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DECEPTION

A Palace Full of Liars



BOOK ONE

By Eve Rabi

~~~

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 Eve Rabi. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media used in this book are fictitious
and are the product of the author's imagination. The author acknowledges the trademark status and
trademark owners referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The
publication use of this trademark is not authorized, associated with or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

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Table of Contents


Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six

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Prologue

HENNA

My name is Henna and Im twenty-four years old.
Its 2 AM and Im sitting at my desk, writing letters to my three children. Tomorrow morning, I
will get up at around 6 AM, take a warm shower, and dress myself in a white sari, which I have
already laid out on a chair.
At around 7 AM, breakfast will be wheeled into my suite by my servants, which I will probably
refuse like I usually do. I will drink tea with a dash of milk and two sugars.
At about 7:30 AM, my five-year-old twins will awaken and fight for my attention, which I will
lavish on them.
At around 8 AM, my adorable two-year-old toddler will awaken and demand his bottle of milk,
which he will guzzle in two minutes flat.
I will then hug and cuddle my children and tell them how much I love them and how sorry I am to
be leaving them. They probably wont understand what Im saying, but I need to say it.
At 8:45 AM, I will be shackled and led to the gallows in the Town Square, where I will be
hanged in public.
I know what to expect Ive witnessed a hanging before. The charge is treason. Ive taken a
lover and both of us have been sentenced to death by the Queen of Asokastan.
Im in a state of numbness right now natures crude bubble wrap. Its something I welcome.
As I sit shrouded in silence, I take stock of my twenty-four years on this earth.
I was born in poverty, but went on to marry a prince. A Crown Prince, actually. The stuff fairy
tales are made of.
Ive loved and Ive been loved by a beautiful man who sacrificed his life for me. A man who
showed me the world the US, the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Paris, the Caribbean. A man who
stepped into my life of despair and bathed it in bliss.
Because of him, I was blessed with three beautiful children whom I love dearly, and it breaks
my heart to have to say goodbye to them.
How did it all start?
It started eleven years ago. Since my story sounds like a fairy tale, and it has a beautiful, but
Wicked Queen in it, I shall I start with, Once upon a time


ASOKASTAN A NORTH WEST STATE OF INDIA
1983

Chapter One

HENNA

It might have been my wedding day, but nobody looked at me. All eyes were on my mother-in-
law, Queen Karisma of Asokastan. She was breathtaking in an amber and gold sari, which draped
like molten lava around her slim body, yet managed to shows off her lengthy, bare midriff.
On her head was a huge diamond-encrusted crown, which, when it caught both the amber hue of
the sari and the light, caused it to flame, adding to her goddess-like vision.
She upstaged every woman in the room, including the Bollywood movie stars in attendance.
Men couldnt take their eyes off her. Neither could women.
My mother had said, according to a few magazines, that Queen Karisma was one of the most
beautiful women in all of India.
I didnt mind that Queen Karisma was getting all the attention on my wedding day I just wanted
to be done with the wedding, as I was struggling to stay awake at the bridal altar. Like all Indian
weddings, my royal wedding at the palace was colorful, elaborate and long-drawn. It had been going
on for four days, ceremony after ceremony, and although it was exciting, I was exhausted.
My groom, Prince Vijay, and I sat around the small bridal fire and threw stuff into it as
instructed by the priest. It was hot and the smoke from the fire burnt my already-tired eyes.
The priest conducting the ceremony sang his words, and at thirteen, I understood neither the
lyrics nor the tune.
Prince Vijay did not look my way. If he did, he wouldnt have been able to see my face anyway,
as it was covered with a red sari veil.
Strings of tiny white flowers formed a curtain over his face. Although Id never seen his face
before, I knew what he looked liked Id been given his photo by Queen Karisma.
When my sisters saw Prince Vijays photo, they gushed that he was the most handsome man
theyd ever seen.
Hes more handsome than that movie star in Saturday Night Fever, they said. The one with
the white suit who points to the ceiling when he dances? That one.
They asked me to swap a lollipop for my Princes photo. The lollipop contained strawberry
sherbet; I just couldnt pass on it.
I remember wishing for that sherbet as I sat at the bridal altar, as I desperately needed the energy
to handle the bridal sari, which was heavy and itchy.
Costs the same as a house, my mother had said. Felt as heavy as one too. This is how a turtle
must feel, I thought, as it weighed my shoulders down.
Yards and yards of red silk with tons of gold embroidery, which made it stiff and restricted my
movements.
You look like a parcel all wrapped up in a hurry, Rani had said.
But I wasnt wrapped in a hurry. It took forever to dress me and I had to be up at 4 AM.
Rani was my eldest sister. She was eighteen and extremely pretty. Rani was also a bitch. A huge
one. Youll see.
All my jewellery was given to me by the palace, and it too was heavy and expensive. My
parents had absolutely no money, let alone money for a dowry, so I got nothing from them. With five
daughters to support, we had little of anything.
I was decked in jewellery head-to-toe. Make that from crown-to-toe. I even had rings on my
toes.
Your toes are so bony, they look like tiny Chinese firecrackers with jewels, Rani said.
She called everyone to look at my toes and when they did, they also laughed. But Rani laughed
the hardest.
I inched up my veil just a little and turned my jewellery-laden neck in the direction of Manju, my
lady-in-waiting. She immediately took a step towards me and bowed her head.
Yes, Princess Henna?
I was a little taken aback by the Princess Henna bit. Eh, Manju, how much longer?
Soon, Princess, she whispered.
I nodded and dropped my veil which, I suspected, weighed the same as I did, with its fancy
hand-beading and yards of gold and red chiffon.
Bored, I peeped through my veil at the priest conducting the wedding ceremony. Fat, bald, with
sweat dripping down the sides of his face, he paused with his blah! blah! blah! only to wipe his
chubby face with a cream handkerchief (which I suspected was white at the beginning of the
ceremony), then continued his singing in a monotone.
I desperately wished hed hurry up. It was so hard for me to keep my eyes opened.
Besides getting up before sunrise, the trip from my village to the Palace took eight hours by
limousine.
Brahman droned on and on and on an on and on
Then, hands clutched at me.
Princess Henna, you fell asleep! Usha scolded, as she bundled me back into my chair.
Oh. Sorry, I said and rubbed my sleepy eyes.
You almost fell into the wedding fire, Manju complained.
Im so tired, I muttered.
Minutes later, I turned my neck to look at Manju. She rushed over. Yes, Princess Henna?
Im hungry.
What?! Her nervous, kohl-lined eyes darted over to Queen Karisma shimmering under the
cloud of admiration.
You you cant eat now, Princess. You have to wait for the ceremony to be over, then you can
eat with Prince Vijay and the rest of the Royal Family.
But Im hungry now, I whined, as I reluctantly dropped my veil. Mff. Then I quickly lifted my
veil again. Will there be ice-cream?
Again, her eyes flittered nervously in the direction of the priest, who paused with his singing to
frown at us. Yes, Princess, there will be lots of ice-cream.
A thrill ran through me. Rainbow ones?
Rain ? Yes, Princess. But, Princess, She pulled down my veil, you cant keep lifting up
your veil. It is not respectful during your marriage ceremony.
Okay, okay.
The priest hes getting annoyed.
I tapped my foot impatiently.
Maharani will also get annoyed.
I sat back, folded my bejewelled hands tightly over my bejewelled chest, and tapped my foot.
Your mother will get annoyed.
Immediately, I stopped my tapping. I dared not make my mother angry. Nobody dared make my
mother angry.
Pugli! I overheard Manju mutter to Usha.
Pugli, as in retard. Id heard that word so many times in my life, it had lost all meaning.
Finally, it was time for the reveal I get to see my future husbands face.
With great excitement, I watched them part his veil of flowers.
When I saw his face, I gasped. I swiveled my head to look at Manju. As usual, she was beside
me in an instant.
What now, Princess? she snapped.
I ignored the irritation in her voice. Manju, its not the same man in the photo!
She put her finger to her lip and motioned me to look ahead, so I did. Reluctantly.
I snuck a look at person I was marrying. He was around fifteen, a head taller than me, and I
didnt see a neck on him. His tiny head appeared to be placed on his bony shoulders.
He was wiry and his face was littered with pus-filled pimples. His nose was the first thing you
saw when you looked at him. His face was pale and his arms and legs were thin and gangly. He
looked like he was ill. In fact, a few months prior to my wedding, a villager we called Uncle
Balchand had passed away from a mysterious illness. Days before he died, he looked like the boy
who stood in front of me.
The long, off-white, brocade jacket he wore drowned him, and his red and white turban looked
more like a bandage around a serious head wound.
After a quick glance at me, he looked at the floor and thats where his eyes remained.
I craned my neck to look at my mother, who was seated a few yards away from me. When I
caught her eye, she quickly looked away.
I looked at my father seated next to my mother his eyes were fixed to the ground.
I looked at my sisters all stared at him with wide-eyes, except for Rani she was laughing
behind her hand. It was the first time Id seen her laugh since I was picked by Queen Karisma to
marry her son. Over her, that is.
My thirteen-year-old mind rationalized maybe thats how it was done here marriage by
proxy. Maybe later, the correct prince, the one in the photo, would come by and take over from the
weird boy.
Anyway, after walking around the fire several times, to my delight, the ceremony was over.
Finally. I couldnt wait to lose the mountain of fabric smothering me, the jewellery, especially
the one hundred gold bangles I was instructed to wear all the time, and run off to play with my sisters,
like we usually did at weddings.
Oh, and my ice-cream I assumed that I would get a second helping with me being a princess
and all.
Princess? That word and me in the same sentence didnt seem right.
As Rani had said, it was just ridiculous that I, the village idiot, was chosen to marry Crown
Prince Vijay. She said that she was supposed to marry a prince and that I was supposed to marry a
cow-herder and run around the fields barefoot, dirty and I couldnt quite remember the rest. Rani
had said so many things; she really had a way with words. Especially when she was furious or when
she lost at a game.
I would have called her a bitch (when my mother wasnt looking), but so many people had said
similar thingsI couldnt really call everyone a bitch. Anyway, I was great with cows, even though
we were too poor to even own one. I was like a cow-whisperer. I understood them and they liked me.
I just loved animals.
Queen Karisma or Maharani, as she was called by all in her kingdom, glided up to us and as she
did, all eyes followed her every move. She was first to congratulate the, well, wrong prince and
me.
Her crown was so large and wobbly, I was worried that it would tip over and hit me in the head.
Concuss me. Or that maybe it would hit the wrong prince and slice off some of his nose.
Actually, slicing off some of his nose didnt seem like such a bad idea, I remember thinking,
considering that it made up half of his face!
Queen Karisma murmured good wishes, gave us some air-kisses, then drifted away like a billow
of orange smoke.
King Anant followed and congratulated us too. He also wore a crown, but he didnt look
handsome. He was thin, short, and stooped, with black, beady eyes. He shook both of our hands, then
hurried behind Maharani and stood a step behind her. There was a striking resemblance between the
wrong prince and him.
It was my mother and fathers turn to congratulate us. Ma, I cried, they gave us the wrong
prince! Did you see? Did you see? Its not the man in the pho
Shh! she whispered, her eyes darting nervously around. I could see she was just as intimidated
as I was by the palace and the Royal Family.
But, Ma
It doesnt matter, Henna. Here you will be well taken care of. Just dont do anything silly and
ruin all of this. Try not to act like a tomboy, okay? Act like a grown up or they will send you back and
then you know how everybody will laugh at us. None of your sisters will ever get married then.
But, the photo?
Forget the photo, my mother said behind her hand. Maharani is our queen. What she says
goes, understand? Anything you got bad to say, Henna, better dont say it. Otherwise, she dropped
her voice, she will hang you. Just like she hanged her brothers wife for talking bad about her.
Okay, okay, okay! I didnt want to be hanged just yet I had my ice-cream to think about.
My father shuffled forward in the cream and blue checked suit he had borrowed from his
brother, hugged me briefly, and shook Prince Vijays hand. He looked uncomfortable and avoided
eye-contact with everyone. Quietly, he followed my mother, just like King Anant did.

Chapter Two

HENNA


The wrong prince and I were left alone in a room for fifteen minutes to get to know each other
before dinner.
He stared at the floor while I studied him.
Youre not the man in the photo, I murmured.
Silence.
They gave us the wrong prince.
Silence.
They made a mist
There is only one prince in Asokastan and that is me! he said, his eyes fixed to the floor. His
voice sounded like someone was dragging fingernails across a chalkboard. In fact, had I closed my
eyes, I would have mistaken him for a girl rather than my husband.
Well, I said, theres been some mistake and after I get my ice-cream, Im going to try to sort
things out.
We spent the rest of the fifteen minutes in silence. My husband sat absolutely still, while I
snooped around, hoping to find more sweets more than anything else. I found nothing.
When the door opened and my ladies in waiting appeared, I tottered up to them. Wheres my
ice-cream?
After dinner with Maharani and Maharaja, Manju said in a firm voice and led us both to the
Royal dinner table. Now behave, she whispered.

*****

HENNA

Prince Vijays family and mine sat at the bridal table. Never before had I seen so much food at
once. Not even when that politician threw our village a lunch and promised that if we voted for him,
he would get us running water and electricity.
(Every person who was of voting age rushed to vote for him. Three years on, our village still
had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. But the villagers got back at him. They burned down his
house. )
The tables literally sagged under the weight of the food. Unlike the weddings at the village, this
wedding was quiet and everyone ate mainly in silence. Well, soft music played in the background and
you could hear the clink of glasses, but there wasnt any of that loud chatter and laughter that usually
took place at weddings.
Maharani smiled and talked in a breathless voice to the men, while the women around her were
ignored.
Prince Vijay moved food around in his plate, while I bent over my plate and shoveled food into
my mouth. I wasnt sure when I was going to get food like this again, so I took no chances. As for the
ice-cream, I ate not only as much as I could eat, but as much as I could carry.
Sure, I felt a little sick after that, but I didnt mind.
After dinner, I got a few minutes alone with my family. Now that the excitement of the wedding
had died down and my stomach hurt, I was ready to end the day.
Lets go home, Ma, I said, yawning, Im so tired.
My mother was busy arranging flowers in Ranis hair, while my other sisters poked their noses
around, checking out the palace.
Ma threw me a cursory glance, then concentrated on Ranis flowers. This is home, Henna. Do
you want one flower on your head or ?
No, it isnt.
Youre married now, Henna, my mother said, focusing on the bobby pin in her hand. This is
where you will now live now.
I want two, Rani snapped. How many times must I tell you?
I looked around, took in the ornate ceilings, the marble floors, the heavy, antique furniture, and
fear snaked through me. Surely, they didnt expect me to live with the people I ate with?
No, Ma, Im not staying here, I said. Im scared.
Of what?
This place, this people... they speak English, Ma, and theythey eat with a fork and a knife. A
knife! Did you see how many forks and knives each person had? Like fifty!
More like eighty! my sister Suri called out.
Yes, maybe eighty, I said.
Dont worry about all that, Henna. Maharani will arrange for you to get lessons for stuff like
that. Relax and en
But, Ma, I want to go home! I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, as fear
unfurled inside of me.
Youre married, Henna. Youre a big girl now. You cant go back ho Rani! Sit still! she
scolded. I cant get these flowers to stay on your hair!
Rani giggled.
I tottered up to my mother in my sari and jewels, desperate for her to understand just how
anxious and scared I was. Ma, I want you to tell Maharani that that Ive changed my mind and that
I dont want to be married to her son
Henna, dont be sill
and that Ill give back the jewellery
My mother whirled around to glare at me, Ranis flowers now airborne. Give back the
jewellery? Are you MAD?!
I backed away, scared of my mothers wrath. She could go from nought to furious in five seconds
and then youd better be a fast runner or youd see tiny silver stars, regardless of what time of the day
it was.
Of course you arent marrying the man in the photo, Rani jeered. Hes too good looking for
someone like you.
Shut up, Rani! I growled as I massaged my aching stomach.
Rani meant queen. Because of my sisters beauty, my family expected big things for her in life.
It came as a shock to everyone when she was overlooked in the search for a princess.
He probably looked at your photo and said, Uuuggh! Shes so ugly! Shes so thin. Shes flat
like an ironing board! So they gave you to the ugly boy with the crackly voice. Now you and the ugly
boy can make ugly babies. She threw back her head and laughed.
I wanted to lunge at her and yank at her hair till she cried out in pain.
She put both palms in front of her face and pretended to read from them. Once upon a time,
there was a very, very ugly girl who married a very, very ugly prince. They kissed and both became
very, very ugly frogs. She scoffed at the anger on my face.
I darted at her, but she hid behind my mother. I shook my fist at her while she made faces at me.
Just then the music started. Dancing time! my sisters shouted and started to run off to dance.
Wait for me! I cried, forgetting all my fears and ready to join in the fun.
But Usha and Manju blocked my path. Princess Henna, you cant mix with the commoners. You
are a Rajkumari; you have to act like one. They rudely ushered my mother and Rani out of my room.
Commoners? But thats my fam...
Mff! Usha rolled her eyes and took my arm. No dancing for you tonight, Princess. You have
to prepare for your husband do your wifely duties. Maharani is relying on you for an heir to the
throne.
Intimidated by my ladies-in-waiting, I hung back and nodded meekly. Maybe Ill just quickly do
my wifely duties and then I can go dance with my sisters, I thought.
To my surprise, they led me back to my suite and instructed me to change into a flimsy, white,
floor-length nightdress. Its matching gown was trimmed in white fur and ended in a fur-lined train.
In it, I felt for the first time, like a princess. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever owned, and
as I caressed it, I vowed never to take it off. Didnt matter that it was two sizes too big.
I secretly wondered if I could dance in it later on, after I did my wifely duties. Thats how much
I loved it. Back home, there was no such thing as night-wearwe slept in whatever we wore during
the day, so this was a double treat for me.
Manju sat me in front of the mirror and brushed my long hair with a pretty tortoise-shell
hairbrush.
You are virgin, right, Princess? Manju said.
No.
She jumped back as if my hair had just caught alight, taking the tortoise-shell hairbrush and most
of my hair with. WHAAAT?!
I looked at Manjus horrified face, then at Ushas ashen face and I realized the answer should
have been yes.
Yes! I quickly said, going into damage-control. Yes. Yes.
As they exchanged smiles of relief, the tortoise-shell hairbrush and my hair returned.
I exhaled.
Rajkumari, do you know what foreplay is?
This time I was ready for them. Yes, I answered with all the confidence I could muster. Its
got the word play in it had to be a yes.
In spite of my answer, they exchanged confused looks. At least they didnt jump back this time.
So Manju scratched her head, youve been prepared, then?
Yes! I had no idea what they were talking about, but
They nodded happily. Thats good, Princess, because you have to please your husband.
Okay. Again, I had no idea what they were talking about.
Of course, it will hurt the first time, but after that?
Hurt? I jerked my head to look at her. Wha what do you mean? I couldnt handle any kind
of pain, whatsoever.
Dont worry, Usha said, tapping my shoulders in what she probably believed was a reassuring
manner, just lie back and let him do all the work.
Okay, I muttered and yawned.
They dimmed the light, positioned me in the bed, arranged for my hair to drape over the pillow
and left the room. I lay on the bed, exhausted from the weeks events, and waited to do my wifely
duties.
The smell of fresh linen, the bright lights, the silence of the room, made me really nervous and
uncomfortable. After a while, I slid out of bed, dug into my bag and pulled out one of my very own
dresses I had sneaked into the bag when Usha and Manju werent looking.
I removed the princess nightdress and slipped on my favorite brown dress. It was faded,
tattered, and unwashed, but it was familiar what I needed right now.
Carefully, I folded my precious white nightdress and gown, slipped them under my pillow, and
crawled back under the sheets.
I didnt plan to, but I was so exhausted, and the bed was so soft, that I fell asleep .
I was awakened by the sound of the door opening. The room was now dark, so I got really
scared and held my breath. In the dark, a figure slithered closer.
It was the wrong prince.
As quiet as a palace mouse, he got into the opposite end of the bed, fully clothed, pulled the
covers up to his neck, and within minutes, began snoring softly.
Too exhausted to keep my eyes open, or to even care that he was in my bed, I immediately
drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Three

HENNA

I was awakened by the sunlight filtering in through the drapes. I opened my eyes and was startled
by the unfamiliarity of the room and its furnishings. Then I reached under my pillow and took out my
beautiful princess nightwear, and slowly, the fog in my head shifted.
Im in the palace. I got married last night. They gave me the wrong prince.
I looked at the dark head of the man asleep next to me and balked. There were two dark heads in
my bed!
Am I dreaming, I wondered? I rubbed my eyes and blinked rapidly to shed the cobwebs of sleep.
No, I was not dreaming there were two boys asleep next to me.
Confused, I stared at their heads.
When one of them stirred, I quickly shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep.
I heard shuffling and whispering and when I opened my eyes again, the wrong prince was out of
bed. The other dark head had left.
Quietly, I slid out of bed and slipped the white gown over my brown dress. I shared a bed at
home with my sisters, so I guessed they did the same here. It was confusing, as this was a palace and
there were so many beds around.
Prince Vijay silently handed me a bed sheet. I was just about to accept the sheet when I saw
what looked like bloodstains. With a gasp, I jerked my hand away.
Theyre going to look for this, he wheezed. Put it on your side of the bed.
My eyes flitted between him and the horrible sheet.
Take it!
I shook my head.
With an impatient sigh, he yanked back the covers and placed the sheet over the ones we had
slept on. If you dont have this, they will send you back home, he whispered, as he drew back the
covers.
His words snapped me out of my frozen state. I nodded. Going back home was not an option. My
mother would kill me if I disgraced my family like that. After all, Maharani accepted me without a
dowry, which was a huge relief to my family.
