enough to pour sour into their lives.

The situation was grave; it behooved her to save this baby and her mother. This merchant whose long hands, she feared, could grab her from any four corners of the world, but she had to take her chances and had taken a bold step forward.

She led her mother to the edge of the Long River. Beneath a yellow bindi sky, they waited for a boat. In this short while, they could hear scuffles behind a tree. The full moon shed some lights on men who entered the empty hut shell. Darkness wrapped Nirmala and her mother, who lay low in the dirt path of the bank masking themselves with soft mud in the semblance of a camouflage.

The men came as far as the river bank, they even looked down, but all they could see was mud and a murky water body stretched far out with the moon beam frolicking. Nirmala and her mother were right there, under the feet of those men, hiding down in a black hole as it were. The fair enchantress was covered in muck, as her mother to whom the night’s darkness meant nothing much, however, who saw this coming all along; her undiminished sight.

A boat came by like an apparition through the dark, a skeletal boatman boned at the helm. He took them on board and oared away. He rowed his boat until the morning’s first dew dropped on the grass blades. While the merchant was ramping up violence, setting the hut ablaze, the smoke was high up in the sky. The last thing they viewed, they knew it had to be their own hut.

By now, a banyan tree was sighted along the Long River, where the boatman oared them up to the shore, secured the boat for his passengers to get off, still covered in the dirt, he couldn’t see their faces at all on which the mud had dried up, they jumped off the boat with a thud, the maiden took her ring off and paid the boatman, who was too happy to receive real gold; the treat was rare.

On the shore, the mother and the daughter treaded slow, they knew not where to go, so they walked on till they found a shack where some tea was brewing in a pot, a tea boy stood with a tall and lanky man. When they approached them, the boy was frightened to see their faces and bodies well covered in cracky mud.

The mother and the daughter needed to rest, however, this was no rest place. The man offered to take them to his house which was close by so they could wash-up and rest and be fed, from here they could decide their journey’s next leg. He asked them to wash in the river, return, while he prepared breakfast.

Nirmala washed her mother first, then herself she took all her jewelry off, one after another and put them in the cotton pouch which carried their clothes and some bric-à-brac, her mother told her to give the man some jewelry in lieu of his kindness if he would let them stay, as he didn’t seem to have a family of his own, they could be his family, cook and clean for him, while Nirmala had her baby.

The man heard the unbridged tale of the vile merchant’s chants. It was a grisly story of terror and of tragedy. He offered them solace and his home; he felt nothing but sorrow for them. Such an offer they also couldn’t turn down. On life’s unpredictability, Nirmala felt her luck was turning, her baby was growing through all trimesters.

One August evening, as they had just sat down to have dinner, she went into labour. The man rushed out to find his neighbour, whose midwifery delivered a strong baby boy. The man told his neighbours that the baby’s father had passed away, she was his niece, her mother, a step-sister had come to take refuge here because of misfortunes elsewhere. Their hut had burned down. That plausible story stuck.

More misfortunes lay in the offing, yet. Nirmala’s beauty could not be blighted. The neighbourhood men ogled at her, whetting a desire. She knew they had an appetite for her. Too afraid, she was clueless as to how to shew them; as if they were crows, as if they were going to go away. Since no one aided, these men inched in closer, but she also had a baby, and was a lactating mother.

One day, a young man proposed to her that he wanted to marry her, but, without the baby, her blind mother could raise it in this very house. Nirmala found his proposal outrageous. She said, ‘no,’ straightaway. The man went away seething in anger but hatched a terrible plan. He kidnapped the baby from the napping mother in the fading light on an August day.

When she woke up, she couldn’t find her baby anywhere. Madly, looking for him everywhere, mostly along the riverside, she intuited, until she heard a cry which was coming from a boat nearby. Nirmala followed the cry and ran to the boat; she found her child in another woman’s lap, who had bought the baby from a kidnapper’s sack.

‘My baby is not for sale,’ she screamed and she snatched it from her lap. In return, she gave the woman her only diamond nose-stud, far more expensive than money could buy. The woman grabbed it and returned the baby. Nirmala’s joy was boundless. Life’s ever bumpy roads, she set foot in a crossroads, and wondered which way her Siddhartha went.

The Long River laid many dead bodies. Her baby’s kidnapper was also one amongst them. Who killed him, at what cause was unknown, but the police search was on as they marched into every home. This created an impediment for all other men, Nirmala’s suitors, who were frightened and did not dare leave their dens.

