The conversation about Gandhi bored me, about the Germans’ War bored me, only the way the Englishwoman’s diamond ring shone off the sweat of her cocktail interested me; I followed it while she and Fullan held their conversation about appropriate things, ladylike things, dutiful things. My eyes wandered, the conversation suffocated by saris and suits, linen pants and nails painted to match lips. When not focused on politics or the looming Japanese, the race consumed Bombay, and now everyone was showing off to everyone here in the Maharaja’s box.
My mind had traveled far away from the pleasantness of January. From Bombay. From Ghandi, and from Burma. From wars, divorces, and obligations. And minutes, hours, days may have passed, before Fullan broke the spell.
“Sati,” she said. “Do you see?”
My head turned back to her and the Englishwoman.
“The Prince is looking at you,” Fullan said.
The Maharaja was indeed looking at me. His eyes were limitless and beckoning. I lowered my chin, and he raised his, his hand curling one finger to him, beckoning me.
Time stopped as I crossed the floor. Everyone was frozen in place, their words still in the air between them. I abandoned the American rocking chair, my cocktail, Fullan and her appropriate behavior. The Maharaja was the reason I’d come. When I reached him, his friends scattered like marbles, and he turned his body in a movement thick with drink, a condition I knew well.
“Have you come to see my horse today?” he asked.
“Which one is yours?” I asked.
“Come,” He took my elbow with a gentleman’s grace and lead me to the window, pointing at one of the horses in the January sun. “That one there, with the Jockey in red.” He turned back to me. “She will win. Her name is Princess Beautiful.”
“Pretty name,” I said. “After one of your daughters?”
“Perhaps,” he said. His hand was resting on my forearm, skin electrifying skin. “As Maharaja, my whims change the world.”
I had been told how the Maharaja was the eighth richest man in the world; the second richest Indian Prince. He wore it well. His suit was so finely made, I could not see the stitching. His watch was ringed with diamonds. He wore a ruby on his right hand. He was modern Indian wealth, and I wanted every piece of it.
Then the bell sounded, sending the horses down the track, and the Maharaja whispering to my ear. Every bit of their bodies moving to push themselves forward as his words traveled through my skin, making it shiver. Their riders perching in the stirrups. Alert. Focused. I was standing on air. Floating. Weightless. As the horses turned, his body turned, his breath traveling down my neck in promises laced with whiskey and vermouth.
The Maharaja leaned back, as if the world remained the same. But mine was not the same, it had opened up. My thoughts were moving in tandem with the horses’ hooves. They passed the starting line again, and my mind quickened pace. I took my sari in my hand as his enveloped it, his palm smooth, his heartbeat heavy against my fingers. As one of the horses pulled forward, his shoulders raised, his eyes growing wide. He was swallowed by desire, taken by it, watching it unfold in front of him in all its chance and glory. And when another fell behind, he turned to me, and took me in.
As the horses’ bodies trembled, we trembled. As they breathed, we breathed. We had entered into this freely, quickly, professionally. We were not stumbling foals. We were yearlings, adept at the race, aware of every action we took, of every dip in the terrain. We ran neck and neck with each other, the Maharaja and I each craving victory. And when I looked him in the eye, I saw how he would become my husband, and I his second wife.
“A woman is as delicate as a horse,” he said. “Their bodies like machines, their temperament as fine. Horses are the world’s most beautiful animal, and a woman the world’s most precious thing.”
It was only race now, with his hand still on mine. We watched the power move forward, the same horse leading and others following in a fever behind him. Each hoof a thunder clap, pushing forward to the finish line. But I knew nothing except the Maharaja’s reaction. As the seconds tightened their grip, so did he. Like a butterfly perched on the edge of flight, I trembled with anticipation. Every part of him was in this moment: its wonder, its fervor, its gamble. He held his breath, and I held mine.
For the first time, I felt truly lost. This was going be forever, my mind always conjuring fireworks in reds and greens and golds until the horses crossed the finish line and the flashbulbs exploded into diamonds. Then the Maharaja turned to me, his eyes wild with reflection.
“Well, my treasure,” he said. “You have won.”
And I had. I was his.
© Jordan Kurella, 2015