The servants, about five of them, wheeled in a two trolleys bearing silver dome platters. After
bowing, they opened up the lids. I gasped at the sight of breakfast a spread so sumptuous, I got full
just looking at it. But that didnt stop me from gorging. I ate everything in front of me just lowered
my head and ate greedily.
Vijay drank tea. That was it. I couldnt believe that he didnt want to eat.
Manju and Usha knocked and entered. Usha tried to help me dress, while Manju made my bed.
Through a mirror I saw her look at the blood-stained sheet, nod, and sneak it out of the room.
Vijay was right, they did look for it.
I didnt want to change into my clothes. I wanted to remain in the beautiful white satin nightwear.
Usha frowned, but reluctantly let me keep it on.
When Rani saw my gown, her jaw dropped. Slowly, like a Bengal Tiger, she circled me, her
breath coming out in gasps. I want it!
No, its mine! Its mine! I cried and moved the train out of her way. Dont step on it.
Rani turned to look at my mother. Ma, tell her to give it to me! Shes got so many nice things. I
dont have anything. Tell her, Ma, tell her.
No! I said.
Henna! Give it to her, Henna, my mother scolded. Its too big for you anyway.
No! Clutching my oversized gown with both hands, I moved away from them to my sisters who
were ooohhhing!and aaahhhing! and in total awe of the palace.
This place is like something out of the movies, Rhona said. I could live here forever, Henna.
Me too, Suri said, twirling around.
Yes, but Maharani only allowed us to stay last night, so we have to go, my mother said.
I eyed the massive floral arrangements, the Persian rugs on the walls, and the huge portraits of
the Royal Family who watched us no matter where we stood, and I wanted to bolt out of there.
Ill swap with you, Rhona said. I never want to go back to our house after seeing this and
being here.
You will? Excitement surged through me. Thats it we swap, I go back home, she stays here,
and everyones happy. I was about to say something, when I noticed my mothers warning look. I shut
up, even though my anxiety steadily escalated.
After spending a couple of hours sight-seeing at the palace, they started to pack. When I saw
their suitcases, my anxiety skyrocketed.
I want to go home, Ma! The prince they gave me he put I lowered my voice, stuff on my
bed, Ma. Terrible, uuurrgghh! And the sheet, they took it, and Im not staying here and
My mother took both my hands in hers. I was married when I was fourteen, Henna, and look at
me, Im okay. Gently, and ensuring my ladies-in-waiting werent looking, she slipped three gold
bangles off of each of my arms and snuck them into her bra.
Youll be okay too. She leaned in and her voice dropped to whisper, Dont tell anyone I took
them.
No! Im going home with you guys! I cried, not caring about the silly bangles. Im not staying,
Im going home! Im not
My mother grabbed my shoulders and shook me. You behave! Stop acting like a child. Do your
duty, give them an heir, and all will be okay. That is what you are here for; do your duty!
I shrugged off her arms. I hate this place. Its different, its scary, Ma. Please dont make me
stay here! Please.
But my mother turned away and continued packing. My sisters, seeing my distress, became quiet
and worried, and pretty soon all of them, with the exception of Rani, were crying with me. I seldom
cried, so my tears affected them.
Then you stay longer, I begged. Till I get used to the place. Please, Ma, please, please!
Henna, stop! she hissed. I cant stay here. I have things to do and I have to help Auntie
Bindiya with her wedding.
Please! I threw my arms around her waist and held onto her. Please! Please! Dont leave me
here. I am so scared, Ma.
My tears and pleas attracted the attention of palace staff and even Vijay.
Embarrassed by my childish behavior, my mother tried to explain. She just needs a few days
and she will forget all about us. She even managed a short laugh as she peeled off my arms from
around her waist.
I beg you, Ma, I beg you! Ill do anything. Just dont leave me here. You can take all the
bangles, just stay with me.
Henna, stop!
Ill give Rani my white princess nightdress, Ma! Please stay, please!
All my sobbing, begging, and bartering didnt help. She left got into one of the palace
limousines with the rest of my family and drove off.
Ma, dont leave me! I screamed, as I ran after the limousine. Take me with too, please! Papa!
Papa, please dont leave me here! Pleeeeease, Meena! Suri! Rhona! Dont leave me here. Please!
Manju and Usha ran after me and tried to restrain me, but I fought them off. They eventually
managed to subdue me, and as the taillights of the limousines disappeared over the hill, I fell on my
knees, put my forehead to the ground and sobbed.
Come back for me. Come back for me. Please, Ma. I need you more than Auntie Bindiya.
Please, please, please
You have to go inside, Manju snapped.
I shook my head. Tthey will come back for mme. I need to stay here.
No, theyre not, she said. Theyre gone. They are never coming back.
I wiped my tears with the edge of my white gown. They will come bback for me. I know that.
They saw me ccry. They will come bback. They will come back.
But they didnt.
Hurt, confusion, and despair washed over my thirteen-year-old self as the hours went by and the
sun disappeared.
It was almost midnight when somebody carried my sleeping body and my dirty white gown back
to the place I now had to call home The Palace of Asokastan.

Chapter Four

TWO WEEKS BEFORE MY WEDDING
GEET A REMOTE VILLAGE IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF ASOKASTAN

HENNA

The village was buzzing Queen Karisma was arriving the following day to choose a bride for
The Crown Prince of Asokastan.
Rani, theyre definitely going to pick you, my mother said.
Rani, theyre definitely going to pick you, my aunts said.
Rani, theyre definitely going to pick you, our neighbors said.
Rani tossed her hair and smiled smugly. Loosely interpreted, But of course!
Why bother bringing my daughters to the village square? Aunt Priya, who was not really my
aunt, said in a joking manner. Maharani will take one look at Rani and send everybody else home.
I didnt think Aunt Priyas daughters were unattractive. They were a little plain, but they were
sweet and they shared their mangoes with me.
You cant be too sure, Rani said, as she practiced for the hundredth time, her curtsey in front
of the only mirror we owned.
My sisters and I said nothing, because we assumed that everybody was right Rani had been
primed to be a royal bride or something equally grand since the day she was born. She was even
named accordingly.
Because of her beauty, she believed that she was destined for big things. Huge things. And
everyone around her was just there to serve her.
She was truly pretty long, dark hair, skin as pale and smooth as marble, full terracotta lips,
almond-shaped, hazel eyes, curves in all the right places, and she had style.
At any given time, she looked like she had stepped out of a fashion magazine.
Not only was she the prettiest girl in the village of Geet, but she was also the prettiest girl in the
surrounding villages as well. Notice I called her pretty, not beautiful.
Thats because Rani was a mean bitch she wanted everything, she wanted it first, and she
wanted it now, and if she didnt get her way, we paid. Shed cry and nag and nobody would get to
sleep that night.
Even though she was so pretty and she got everything, she was jealous of everyone and always
had to be the centre of attention.
My mother and father indulged her and let their favorite daughter get away with everything
simply because Rani was so pretty.
My father, well, he was always tired from his job as a clay potter and from his part-time job as a
grave digger, so he said little and allowed my mother to run the household and raise his seven
daughters, mainly with her fists.
As for me, I didnt give care about some snooty Prince and I had no intention of attending the
cattle parade at the village square.
No way was I going to be chosen. I was skinny, brown-skinned, raggedy, and I looked eleven.
Im not going, I announced.
Maharani ordered that all the girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen must be present,
Uncle Khanna said in a voice that told me Id better attend or else.
Still, I secretly didnt plan to attend.
Theyll be giving out free sweets as well.
Free sweets? I moved closer to Uncle Khanna. Do you know what kind of sweets theyre
giving?

*****

HENNA

The Queen and her entourage were already at the village square when I dashed in.
I was late because of Biju. He had escaped from his shoebox and I was afraid that Kala, Ranis
mean cat, would gobble him.
After searching for more than an hour, I found him alive and in one piece, so I slipped my pet
mouse into my dress pocket and hurried to the village square to get my sweets.
Biju was used to being in my pocket and he liked it. But just to secure him, I put my slingshot in
the same pocket.
Everyone at the cattle parade was dressed like they were going to a funeral, while I was
dressed in my usual tattered dress. That confused me.
My mother, Jaya, who was wearing her best pink and blue saree, was outside the hall and
pacing. When she saw me, she smacked me on the head for being late, grabbed me by the ear, and
marched me into a line.
Stand up straight and dont wriggle like an earthworm!
The commotion caused the Queen to notice us. I stood extra straight with my hands to my sides
and stared ahead..
While I did this, Biju, for some reason, got fidgety and started to move around. He somehow
managed to push my slingshot out of my pocket and it fell to the ground, making a noise and disturbing
the Queens conversation with a village elder.
I was horrified. I didnt have to look at my mother to know that she was equally horrified.
The Queen, whom we idolized, looked at my slingshot on the ground, then at me. Now I was
going to be thrown out and there go my sweets, I thought with dismay.
With my heart beating really fast, I used my foot to drag the slingshot out of sight.
But, to my surprise, Queen Karisma smiled and I thought how beautiful her smile was. I was
mesmerized by her. She was by far the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. Her reddish-
brown hair curled at her waist, her skin was pale and unmarked, her green eyes were lined with kohl,
and her lips were red as field berries.
She wore an emerald-green saree, with a gold, cropped top. Her crown was studded with
emeralds and diamonds to match her saree, while her feet were shod in gold sandals. She looked
prettier than any Bollywood star I had ever seen.
She smiled all the time, even when nothing was funny. She must be very friendly, I remember
thinking.
When she glided over to me, I panicked. Is that your slingshot? she asked.
I heard my mothers sharp intake of breath.
Thats it, Im going to die today, I thought. Either by her hands or by my mothers.
Quickly, I bent down, snatched up the slingshot and stuffed it in my pocket, telepathically
warning Biju not to push it out again. Yes, I answered.
Yes, Maharani! my mother whispered loud enough for all to hear.
Yes, Maharani.
Curtsey, Henna!
Quickly, I curtsied like Uncle Khanna taught us to. As I did this, my slingshot popped out of my
pocket again.
Again, I heard my mothers anguished gasp.
Sorry, Maharani, I muttered, as we both stared at the offending slingshot on the ground.
Thats okay, she said in a voice like cotton candy. How old are you, my dear?
Eh, twelve, Maharani.
Thirteen, Henna!
Eh, thirteen, Maharani. I looked at my mother and frowned.
My mother nodded. You turned thirteen already, Henna.
This time Maharanis smile reached her eyes.
Whew! I relaxed a little.
Then her eyes turned huge. Why is your pocket moving?
I stood transfixed. Biju dont you dare!
Oh I attempted a dismissive wave.
She stared at me for a while, then motioned to an official.
After a word with Queen Karisma, the official turned to me and said, Please, come with us.
I looked at my mother, unsure what to do.
My mother was gesturing wildly, like she was trying to land airplanes. Go! Go! Go!
I went and I became the Princess of Asokastan.

*****

HENNA

Rani cried for days. Sobbed. She dressed in all white, rounded up all the handkerchiefs in the
house, and declared a state of mourning. How could the pick such a pugli? she wailed.
Pugli as I mentioned before, is retard.
Shes so flat-chested, shes so ugly, she doesnt like to bathe, she cant remember how old she
is, she sleeps with a rat, Ma, a rat!
Mouse, I murmured, as I peeled potatoes for my mother.
She glared at me. Whatever! Mouse, rat, same THING, you little idiot!
Henna! Why you upsetting your sister? my mother demanded.
To make matters worse, Aunty Priya rushed into our house and bellowed, Congratulations,
Rani! Or shall I call you she smiled coyly, Maharani from now?
She stopped in mid-sentence and jerked back. What? What? Her eyes darted between my
mother and Rani.
Nobody said a word. Nobody dared.
Humiliated, Rani burst into tears and threatened all sorts of things. I will drink poison, I will
slit my wrists, I will
Henna, my mother finally whispered. They chose Henna.
drown myself, I will
Henna? Whos Henna? Aunt Priya whispered back, a million lines appearing on her forehead.
throw myself in front of a train, I will
Shes my fourth, my mother explained, and jerked her head towards me, her potato peeler who
didnt like to bathe.
Aunt Priya looked at me, then blinked rapidly several times. The whispering came to an abrupt
halt they started communicating in sign language.
Aunt Priya pointed at me, her eyebrows shooting up behind her oiled fringe.
My mother nodded, then shrugged, a dont-ask-me-how, look on her solemn face.
Aunt Priyas index finger darted at Rani, her eyebrows still behind her fringe.
Again, all my mother could manage was an exaggerated shrug and a look of utter sorrow.
Aunt Priya looked at Rani, at me, at Rani, then raised her hands and threw her eyes heavenward.
eh I willeh At this point, I believed that Rani had run out of ways to end her life.
I will throw myself off a tall building, I will
I was wrong.
My mother let out a long sigh of despair as she waddled over to our portable stove to make
Aunty Priya a cup of tea.
Yes, I was daughter number four. The almost-middle child. The forgotten child who nobody
gave a second glance to, whose name nobody remembered.
Children should be seen and not heard, our village elders used to say. Well, I was neither seen
nor heard, and nobody was more baffled than me when Maharani chose me of all the girls in the
village to marry the Crown Prince of Asokastan.
After they got over their terrible shock of my being chosen, people were excited about Queen
Karisma choosing a bride from Geet. It meant that our village could expect visits from the Royal
Family.
People brought fruit, chickens, sweets, and other such gifts, and congregated around our house.
To the delight of my mother, my family were treated like royalty. She absolute reveled in it.
Village women told of all the wonderful things that awaited me.
They will teach you how to walk, how to talk, how to get out of a car and stuff like that.
You will be taught how to please your husband.
They will give your lots of gold and diamond jewellery.
You will have to start wearing shoes.
Your sisters will have to call you Rajkumari.
You will become Queen of Asokastan one day.
Your sisters will then have to call you Maharani and bow to you.
Now that last statement that was the one that sent Rani over the edge. I knew that for sure.
No longer did she threaten to kill herself, but now she wanted to kill me.
I believed her.
I will strangle her skinny neck and I will strangle her stupid rat! Rani screamed, loud enough
for people in Africa to hear.
Mouse, I corrected. See now, that made my life difficult, because I had to take Biju
everywhere from then on, in case Rani set her equally mean cat, Kala, on him.
Things didnt go as expected, much to my mothers disappointment.
I never got to meet my groom, I was given absolutely no training on how to be a princess, and I
would certainly not be pleasing my husband anytime soon. Everyone could count on that.
Also, Maharani declined to visit our house, but she sent both her royal aides to inspect and
report back to her. It was a good thing, because where would she have sat? We had no living room
and the one rickety chair we had was reserved solely for Rani. The rest of us sat on the floor or on
our beds.
Most baffling to my parents was the fact that my wedding was to take place just two weeks after
I was chosen.
Talk about a whirlwind romance between Queen Karisma and me, that is.
Of course, The palace paid all expenses relating to the wedding, so my family had nothing to
worry about. In fact, my mother had already received a fairly large sum of money from the palace
towards wedding expenses and she was feverish with excitement.
My excitement stemmed from a different source I had heard that the palace had television sets
in all the rooms. We never owned a TV, so that was something I wanted so badly.
I also heard that they had indoor plumbing. Great no more sharing our toilet with the other
families in our village.
Apparently, I would get my own bed too. I shared my bed with my sisters and, well, lets put it
this way a lot of times I woke up feeling wet like I was in a warm bath. That was okay, until the
bath water turned cold. They complained about the same thing.
Our house was constructed basically of wood and it had a tin roof. On rainy days the sound on
the roof would be like an orchestra playing. Badly at that.
The roof leaked a lot and it was not unusual to see the floor littered with plastic buckets to catch
the falling drops.
There was very little money, so food was scarce. We had dinner every night and all the other
times we ate nothing. There was no such thing as breakfast, lunch, or snacks.
These days when I see advertisements on television A dollar a day could feed a starving
child, I think of my upbringing I was that starving child.
Being hungry was normal to us and on the rare occasion that my mother brought home a chicken,
wed eat every part of it, even the bones. We children scoured the fields for fruit and berries and that
would sustain us till dinner time. My slingshot came in handy I could steal into our landlords
orchard and shoot down mangoes, avocados, and lychees for us to eat. All I had to ensure was that I
never got caught or Id get a beating from the landlord.
I could even shoot birds, but I loved them too much to harm them, so, to the frustration of the
other village children, I never brought down a bird for lunch.
There was little money for medicine too, so if any of us took ill, we had to rely on the local
medicine man to help or just saw the illness through.
We were, in the true sense of the word, dirt-poor.
So when Henna, a thirteen year-old, scrawny tomboy from the village of Geet, was chosen as a
bride for the Crown Prince of Asokastan, my mother had indeed had won the lottery.
The big question: Why Henna? Why me?

Chapter Five

AT THE PALACE

HENNA

Homesick for both my family and my village, for all that was familiar to me, I spent my days
staring out the window and crying quietly.
I cried for the open fields of Geet with its goat tracks, for my goat-herd friend, Zaman, who used
to have mouse-races with me, for Suri and Meena and their tree-climbing competitions which I
always won, for milk direct from a cow, for my mother even though she rarely spoke to me, for my
father who didnt know I existed.
Even though it had been days, I was still hopeful about my mother. Maybe she would take pity on
me and come back, I thought. Maybe shed stay till I got used to the place. Maybe shed send Meena
to keep me company. Maybe shed tell Maharani that I was not coping and that she wanted to send
Rani in my place instead.
I clung to hope that they would return, shower me with kisses and whisk me away. That theyd
say that they missed me enough to want to me back. That I was more important than all the prestige
that came with being a royal bride.
None of that happened.
Biju was a concern of mine was he okay? Was he being bullied by Kala? Did they remember
to feed him? I had never owned a stuffed toy or a doll in my life, so Biju was my furry friend who I
slept with. I missed him so much.
I refused to eat or go to bed. I slept in a chair next to the window.
Manju and Usha got annoyed with me for asking the same questions over and over again. Did
my mother send a message?
No!
Can you send her a message for me? Please?
Princess! Usha snapped, this is home now. Your fate, your kismet. You cant go back. Now
stop crying and come see all the nice things you have. Look at the beautiful suite you live in.
Okay, I said in a meek voice and hung my head.
Our suite, which was on the border of the palace grounds, was private, secluded, and huge five
times the size of my home back in Geet.
It had four spacious bedrooms, a massive lounge with a fireplace that looked like it had never
been used, a dining-room (that looked like it had never been used), and three lovely bathrooms. There
was a private patio and a study at the end of a long, dark corridor. It also has a guest suite, which had
its own wrap-around, private balcony.
Since it housed the crown prince, it was secure with video cameras and alarms and all sorts of
intimidating security devices. Why, I had no idea nobody visited and nobody cared enough to want
to harm Prince Vijay.
My bedroom had a king-sized bed with a red love-seat at the end, which looked like it had never
been used.
It was as palatial and stately as the main palace. Gold and cream walls and floors, expensive
rugs, chandeliers all around
The furniture was old-fashioned, ornate, and elaborate, like the kind you saw in Indian movies
about kings and queens.
Most impressive to me the six television sets in the suite. All color too!
As the days turned into weeks, I left the chair at the window and found a new one in front of the
television set.
I whiled away my days watching Disney Channel and eating. I went from not eating at all to
eating all the time. Breakfast, then after breakfast, lunch, then after lunch, dinner, then after dinner
throughout the day.
I just crammed food into my mouth and ate without tasting. But it was my drug it numbed me.
When I was eating, I forgot all my troubles.
Vijay barely spoke to me or acknowledged me. He wasnt rude or anything, he just didnt see
me. He walked around with his eyes to the ceiling and his fingers in a scratching motion on his chest.
He spent all his time with Barood, his advisor, the same man who slept in our bed on our
wedding night.
I had never met a boy like Barood before, and I was fascinated by him. He was around fifteen,
my height, pudgy, with stubby arms and really short legs. His face was round as a ball and he used a
ton of oil to tame the dark mess of curls on his hair. He had a baby face even though he was fifteen.
It was weird his lips were red, then after he ate, they were light pink. He lined his eyes with
kohl and wore colorful bangles.
He spent a lot of times in front of the mirror and I often caught him wearing my shawls and my
satin bedroom slippers.
He was really bossy towards Vijay do this, this that, dont wear this, wear that
Vijay meekly did everything Barood told him to.
I did admire his confidence his over-confidence actually. Although it was intimidating and
made me feel like I was intruding.
You eat a lot, he said with a look of disgust on his face. Youre going to be fat and ugly
soon.
I said nothing and continued eating. He was lucky that I was here, I remember thinking. If he had
said that to me in the village of Geet, I would have floored him with a slingshot to the temple. I was a
village girl I could defend myself. I never looked for fights, though; I just defended myself when
attacked.
Barood! Vijay hissed, in a voice like a milky baby snake.
What? What? Barood plonked his hands on his hips and looked defiantly at Vijay. Im just
saying.
Barood always had something nasty to say to me or about me. I pretended like I didnt notice, but
I did and each time, tears pricked the back of my eyes.
But if I thought Barood was bad, it was nothing compared with dinner with the royal family in
the formal dining room.
Vijay had two sisters, Princess Chandini, who was seventeen, and Princess Madhuri, who was
my age.
Princess Chandini resembled her mother in looks and she also dressed like her too designer
gowns, lots of jewellery, and heavy make-up. She was married to Hritik, a very handsome man of
about thirty. Barood said that he used to be a Bollywood movie star. They had a cute baby girl called
Sonia.
Princess Madhuri, was less attractive, but equally stylish. She was due to be married to a prince
from a neighbouring state. He was thirty-eight years old and according to Barood, a disgusting piece
of shit.