With each day, her burning beauty slowly waned; she was aging and aging fast. The boy was growing up, looking more and more like Siddhartha. The enchantress, once renowned for her performance, on whom countless doted, bestowed honour, while she only melded with one. Her fair complexion was several notches paler, she had less appetite, and her taut body slowly loosened.


Many years had passed. Her boy was now fifteen. Her blind mother died on a moonless night. She had a river burial in the same Long River. Her son, a rising sun. Never in limbo, she knew, one day her Siddhartha would return, no matter how ugly she had become; she had taught him a sublime dance, in The Garden of Love and Delight, would remain untarnished.

Before her mother died, the seer saw her future that he would return. When that might happen was hard to decipher, but time would bring him into her space, when oceans cried out in a spate. Since mother died, Nirmala waited in the evenings with a red lantern, regardless of the moon or a moonless night, near the Long River and sang a psalm for Sirius to scintillate a way for Siddhartha, new lines to light up his palms.


Nirmala named her son Prasada. She lamented and waited for the arrival of a specific boat. Prasada was now much older. She lamented because Siddhartha, whom she didn’t believe to be dead, still had not come for her, way past her plumy years. Her mother had passed with time, and she was lain to rest in the river bed, Nirmala in tow, now in her shoes was next, her place in time, her own aged hands, age marks, the deep furrows, burrowed away on her face.

On the edge of the Long River lawn, her desires were still strong; her mad little heart looped out of her depths that Siddhartha would be sailing up any day. But her son didn’t believe in his mother’s madness, who argued and cajoled her to come away with him to the city of Delights she knew only too well, around the same river bend.


Siddhartha lay in his hammock. One night, under a starry sky, a shooting star whispered to him to make a wish, he wished to bring Nirmala back into his life. Without her, this life was bleak. He went into a deep sleep. He was rowing a boat to and fro, along a fertile river bank, taking it in its stride, oaring its vastness. A gold moon took a shine to him, he peered at every port.

It was a long river, so many hamlets and hurdles to cross that it was nearly impossible, whose young face he held in the centre of his heart, the throbs egged him on to seek her out. Only she could put out this feverish fire which bore a hole through his body and his soul.

The stars and the moon had not flirted with him, they told him the truth that it wasn’t a whim, that he must steer his boat along the Long River bend. She beckoned him with a red lantern, night in and night out whose lights could not be put out. She must have her last dance on the timeline steep incline.

They murmured to him. ‘Follow our instructions. Go to The Garden of Love and Delight, and take it from there, before it is too late. Time is elusive, too powerful even for us, though we are the celeste and the heavenly bodies themselves; in time, we also burn up. Unlike us, whom everyone can see such as the stars and the moon, no one can see time, only intuit; truely, time is abstract.’

Siddhartha woke up with a jolt and felt a chill run straight through. It felt surreal that he should follow this dream, a dream where he saw Nirmala beckoning him to come to her, before it was too late, before time axed her here, and annexed her, elsewhere.

He thought of the distance he would have to cover. A seafarer, he was adept in traversing the seas, he must reach out to her. He was mapping a nautical gauge. He engaged a telescope to see the guiding lights. His ship’s handy compass was his destiny. But a storm was also imminent, and he was soon caught up in the midst of it, tackling the high seas, and navigating through a rage-filled welkin was difficult.

The welkin knew about the duo’s strength. It dared to cut out destiny; it braved adversities, and storms, as they danced with time, the enigmatic existential gasses, and aurora borealis, whose power dances churned out events; made life possible on earth, also disappeared in a whiff of smoke out of a magic box.

Siddhartha could not have smoked this one out. Today, he fought the storms, a shipwreck had occurred, wrenched it apart, pushed its body parts down. Heaving waves blanketed the ocean’s rippled surface. Magnificent lightening cracked up the welkin.

He resurfaced, swam, and tried to clamber to a higher ground. For three days, he swam around poisonous tentacles, the jellyfish tantalisingly close. He saw pink sunrises and orange sunsets, bouyed by the waves on his back. Nirmala’s memory kept him going: her face, her dance, her body smell loading up his senses, until he closed his eyes, and lost consciousness, falling through a rip in the oceanic blanket.


By the red lantern, Nirmala sat alone, the mother of his child, as her mother saw it coming, river in a spate was when he would come for her, and Nirmala believed it. She felt a surge in her heart; she called out his name—‘Siddhartha, wake up, wake up, my love, wake up …’

She stood up, and began to dance with the cosmos. She moved the heavens and the earth, she cast a spell on the gods, so they would let her Siddhartha dance, she danced, she twirled like the whirling dervishes, sufis in a trance; time was of the essence; a finale was closing in.