At first when I met the sisters, I was excited. They were around my age, so I had visions of us
playing hide and seek in the palace and chasing each other though the grounds. But to my
disappointment, neither princess cared to befriend or to even talk to me.
I didnt blame them they were very different from me. Both princesses were educated abroad
and they were sophisticated, classy and regal, everything I was not.
Both princesses lived in the palace, but Princess Chandini had her own private suite also on the
border of the palace, but on the opposite side of us.
To my surprise, they called their mother Maharani, not Ma or Mother, like I expected
them to. Around her, their smiles were nervous and they barely ate. I was most surprised that they
ignored the rainbow ice-cream.
Nobody spoke to Vijay or King Anant.
Throughout dinner, I felt the sisters laughing at me, nudging each other, sharing private jokes
between themselves. Could have been something to do with the fact that I ate with my fingers.
Back home, we never had cutlery so I really didnt know how to use a fork and a knife like the
rest of the Royals did.
They also spoke English. I didnt I spoke broken Hindi or kitchen Hindi as some called it.
Anyway, I was their monkey, the entertainment for the otherwise dull evening, and although I
pretended that I didnt care that they laughed at me, it hurt. The only way I coped was to keep my eyes
averted and try to blend in with the ornate furniture.
When dinner was over, I always rushed out of the dining room, eager to get back to my suite. To
my lonely, forgotten, gilded cage.
As the days went by, my loneliness intensified. In my family, you had to shout to be heard, so I
was used to noise. At the palace, everything was so quiet and everyone was so polite, that I was
uncomfortable with the silence.
Alone, I sat in front of the television and continued watching Disney Channel (which I loved)
and stuffed myself with cakes, biscuits, sweets, soft-drinks everything and anything.
I learned a ton of western phrases from Disney Channel:
Gee Whiz!
Are you kidding me?
Come on, be happy!
Golly!
The bogeymans gonna getcha!
Im famished.
Im stuffed!
When I got bored of that, I switched to American adult movies and videos. Saturday Night
Fever (again and again) and Grease. Handsome John Travolta never disappointed. I was free to
watch anything I liked, regardless of my age, so I did movies that were 18+ with the most foul
language I had ever heard, graphic sex scenes, totally unsuitable for a thirteen-year-old, strong
violence that made me shudder and horror movies that gave me nightmares and made me sleep with
the light on.
There, too, I learned a ton of colorful and amazing phrases.
You talking to me, bitch?
Sit yo goddamn ass down.
Get the fuck out of here.
I gon bust a cap in yo ass.
You want a date?
Kiss my ass.
What the fuck?
Blow me!
Bring it on!
You fat fuck.
Fascinated, I learned them off and used them in my head a lot. Mainly on Barood, Manju, and
Usha.
Of course, I answered them in a civil manner, but in my mind, it was a different story. Like, I
would say, Whats wrong? But in my mind, what Im really saying was, What the fucks your
problem, bitch? Laugh at me again and Ill bust a cap in your fat ass.
Bitch worked equally well on Manju, Usha, and Barood. A very versatile word.
With all the eating over the months, Ive gained a little weight. A lot of weight twenty-five
pounds. I could no longer fit into my clothes and my thighs rubbed against each other as I walked.
I had two chins and several rolls around my waist. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I
couldnt believe that I was the same skinny kid from Geet. I looked swollen and ugly.
I was so ashamed of myself and the way I looked, that I no longer ventured out of the palace or
looked in the mirror.
My weight added to the evenings entertainment. Princess Chandini and Princess Madhuri
continue their sniggering at the dining room table.
I loathed this time of day even more when I saw Maharani, my queen, the woman I worshipped,
laughing at me. I had no choice but to show up. So I went and was the entertainment for the evening.
Bitches!

Chapter Six

HENNA

Bored, I got curious about a lot of things. But, I was most curious about the study. Especially
since both Barood and Vijay had expressly warned me never to go there.
Its private and for palace affairs, Vijay explained.
Yes, palace affairs, Barood had sniggered.
My curiosity peaked what were they hiding?
I ventured towards the study on the pretext that I need Baroods help with the video machine. He
was a know-it-all and proud of it. Loved it when people needed his help.
Slowly, I turned the handle of the door and entered the room. What I saw left me with my jaw
hanging.
Vijay lay naked on the couch. Kneeling in front of him was Barood, also naked.
Both guys looked stunned to see me.
Shocked, I backtracked all the way to my room where I sat on my bed and hugged my knees
while I tried to still my shaking self. That couldnt be right, I remember thinking. It was worse than
any of the Not suitable for anyone under the age of 18 movies or television programs I had seen.
Vijay came flying after me with Barood in tow. Didnt I tell you never to come into that room?
he screeched. He seemed scared, nervous.
I looked at him and his unzipped fly with big eyes. What could I possibly say?
You know, Barood said as he slowly skirted me, If you tell, Maharani will be angry at you
for for embarrassing the royal family and she will send you back to Geet.
Thats not so bad, I spat. I hate this dreadful place anyway! I hate it! I hate it!
Barood puts his hands behind his back and nodded several times. Yes, go home and then ?
You will have disgraced your family. Then your parents will be very angry with you and theyll
send you away, banish you to some strange place for bringing disgrace to the family. Or lock you up
in a tower and tell everyone you died. Mmm? With traces of a smirk, he brought his hands around
and folded them across his chest.
I believed him. Every single word he said. My mother would have lost her place in society and
shed never have forgiven me for that.
Vijay stepped forward and pushed Barood back. Henna, he said in a humble voice. I cant
I cant help what I am. His crackly voice was even cracklier than usual and I wondered if he was
going to cry.
I tried really hard not to be this way, but His chest heaved and his bottom lip trembled. I
didnt know he could speak so clearly and be so humble, and suddenly I felt his plight and I felt really
sorry for my him.
Im sorry I put you through all this, but my mother He shook his head slowly. Im really
sorry, Henna.
This was the first time since Id been there that Id experienced kindness from anyone and I
lapped it up like water to a woman in the desert.
Nobody needs know, I quickly said. I wont tell.
His head jerked to look at me. Really?
I nodded, eager to help, even more eager to be part of a secret.
His shoulders dropped and relief flooded his face. Keep this a secret and I will arrange for you
to visit home in two weeks and I will give you lots of presents for them.
My eyes lit up at the thought of visiting my family again. Presents?
Yes.
Okay, deal! I was so excited about going home and the promise of presents that I was happy to
forget everything I saw. Hey, does your mother know that you ?
I think she knows, he said.
Why you think she chose you, huh? Barood chirped. I mean, Vijay was educated in the UK
and you were educated where? He clapped his hands and laughed. Oh, thats right, you werent
educated. I forgot, silly me. His laugh is mocking.
I had no idea where or what the UK was.
I was educated in the UK too, by the way, he continued, his hands on his hips. Ill tell you
why Maharani chose you cause youre too young and stupid to figure things
No, Im not!
out. And if you did figure it out, where will you go? Nobody wants you
Thats not true!
because youre too ugly.
Im not ugly! I cried, hotly. Zaman, he said I was pretty!
He rolled his eyes. Did he have a white walking stick? Huh? Did he? Did he? Huh? This is
your kismet, village girl. All of it and you have to accept it.
Barood, stop! Vijay cried, when he saw tears roll down my cheeks.
Even though Barood was probably right, I felt like punching him in his fat face for saying all
those nasty things.
Could he be right? Did Maharani choose me because I was ugly? Is that why she didnt choose
Rani because Rani was far too pretty to put up with all this weirdness?
Why do you think she hasnt allowed you to continue your schooling, didnt provide you with
an etiquette coach, a stylist? She didnt want to make you smart in any way because then, youd
become too good for Vijay and, he clicked his fingers--youd be gone! Then poor, poor, Vijay, all
by his lonesome self. Poor, poor Vijay, the gay prince of Asokastan, will
Gay? I squinted at Barood.
He rolled his eyes at my simpleness. Homosexual, gay same thing. Dont you know
anything?
Maharani is such a fucking bitch! I suddenly spat.
Their jaws dropped and for a moment, it is so silent, we could hear the refrigerator.
What? I looked at Barood, then at Vijay with raised eyebrows.
Then, both of them burst out laughing.
My mother will throw you in jail for talking like that about her.
She will?
Vijay nodded, an amused look in his eyes.
Mfff.
You want to play Starr Gazer with Barood and I? Vijay asked. Its a video game.
No, I want to go home. I hate this place.
He sat on the bed and looked at me with what I thought was sympathy in his eyes. Yes, I know. I
hate it, too. He dropped his voice and leaned towards me. I hate my mother, too.
Really?
He nodded grimly.
Barood glared at us, his breathing raspy. You falling in love with your wife now? Huh? Cutting
me out, becoming friends suddenly? Sitting soooo close, huh?
He burst into tears and ran off.
Vijay shook his head but did not run after Barood. Come play Starr Gazer with us. Come!
I wasnt in the mood to play. N
Nobodys ever beaten me.
My ears twitched. Nobody? I jumped out of bed. That is about to change, Vijay, I said, a
bring-it-on look on my face.
It took me a short while to learn the game and then I beat him.
When Barood heard us playing, he ran back into the room, his tears forgotten. Let me play her!
Let me play her!
Okay, but Im gonna kick your mother fucking ass! I said.
They both stared at me with mouths opened then burst out laughing.
I beat Barood too. He demanded a rematch. When I beat them again, they looked at me with
newfound respect. Grudgingly.
We became friends, Vijay, Barood and I. Three misfits of society. Three misfits of societys
elite actually, in a weird sort of way.
In spite of our friendship, I was the third wheel and I always felt left out and alone. I comforted
myself with more pastries, more chocolates, and more sugary drinks while watching television.
Then, I discovered the music channel. And George Michael. What a gorgeous man. I could watch
him all day and I did.
When Barood saw me watching George Michael, he jerked back. You like him?
Hes handsome, I confessed, shaking my knees and smiling shyly.
Barood clapped his hands and laughed. Vijay, shes got a crush on George Michael!
They both laughed and I immediately regretted my confession.
George Michael wouldnt like you, Barood said. But I think he stabbed his chest with
his index finger several times--hed like me. Hes gay. Glee dripped from his voice.
What?! Thats not possible.
More laughter as confusion reigned over me.
Embarrassed at my naivety, I switched to watching Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Freddy
Mercury.
You like Freddy Mercury? Barood asked.
Wary after being laughed at, my nod was slight.
Vijay, shes got a crush on Freddie Mercury!
Again, they laughed at me. Roared.
Hes gay too.
But but he sings about being a champion and how hell fight to the end and stuff are you
sure?
Barood skips around me and chants, Gay! Gay! Gay!
With a weary sigh, I switched to Michael Jackson. Dont let them tell me hes gay. I wont
believe it. I mean, Ive seen him on TV with Brook Shields and Madonna so he cant be gay.
Hes not gay, Barood said.
Thank God!
But hes black.
What? No! I look at the TV screen. Hes hes white.
Yesssss, but Barood throws his eyes towards the ceiling. Never mind.
I gave up. What the hell was wrong with all these people? I couldnt figure any of them out. I
silently gave up on Michael Jackson. He was black my family would never allow it. They were
color conscious.
Anyway, Ill stick to the guy from Saturday Night Fever, I announced.
Ah, yes, John Travolta. Barood clasped his hands together under his chin. Hes straight. And
so good looking. And the way he dances wonderful.
Finally! John Travolta it was.
Secretly, George Michael was, in my opinion, the most handsome man in the world and I wanted
to marry him. That song he sang about whispering or something great stuff. So romantic.
As for my visit to Geet, I didnt get to visit my family, to my utter disappointment.
Maharani said I can only visit after a year of marriage. She also said that they were free to visit
me and apparently my family was aware of that. But they never did visit.
After a year of marriage, I was still not allowed to visit my family. The reasons were unclear. I
had no choice but to accept it.

*****

HENNA

On my sixteenth birthday I waited for my family to visit. It was a special birthday and I was
convinced that they would remember.
Throughout the day, I watched the wall clock and jumped the moment I heard the door to my
suite open. But, to my disappointment, my family did not turn up, send presents, or even send a
message.
Maharani summoned me to her office and congratulated me. Then she presented me with a
diamond tiara. I was disappointed. Didnt know what I expected or wanted, but I said, Thank you,
Maharani.
Vijay must have taken pity on me because he took Barood and me to a fancy restaurant and
presented me a diamond bracelet. An ugly one that wasnt suitable for a sixteen-year-old. But, I
thanked him and told him that it was lovely. It was the thought and I appreciated it.
Even though he had bought the same one for Barood. The exact one.
Barood spent all evening scrutinizing the two. Are they the same? he asked over and over
again.
Yes! Vijay said.
Barood sulked. Hennas shines more than mine. Shes got he squinted at it, yellow
diamonds and mine is pink. He pushed his towards Vijay, his bottom lip trembling.
No, it hasnt, I said, desperate to shut him up. Theyre the same, Barood!
Didnt work. He sulked and pouted, and slowly the evening disintegrated because of his
pettiness and jealousy.
While Vijay spent the rest of the evening placating him, my mind drifted to my family. It had
been over three years since Id seen them. Did they ever think of me? Did they remember my
birthday? Quietly, I played the maybe game in my head: maybe if my skin was whiter, maybe if I
was prettier, maybe if I was older, maybe if I didnt stand up to Rani, maybe if I gave Rani my white
gown
What? Barood asked.
I lifted my head to look at him. Huh?
Why you crying? You dont like your bracelet?
No, no, no I I like it.
So why you crying?
I hung my head as tears ran down my cheeks.
For a few moments, we three sat in silence. A short while later, we left the restaurant and I went
to bed still crying.

Chapter Seven

HENNA

Vijay and I were summoned by Maharani.
Roop Singh was there to meet us and eyed us over his horn-rimmed spectacles. Maharani will
see you in a short while, he said.
Vijay nodded while I said nothing.
Roop Singh was Maharanis advisor and cousin of King Raja.
Maharani did little without consulting him first. He was fortyish, impatient, and I found him
rather intimidating. But he was always impeccably dressed and extremely attentive to Maharani.
When he spoke to her, he used a different voice a softer, gentler voice. But then, most men did when
they spoke to Maharani.
As we waited, Vijay shifted in his chair, while I cracked my knuckles, one by one.
Finally, we were ushered inside. Dear Henna and Vijay, how nice to see you both, Maharani
cooed in a velvety voice.
As usual, she was a vision of loveliness in cerise and white. Her floor-length gown fashioned
out of the silk of a saree, nipped at her tiny waist and accentuated her full breasts and slim hips.
Her creamy skin contrasted beautifully against her mahogany hair, which was piled high on her
head, revealing her swan-like neck.
She wore beautiful, but simple pieces of gold jewellery on her hair and throat, but she did not
wear a crown. She moved slowly, gracefully, reminding me of a movie-star, like those beautiful, but
wicked stepmothers Id seen on Disney Channel Snow White and Cinderella. But younger and
prettier.
Even though she had a son as old as Vijay, she looked closer to Ranis age than a mother of three
grown children. Once again, I asked myself the question how does a creature so beautiful and so
striking, bear such ugly children like Vijay, Chandini and Maduri? They dressed well, spoke well,
and carried themselves well, but they were ugly.
Put Maharani next to my mother and you could have easily mistaken her for my mothers
daughter. Not that I would ever have said that to my mother. Shed back-hand me for even thinking
such a thought.
So enchanted was I by Maharani, that I forgot to bow.
When she looked at me with raised eyebrows, Vijay nudged me.
I quickly bowed. Maharani, I murmured.
Maharani, Vijay said in a strained voice.
Queen Karisma smiled and gestured at the variety of Indian delights tiny curried samoosas,
coconut and pistachio burfee, bright orange jellebee, and slivers of tandoori chicken on the table.
They looked great, but I didnt touch them. I was too intimidated and uncomfortable in Maharanis
presence, and I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. She herself touched nothing, but sipped on
some sort of black tea while she talked to us.
Are you happy so far at the palace, dear Henna? she asked in a lyrical voice.
Now she asked me? Three years later? Yes, Maharani, I answered.
She nodded and turned to Vijay. How are you, my dear?
I was intrigued by their interaction she was his queen then, not his mother. In fact, I couldnt
imagine her reading him a bedtime story or cuddling him. For a moment, I felt really sorry for Vijay.
He was almost as abandoned as I was.
Henna?
I looked at the queen with eyebrows raised. Maharani?
I said, we are waiting for the announcement. She flashed beautiful white teeth at me. I thought
to myself, maybe Barood is wrong maybe Maharani picked me because she liked me the most.
Shes so nice to me. Look at her right now, smiling at me, offering me delightful things to eat
Announcement, Maharani?
An heir. She looked at Vijay. We cant wait to announce that you are presenting us with an
Heir to Asokastan. All of us, were waiting impatiently for your baby, Vijay. She placed her palms
on the table in front of her and looked at the ceiling. Im going to throw the biggest party Asokastan
has ever seen when Henna is with child.
I snuck a look at Vijay. He looked the colour of the coriander garnishing the slivers of tandoori
chicken. She gushed some more, then murmured something about taking a phone call.
My eyes followed her as she left the room, with her black tea in hand.
Roop Singh strode in and stood in front of Vijay and me, his hands behind his back. He looked at
me with a listen-here look. You, Princess Henna, you have a job to do; you need to do it.
Yyes. Okay, I mumbled.
He turned to Vijay. Your uncle Sharmaan, Maharanis brother, has been spreading rumors that
you are --he scratched his eyebrows as he searches for the word--weak and not suitable to
become King. Hes dangerous. That means you must always be ready to be crowned King. And
you need to produce an heir as soon as possible so we can quash these ugly rumours, understand? He
clenches a fist as he spoke.
Vijay nodded and dropped his eyes. Yes, Uncle Roop.
Roop Singh ended the visit and under his watchful eye, both of us shuffled out of the room and
made our way back to our suite in silence.
Barood was in front of the mirror, dancing to Madonnas Papa Dont Preach which played in
the background. He was dressed in a black vest, black spandex shorts, and black pumps.
When he saw our faces, he hit the pause button. And?
I filled him in on everything, while a grim Vijay sat on the edge of a chair, his head bowed, his
hand dangling between his legs.
Barood laughed. Produce an heir? Like that is going to happen. Ha, ha, ha!
Neither Vijay nor I laughed with him. Not even at him, in spite of how ridiculous he looked in
black spandex.
Seeing Vijays troubled face and realizing this was serious, he stopped laughing. You could just
have sex with her.
What?! Vijay and I chorused.
Barood shrugged. Then shell have a baby and your mother will shut up.
Vijay shook his head, a solemn look on his face. I cant do that, he whined. How can I do
that? Huh? How can I do something like ?
Then what am I supposed to do, Vijay? I snapped.
He put his hands over his head. I dont know. I dont know. He looked like he was going to
cry.
Well, Vijay, I said in a tone similar to Roop Singhs, You need to know
His hands dropped to his ears.
Frustrated, I yanked back his hands and said, We have no choice!
Shes right, Barood said. It will take minutes but then its all over.
I was confused why was Barood not opposed to Vijay and I having sex? After all, he was
insecure about me and about losing his position in Vijays life.
His actions cleared my confusion.
Barood put his face in Vijays and dropped his voice. Just think, Vijay, we can have a baby! A
cute little ladki or a handsome ladka, huh? His excitement at the prospect of having Vijays baby
was tangible.
I can dress her up in pretty little sarees ... His eyes became wistful.
Vijay looked thoughtfully at Barood and slowly he lowered his hands from his ears.
Barood continued his cajoling.
Finally, after much discussion between the three of us and a great deal of We have to do it,
But I cant do it, We have no choice, Vijay broke. Okay, I will try to have He waved his
hand at me, while looking in the opposite direction. Lets just get it over and Sounded like he
was talking to himself.
Barood swung into action. He tied one of my scarves over his head like a washer-woman, took a
deep breath and went into director mode. He swiveled around, scanned the room and pointed at the
bed. Henna, lie there.
I got onto the bed. Although I didnt quite know how to have sex, Id watched so many almost-
pornographic movies that I had a fair idea. Although it did not in any way appeal to me. In fact, fear
welled inside of me.
Vijay, take off your clothes and get on the bed.
Vijay looked at me, looked at his clothes, and stood frozen.
Hurry! Barood said, clapping his hand.
Can I leave my socks on? Vijay asked, taking off his shoes and wriggling his toes.
Barood eyed Vijays Donald Duck socks and nodded. Okay, fine. Leave your socks on.
Slowly, Vijay peeled off his clothes, one by one.
Wait, I have mood music! Barood cried and played Like a Virgin. Ive put it on repeat, he
said.
With my stomach in a knot and my breathing erratic, I lay on the bed and hitched up my dress just
a little. My heart started to race and I started to tremble.
Take off your panties, Henna, Barood says.
Wha? I jerked upright.
He glared at me. Dont be stupid, you have to take them off!
With all eyes on me, I slowly rolled down my big, beige panties.
Similar to a policeman directing traffic, Barood ushered Vijay towards me.
Now in his Spiderman boxers, Vijay inched forward and peered between my legs, then shrunk
back sharply.
I rolled my eyes.
Barood nodded his understanding of how terrible it must be for Vijay.
Slowly, like you would do when you are contemplating jumping off a diving board in a
swimming pool, Vijay leaned forward again, peered at my vagina, and once again shrank back.
After doing this several times, I snapped. Vijay, do the fucking thing!
Okay, okay, okay! He tugged one side of his boxers, then the other side, and finally, he stood
naked in front of the bed with just his socks on, his penis hanging like a tiny dead bird between his
skinny legs.
No doubt I looked funny too, but nobody laughed.
Vijays bottom lip stuck out.
What? I asked.
Cant get it He fiddled between his legs.
I lay there, bare and burning with embarrassment, with Like a Virgin on repeat, while he stroked
himself and tried to get it up. Nothing.
Barood leaned down and inspected Vijays limp penis. Think of me, he coached.
Vijay closed his eyes and concentrated really hard, and I guess he thought of Barood naked, but
still, nothing.
Frustrated, Barood yanked down his own pants and stood in front of Vijay. Try that!
I hoped none of the servants were peeping into this room right now imagine how they would
describe what they saw?
I mean, I was on my back with my skirt raised, wearing no panties, the future king of Asokastan
stood in just his socks and stroked himself, while the future kings advisor, British educated at that,
stood in front of him, his pants around his ankles, fully erect, and making all kinds of obscene gestures
to the future king.
It was like we were shooting amateur porn. Really amateur.
Anyway, back to Vijay, his Donald Duck socks and his stroking. Nothing.
You can do it, Barood chanted. You can do it. Come on, you can do it!
After a lot of stroking, Vijay slowly sank into a chair, his shoulders hunched. Then to my
absolute annoyance, he started to cry like a baby. Wah! Wah! sobs.
I cant do this. Dont make me do this! Why is everybody doing this to me? Why does everyone
hate me like this? I dont want to do this anymore.
Barood pulled up his pants and took Vijay in his arms. Okay, okay, dont cry. Itll be okay.
Dont cry! He planted several kisses on Vijays head and hugged him.
Humiliated, frustrated, and feeling rejected, I sprung up from the bed, fumbled into my ugly
panties, and pulled down my skirt.
Shes too fat, Barood hissed as I walked away. Its all her fault. He released Vijay and
glared at me. Its all your fault! You are too fat and thats why he cant get it up.
I turned around, walked over to him and punched him in the face.
Stunned, he held his nose and gaped at me.
With my fists raised, I glared at him, Say that again, motherfucker, and I will whip yo ass!
He darted behind Vijay. Did you see that? She hit me! Did you see that? Did you see? And
shes talking black shes gone mad. Your wife is mad! Send her back to Geet quick! Shes gone
mad.
Stop it, you two! Vijay cried, curled up in fetal position. Everybody just stop it! Please!
Please! Pleeeease! he whimpered like a girl.
I walked over the TV and hit the off button. Madonna and her Virgin song could go to hell with
the rest of them.
Fuming, I folded my arms across my chest and glared at them. I want to go home to visit my
family, I said to Vijay. NOW! Today! Furiously, I wiped away my tears with the sleeves of my
top.
Okay, Vijay said, Just dont fight anymore, please. Please! I beg you both. Dont fight,
please!
I walked to my bathroom, slammed the door, and paced. After a while, I sat my rejected self on
the edge of the bathtub and stared at the floor.
If I could have wished for one thing then, it would have been for a hug.
From anyone.
Unloved and untouched thats how I felt.

Chapter Eight

HENNA

My sisters rushed out of the house to meet me. When I saw my house, I got so emotional, I started
to cry. Everything was so familiar and beautiful, even though some people would have considered it
abject poverty. I loved the smells, the warmth of the air, the voices of children playing out in the
open, the arguing between neighbors I love my home that I hadnt seen in three years.
When I saw my mother, the first thing I did was attack her. Why didnt you visit me, Ma? I
demanded through my tears.
My mother gave me a brief hug and said, Because you had to stay and get used to the place,
Henna. Thats how it works.
That was not good enough for me. But, Ma, I
Hello roundoooo! Rani said after she got over her surprise at seeing me. What happened to
you? You are as big as a house. In your case, as big as a palace. She clapped her hands and laughed,
reminding me of Barood. She skirted me as her eyes travelled all over me.
Under her scrutiny, I felt really self-conscious and unattractive.
Leave her alone, my sister Suri said. Shes got the good life, thats all. Right, Henna?
Good life mmm. Rani giggled, then pretended to shovel food into her mouth.
As I looked at Rani mocking me, for the first time in my life, I understood not liking someone. I
loved my sister because she was blood, but I really didnt like her.
I knew that I disliked my ladies-in-waiting for treating me shabbily; I knew that at times, I
disliked Barood too; but the dislike I felt for Rani was so profound, that I was uncomfortable with it.
She was blood it felt wrong.
My sisters tugged at my arm and ushered me away from Rani.
Sadly, Biju, my pet mouse, was no longer around. He disappeared the day I left for Asokastan. I
guess I was a bit silly to expect him to be around almost three years later.
But to my absolute delight, I found my slingshot. Meena, my sister, had kept it. I kissed it, put it
into my pocket and vowed never to part with it.
Our house looked better than I remembered. There were more beds, our first ever lounge suite,
the floors had proper shop-bought mats, the kitchen had cupboards, and my mother was cooking
chicken something we rarely ate.
The villagers flocked to my home bringing gifts and sweet-meats. They all wanted to see
Princess Henna and everyone treated my family and me with great respect.
I didnt feel any different, and all I wanted to do was strip off the constricting palace clothes,
change back into my normal village clothes, and run off with my sisters to play in the field.
But my mother wouldnt hear of it. Youre Rajkumari now, she said. You have to act like
one. No more playing in the fields. Go put on your saree and wear your tiara.
No way was I going to do either of that.
When she was not looking, I changed into casual clothes and sprinted off to play in the fields
with my sisters and the village children. I loved every minute of it. I was a girl again, carefree and
laughing, with no pressure on me to produce an heir or act in a certain way.
While I played, I didnt even think about food. When I did eat, it was humble, basic food of
vegetables with rice with a piece of chicken. That was enough for me.
My younger sisters were thrilled to have me back, and when I won a tree-climbing race, it was
like I never left.
We miss you, Henna, Sangeeta said. Nobody makes us laugh like you did. We miss the way
youd stand up to Smita and Raven.
Everyone concurred by means of several nods.
Smitha and Ravan were bullies. But they left us alone because I once shot Raven in the head
with my slingshot. Even though I did it because he made my sister Suri cry, I got in serious trouble
because of it. But Ravan and Smitha backed off after that.
Do you need me to visit them? I asked, patting my slingshot.
My sisters laughed. No!
I was so eager to visit Zaman, my cow-herd friend. I couldnt wait to tell him about the palace
and Starr Gazer and about the color televisions that I could adjust by means of a hand-held device.
Zaman smiled when he saw me. He was taller and had a slight goatee. But he wouldnt look me
in the eye and answered me in monosyllables, which confused me.
How long are you staying, Rajkumari? he asked.
Rajkumari? I cocked my head and looked at him. Zaman, its me Henna!
He nodded and kept his eyes averted. Yes, Rajkumari.
I immediately understood that we couldnt resume our childhood relationship. After a few
awkward moments, I decided to leave. He seemed relieved, which disappointed me further.
In spite of everything--Zaman being intimidated with me, Rani making fun of me all the time, the
lack of luxuries that the palace afforded me--I felt so free and happy.
I actually caught myself laughing out loud, something I rarely did since I got married.
But at night, when I lay in bed, my mind drifted back to the glittering palace, with its gilded taps,
hundreds of servants, countless color TVs, and all the food I could eat (and I did); where mean
Barood and wimpy Vijay and nasty Usha and Manju and scary Roop Singh and intimidating Maharani
waited.
I tossed and turned in my cramped bed and wished I was a bird so I could fly away and never
come back. Even though I was surrounded by my family, during those times, I felt alone, stressed, and
afraid.

*****

HENNA

The limousine will be here tomorrow morning, my mother reminded me. You need to pack.
I jerked to look at her. So quickly? Time really did fly.
Immediately, sharp pains stabbed at my gut, I developed a giant-size headache, and I felt like
throwing up.
The thought of going back to that solitary life, that life of obscene luxury that I had to endure,
made me want to vomit.
Ive made special mithai for Prince Vijay, my mother said and reached out for my hands.
Smiling at me, she slowly removed three gold bangles from one hand, then three from the other. They
wont know, she whispered, as she tucked my hair ear behind my ears, then peered at my gold
earrings.
Ma, Im not going back, I said, not caring that she planned to take my earrings. I hated them
anyway.
Just make sure you serve it to him
I hate that place, Ma! I hugged myself as I spoke. Prince Vijay, he he doesnt like
straight away or
me
it wont be fresh.
he likes boys. He sleeps with a boy!
My mother gasped, then lashed out at me, striking me across the face. Dont you ever talk about
your husband like that! That is a horrible thing to say about the future king of Asokastan. What a liar
you are!
Its true, I said, holding my cheek. I caught him in bed with another boy another man.
She lunged at me again, but I darted out of her reach, afraid of the fury I saw in her eyes.
You are going to be Queen one day. You will be loyal to your King and to your Kingdom!
I dont want to be Queen, Ma. Send Rani. Tell them I cant do it, Ma. Please, I beg you, Ma!
Please!
This time her blow caught me across the mouth and I fell to the ground. She hovered above me,
her face contorted with fury. You say things like that what will everyone think about us? Huh?
Stunned, I touched my lip and when I looked at my hand again, it had blood on it. With a cry, I
got up and ran to my father.
Papa! I cried. Save me!
What is wrong, Henna? my father asked.
Ma, she hit me because because, papa, I dont want to go back to the palace. Between sobs
I told him about Vijay and Barood and Maharanis pressure on me to produce an heir.
Just as I finished, my mother showed up, her lips a thin line, her nostrils flaring. She ranted and
raved about how selfish I was and how none of my sisters would ever get married because of the
reproach I would bring to our family if I dared leave Prince Vijay, and how Maharani would put me
to death and maybe even our whole family.
My father looked at me with uncertain eyes. You have to go back, Henna, he finally said.
That is your home now. You will sort it out. Dont worry about Vijay and what he does, worry about
your duties. Think of it as a job and do your job. Look at me; I have two jobs. Do I complain? I just
do it. You are the only daughter of mine that has a job. Do it, child.
Then at least send Ma to help me, live with me for a while till I get used to it, I beg.
I have other children to think about, my mother snapped. What will happen to them if I went
with you?
But I am your child, too, and I need you, ma.
Stop arguing with me! my mother cried. You are married. Grow up. Be a wife.
Feeling weighed down and limp with despair, I crawled into bed and wept.
How do I be a wife, when I dont have a husband? The life I was leading was such a lie.
Everything was a lie.
We were a palace of liars.
My sisters tried to comfort me when they saw me sob with despair and helplessness.
All I wanted was for my mother to put her arms around me and love me, reassure me, and tell me
that I had not lost my place in my family.
But I had been sold to the Queen of Asokastan and I was now her slave in a gilded cage.
I cried all the way back to the palace, eliciting concerned stares from my limousine driver.
When I arrived at the hell I now called home, I crawled into bed with my slingshot, my only tie, my
only connection with my former life of a poor but carefree village girl.
This is how prison must feel, I remember thinking. I got life.

Chapter Nine

HENNA

Every three months, Maharani and Roop Singh invited us for tea and gave us the same speech
they needed Vijay and I to produce an heir. Vijay and I stressed for a while then forget about it, and
hoped that they would too.
During one of our meetings, Roop Singh said, Maybe you should lose some weight, Henna.
His voice was firm, but not unkind.
Roop Singh! Maharani chided with a smile. Dont say that. Shes lovely as she is, Roop
Singh.
I appreciated her kindness, but no, I wasnt. I was hideous overweight, unkempt, depressed,
and I no longer smiled or laughed. I was a joke, a monkey, the entertainment around Asokastan.
But how do I fix myself? I hadnt a single clue. But I knew one thing I wanted to change.
Desperately.


It was three days after my 17th birthday. I lay on the couch watching TV, when I heard Vijay
outside my window, screeching. Sounded like an Indian Mynah was calling.
I dashed to my window, ready to help him, only to see that he was not crying, he was laughing
out loud!
I couldnt believe it Vijay laughing out loud? Unheard off.
Then, I heard someone crying. I looked around and spotted Barood, standing at one of the
windows, watching Vijay outside.
Vijay laughing and Barood crying? Something was wrong.
I looked at Vijay he was in the middle of a fencing lesson on palace grounds. Why would he
laugh in the middle of a fencing lesson of all things, I wondered? After all, he was hopeless at it.
Terrible, in fact. Hed hold the sword like it was jellyfish and when his instructor came at him, he
shrunk back and even cowered at the thrusting sword.
I was sure that at this rate, hed never be able to protect his country from anyone!
After a while, his fencing instructor removed his mask and I gasped.
His face not only took my breath away, but it also pushed George Michael, John Travolta and
Freddie Mercury, all the men I had crushes on, right out of the picture.
Even Michael Jackson, who I wasnt going to consider marrying because he was black. My
family would never allow me to marry a black man. Yes, I was married, but I still thought like a
single teen.
Barood! I yelled. Come here, quick!
You wanted to know something, Barood was your man. He loved to talk. Let me rephrase that
he loved to gossip. His motto was: If you dont have anything nice to say about someonecome sit
next to me.
Barood ran to me, his tears forgotten. What? What? What is it, Princess? He wore yellow
shorts, black-and-white striped socks, and red lipstick. He was respectful, yes. It was amazing how
much respect and manners a bloody nose could teach a person. It could also teach a person to stand at
least three feet away at all times. Like he was doing then.
Whos he? I pointed to the magnificent man with the sword.
That Baroods bottom lip trembles. Hes Rusty Carrington, Vijays instructor teaches
karate, archery, fencing all those types of things.
And why are you crying?
Because hes going to take Vijay away from me. I know that. I just know it.
Oh, for fucks sake! I ignored his drama-queening and said, Wheres he from?
From New York. According to Roop Singh, he trains Hollywood actors for roles in movies.
Fight scenes and stuff.
He does? Really? Handsome and strong. Wow! And hes gay?
Nah, hes not gay.
So why the fuck are you crying? I snapped.
His response is to shrug several times. But he stopped his crying.
Tell me more about him.
Barood came alive. Welll! Hes trained the Sultan of Bruneis sons. Trains quite a few kings
and princes, actually.
Really?! I put both my hands on my chest, and in total awe, I gazed at the beautiful man called
Rusty. He was around six-foot-three, with muscular arms and a broad chest. He was tanned with
sandy brown hair. His eyes were blue the bluest I had ever seen-- and he looked like movie star
himself.
Whos he married to?
Not married, but I think hes seeing someone.
Of course a good looking guy like him would not be single.
Hired because Maharani thinks he will turn Vijay into a he-man. Shell try everything to fool
the people of Asokastan. To fool the world into believing that her son, the Crown Prince, is not gay.
Ha!
I lost Barood to the mirror on the wall, so I turned my attention back to the gorgeous creature
outside. I watched him gather his things and shake hands with Vijay. Then he dropped his bag and
appeared to give Vijay a lesson on hand-shaking.
Strong strongermorethats perfect. His American accent was strong and his voice was
deep and masculine. After a word to a palace staff member, he walked towards Maharanis office.
Thereafter, every time Vijay had a lesson, I stood by the window and feasted my eyes on Rusty. I
really looked forward to seeing him.
What I loved most about him his sense of humor. He laughed a lot and he succeeded in getting
Vijay to have fun during the lessons.
When he taught Vijay how to kick-box, he was shirtless! What a sight. Bulging arms, chiseled
chest, flat stomach he looked like a man on a movie about gladiators I had seen a few days ago. I
ogled him like crazy behind the drapes. Thank God he couldnt see me.
Harder, Vijay! He was calling him Vijay that was not allowed.
But, I dont want to hurt you, Mr Rusty, Vijay whined, his gloves dragging down his shoulders
and almost reducing his height.
I rolled my eyes as if Vijay could hurt Hercules!
Rusty dropped his arms and said, Here, I am Rusty and you are Vijay. Outside this arena I
will call you Prince Vijay and you will call me Rusty, deal?
Okay, deal, okay, Mr eh, Rusty.
Fine! Now, Vijay kick my FUCKING ass!
Vijay cowered like a kid. I dont want to hurt you, Mr Rus eh, Rusty.
Rusty stood with his hands on his hips and looked at Vijay as he hes not sure how to respond to
Vijays fears.
Fine, Rusty finally said, then fished into a bag. When he stood up, he was wearing an ugly
gorilla mask. Now, Vijay, kick the gorillas ass, man! You can do it! Kick its FUCKING ass!
Vijay lunged at the gorilla.
Now youre talking! Rusty yelled. Great lunge. Now try to get a shot in.
I stood at the window throughout the lessons, mesmerized by this creature.
When the lesson was over, I noticed Maharani at her office window watching them.
Her smile was one of approval. Quickly, I took two steps back, not wanting Maharani to see me
watching the shirtless hunk.
When I looked across me, I saw servants, mainly women, standing at different windows gazing
at Rusty. How could I blame them?
He was beautiful.

*****

HENNA

Maharani always watched their sessions from behind her window. Rusty was fun to watch. He
was entertaining and he didnt care who watched - he focused solely on Vijay.
Vijay, on the other hand, was also entertaining to watch as entertaining as watching a train
crash.
They practiced archery, fencing, karate moves and boxing over the weeks. Once I watched him
put Vijay through the paces. Vijay appeared sullen and annoyed, but Rusty seemed to give a hoot. He
goaded and teased Vijay, drawing out Vijays aggression and causing Vijay to execute a neat and
powerful blow to his solar plexus. Then, probably to stroke Vijays ego, he dramatically doubled-up
in pain.
Maharani laughed at her window.
She likes him too, so stand in line, Barood whispered in my ear.
Slowly, I turned to look at him, eyebrows raised.
She has lunch with him just about every day.
She does?
He nodded. She likes them muscular and young. Thats how she keeps herself young. Didnt you
know? He wriggled his eyebrows.
Totally at a loss, I frowned at him. What do you mean?
Shes tired of Roop Singh. Hes too old now. She needs fresh young meat and there it is.
Roop Singh?! Butbut what about Raja, our king?
Oh puhleeese! Hes like Vijay. Didnt you know?
I stared dumbly. Like Vijay?
He leaned closer and whispered, They sleep in separate bedrooms. But she has a high
sex drive, so she chooses her staff for their looks. The male ones, that is. All the female ones
have to be ugly. Like you. Wants no competition in the looks department. She has to be most beautiful
woman in all of Asokastan. Thats why she is obsessed with finding a potion that that will give her
eternal youth. Ha ha!
Ugly like you.
I was too engrossed in gossip to get angry and bust a cap in his ass.
But shes so beautiful, I said. Look at her.
There are stories that Ive heard about her and young men that will make your ears sing.
My jaw drops.
Barood put his finger to his lips. Talk about this and youve crossed Maharani, and nobody
.nobody crosses her and lives.
I nodded several times. I wouldnt dream of it.
Suddenly he chuckled at the shock on my face. You really are clueless, arent you? No wonder
they chose you. Youre so simple.
Before I could react, he stepped back and held up his palms in a motion of surrender. Sorry,
sorry!

Chapter Ten

HENNA

Since I was bored, I donned on the clothes of a commoner, and accompanied by Sunil,
who was my driver and bodyguard, I made my way to the town centre.
I visited the local marketplace, loitered around, and bought a Swiss army knife I loved it!
Loved all its gadgets. I put it in my pocket with my slingshot and moved on.
As I left the village square and ventured further, I stumbled upon a crowd of people, hurling
abuse at a woman.
Sunil, what is going on?
Its a kangaroo court, Rajkumari.
Oooh. Since I found kangaroo courts hugely entertaining, I craned my neck to get a better view.
A woman, around the same age as my mother, with a horrific scar that covered one side of her face,
was on the floor, chained to a metal fence. Men and women booed her and called her names. Some
people slapped and kicked the poor defenseless woman.
Why are they doing this, Sunil?
Shes a prostitute, Princess.
So? They must hurt her like this?
Even though he looked disturbed, he said, Its how it is around here, Rajkumari. Dont get
involved.
A man threw a small stone at her. The woman cried out and so did I. When another man picked
up a stone, I sprang into action. STOP!
The man holding the stone looked at me in surprise. Slowly his surprise morphed into a sneer.
You put that stone down now or I will fucking shoot you! I said without thinking, and in my
most intimidating voice.
Princess, stop! Sunils whisper was urgent.
Then man advanced slowly towards me, stone in hand, a malicious glint in his eyes. Really?
You going to do that? You a ladki?
Everybody laughed and my confidence dipped for a moment. But from the corner of my eye, I
saw Sunil inch closer to me, and I knew he wouldnt let the man hurt me.
Yes, Im a ladki (girl) and Im going to do that, I said and brought out my slingshot.
At the sight of my slingshot, he laughed harder. Even the crowd laughed.
A slingshot? You are going to shoot me with that?
I picked up a small stone, placed it in the pocket of my slingshot and waited.
Princess, dont! Sunil said.
The man raised his stone to throw at me. Thats all I needed I drew back my sling and
released. My stone hit him between the eyes and he fell like timber.
The crowd went wild, but instead of being happy that a young ladki like myself took on a bully
and knocked him out, they started to boo me.
Immediately, several men ganged up against me. I had no more stones and I was outnumbered.
Quickly, I fished out my Swiss army knife. Not that I would be able to use it against so many people.
Sunil! I cried as my heart pounded in my chest.
Sunils gun was already in his hand. Stand back! he cried and fired a warning shot above the
mens head.
To my relief, the men immediately backed away. Sunil grabbed my arm and shoved me behind
him.
Cut her loose, Sunil!
No, Princess. Lets just get out
No! Ill do it. I used my Swiss army knife to hack at her ropes. When she was free, I grabbed
her hand and hoisted her up. Come with me.
All three of us raced to the car.
We will get you! the men shouted as we jumped into the car.
Feeling safe that that now couldnt, I put my head out of the window and shouted, Fuck you!
Hey, Princess, hey! Sunil chided as he sped away. You have to stop. These are bad men,
Princess.