In the low, sallow lantern, she viewed the Long River, the waves signalled in the moonlight, a sacrifice had to be made. What sort of sacrifice was it, had she not made enough? Her mother, her dance, her youth and beauty. What more? Prasada was all she had left. She couldn’t lose him too. What a cruel joke? Have mercy, she cried out to the silent moon; the silver waves gushed grievance. Sentient, they certainly were not.


A fishing boat pulled up Siddhartha onboard, not long after his body went adrift. Sailors tried to resuscitate him; the mute gods heard Nirmala’s cries, and saw her spell-binding dance with time. They afforded exceptional munificence. They extended the heavenly fires to him. An enchantress, Nirmala opened up her soul to the gods; her dancing feet never missed a beat until the gods were in step to her rhythm.

Siddhartha was beat, but wasn’t going to beat it. He breathed out and in. His dendrites were incandescent. He sat up. The skipper docked his ship at the heartland of the city of Delight, where dancers danced for the nightriders.

He felt better already for the magic word, ‘dancer’ raised an expectation. The term raised a wand in his mind. He tied a band around his forehead determined to find Nirmala. Fortuitously, this time, he believed she wouldn’t go too far down the Long River. His blindfold was finally off.

As the stars twinkled, he set out with the sailors toward the dancing school. They met many large-eyed, spirited beauties; courtesans in the prime of their youth, luscious and skilful. Siddhartha went quietly around the back into The Garden of Love and Delight and saw a decrepit bed of roses bedding only nettles and thorns, the garden had aged, but aired Nirmala’s lily smell, still pervasive, tickling his nostrils.

He cried out, “Nirmala, Nirmala,’ it reverberated in the quiet night, an eager owl flew by, a boy was asleep in the darkness. He woke up. It was Prasada.
“Who are you?’ Prasada asked.
“I heard you call my mother, Nirmala, were you really calling her name out loud or was I dreaming? I’m her son, Prasada.”
“Nirmala has a son? Are you my Nirmala’s son?” Siddhartha asked.
“Yes, I’m her’s. Who are you?” Prasada asked.
“Take me to her,” Siddhartha said.
Prasada had come here to learn about the arts, from this academy of dance, his mother’s alma mater.


On the bend of the meandering Long River, Prasada led the way. Nirmala saw a glow over the horizon. She heard a song she knew too well: time to pack up the boat, my lord, for I’m tired, couldn’t row anymore. She stood up and peered into the river long.

The glow was coming from a lantern on the deck of a boat. It came up close, the singing faded, the boat stopped at the edge of the Long River, two figures jumped out, a silver-haired man with her own, Prasada.

‘Who …? Who is it …?’

Siddhartha came up to her, and took her hand to raise the red lantern, it slipped and fell from his hand in this ebony night. He brought it closer to her face. All the clocks in the world couldn’t time this somnolent moment, how long they stood lost into each other. This moment had no pasts, no presents, no futures. Both of their eyes welled up, no regrets, no sorrows, but in joyful tears.

He was home, she was his; the boy was theirs; the night cloaked them well. He took her in his arms, she lay her head on his distending chest. They danced as did the dog star in The Garden of Love and Delight, along with the waves, the tireless cosmos. The steps measured perfectly, one, two and a three, through to infinity, which time could not have wrinkled, nor break its circle of mathematics.

“You look like the first day,” Siddhartha whispered.
“You look like the first day,” Nirmala smiled.

Multiple contests winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is a Drunken Druid's Editor's Choice and an audible bestseller. Gatheringsis nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction. Her flash fictions have been nominated for 3xbotN, Pushcart. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been shortlisted, finalists, and have received honorable mention. Critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine to name a few. She is a featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press, a reader for The Welkin Prize, Five Minutes, a juror for KM Anthru International Prize. Her works have been translated into German, Greek and Bangla, reprinted, anthologised, and have made it to the top 10 reads on Impspired magazine multiple times. Some of her publications have appeared or forthcoming are in publications from Cambridge University Press, University of Hawaii Press, Michigan State University Press, ISTE, Call-ej, University of Kent Press, The Sheaf:University of Saskatoon, Writer's Digest:Six Sentences, IceFloe Press, Litro Magazine and more.
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