Fuck them! I said I sat down again and tried to steady my shaking self.
I looked at the woman and chuckled.
Shukria, Princess, she said. Shukria. She draped her scarf over her face so that it hid the
scar.
I nodded and tried to catch my breath again.
We drove back to the palace in silence.
Get her cleaned, Sunil, then bring her back to me, please.
An hour later, the woman walked into my suite, looking nervous and afraid. On her forehead was
a wound dressing.
Sit down, I said taking in her long dark hair, her slim figure, her brown skin, and her straight
back. If it wasnt for the scar, shed be pretty, I thought.
She sat down, but didnt make eye-contact with me.
Why did they do those things to you? I asked. I am curious. I guess I was bored and wanted
someone to talk to. Tell me about you.
The womans name was Rekha and she told me her life story. I learned that she was sold at the
age of twelve to a fifty-five year-old-man, who beat her something terrible when he was drunk. He
also sodomised her. I have no idea what sodomised meant, so I made a mental note to ask Barood
later.
She told me that she ran away at the age of thirteen and lived on the streets of Bombay, where
she worked as a prostitute for a pimp, who also beat her.
When the opportunity presented itself, she ran off and got a job in a whore-house where she
trained and prepared young women to seduce and please men.
Seduce men?
I taught them the art of seduction, Rajkumari, she says. How to walk, how to talk, how to
smile seductively at a stranger and win him over, how to apply make-up, how to speak, how to
converse in English so they could attract foreigners. I made them read world news and learn about
sport so that they could have a decent conversation with men. Some of them were just children and I
helped them become women.
As she talked, my excitement grew. Imagine if she could do all that for me?
She went on to tell me that her pimp, furious that she dared leave him, tracked her down and
while his men held her, poured acid on her face, hence the scar. Just one side of her face.
Horrified, I shook my head. What a terrible thing to do to a woman.
Why just one side?
Because, Rajkumari, he said to me, No matter how much you try to fix the disfigured side of
your face, it will never match the perfect side. And that is my present to you. A remembrance of how
you looked. Those were his words, Rajkumari.
For a while we sat in silence, as the horror of her ordeal washed over both of us.
She tells me more she spent eight months in hospital and when she got out of hospital, nobody
wanted to employ her because of her disfigurement, and again she had to live on the streets.
She made her way to Asokastan where she worked as a seamstress. She wasnt paid money but
was given food and shelter for her labor. For a while she was happy.
Then her pimp traced her again and told everyone that she was a former prostitute and the
villagers tried to stone her, for fear she would corrupt their daughters and lead their men astray.
Thats when I found her.
You saved my life, Rajkumari, she says. I would have been killed if you hadnt intervened.
Intervened. What a word whatever that meant.
I listened to the way she pronounced her words, how good her English was, how perfect her
Hindi, the way she spoke, how she carried herself all with rapt attention, intrigued, horrified in
spite of my feeling pity for her.
Sunil, I finally said, give Rekha food and a bed and I will decide what to do with her in the
morning. I decide that I would need Baroods help with this matter and with the word intervened.
No use asking UK-educated Vijay hed probably shrug and ask Barood to handle it.
As I lay in bed, I thought about Rekha even though she was broken and had led such a terrible
life, she was articulate and fluent and she had lived and experienced so much!
Her words about taking young girls and teaching them how to be women rang in my seventeen-
year-old mind.
I came up with a plan.

Chapter Eleven

REKHA

A princess with a knife in her pocket?
A princess with a slingshot?
A princess who uses foul language?
A princess who dressed like a commoner?
A really poor, unkempt one.
It didnt make sense to me.
At the Kingdom of Asokastan, we all knew that the crown prince had married, and we had
caught glimpses of the princess on her wedding day. But nobody knew what the princess really
looked like. She was seldom seen in public and word among the servants was that she was reclusive
stayed in her room and seldom left.
The girl I saw in front of me was grossly overweight, with long, stringy hair that was held back
by a rubber band, not even a proper hair tie.
Her brown dress was baggy around the middle and tight around the chest almost maternity-like.
She wore brown, old-fashioned leather sandals, the type worn by old women with feet problems. And
old men, too. Her nails were dirty and short and her skin was too dull for a seventeen-year-old.
But what struck me about her was her courage. She stood up to all those men and took one out.
They had stones in their hands; they didnt know who she was and they could have easily hurt her. I
saw in her a raw village-girl who was used to fighting for survival.
A former village-girl myself, we fought with other villagers for everything. Fought for our
territory, for water at the wells, for jobs, for our men, and it was truly a case of survival of the fittest.
When I had tea with her, I watched in utter amazement how she ate. How much she ate. She
crammed her mouth with cake, cream cake, then biscuits, drank gallons of soft fizzy drinks, then had
pudding. I had never seen anyone eat that way before, and definitely not seen anyone eat that much.
She never stopped to take a breath; she ate using her fingers. It made me sick just watching her.
She talked with her mouth full and blew food all over the place, much to the amusement and
disgust of her ladies-in-waiting. To my dismay, they sniggered at Princess Hennas uncultured ways.
After I got over my shock that they could scoff at a princess like that, it made me mad that they could
treat this girl like that.
Since she saved my life, I felt immense gratitude towards her. Nobody had ever done what she
did for me.
Princess Henna wasnt aware that her ladies-in-waiting were laughing at her. Either that, or she
was too used to it to care.
She wasnt aware of much going on around her, for that matter, and I felt sad for her. My first
instinct, even though I had never had children, was to mother her.
Id lost a younger sister years ago through Malaria, and Henna reminded me of her. Her name
was Sharmilla and she would have been Hennas age now.
But in spite of Princess Hennas obesity, her lack of table manners, her lack of finesse, and her
childish ways, her smile was mesmerizing.
Surprisingly, she had perfect white teeth a full set, too, and I caught a glimpse of her beauty
through the curtain of her neglect.
She giggled and laughed easily and she could be cheeky. Once you talked to her, she had the
ability to engage you and you forgot that the seams of her dress that were about to split and you
looked past the dirty fingernails and the offensive breath.
She summoned me the next morning and to my surprise she said, Rekha, do you want to be my
lady-in-waiting?
My head jerked to look at her, my scarf flying off my head displaying my terrible scar. Really,
Princess? At the close-up of my facial scars, she didnt jump up and run, which I appreciated.
It would be an honor to serve you, Princess, I said bowing to her.
Her ladies in waiting were not at all happy and started bullying her about it.
Why does Rajkumari need another lady-in-waiting? they demanded.
Henna wrung her hands without answering.
Tell them to leave, Rajkumari, I whispered.
Princess Henna looked at me, uncertainty in her brown eyes. I doubted she ever gave them an
order.
Shall I tell them that you need time alone with me then, Princess?
She nodded eagerly. Yes, can you? I dont like them. Theyre mean to me.
She, who knocked out a man with her slingshot, was afraid of these two bitches?
They are? I smiled. Ill handle them with the greatest of pleasure. You wait right here,
Princess Henna.
I walked over to them.
They glared at me.
I wagged my finger at them. You, you, I said, youre fired. Now fuck off!
I heard Princess Hennas gasp.
What? Manju cried.
I nodded and jerked my head towards the door.
Manju took a step towards, then paused to remove a shoe. You ugly piece of shit, you want to
tell us what to do? She raised her shoe to strike me. I dont think so.
I didnt think so either, so I ducked a blow and swung at her, catching her in the temple. She fell.
Usha flew at me and grabbed a handful of my hair, which was loose by now. It hurt, but still, I
twisted around and slammed my elbow into her breasts. When she clutched her breasts, I grabbed her
and shoved her out the door.
Then I grabbed Manju, who was still on the floor, and threw her out.
By then a group of servants had milled. Breathless, I looked at them. Anyone else wants to fuck
with me?
Nobody came forward.
Good, I said and moved back to Princess Henna, who was looking at me with her hands
pasted over her mouth, her eyes the size of the chandelier in the room.
I cant believe you did that! she said.
You, Princess, you saved my life; I am in your debt forever and I dedicate my life to you. I will
be your servant for life and I will protect you with my life. I bowed to her, meaning every word.
Really?
Yes, Rajkumari, really.
She smiled. Okay.
After a while of talking and laughing, she leaned towards me and whispered, I want you to
to teach me how to how to talk like you, teach me about I dont know stuff. She sat on her
hands, then brought them around and played with them.
Confusion flittered across my face.
Maharani. Thats who Id like to become like. Her. Maharani.
That horrible, nasty excuse bitch of a Queen? She was hated by everyone in her kingdom. Why
would such a sweet young girl like Princess Henna want to be like that despicable woman?
Why, Princess Henna? Why Maharani?
She gave an exasperated sigh. Have you seen her? Shes stunning, Rekha! Shes so beautiful
and she speaks so well and shes I just want to walk like her, talk like her, become interesting.
I see. Can I ask why you want to?
Then people will want to be friends with me. Then they wont wont laugh at me all the
time. She looked really sad when she spoke.
II A lump formed in my throat.
Make me better, nicer. She wrung her hands and bit her bottom lip. If you can.
I smiled. Of course I could make her beautiful. All she needed was to drop the weight and
everything else would follow. She had large, liquid hazel eyes with the most unfair amount of the
blackest-of-black eyelashes a girl could have. She had height and above all, she was humble by
nature. Although she could be feisty and fiery when she needed to be. A great balance, if you asked
me.
Yes, Maam, I said. I can make you look beautiful. More beautiful than Maharani.
More beaut? Her hazel eyes lit up. Really? You can?
Absolutely, Princess.
She looked at the carpet as if she was trying to digest my words. Then she glared at me. Youre
lying!
I put my hand to my heart. I can, Rajkumari, honest I can.
Now, if those two bitches outside her door heard her talk like that, she would be in trouble with
the horrible Queen Karisma. So I leaned towards her and said, Princess, just dont tell anyone what
you just told me.
What do you mean? Her eyes were full of innocence.
Maharani lets just say lets just say, it may sound disrespectful to some if you try to copy
The Queen of Asokastan. We dont want to upset Maharani now, do we, Princess?
Oooh, okay, Rekha.. Then she fell quiet for a moment. Rekha, if you tell on me, what I just
told you, I will kill you, understand? Here she was, a seventeen-year-old hillbilly, threatening to
kill me, a woman of the world, a prostitute who at the age of thirteen knifed my abusive husband when
he tried to strangle me. Me, who engaged in fist-fights just about every day during my days as a
hooker? Me who just took on two tough ladies-in-waiting?
Suppressing a smile at her childlike innocence, I drew my fingers across my lips in a zipping
motion and said, Absolutely, Princess.
Good. We both then laughed. Really hard.
Can I ask how old Rajkumari is?
Sixteen, she replied. No, seventeen. She frowned and looked at the ceiling. Seventeen.
Yes, seventeen.
I see, Rajkumari. She looked fifteen to me. An overweight fifteen year old.
It was a strange situation. Princess Henna might as well have been locked up in some tall tower
and hidden from rest of the world.
She and her Prince were isolated from the rest of the palace and basically forgotten. Or ignored.
Her suite was large and palatial, sure, but it was dark and gloomy and devoid of life.
It reminded me of a haunted castle except that this was part of a castle. The heavy drapes were
always drawn, the televisions remained on throughout the house. Food scraps were all over the place,
and the Princess herself was filthy. Because she didnt want people to see how much food and junk
she consumed, she hid papers, cans, and bowls under her bed, behind cupboards, and between the
expensive sofas. The place smelled of spoilt food.
Then there was Barood the most insecure person I had ever met. He was jealous of me, of
Princess Henna, of the servants, of the TV games that Prince Vijay played, of the window
everything and anything.
He would burst into tears at the drop of a hat and would wail as if he was at a funeral. A ball of
emotions that wore us out.
Although he was a royal pain-in-the-neck, he was good at one thing he cared deeply for Prince
Vijay. If Prince Vijay was sad or bothered, Barood would drop everything and would stay with
Prince Vijay until the Prince smiled again.
According to servants, that bond was from childhood, and without Barood, Vijay would have
probably withered away and died. Apparently Queen Karisma was aware of this and she turned a
blind eye to their relationship.
Prince Vijay was lucky to have a soul-mate like that. Especially since he was spineless. He
wasnt a bad person, he wasnt a good person; he just lived in a world of his own. He hated conflict
and became a two-year old whenever conflict arose. Hed put his hands over his eyes or cover his
ears with them.
But Barood took care of things so Prince Vijay could just be.
I think Prince Vijay was relieved to have me around. One, because I was company for his wife
in his sham of a marriage, and two, because they needed someone like mean adult in a land of
children. Misfits. Freaks actually.
I was, of course, the biggest freak, but I had wisdom and experience. Our quartet of freaks
complemented each other.
Now that I was recruited, I immediately went to work and promised myself that I would make
Henna the most attractive and beautiful woman in the whole of Asokastan.
Excitement coursed through me as I made plans for the evolving of sad little Henna.

*****

REKHA

When I learned that Prince Vijay had access to almost unlimited funds, I decided to give the
place a make-over first.
I started off by throwing open the drapes and I ordered the servants to open them every day.
Next the cleaning up. I was actively involved in the cleaning myself. Some of the servants were
happy that I took charge, while others hated me for interrupting their vacation.
Henna herself didnt want me to open the drapes. The rooms too bright, she complained. Its
going to affect the TV. She watched TV from morning to night.
Princess Henna, we are going to make this place look like a palace out of a picture-story book.
Like Snow White or Cinderella.
Her eyes lit up. Really? Can we put up some colored lights?
She was such a child, that my eyes filled with tears. Yes, anything you want. But how bout you
help me?
And she did.
I bought modern rugs and brighter lamps, colorful cushions and light-colored bedding. I bought
candles and decorative items for the place. Every single window was cleaned so that light could
enter the suite.
The servants were ordered to bring in fresh flowers from the palace gardens every second day
so that the place could look alive. After about a month, the place started to look like a home again.
This place is beautiful, Rekha! Henna exclaimed, twirling around like a child. Can I show my
sisters this place? Ask them to come for a holiday?
Soon, Princess, soon.
The thing that bothered me most Princess Hennas not attending etiquette classes you know,
the school for princesses. I was under the impression that before you married a prince or a king, you
were supposed to have etiquette lessons.
When is Princess Henna going to receive her etiquette lessons? I asked Vijay. You know to
learn posture, which cutlery to use when?
Maharani cancelled them, Barood piped while Vijay shrugged.
I knew why along with etiquette and preparation came knowledge and wisdom. Of course,
Princess Henna shouldnt be educated in case she discovered how she was hoodwinked into marrying
a gay Prince and what a sham of an existence she was leading.
All that was about to change. Enter Miss Sarah, Princess Hennas tutor.
She was a friend of mine from my days as an escort. Her history was as colorful as mine,
although I never told Henna all of this.
Miss Sarah, whose mother was Indian and father was British, was private-school educated and a
former high school teacher in the UK.
Miss Sarah also spent five years in prison for defrauding her school of thousands of dollars over
a three year-period. How did she manage to defraud a school? I have no idea.
When you looked at her, she looked every bit the private school teacher she had been, with her
sensible clothes and shoes.
In the past she educated my girls and she did an amazing job with it. I liked Miss Sarah (even
though, after all these years, she called me Miss Rekha and I called her Miss Sarah), as she had a
good heart.
Together we arranged a specific curriculum for Princess Hennas education.
After Miss Sarah got over her initial shock at who the Crown Prince of Asokastan had married,
she felt sorry for Henna and became protective of her.
I liked that. It made me happy to know that she wasnt going to mistreat Henna or take advantage
of her.
Henna loved all the changes around her and within her. Most of all, I think she enjoyed the
attention the maternal attention she was getting from both Miss Sarah and I.
We didnt laugh at her, or mock her behind her back, and when we talked and taught, she
watched us carefully stared at us. It was simply because she desperately wanted to learn and she
copied what she liked. Fast learner, she was.
Sometimes Id catch her staring at photos of her family. They never visited. They just left her to
fend for herself. I hated that and I did everything in my power to be mother, father, and sister to her.
Sadly, it wasnt enough. Sometimes, when it was her sisters birthday, she would be in tears.
When she talked about her goat-herding days and her rat called Biju and her cat called Kala, she
would break down and cry silently.
On top of all that, Princess Henna had another problem. A major one she was to deliver an
heir and she didnt know how.
As usual she reached for cake and chocolate and fizzy drinks for comfort, but I quickly stepped
in and changed that threw out all junk and banned all caloric foods in our suite.
She cried like a baby when she found out what I did. But I made her a deal - after exercising,
wed have a single treat a day. But there would be no high-calorie foods at the palace again to
prevent a pig-out session. Reluctantly, she agreed.
Very reluctantly.

Chapter Twelve

HENNA

Rekha was a big bully. She threw open my drapes every morning at seven. Seven. I struggled to
get out of bed.
Then she forced me to shower every day.
Then she forced me to eat cereal for breakfast. Cereal yuck!
As for my television shows all gone. No TV during the day. The TV came on after dinner for
just two hours. That was it.
My snacks were now fruit and vegetables, I had to exercise five days a week, two hours a day, I
had to dress like a princess every day, all the time--even when I exercised-- and I had to wear light
make-up. Every day.
I wanted to kill her and I told her so. She just laughed and said, Wait till your tutor arrives.
Three hours every day. Then lets hear you complain.
Rekha also taught me how to walk in heels, how to curtsey, how to cock my head to one side and
smile, how to play with my long hair when I talked to people, the importance of maintaining eye-
contact with them, when to look away and be demure everything. I was fascinated.
But it was fun learning how to be Maharani and I had no idea it took such a lot to be that way.
At times, I thought of giving up (especially when she made me shower every single day and
brush my teeth before I went to bed) and to just have her killed by the palace guards or take her back
to the kangaroo court. I was sure it wouldnt be difficult to arrange either of that.
However, some days, she and I had so much fun together that I decided not to have her killed
(just yet) and I laughed with her instead.
Every day, for fifteen minutes, I had to pretend that I was Queen Karisma.
I had to put on heels and strut on the balcony. As I spanned it, I looked at my crowd of imaginary
subjects, adoring at that, cheering and waving at me, and I would smile, wave and blow kisses, all the
while balancing my crown on my head.
Rekha called it my Shining Moment.
Always be ready for your Shining Moment and know exactly what you are going to do when
the time comes.
It was a silly game, but Rekha insisted I do it. You never know when youll need to do this,
she said in a firm voice when I protested that I didnt want to do it.
My tutor was Sarah Charles. I was so happy to meet my very own teacher, or tutor, as they
called her, that I gave her a hug.
Miss Sarah, she said, as she smiled and extracted herself from my embrace. Thats what you
must call me. And I will call you Princess Henna.
She moved into the guest suite and was always close at hand. I could ask her anything and shed
have the answer.
Her hair was grey and she wore long, plaid, knee-length skirts in beige and browns, and blouses
that covered her neck and arms.
Usually white blouses with stiff collars. Her shoes were what she called sensible and what I
called downright ugly.
A little about me, she said, standing before me with her hands together and her back as straight
as Maharanis, I was born in India but raised, from the age of twelve, I should add, in the UK. She
spoke with a British accent which I found fascinating.
I am never going to be your friend, just your tutor, Princess Henna. That sucked, even though
her voice was not unkind.
Miss Sarah took all her instructions from Rekha and they worked well together.
Besides Barood and Vijay, nobody else knew that I was being privately tutored. Rekha wanted it
to stay that way. She told everyone that Miss Sarah was my nurse.
Since I had difficulty concentrating at school and was always fidgety, I worried that I would not
make a good student.
But most of Miss Sarahs lessons were in the form of stories and games and quizzes, and since I
loved them all, my lessons were fun-filled and I sometimes didnt want them to end.
When my mind drifted, Miss Sarah brought out a jar of colorful Jelly Babies.
For every correct answer, Princess Henna, and I dare say you will get just about all of them
correct, you get to choose two.
She dare says? She shouldnt have done that, whatever that meant. I won almost the entire jar by
the end of the week.
I dare say, Im pretty smart, Miss Sarah.
Indeed you are. Now, if we could just stop you shaking your head when you talk, and talking
with your mouth full, Princess Henna.
Stop shaking my ? Suddenly conscious of my shaking head, I hold it very still and say, O
kay I will.
That was a huge problem, but we controlled it. Wasnt able to stop shaking my head completely.
Together we watched videos on Marie Antoinette and Shakespeare, and sometimes she read me
stories like Helen Keller and The Diary of Anne Frank. Wow! I thought my life was tough. Not after
reading some of these stories.
Eating with a fork and a knife easy peasy with Miss Sarah. I got it right by the end of the first
lesson and couldnt wait to show off at the dinner table.
A lady never uses her fingers when eating, Princess Henna. Especially not cake.
Fish forks, soups spoons, how to dab your mouth with a napkin like Maharani does, done!
The correct way to alight from a motor vehicle without showing off your ugly, big, beige panties
(notice I said vehicle, not car, because Miss Sarah called them motor vehicles.), how to shake
hands when you are introduced, and how to curtsey.
By week two of my lessons, I realized two things: Miss Sarah wasnt really an old bat and that I
liked her.
You know Miss Sarah, I would like to be a teacher myself someday.
Too bad, Princess Henna, youre stuck with the menial task of being the Future Queen of
Asokastan.
Mmm. That does suck, Miss Sarah. Indeed it does.
As for my education with Rekha by the end of our first month, I had dropped three dress sizes
and my yoga lessons were paying off.
Not only had I lost weight, I had something called shape.
I wanted to bust out and have this dramatic reveal, show everyone who laughed at me and called
me fat, but Rekha wouldnt let me.
Dont let anyone know how you did all of this, she cautioned. They will send me away and
stop your lessons.
Okay. I didnt get it, but I decided to listen to her. I couldnt imagine my life without her and
the thought of losing her made me feel ill.
Especially Maharani, she said. You do not in any way want to upstage her.
We hadnt covered the word upstage yet in my schooling, but since I trusted Rekha, each time I
saw the royal family, I hid my new body behind baggy clothes and drew no attention to myself.
But I couldnt wait for the day when I could parade myself to all those who called me ugly and
fat and who treated me like I was a circus freak.
I was dying to visit my sisters and show them all that Miss Sarah had taught me.
I could just imagine it I would walk up to Rani and shake hands with her.
Hugs were for commoners, I would shake her hand firmly, but warmly, like Miss Sarah taught
me. I would walk elegantly in heels, my back will be like that of a ballerina, and I would speak in an
English accent like Miss Sarah. Like I have a hot pappadum in my mouth. Eh, make that potato.
I smiled at the mental picture as I imagined the conversation.
I beg your pardon, Rani dear?
Rani dear, I dare say
I knew that she had probably never heard an English accent before, so I expected her to be so
amazed at the way I spoke. She would gawk at my new-found sophistication and say, You must teach
me how to talk like that, Henna.
I would just smile and say, Would you care for a cup of tea, my dear Rani? Hang on, hang on,
hang on! Since I was royalty, I would not say that. I would say, Do join me for a cup of tea, Rani
dear. These tandoori sandwiches are indeed delicious. Well, I guess Id swap the word tandoori for
cucumber.
The look of utter amazement on Ranis face would be priceless as we ate our tiny cucumber
sandwiches and sipped tea. Oh, and I would bamboozle her with talk about the Phantom of the
Opera, Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice (which is my favorite), and Beethovens Symphony
no 5.
To further impress her, I will use a fork and knife when I eat. A fish fork too. (I made a mental
note to myself: take cutlery with the next time I visit the Village of Geet.)
It was all so exciting and I couldnt wait to show off.
(Second mental note to myself: ensure that my mother somehow serves fish when I do visit.)
As I sat daydreaming, a smile on my face, Barood appeared in front of me, his pudgy arms
folded tightly across his chest, a scowl on his face.
With that scarf fashioned around his head like that, he could have been easily mistaken for a
genie. A sulky genie, that is.
Whatevers the matter, Barood dear? I figured now is a good time to practice my accent.
Now Im the fattest person in the room! he said and burst into tears. He fell to his knees and
hung his head for a few moments.
What on earth?
His neck jerked to look at me. Why are you talking like Miss Sarah? he snapped, his tears
vanishing like magic, even though he was clearly not a genie. Youre not English! Youre a village-
girl.
My sigh was wistful. Dear, dear Barood jealous of everyone and everything. Have to be the
centre of attention at all times or hell sulk or throw a right royal tantrum.
What?!
I dare say, I should introduce you to Rani. You would get on famously. Or not.
He stormed off.
I suppose he felt left out and worried that Vijay would notice the new and improved me and say,
Henna, youre looking really thin these days. Would you like to have sex with me tonight, at around 8
PM? I promise to lose my Donald Duck socks and Spiderman boxers if you promise to lose your big
ugly beige panties.
He neednt have worried; my beloved husband, The Crown Prince of Asokastan, noticed
nothing. He just continued living in his own world as usual and his daily prayer to God was probably,
Please, Bhagwan, let there be no conflict today. And for the rest of my life too, so I dont have to
deal with anything. In return I will sacrifice Barood.
Kidding. He would never sacrifice Barood.
Anyway, back to Barood - somewhere in his complaint about being the fattest person in the
room, was a compliment. My transformation was being noticed. Great!
(Made a mental note to myself: buy a ton of mirrors so I could see myself from every angle.)

*****

HENNA

Being as worldly as she was, Rekha obviously cottoned on to Vijays sexuality and worked out
his relationship with Barood. I had to explain nothing to her and she never asked.
She had the ability to be outspoken and firm when it was necessary, but whenever any member
of the Royal Family was around, she drew her scarf over her face and became almost invisible.
Blended into the antique furniture.
She moved like a ghost, a shadow.
As the days progressed, and since my family didnt care about me, I became reliant on her for
guidance and friendship and she became the mother-figure I needed, the older sister I never had, the
best friend Id longed for.
The difference in age did not matter and in some ways we were kindred spirits. Both of us had
come from poverty and both of us were basically unwanted and unloved.
Over the months, my rebirth opened my eyes to many things.
Like how mean my ladies-in-waiting were to me in spite of the fact that I was a princess and a
child; how unfair my mother was to me, how meaningless life was before Rekha entered my life.
It also made me realize what a fast learner I was and just how smart I really was.
I mean, I aced my tests with Miss Sarah, I loved learning (even though I struggled with math),
and I enjoyed challenges. Miss Sarah kept a list of achievements on the wall and every time I did
something right or got something right, she made me write it on the chart. The chart grew at a steady
rate and so did my ego.
As my confidence soared, I found myself laughing a lot. Especially when I saw my shadow it
was thin! I laughed as I tried to stomp it in the sunshine and giggled as my thin shadow evaded me.
But no amount of fancy tutoring, palatial comforts, extreme makeovers and thin shadows could
lessen the pain and hurt that came when you realised that your mother did not love you.
Even though I acted like I didnt care, I thought about it all the time and it was like a hole in my
soul.
I made a promise to myself that when I have a baby, I was going to cherish that child, protect him
or her with my life, and never ever hurt the baby in any way.
As I thought about it, I realized that I would really love to have a baby. Maharani was
pressurizing me into producing an heir perhaps it wasnt such a bad thing after all. I mean, having a
baby meant that I would fulfill my duties and have someone, some little human being of my own.
Thinking about it, made me smile. I couldnt wait, actually. Suddenly, I was energized. I had
something to look forwards to. I just needed a man to help get me pregnant.

*****

HENNA

I was summoned to Maharanis office, and since it was just me and not Vijay, I was more
anxious than usual. With a knot in my gut, I sat in front of my queen and Roop Singh.
Today, none of them smiled, indulged in small talk and offered bhujia or pistachio balls they
came straight to the point.
Well, at least Roop Singh did. If you dont produce an heir within ten months, your marriage to
Prince Vijay will be annulled and you will have to go back home.
That was all he said. Nothing else. Maharani looked at me in silence, her lips pressed together.
After a moment of awkward silence, he dismissed me. You can go now.
I hurried out of Maharanis office in tears and all the way to my suite. There I lay on the bed and
stared at the ceiling. I wasnt sure what annulled was, but I knew it was not something my mother
would have been happy with. Shed kill me for sure for losing my job.
Okay, so I knew what was expected of me and I even wanted to have a baby, but this new
development a time limit of ten months? What if I didnt produce an heir by then?
Rekha and Barood clustered around and tried to comfort me, while Vijay sat with his head in his
hand. As usual.
If they send Henna away, they will bring in another bride, Barood pointed out. Maybe she
wont be as simple as Henna is. Then what?
Barood! Rekha rebuked.
What? Im just saying.
Shes not simple anymore, Barood, Rekha continued. Look at her.
Barood looked me. I stared back at him. Sorry, he muttered.
I shrugged.
Then Barood went into problem-solving mode. He fired all sorts of solutions. You could get a
sperm donor.
My mother will find out, Vijay countered.
Mm. Barood twisted his mouth. You could go incognito to a bar, sleep with a stranger and
get pregnant. No one will know.
Great idea. It was the perfect solution. But it was daunting from virgin to having sex with a
total stranger and getting pregnant. Overwhelming.
Rekha said little, but appeared thoughtful.
The Queens threats dampened the mood around us and we became somber. But Rekha insisted I
go on with the lessons and take one day at a time.
So I did.

Chapter Thirteen

HENNA

I heard Rusty outside. I rushed to the window to gaze at him the most beautiful man on earth.
He was bare-chested today and dancing around Vijay with boxing gloves.
With my finger on my lips, I gestured to Rekha to come over. Isnt he beautiful? I whispered.
Her eyes light up at the sight of him.
Who said, Dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee? Rusty asked. If you get it right, Vijay,
you can punch me in the nuts. If I get it right, I will punch you in the nuts.
Rekha and I laughed behind our hands.
Vijay tried to scratch his head, then realized he had on boxing gloves and gave up.
Hes very, very handsome, Henna.
I stared smitten, a smile on my face.
Shes got such a crush on him, Barood announced.
No, I dont. My protest was feeble.
Yes, you do. You stare all the time.
Not all the time.
Well, you can perve on him because hes just here for three months, then hes returning to New
York for good, Barood said.
Oh. How disappointing.
Now, hed be perfect for you to have a baby with. Barood said wagging his index finger at my
stomach.
Rekha and I looked at each other, then spun around to look at Barood.
What? He threw out his hands.
We continued staring.
Okay fine! Ill take your damn bra off. As he stormed off in a huff, Rekha and I looked at each
other again, our eyes shiny with excitement.
That may be a brilliant idea, Henna, but hes way too worldly for you.
Im not worried about all that. I just would love a chance to meet him, to talk to him, to listen to
his voice, I said.
She appeared thoughtful. Then she shook her head from side to side. Too close, Henna. We
need someone with no ties to the palace.
Rekha, listen, hes never met me. He has no idea what the Princess of Asokastan looks like.
You had no idea what I looked like. And, now that Ive changed so much, I doubt anyone will
recognize me.
Mmm.
Hes leaving in three months Rekha. He wouldnt know. Think about it.
She inhales deeply. I dont know Henna
A braless Barood joins us. It could work, he says. Hes tanned perfect to have a baby with.
Wont raise too many eyebrows.
I give Rekha a there-you-go look.
Baroods eyes swept over me. Shed have to go in disguise, pose as a commoner, so theres no
chance of being recognized. Dress down, lose the jewellery, wear scarves and hats to hide your face
and you could pull it off.
I looked expectantly at Rekha.
You only have weeks to transform Henna into a hot babe, Barood said. Hot enough for him to
want her. Then she goes in for the kill and bang! We got ourselves a baby!
Yes, I said. I could tell him I could tell him that I need some private lessons in martial
arts, fencing whatever! That would be my excuse to get close to him.
Mmm Rekha wriggled her lips as she thought about it. We can pay him well, so there is no
reason for him not to take you on. But it may take too long and youre not entirely ready
I can stall him, Vijay piped up from nowhere.
We spun around to look at him. How did he get here so fast?
Yes, Barood said almost jumping up and down. Vijay could delay him, keep him here a little
longer if necessary. We can put a detective on him. Find out what he likes, dislikes you know
just to help Henna out.
Suddenly, my self-confidence takes a dive. Eh, yes, okay but what if he eh, I mean, what if
he doesnt like me, doesnt find me attractive. I mean, look at him, hes gorgeous. Probably got a
million women chasing him!
True, Rekha said. But Henna, you are very beautiful. If you dont believe that you are
beautiful, then believe that you are sexy, believe that you are confident or believe that you are
fearless. It will work the same.
I believed that I can be confident and fearless. Wasnt sure about the sexy bit. Definitely didnt
believe that I was beautiful.
Looks alone are not enough to keep a man. It has to be the whole package. And when I finish off
with you, he will be attracted to you, believe me. The determined look in her eyes matched the
determination in her voice.
If youre worried about attracting him, dont. Well go through another door work. We
approach him about lessons in in something. Leave it to me. I will figure it out. But we have to
work harder on you so that when you get through the door, you are able to take it further and ensure he
doesnt lose interest. In other words we work harder so you dont fail your mission.
And work harder we did.

*****

HENNA

In view of Mission Handsome, we amped up our training sessions and decreased the size of
my food portions. I no longer minded starving, as it furthered my readiness for Rusty.
Even though I was motivated, Rekha banished all sweets and high calorie foods from our suite.
Every single one. She even found the ones I had hidden behind my nightwear drawers, between my
mattress, inside the large brass vase, and behind the books on the bookcase.
Also, the ones inside the tea canister and inside the China tea-pot. Also, the ones inside my long
socks, inside my sneakers and the ones in my jacket pockets.
She brought in hot salads and introduced me to raw vegetables. Hot salads I could handle, raw
vegetables uugh!
As the days went by, my weight dropped further and I no longer craved sweets and cake.
Not true. I craved junk all the time. But would she let me have it? Nooo, not bitch Rekha.
Barood benefited from the junk-food ban too he declared that my clothes, which he helped
himself to in the past, were now too big for him and that he may have to start wearing his own clothes
again.
One morning, I walked in to find Rekha looking very pretty. She wore a short red and gold flared
skirt, a cropped matching red top, and a long, chiffon, red scarf over her head which cascaded down
to the hem of her skirt. When she moved, she looked like an Indian dancer.
You look great, Rekha!
Thank you, she said and handed me a set of chunky ankle bells.
Strap them around my ankles.
I absolutely loved them, so I immediately put them on.
We arent going to do conventional exercises like we normally do, she explained and moved
towards a music system. From now on, were going to dance.
Now that was music to my ears. I hated exercise.
When you dance, you exercise every muscle in your body, and when you dance in front of a
mirror, Henna, you become aware of your movements and it is a natural instinct to make your moves
sexy. Thats what were going for here sexy. Move like youre moving in mud. Slowly slower
smile keep smiling mud do it again.
I loved every minute of it. It didnt feel like I was working or exercising.
Stop biting your lips. It makes you look thirteen, Henna.
Okay. I needed to look thirty, not thirteen.
The music plays in your head even when the record stops. When you walk, play a song in your
head. A sexy song. Then you will find that you move accordingly even when you are not dancing and
when there is no music.
It worked I walked to a song in my head and I loved how it felt.
Were going to do the Flirt. Its a dance of seduction but it has some hip-hop/ Bollywood
fusion. Its incredibly sexy. One rule, you have to smile when you dance. Ready?
Oh yes!
We danced. Rekha was amazing when she danced. I could have stood and watched her all day.
When you move that hip, Henna, picture Rusty in front of you, watching. Now move it.
Rekha danced with me. Barood walked in, looking like he had sucked on a lemon. What? I
ask.
I feel like killing myself, he said. Nobody pays any attention to me anymore. Everything is
Henna! Henna! Henna! Nobody loves me
Come dance with us, Rekha said. Ive seen you move, youre a natural.
His eyes lit up like the midnight sky on New Years Eve. You think so?
Absolutely. I would like you to show Henna a few moves.
Okay! To our absolute surprise, he jerked off his clothes, revealing a black spandex bodysuit
and bells strapped to his ankles. He grabbed a yellow scarf, tied it around his wrist, crossed his hand
in front of him and said, Lets go.
From then on, he joined all our dance classes.
With the music blaring, we danced, Rekha, Barood, myself. When the servant girls stood and
watched us dance, I invited them to join us for an hour a day.
They jumped at the chance and they too produced their own ankle bells. Even the men joined us
at times. The morale in my suite and among my staff soared and our bells could be heard a mile away.
Whenever you bumped into my staff, youd will find them bopping to a song.
Once even Miss Sarah joined us for a dance session. It was fun. She was hopeless, but she loved
it anyway.
My lessons with her took a different turn in Rustys direction. Rekha informed Miss Sarah that
Vijay and I planned to spend some time with a Hollywood movie director who produced action
movies, and that she wanted me to be knowledgeable and to be able converse in that field.
Miss Sarah was only too happy to oblige and brought out the big guns the Encyclopedia
Britannica; enough to build a house.

Chapter Fourteen

HENNA

Id been schooled for almost a year and I was impatient. I wanted to tackle Rusty, but Rekha said
that I was not ready. Approach Rusty, not tackle.
Oh, who am I fooling? Of course, I wanted to tackle him. He was beautiful!
Anyway, Rekha took me for manicures and pedicures and had my hair treated so that it draped
beautifully over my shoulders and fell softly at my waist.
Slower, she coached as I walked with books on my head. Move slower because when you
slow down, its easier to accentuate the body part you want to. Like your breasts or your butt or your
legs. And when you touch your hair, do it slowly, sensually. Caress it.
Stop biting your lips, she said for the millionth time. It makes you look thirteen, Henna.
Okay, okay, okay. Damn! I really have to remember to stop biting my lip.
As you speak, touch your hair, then tuck it behind your ear. Yes, like that slower! Slower!
Keep eye contact with him even when he stops talking.
Got it.
We jumped around and danced some more. Or flirted some more.
When he asks you a question, dont give him an answer right away, Rekha said. Wait for him
to look at you, then smile coyly before you finally answer. That is called engaging him.
More jumping and dancing and flirting.
We spent hours practicing walking on stilettos, and soon, to Rekhas delight, I was able to walk
with grace and poise. And carefully.
She dictated what I wore, my make-up, the color of my nail polish, the contents of my bag. She
was so worldly and so knowledgeable that I thought that her talent was being wasted.
We goofed around Barood and I imitated Vijay and Rusty and we had our own little fencing
sessions, karate sessions, and boxing lessons.
Ooowww! Barood cried. You hurt me.
Shut up and box! I said as I danced around him. I sting like a butterfly and dance like a bee.
Eh, its the other way around, Rekha corrected.
We played with Vijays prized sabers and three-weapon masks and gloves, which made him
really mad. They are not toys, he screeched.
Rekha went one step further she got me a martial arts teacher.
What for? I protested. I dont need one, Rekha. I have so many things going on.
If youre going to take lessons with him, you need to know the basics, Henna. Being a
professional, he may just test your level of skills before he makes a decision to take you on and we
want to be prepared.
I hated martial arts. Hated the discipline and the self-restraint. All I wanted to do, after watching
Karate Kid, was to fight, bust a few karate moves; but Hanshi, my sensei wanted me to perfect
techniques boring!

*****

HENNA

Rekha walked into the room, a sly smile on her face.
What? I asked.
I have in my hand, a copy of Maharanis file on Rusty.
What?!
She had him investigated a while ago. We have fifteen minutes with this before we have to
return it.
We rush around her, dropping our celery sticks and bottles of water.
Tell, tell! I cry and listen eagerly.
Okay, here it is: His father is a Texan and his mother is mixed American/Italian heritage.
Shes a clothing designer. They live in Dallas. Rusty lives in New York. Hes a twin a sister named
Ellen Carrington whos an attorney in New York.
Twins?! we chorus, all of us thinking the same thing become pregnant with twins and weve
hit jackpot all the way.
After finishing a Bachelor of Science at university, he went on to study at The School of Stunts

A stuntman! Barood exclaimed. How sexy is that?


Vijay threw him an irritated look.
Together with a partner named Jack Higgins, they opened up a readiness school for actors,
where they taught fencing, karate, archery, and all those kind of things in preparation for movie
roles.
Wow.
His weakness is Coke Cola, he trains a lot, and hes driven. He also likes blondes and guns. I
have letters between him and Maharani here lots of them. While working for the Sultan of Brunei,
training one of his sons, she met him and made him a job offer, which he declined. She wrote a few
letters, badgering him to accept her offer and finally, he did.
While in Asokastan every Tuesday and Thursday, he trains actors at a studio in Mumtaz
Street. Hes there from 7 PM to 9 PM, private lessons only, and his fees are astronomical. He rents an
apartment and lives alone.
Blondes
Also
Our necks jerked to look at Rekha
Hes been linked with various Hollywood actresses like Dane Gunter, Ivy Maleek, Jennifer
Cross, Hailey Ryder and a few more.
My heart sank. And there I was, hoping for a chance with him.
Hey, stop! Rekha said, seeing my disappointment. Hes used to beautiful girls but lets see
how he handles beauty, charm, and brains all rolled into one. She pointed me.
I glanced behind me. Surely she cant be talking about me, I thought?
Thursday. We meet him on Thursday.
All heads swivelled to look at Rekha.
She nodded. Weve got a week to brush up, so lets do it. Thursday evening.
My heart was pounding, my mouth was dry, and suddenly my courage was AWOL. I fell silent
and stared at the floor.
Rekha grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, Trust me, you are ready.
I didnt answer. I dared not tell her that after all that preparation, I wanted to chicken out.
In preparation for my mission, Rekha covered sex education with me. She didnt get very far. I
laughed and giggled and eventually she sighed and said, Thats all for now. She went off to put
plans into place.
When we regrouped the next day, she was armed with a clipboard, a pen, and pages of notes.
Heres the plan...
My fellow conspirators and I were all ears.
Anita Sukhdeo, thatll be your name. You live on Charnie Road and your house, which Ill take
you to, is simple. The old lady there will pose as your grandmother. I got it all worked out.
Great. Does she know who I am?
No. she knows nothing and she says nothing. She just accepts money for her part and all is well.
Ive taken care of it.
Okay.
Ill be your sister, Barood will be my husband, and well keep out of sight.
Barood plonked his hands on his hips. Why do I have to be your ?
One stern look from Rekha and he zipped it.
Thats about it for now. Enough for Rusty to know.
What about my other family? I asked.
Your parents and sibling lives hours away in a villageGeet. If he ever looks it up, therell be
no Anita. Anyway, youll be vague with that kind of information. Say little, change the subject
...stall.
Got it.
Before we visited Rusty, Rekha dragged me to Mukesh the witchdoctor or the medicine man. He
was scary long beard, masses of curly hair sticking out in all directions, red eyes, blackish face,
and he stared long and hard at me, making me wince. Then he read some leaves at the bottom of a
teacup and said, You are going to have four children.
My laugh was thin and shrill. Rekha nudged me so I shut up.
You will be happy, but His face grew purple, you will need my help one day and you,
Princess, you must send for me. I will help you.
Rekhas sharp intake of breath was louder than mine.
We looked at each other with wide eyes, the same thought running through both our head how
the hell did he know that I was a princess? We did not disclose my identity and showed up without an
appointment, giving him no time to investigate us.
I will help you, he repeated. You can rely on me.
After I got over my shock, I wondered where was he when I was growing up?
Anyway, I was too excited about meeting Rusty to pay attention to anything Mukesh had to say.
Lets go, Rekha! I cried, when she lingered behind to talk privately to him.
Four children indeed!
As we left the witchdoctors hut, I noticed that her forehead was creased and that she was
unusually quiet.

Chapter Fifteen

HENNA

My palms were sweaty, my heart thudded in my chest, and Ranis words, You are ugly gonged
in my ears as I stood in front of Rustys studio and stared at the closed door.
How could I have over-rated my confidence?
Go! I heard Barood whisper even though he and Rekha were in a car, a distance away.
Okay, theyre all banking on me, I thought. Cant let them down. Just knock and enter.
Five deep breaths - natural valium to calm me down, remember? In out, in out, in
out in out in out. No pressure, no pressure.
I was terrified.
Taking another deep breath, I took stock, like Rekha asked me to do should I get the jitters. I
looked good, my clothes were perfect, and I had a script in my head to follow. All was fine. Just had
to take it easy and try to relax.
Rekha has chosen a knee-length, scarlet dress which clung to me and resurrected any curves the
naked eye may have missed. It had straps, but it didnt reveal much skin except for some cleavage. It
did have a high back slit that showed a huge amount of thigh when I walked, though.
Dont want you looking like youre trying too hard, Rekha had said.
My hair, which took hours to do, was hennaed (like me) and shiny, and my make-up was light,
but flattering.
My strappy, six-inch stilettos were a challenge to walk with in the first place, and at that
moment, with my knees knocking like they were, they felt like lead boots, even though they were fairly
light.
Rekhas list of potential objections and responses from our target swam in my head between
bouts of self-doubt and the desire to puke.
You lost?
I spun around and looked into the face of my mark. His eyes were blue as the sky and so
beautiful, that for a moment, I just drowned in them.
He wore a black Tee, black jeans and sneakers and carried a black-and-white tote in one hand
and a bunch of mail in the other.
Yes. No! I mean I sucked in a breath and fought for composure, while he inserted a key into
the door and opened it. Im here to see you.
He nodded as if it were a common occurrence and gestured for me to enter. After you. What a
deep voice.
Resisting the urge to bite my lips, I stepped into the studio and was followed by handsome.
I looked around. The studio was large and roomy and had all sorts of sporting equipment like
fencing swords on the walls, nunchakus, weights, etc.
What can I do for you? he drawled, focusing on the mail in his hand. He wasnt looking at me
not a good sign.
Shut up, Rani!
I, eh, I cleared the frog in my throat. I need help preparing for a movie.
Oh, yeah? His voice was by far the most masculine I had ever heard a deep roll, rich with an
American accent, which I found fascinating. Whats your roll?
I cocked my head to one side and looked at him. Roll?
In the movie? Your roll in the movie?
Aaahhh! Um eh, an assassin. Yes, an assassin. Karate mainly.
Congrats, he flung half-heartedly and walked to the far end of the studio where he switched on
some lights. Shot where?
Shot? I look blankly at him. Who?
He paused with the lights and looked at me. The movie? Is the movie to be shot in India? Now
that deep, beautiful voice had switched to plain condescending.
Eh, yes, yes. India.
He nodded and looked at the ground. There was a brief silence before he spoke. Look, Im
sorry, but Im pretty expensive and and I dont think He ran his hand slowly over his face, I
dont think you can afford me. His condescending tone morphed into apologetic.
Oh, but I was prepared for that objection. I opened my purse and held up a wad of notes. Im
paying in advance, so there should be no problem.
I allowed myself a smirk and made a mental note to thank Rekha for thinking ahead and including
that in her list of objections.
Whoa! He gaped at the wad of money, then for the first time, he really looked at me. Look, I
eh --he scratched his head--how do I put this? Im what you call a top-end trainer. Which
means, I perfect techniques, I dont teach as such, and I dont work with women because because
of the level of skills. Im sorry. His eyes returned to the envelope in his hand.
Was I dismissed? Just like that? He couldnt be serious, could he?
I can recommend someone else though, if youd like. He turned around and bent down at a
bookshelf. Theres a very nice gentleman who teaches he rifled through some papers on the
shelf, an Indian gentleman Ive got his card somewhere here
All the hard work we had put in, all the hours of preparation for him, all the make-up, the
seduction lessons, the martial arts sessions, all the raw celery and carrots I ate, all the bottles of
water I had drunk, all the nights I had gone to bed hungry
Was I to go back to my team and tell them that I had failed outright?
This arrogant, sexist idiot who stood in front of me, well, with his back to me, was turning me
down, rejecting me?
A red cloud flashed in front of me and the next thing I knew, I had lashed out with my foot and
karate kicked him. Into the bookshelf. Wham!
His forehead hit the shelf before he fell back. As he lay on his back, books and flyers and the
nice gentlemans card from the bookshelf, rained down on him. The Indian gentleman his card.
For a few moments, he lay so still, I thought he was dead.
I stared at him with both hands clamped to my mouth, stunned at what I had done. When he didnt
move, I knelt before him. Oh my God! Are you okay?
He didnt answer.
Shit! What have I done? Sir? Blood oozed from a gash on his forehead and from his burst lip.
Shit! Shit! Shit
Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked at me. I got really scared and took a step back. What if he
jumped up and beat the crap out of me for assaulting him?
To show how sorry I was, I grabbed some paper towels and applied pressure to the wound on
his forehead. Then I rushed to get some water and tried to feed it to him, but he hit the glass out of my
hand. The glass smashed against the wall, and broken glass flew everywhere.
I was scared and horrified. Things had turned bad in minutes.
When he finally sat up, I grabbed my purse and ran out of the studio into the waiting car around
the block.

*****

HENNA

Rekha exploded. You did WHAT? She had never used that voice on me before so I cowered
and slid deep into the back seat of the car.
All our hard work and you kicked him? Barood yelled Are you MAD?
I put my hands to my ears like Vijay did. Stop! I dont want to do this again, please! I started
to cry, so both of them shut up and exchanged exasperated glances.
The rest of our ride home was in silence. Back at the palace, Vijay looked at me with eyes the
size of saucers, which made me feel worse. You kicked Rusty ?
I didnt mean to, I whined. Stop!
Okay, okay, Rekha said, her hand on her forehead. Well work it out. Lets not panic.
Everybody just just calm down and
Im done! I announced. Hes arrogant and he doesnt like me. I rushed to the mirror and
stared at myself. Rani was right I am ugly, I muttered. Bet if I was beautiful like her, he would
have done what all the neighborhood boys did swoon.
Using my hands, I furiously wiped off my lipstick and rubbed my hair till it stood out in all
directions. Then I paced with my arms folded tightly across my chest. I hate Roop Singh! I
muttered. I hate Maharani! Im going to run away. Disappear, live in an Ashram and eat vegetables
for the rest of my life. Then I will be free!
You, eat vegetables? Barood said in a sneering voice.
It was a bad idea! I spun around to look at Barood! You and your stupid ideas! I spat
unfairly.
Mouth agape at the blanket of blame thrown his way, Barood jerked back, plonked both his
hands on his hips, and with his bottom lip sucked in, glared at me.
When he finally spoke, his tone was similar to Miss Sarahs. First of all, Princess Henna

Rekhas hand shot out to touch his. Dont! she whispered. She kicked Rustys head in,
remember?
With his nostrils as large as the hooped earrings on his ears, his shoulders slowly dropped. A
slight nod from him and I was spared a tongue-lashing in a British accent.
Rekha walked over to me and put her hands on my shoulders. You got scared, Henna, and you
reacted. Youre scared now. Thats what it is just fear. A four letter word.
Fuck is also a four letter word.
Under the circumstances and with all the pressure on you, you snapped and kicked his butt.
She suddenly smiled. I didnt expect it, Barood didnt expect it, Vijay didnt expect it, and guess
what? Rusty didnt expect it. Can you imagine what hes thinking right now? He got his ass kicked by
a girl. Ha! How does he explain the blood and the wound to anyone? Whats he going to say A girl
kicked my six-foot-three ass? Hell never live it down.
I smiled.
Barood grinned.
Vijay chuckles hysterically.
Then we all laughed our heads off.
Now lets just fix it, she said.
My smile vanishes. No!
Go back, apologize and ...
I put my hands over my ears and shook my head. No, no, no, no! Im done. Im never going
back. Never. Never ever!
As the days went by, I thawed. I thought about his handsome face and I thought, maybe I need to
give it one more shot. What had I to lose? Yes, I would go back to him.

*****

Once again I was outside his studio, (at Rekhas insistence) praying that he wasnt going to call
the police on me or drag me inside and beat the crap out of me for having assaulted him.
Gingerly, I tried the door. Locked. The light was on, though.
I turned back and looked at Rekha and Barood seated in the car that was parked at a distance.
Rekha motioned for me to knock. I nodded then knocked. No answer. Cupping my hands around a part
of the window, I peered into the studio.
Suddenly, I was in a headlock. You blindsided me! It was Rusty.
Wait! I came to apologize, I cried quickly. I came to apologize, okay? Give me a chance!
Still holding me in a headlock, he unlocked the door and kicked it open with his foot.
He dragged me in and dumped me into a swivel chair. With a try-anything-and-youre-going-
into-that-headlock-again look in his eye, he reached for another chair, placed it directly in front of
me, and lowered his bulk into it.
There was no chance of me leaving. His added measure to hook his legs around the rungs of
my chair--trapped me further.
We faced off. If I wasnt scared of him at that moment, Id have laughed at the band aid above
his left eyebrow.
Be warned, you do that again and Ill beat the fucking crap out of you. Woman or no woman.
I nodded and held up my palms in a surrendering motion as I took in his blue T-shirt, blue jeans,
and brown ankle boots. Rugged and a sight for all kinds of eyes, not just sore ones.
I bit my lower lip as I waited for his next move.
He furiously scratched his chin as he stared at me.
What? I finally asked. I said Im sorry.
Silence. His royal-blue yes (yes, royal is correct) burnt into me, making me squirm.
I was no longer afraid of him because I knew that if he had wanted to hurt me, hed have done it
by then.
I tried to break the silence. You were being unfair sexist.
He sat forward in his chair and locked eyes with me. Yeah? he snarled.
Yeah, I mimicked.
He pointed his index finger at me. Let me ask you a question if a woman decided to work
only with women and turn men away, what would you call her?
I took my time before I answered. Careful?
He threw his hands in the air. I rest my case.
Okay, fine. So you have your fears about women and clearly youve been unsuccessful with
them I get--
Whoa! He jerked back in his seat. Who said anything about being unsuccessful with women?
I just choose who I want to work with. Is that a crime?
I chewed on my bottom lip as I pondered his question. Yes. I folded my arms across my chest
and met his eyes.
Well, then, thats your opinion and youre entitled to it and I dont give a shit what you think.
My response was a poker-face as per Rekhas instruction. She said that when a woman stares
silently at a man, it is more effective than yelling at him. (I made a mental note to myself to tell that to
my mother.)
She was right he shifted in his chair. What? he finally blurted.
Nothing. I cocked my head to one side. I came up with a word that sums you up.
Yeah? And what might that word be?
It was a while before I answered. Its two words, actually.
His curiosity appeared to get the better of him. He sat forward in his chair again. And ?
Forget it, I said and hung my head.
Tell me. No need to spare me.
I looked up, removed the curtain of hair on my face and said, Fucking asshole. I braced myself
for him to jerk me to my feet and throw me out the door.
He didnt. Instead, he sat back and gaped at me, his eyes wide with surprise.
I shrugged.
He looked me up and down, taking in my chocolate cross-over dress and my brown stilettos. I
thought Indian girls didnt use that kind of language.
Indian girls dont; Indian women do. My smile was disarmingly cheeky or supposed to be.
He shook his head at my obstinacy, then exhaled loudly. How how old did you say you were
again? he asked, stroking his George Michael stubble.
Eh twenty one? I tried my best not to blush as I lied, but my face felt hot. Twenty-one.
You have anger issues, rejection issues, you know that?
You mean the other night? When I kicked your butt?
He gave a short laugh. You did not kick my butt, you
Whatever you call it the fact remains, you were on the floor and I was standing up, okay? I
outsmarted you and that means Im a worthy student. But if youre afraid, then
I stood up.
As quick as lightening, he lunged at me, grabbed both my arms and sat me back into my chair.
And you say I have anger issues? I bit my lip nervously. See what you made me do now. Im
biting my lip again.
Thursday, 6 PM! he suddenly snapped and removed his legs from around the rungs of my
chair.
Thurs? I was taken aback. Had I heard correctly?
Dont be late and I take my payment in advance. Get it? His attempt to growl at me failed
dismally.
Relief flooded me and it was my turn to exhale. Okay, sure. Ill be on time. I looked at the
floor imagining the happy faces of my co-conspirators when I declared my victory.
Now get out! He stood up, kicked his chair back and slowly backed away. Obviously, he still
didnt trust me.
I smiled to myself as I sashayed to the door.
I didnt get your name! he yells.
I didnt give it to you! I yelled back and kept walking.
What?! You are so cheeky!
I stopped walking and slowly turned around. With a smile, I walked back to him and stood really
close to him. Anita, I said. My name is Anita Sukhdeo.
Anita, he mulled.
Whats yours?
Rusty.
No, your real name.
He shrugged. Rusty Carrington.
I put out my hand. He stared at it for a moment like it was a grenade or something before he took
it.
Nice to meet you, I said. His hand was warm and roomy and nice.
He squeezed my hand gently then dropped it all too quickly, his lips curving into a smile.
I turned and walked away.
And, Anita
If you think youre not pretty enough, be charming enough or sweet enough.
Yes, Rusty? I answered, my voice almost a whisper.
I eh oh yes, dont expect --he took a step towards me and narrowed his eyes at me--
dont expect that just cos youre a woman, Im gonna go fucking slow on you, understand?
My retort was immediate. I would be disappointed if you did, cause after that headlock, I plan
to kick the crap out of you, Rusty. I smiled sweetly.
His jaw dropped.
A giggle escaped me so I quickly turned and walked away. Goodnight and sweet dreams, Rusty
Carrington, I flung over my shoulder.
As I sashayed slowly out of the studio, I caught his reflection in the glass doors. He was
grinning. So was I.
Even though it was dark, I saw the worried look on Barood and Hennas face. They did, after
all, see him put me into a headlock.
I gave them the thumbs-up. Thursday, 6 PM, and I cant be late!
I was bestowed with backslaps and hugs from my co-conspirators.
God, I need a drink, Rekha says. Barood and I wanted to celebrate our success with sugary
doughnuts and chocolate milkshakes that come with cream and nut sprinkles on top, but Rekha, the
wet-blanket, stopped us.
Lets rather have coffee, she said. Fewer calories.
If I wasnt so high on victory, I would have fussed for my calories, but knowing that I will be
alone with Rusty and his beautiful blue-eyes and his beautiful broad chest and his beautiful smile and
his oh well, it was more appealing than any comforting calorie. To be alone with Rusty for a
couple of hours a delicious shudder ran through me.
How many sleeps till Thursday, I wondered?

Chapter Sixteen

HENNA

My first lesson was great. Thanks to Rekhas workouts and my karate lessons, I was fit and able
to keep up with the gorgeous beast called handsome. I mean, Rusty.
He was professional throughout our training and, sadly, kept his distance. Well, at that time I
suspected he was wary of me, with me having threatened to kick his butt and all.
But he was so handsome and brutish, in a nice way (not to mention his great aftershave), that I
was just thrilled to be in his company.
He cussed like a villager but I knew that I could teach him a few colorful words, so I bided my
time.
After the third lesson, when I didnt kick him in the rear again, he relaxed a little. We shared
some laughs and he even complimented me on my progress. I was elated, but I tried to act cool about
it, so I said, in what I hoped was a casual voice, Thanks.
Rekha had advised me not to try to be too friendly, so I wasnt. At the end of each lesson, I
thanked him and left.

*****

HENNA

Rekha was worried, I could tell. She paced and asked a lot of questions, then repeated each of
my answers to herself as if she was analyzing them.
Barood picked this up too. Hes not going to bite, he declared in a matter-of-face voice.
We all stared at him, silently thinking what he had just voiced.
I dont know what else to do, I said in a weak voice.
What are we going to do if we fail? Vijay whined. All this effort for nothing. Its so
disappointing. What are we going to do? I dont like this whole
Fake an injury! Rekha cried holding up her index finger. She rushed over to me, put both her
hands on my shoulders, her eyes darting around with excitement
Pretend you hurt your hand no, no, no, your ankle. Pretend you hurt your ankle and then just
just let him take over. She dropped her arms and nodded Thats what you do.
Then she wont be able to go back for lessons, Vijay said. Hows that going to help us? Huh?
What then? Huh? All this effort for nothing. What are we
It doesnt have to be severe, Rekha said, refusing to allow her eureka moment to be dampened
with a bite of reality from my husband, the wimpy, Future King of Asokastan who sat in one corner of
the room on the floor, his hands on his head, and only spoke when there was something negative to
say. Heres what we do.

*****

HENNA

We were into our fourth lesson, when I cried out in pain and dropped to the floor. Holding my
ankle, I moaned and groaned like Rani, the drama queen, would have done.
What?! What is it? Rusty asked, concern all over his face.
My ankle
Fuck! He dropped to the floor and began inspecting it. Each time he touched it, I winced in
pain.
He brought me an ice pack and made me rest my back against the wall. Then he sat next to me
and watched my ankle. Lets see how much it swells, okay?
Naturally, it didnt swell. He touched it gently, and again, I cried out.
Thats it, Im taking you to the emergency department! he said and hopped to his feet.
No! I cried and grabbed his arm. Itll be okay. I just need to rest it. I was silently terrified
hed insist, then when I did get to the hospital, my true identity would be revealed and my cover
would be been blown.
Sure bout that? he asked, appearing taken aback by my vehemence.
Yes!
Okay. He dropped to the floor and sat next to me again, his shoulder touching mine. Same
foot you used to kick my ass?
I grinned and looked away.
Karmas a bitch, huh? His voice was low and teasing.
I squinted at him. When he smiled he revealed all his teeth and his yes crinkled in the corners.
You believe in karma, then?
Nah. But I do believe that even though your ankle is not swelling, it aint a good idea for us to
continue the lesson. You live around here, Anita?
Yes, I said, ready with my answer. Charnie Road. How bout you?
Kandivalli street. Recently moved into it. Did you drive here? Im happy to drop you off if you
like?
I had my answer ready. Well, my sisters dropped me off and shell be back in an hour at 8
PM. Trouble is I dont have keys for my house, so I have to wait till she gets here.
In that case, let me offer you a drink. Coke?
Rekha never allowed me to have Coke. Yes, please!
In a glass or on the glass?
Huh?
He smiled. Never mind, just a stupid New York joke.
I nodded.
He opened a can, poured it into a glass and handed it to me. So, youre twenty-one, dont drive,
and dont have house keys? That an Indian thing?
Yes, its an Indian thing. Keys are considered evil.
His eyebrows shot up. You kiddin me!
Cars too. Very evil. I smiled over my glass.
He paused with his drinking, looked at the floor, looked at me, and smiled. Youre fucking with
my brain, right?
You have a brain?
He jerked to look at me.
Im kidding, Im kidding! I quickly added with a laugh.
Youre a cheeky little bugger, arent you? He said it with a smile that reached his eyes, so it
was okay.
Have you had dinner? he suddenly asked.
I shook my head. Im starving. I meant it. To prevent bloating, Rekha gave me a tasteless salad
for lunch. Uuuggghh!
Me too! Im gonna order us some pizza. You okay with that?
I love pizza! Rekha, the bitch, never allowed me to have any pizza. Yes! I said with relish.
Beef and
No beef! I said. Dont eat beef. Its an
Indian thing? He looked at me with eyebrows raise. Seriously ? You dont eat beef?
I shook my head.
Wow! I didnt know that.
I got so much to teach you, I said from under my lashes.
He flashed me a shy smile.
Shy? Him? It couldnt be, I thought. But he turned red and fiddled with his ears, so he had to
have been a little shy.
Chicken, then?
Chicken is good.
Thrilled with my progress, my Coke, and the upcoming pizza, I sat back and relaxed as we
talked. He was pretty easy to talk to and I believed that I was too, because theres wasnt a moments
silence the whole time, not even when the pizza arrived.
Even though I knew a lot about him, I made small talk. So what are you doing here? In India?
Queen Karisma recruited me to train the Prince. Im on contract. Be leaving in two months.
Ah. I dabbed my lips with a paper towel like Miss Sarah taught me to.
We were so engrossed in conversation, that we forget the time, and when I looked up, it was
8:35 PM.
Damn! I forgot the time!
He hopped to his feet to help me onto mine.
When I tried to pay him for the lesson, he refused. Look dont worry about paying me in the
future, okay?
What? No!
Listen lady, I dont need the money and Im happy to just help you.
I insisted but he ignored my protest and helped me to my feet. Ill carry you.
What?! No! Dont worry. My legs okay, really it is. Ill ma
Ignoring my protest, he scooped me up and carried me all the way to the car, during which time,
I stressed like crazy about Barood and Rekha being in the car.
What? I saw concern on his face again.
I didnt realize I had exclaimed out loud. Eh, nothing. I bobbed my head to our car. Theres
the car.
Even though it was dark, I saw the shock, panic and disbelief on both Baroods and Rekhas face
as we neared the car.
Nervous, shy and embarrassed, I covered my eyes with my hands.
What?
I I giggled. This is so embarrassing, Rusty.
Are you shy?
I giggled more.
Mmm. I think you are. He chuckled as he lowered me to the ground. Thats kinda refreshing
actually, Anita.
Having no choice, I introduced Rekha as my sister Nitu, and she as usual, shielded the disfigured
side of her face with her scarf and muttered a greeting.
And thats my brother-in-law, Amith, I said and pointed to Barood. Lucky it was too dark for
Rusty to get a good look at either Rekha or Barood.
Then, I turned to the beautiful creature next to me. Thank you for the pizza and for helping me,
Rusty.
Hey, no problem. I think I was a good male nurse, right?
I chuckled. The best for sure. My ankle seems okay, so Ill see you on Tue ?
Oh, I forgot; its my birthday on Tuesday, so can we make it Wednesday instead?
Oh, its your biiiiirthday. How nice. How old?
Twenty- nine. Im meeting some friends for dinner and others for drinks. Sorry, I should have
mentioned it earlier.
Ah, thats all right. I can do Wednesday. No problem.
Thanks for understanding. Hey, you wanna come along on Tuesday for drinks?
Excitement surged through me. Ive never been invited for drinks before and he was asking
me out! What a breakthrough.
I heard a gasp Baroods.
Eh, yes, okay. Sounds great.
He seemed pleased and rattled off the name of the bar they were meeting at. Too excited to think
clearly, I didnt catch the name of the bar.
Well, thank you again for the lesson and the pizza and the I grinned and pointed to his
biceps.
He flexed it and we both chuckled.
Goodnight, Anita.
Goodnight, Rusty, I said as I got into the car.
The moment we out of earshot, we all screamed with joy screamed in surround sound. Finally,
I did it.
Finally, you did it! Barood said.
Finally, you did it! Rekha dittoed as she squeezed my hand.
We raced to the palace to tell Vijay the good news.
Wet-blanket Vijay listened, then fired a bullet of reality. One of his friends may recognize you
at the bar, then what? They may be Indian and then what? You will get caught right away and
Maharani will find out, then what?
All our necks jerked to look at Rekha.
She gave several small shrugs. Well think of something.
And she did.

Chapter Seventeen

HENNA

Two days later, I was at Rustys studio again at closing time. Hello, Rusty!
At the sight of me, I could swear that his face lit up. Well, well, well, if it isnt the non-beef-
eating, cheeky, kickass Indian! he said with a smile.
I giggled. You greet all the Indians like that?
Only those who kick my ass. How the ankle?
Its all good. I wriggled my foot and smiled. Working just fine.
Man, Im glad. I was worried it may be a hair-line fracture or something.
I didnt know what a hair-line fracture was, but I was sure I didnt have it.
He touched his temple and frowned. Did I book you ?
No, no, no. I came here to tell you that I am unable to make Tuesday, your eh, birthday
Oh. His face fell, to my delight, and a thrill ran through me.
but, I would like to, eh, thank you for the invite and, eh, I would like to I paused and bit
my bottom lip, as I waited for my cup of courage to fill. I would like to, eh, you know, because its
your birthday week, I would like to take you to to dinner on Saturday. Eh, night. Saturday night.
This was so much harder than it sounded when Rekha and I went over it.
He stared at me.
I suddenly realized how forward I sounded and I flamed with shame. If you would like, um, if
you want to, that is.
His eyes dropped to the floor to keep company with my courage.
If youre free. Or we can do another
Anita, that sounds great but Im busy Saturday night.
Oh.
My mind raced he has a girlfriend, hes married, they forgot to tell me that. I misread him. I
misread all his intentions. Rani, shut up!
Eh I made circles on the tarmac with my shoe, at a loss for words. I hadnt expected that
response and neither did Rekha it seemed, as she has not prepped me for this objection. I wave
dismissively. Another time
Im free on Friday?
My neck jerked to look at him. Friday?
He nodded and took a step closer to me. Friday. Id love to go to dinner with you on Friday to
dinner, Anita, if you can if youre not busy?
No! I mean, yes! I mean, Friday is fine with me, Rusty. Sure. My courage and confidence rose
and I smiled inwardly.
Cool. Ill pick you up?
Cool. What a cool word. I loved all his American slangs and jargon.
Oh, eh, yes, okay. Im at 124 Charnie Road.
124 Charnie Road, got it! he said and smiled. A smile that started the Go-Kart racing in the
heart again.
Dont you forget it now, I said.
Oh, I wont. I plan to tattoo it here. He swiped a finger across his forehead. Every time I look
at the mirror I will see your address.
I chuckled. Thats a good idea. Goodnight, Rusty.
Goodnight, Anita.
Thrilled from my hennaed roots to my painted toenails, I skipped back to the car. Well, I didnt
actually skip. Lets put it this way had I not been wearing red, six inch, metal-tipped stilettos, that
were not made for walking, let alone for skipping, I would have.
I lay awake in bed thinking about Rusty. His smile it was so brilliant and he was so masculine
and strong and
I sighed. All the men Id come across my father, Barood and Vijay, even King Anant they
were so weak compared to him. Hes so different strong, in charge, good look and appealing.
These feelings that I had about him they were scary, yet I wanted to see him again. I thumped
my pillow and smiled to myself. How many sleeps till Friday? Till my first date?
Till my first date with Rusty Carrington?

Chapter Eighteen

HENNA

The owner of the house in Charni Road, a white-haired lady we call Daadiji (grandmother), was
as old as the earth. She smiled constantly at nothing and everything, and answered Haa (Yes) to
everything. With every answer, she bobbed her head like one of those toy dogs you saw in the back of
a car you know, as you moved, their heads bobbed all over the place and threatened to fall off.
She conversed mainly in Marati with Rekha, which meant that I didnt understand much of what
she said. I only spoke Hindi, and thanks to Rekha and Miss Sarah, I now spoke fluent English.
Do you own this house, Daadiji?
Haa.
Do you have children?
Haa.
Do you take drugs, Daardiji?
Haa.
Are you on drugs now, Daardiji.
Haa.
Barood and I had our fair share of fun with her, until Rekha shot us warning glares.
As I dressed for my first date ever, Daardiji sat on a sofa and watched, smiling all the time.
Rekha took longer to get me ready than it took my ladies-in-waiting to get me ready on my
wedding day. But today, my pulse quickened each time I thought of the blue-eyed hunk with a weird
name.
Every five minutes or so, I glanced at the wall clock. Then I looked at my gold wrist watch.
What time is it? I asked.
You need to sit still so I can do your hair, Rekha scolded. And lose the watch. It looks too
expensive. Dont want to intimidate him.
Not wanting in any way to intimidate Rusty, I removed my wrist-watch.
At exactly 7 PM, Rusty rocked up. The moment I heard his car, I dashed to open the door. But
Rekha grabbed me and pulled me back. Let him wait a few minutes, she mouthed.
Why? I whispered.
Just do it.
After a few antsy moments, I took a deep breath and opened the door for my date.
Heeeey, Anita! he said. His eyes flitted over me, and judging by the way they lit up, I
concluded that was an appreciative look.
Heeeey, Rusty, I mimicked. From the corner of my eye I noticed Rekha raise her eyebrow,
probably impressed at how easily I was adapting to Rustys way of speaking.
Only one eyebrow she no longer had the other eyebrow. Luckily, her sheer headscarf ran down
her neck, covering half of her face, and over the front of her body, where she tucked it into her skirt
on the opposite hip, hiding her disfigurement.
Youve met Nitu?
He nodded. Yeah. Hi, Nitu.
Rekha mumbled a greeting at him and slowly blended into the furniture as she usually did when
we had company.
This my grandmother, I said, introducing the white-haired woman.
Hello, nice to meet you, Rusty said politely.
The white-haired woman did what she always did, she smiled and nodded. Haa.
Friendly grandma, he muttered.
Haa.
Yes, shes got I circled my finger next to my temple.
Ah. Rusty smiled knowingly.
He looked at me. I blazed as his eyes travelled slowly down my short, button-down denim dress
and my black heels; I didnt miss the slight raising of his eyebrows.
He looked smoking hot--black Levis, white T-shirt that read Got a good look?, and a black
bomber-jacket. He looked cool.
The restaurant Barood chose for us was intimate and cozy and the food was great. (Barood knew
every restaurant around.)
I didnt enjoy wine, as it made me sleepy, but to be equally cool, I ordered a glass of white wine
which I barely touched, while he had two beers. We talked non-stop and we both were relaxed in
each others company.
So, whats a good looking movie-star like you doing without a special man in your life?
Was he talking about me, I wondered?
Eh, thats assuming you dont have a special man in your life?
I fed him the yarn Rekha drummed up and quickly set the scene my fathers traditional Indian
who doesnt approve of me dating, as he prefers an arranged marriage, so I sneak around. I lived with
my grandmother and sister, while the rest of my family lived a distance away in Geet.
How bout you? I asked. Seeing anyone? The moment I asked that question, I regretted it. I
would have been devastated if he had said yes.
Ended a two-year relationship six months ago. It wasnt working out with me travelling. She
wanted commitment and I couldnt give it to her just yet. His face clouded for a few moments. But
we still keep in touch. Guess well be friends for a long time.
Friends for a long time. Mm. Jealousy oozed through me.
Do you do you miss her? Again, I regretted asking that question, but I just had to.
He looked down as he thought about my question. Then, he looked up at me and said,
Sometimes.
Jealousy no longer oozed it gushed through me.
He waved dismissively and said, Enough of that--its 1988 and people here still believe in
arranged marriages?
I shrugged. They dont trust their children to make the right choice.
Yeah?
Some children prefer it that way.
Do you?
I shook my head. Im a know-it-all.
He laughed.
He asked me about my job.
I work at a call centre.
According to Rekha, that kind of a job would prevent him from trying to call me during the day. I
went on to tell him that as a means of escaping my family, I planned to get into acting, hence the acting
classes.
It was time to change the subject. So how come you dont care for Indians?
What? I didnt said that.
Yes, he didnt. I read that in the report Rekha had on him. Damn! I slipped up there.
Its not that I dont care for Indians. Ive accepted a date with you, havent I?
I smiled. I should be honored, then?
He grinned. You should be. Never dated an Indian before. Not even a red one. Hey, although, I
have a great respect for a nation that has an ocean named after them.
I chuckled.
Theyve done some good shit, man they wrote the Karma Sutra
The Karma oh God! I blush and circled my wine-glass with my finger.
they have a bird named after them the mynah bird
The Indian Mynah? I laughed.
theyve a season name after them Indian summer
All the things he said could be construed as offensive, but the way he said it, it didnt feel
offensive, it was just funny and him being outspoken. But he didnt come across as malicious or
insulting.
Theyre the only people who can shake their head as they sing. Man, thats awesome. Hey, I
notice you dont?
Sing or shake my head?
Shake your head. Both.
Eh I cleared my throat and took a tiny sip of my white wine. I can, I said and shook my
head. Rekha and Miss Sarah worked very hard on me to stop shaking my head, but of course, I wasnt
going to tell him that.
He threw back his head and guffawed.
Want to learn how to do that?
I sure do!
Ill think about it.
Three hours later, we reluctantly leave the restaurant.
He refused to let me pay the bill, though. Since I didnt quite know what to do, I let him.
After dinner he took my hand in his. Id never held a mans hand before, never touched a mans
hand (not even my husbands), so this did not come naturally to me. At first it felt almost invasive, but
his hand was like his personality warm and roomy. Within moments, I discovered that it felt natural
and that I liked it.
Gently, without thinking, I squeezed it. He squeezed back. We smiled at each other, before I
averted my eyes, overcome with shyness.
At my door, he tipped my nose with his finger. Goodnight, he whispered. Thank you for the
great evening.
I mumbled something, I cannot remember what I said and smiled. Why didnt he kiss me, I
wondered? Why didnt he ask me out again?
After I entered the house, he turned and walked back to his car.
Barood, Rekha, Vijay, and the white-haired lady were still up, eating popcorn and waiting to
hear.
No kiss? Baroods screwed up his face in to a million different shapes, all of them equally
ugly.
I shook my head, feeling like I let them down.
Its not a bad thing, Rekha placated. Lets see what happens next when you meet.
You have, what what a month left? Barood said. You have to move it.
Yes, I have to move it.

Chapter Nineteen

HENNA

Things at my next lesson were different. Rusty greeted me wearing a huge afro-styled wig.
I laughed at his silliness.
What? Im channeling Michael Jackson.
We laughed so much and had so much fun that when Rusty dropped me to the floor, we remained
there, flipped onto our stomachs, and talked the rest of the lesson.
When I looked up at the wall-clock, I gasped. Oh God!
What? he asked.
I pointed at the clock. Its 9 PM Nitu would be waiting for me.
He hopped to his feet and held out his hand. When I accepted it, he hoisted me up smack into
him.
His chest was solid and he smelled really masculine and nice. For a moment or two we stood
really close before he moved away. I thought hed want to seize the opportunity and kiss me. But he
didnt. Again, I wondered why.
Shut up, Rani.
The next time I arrived at the studio, his office was locked. Confused, I stood outside and
wondered if I had mixed up my dates for our lesson. I hung around for about ten minutes, then started
to leave.
Anita! Anita, wait!
I whirled around and saw him running across the tarmac towards me. Sorry! he said as he
raced up to me.
I stood with my hands on my hips and looked at him with one eye closed.
Sorry! I didnt have your number to call you to tell you that I was gonna be late, he said. He
smiled and looked sheepishly at me. Sorry. Im so sorry!
Im going to have to punish you for your tardiness, I said, my eyes turning to slits.
Oh, yeah? His voice dropped and sounded expectant. He opened the studio door and gestured
for me to step inside.
As I did, I brushed up against him and it didnt feel bad.
It was so good to see him that I suddenly didnt want to think of our lessons ever coming to an
end.
Instead of us going into our separate change rooms, we stood across from each other and smiled
bashfully.
Anita He took a step closer.
I found his nearness highly intoxicating.
Anita
Without thinking, I reached up, took his face in my hands and kissed him on the lips lightly.
He didnt kiss me back, but he didnt jerk away either. His lips were beautiful, his mouth was
beautiful, his teeth were beautiful, and he was just beautiful.
Gently, I wiped off lipstick from his lips with my thumbs, then released his face. Consider
yourself punished, I whispered and sashayed to my change room.
He followed me into the room, grabbed me and spun me around. That aint enough, he
whispered. I need a whole lotta punishment for what I did. As he spoke, he pushed me against the
wall, swooped down and kissed me.
The kiss was delicious and I never wanted him to stop. I didnt know how to kiss, so I let him
take charge and he did took my face in his hands and kissed me long and hard.
I cant stop thinking about you, he murmured between kisses. God, Anita, what are you doing
to me?
We used all our lesson time to talk, hold each other, and just kiss. From then on whenever we
met, we just made out. Kissed, cuddled, and touched.
Although I was on a mission to get him to sleep with me, I wasnt ready to have sex with him. I
needed to for my mission, but I guess I was scared.
I was happy that things progressed at the pace that they did. He didnt scare me off. Although at
times, his hands travelled over my breasts and sometimes slid up my skirt. I was quick to put my hand
over his, which caused him to retract.
Sometimes, I saw confusion in his eyes, but understanding always followed, for which I was
grateful.
I didnt get the part, I told him one day between kisses. So theres no need for any more
lessons.
You didnt? His eyes scanned my face for signs of disappointment.
I dont care, I quickly added. Too much work.
Okay. He looked relieved. But, he kissed my neck, Im not ready to let you go, girl.
Oooohhhh no!
Youre not? I basked in the warm glow of his words.
Not for a long time, he whispered as he buried his face in my hair.
Neither am I.

Chapter Twenty

HENNA

I was excited but nervous. I had a date with Rusty, but it was significant. He had invited me to
dinner at his place.
Hed invited me before, but I turned him down for two reasons. One it was too soon for me. I
was still scared of him and of the intimacy that he probably expected.
Two Rekha worked with a calendar and she told me that I needed to wait.
Now, it was time and my heart was beating really fast, my mouth was dry, and I battled to steady
my breathing.
This is it, Rekha said as she poured over a calendar. This could be the day that you fall
pregnant. As long as he doesnt insist on wearing a condom.
I nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. Wasnt even sure about how to even use a condom. I mean,
Rekha showed it to me, but it scared me.
If Rekha was right, which she usually was, then this would be the day.
Even though it was what I wanted, what I needed to accomplish my mission, my thoughts were
all over the place. How do I tell him it was my first time? Do I tell him in advance? After dinner?
Before dinner? During dinner? What if it just puts him off? What if he expected an experienced
woman and here I was totally green and probably unable to please him? What if he thought I was too
much of a simpleton and called it off?
Rekhas avalanche of tips and pointers in preparation for the losing my virginity further
overwhelmed me.
Have two glasses of wine, nothing more, Rekha said. I dont want you falling asleep before it
happens, okay?
Finally, with my nerves in a tight bundle, I made my way to dinner at Rustys.
Hey, baby! he said and kissed me.
Did I mention that his mouth was beautiful? Well, it was and I could have kissed him all day.
He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
Taking my hand in his, he showed me around. His apartment was a penthouse modern and
stylish. The views were lovely, and even though he was a single guy, it was warm and inviting and
immediately I felt at home. Rusty had a way of making me relax, so slowly the ball of nerves started
to unravel.
This, he pointed to a picture of a Rottweiler, is my dog, Vindaloo, and
Vindaloo? I was both appalled and amused.
and this is my cat, also named Vindaloo.
I punched him playfully on the arm.
What? he laughed and pressed me up against the wall. They both run to me when I call! Its
just easier that way.
Youre terrible, Rusty.
He chuckled and kissed my neck. Theyre with my mom at the moment, he said, as he slid
down my dress strap and kissed my bare shoulder.
Can you cook? he asked between kisses.
I grunted no.
He paused with his kisses, placed his forearms on the wall on either side of my face, and
dropped his jaw.
What?
Exactly what kind of an Indian girl are you? he asked in mock astonishment. You cant cook,
you dont shake your head, you dont work in a 7-11, and you dont have two university degrees?
Youre pathetic, Anita.
I giggled and slid my arms around his waist and kissed his chest.
No Indian man worth his salt is gonna want you, hon
Yeah? I pulled him closer and slid my tongue inside his mouth. Everything happened naturally
it wasnt like I taking a specific route or anything. It was the flow of things. Sides, I liked kissing
Rusty.
His breathing got raspy and he pressed his hips harder into mine. I felt a stirring between my
thighs. This is what turned-on feels like, I remember thinking.
The timer went off, startling us both. He pulled away, pointed at me and said, Hold that
thought. He darted to the stove.
He cooked grilled steak, peas, glazed carrots, and a Greek salad. Foreign food but interesting
food. He was interesting. Everything about him.
He showed me his music collection, his books, his swords and his crossbow. All I wanted was
to make out again, but he wanted to talk music.
You like Led Zeppelin?
I had no idea who Led Zeppelin was. Yes, I do, I answered.
He played a song for me.
Nice, I lied. It was not a song Barood, Rekha, and I could flirt to.
Uriah Heep? He played another song for me, and again, I lied. Very nice.
His music collection was just too heavy for a village-girl like me. Got any George Michael?
Wham!?
His jaw dropped again.
What?! I like him, I said.
He stared at me.
I take that as a no, I have no George Michael. I sat back and smiled. Your world seems
interesting, Rusty. I wish I had experienced all that you have.
Its my mothers influence. Youd like her.
So, youre a Mommys Boy then?
For sure. Im a huge sissy. He held up two bottles of wine. Red or white?
Eh red. Please.
He handed me a glass of wine. I took a sip and grimaced. It was awful! Very nice, I said and
gulped it down.
He sat next to me, clinked glasses, took a sip, then leaned over and kissed me. He tasted like
wine. As we kissed again, I ran my hands over his chest and down his back. His body was solid and
comforting and I basked in him. I just wanted to touch him, to hold him, to make him mine. A human
being in the world that was all mine what a dream come true.
I loved his goofiness, his sense of humor, his unpretentiousness, and his ruggedness.
As his mouth moved to my breasts, I tensed. He was eleven years older than me, had been
around, dated a lot of worldly women, and had had plenty of relationships.
A contrast to me a virgin who had never even had a boyfriend or any male attention in my life.
All I had was Rekhas birds-and-the-bees talk.
Go with the flow, she had warned before I left the house. And dont mention your virginity.
But I was stressing what if I made a fool of myself and he got disappointed? What if I was
terrible in bed, a blundering idiot? He had mentioned that Indians wrote the Karma Sutra what if his
expectations were high because of that? Damn! I so wanted to please him.
That dreaded timer went off again, and again he reluctantly drew away from me.
Lets eat, he said.
Throughout dinner, I drank rapidly, gulping down glass after glass of horrible, bitter Merlot. He
was too busy trying to impress me with his cooking to notice that I was drunk.
After dinner, he led me to the couch where we made out like crazy.
All my inhibitions were drowned by the Merlot, so when his hand slipped under my blouse and
deftly unhooked my bra, I didnt feel shy; I welcomed his hands on my body.
My breasts spilled into his hands. I heard his sharp intake of breath. Youre beautiful, baby, he
whispered.
I need to tell him. Rusty
He cupped my breasts as he slid his tongue into my mouth.
Rusty
When his hand went under my skirt and travelled up my thigh, I grabbed it. Habit, I guess. I
didnt mean to, I just did. He looked at me with raised eyebrows.
Im Im its its The American movies I had seen that showed people having sex
were intimidating. I mean, the women looked like they thoroughly enjoyed it, and at times they looked
like they were in total control. I was eighteen and green as lime.
And I desperately needed to come clean with him and ask him to go slow with me, but the merlot
had not provided me with sufficient courage. All I knew was that I wanted him. I lifted my hand off
his.
What is it, baby? he asked.
Be gentle, I whispered.
He removed his hand, a confused look on his face. Anita, dya wanna stop? We dont have to
He started straightening my top.
I grabbed his arm.
He looked at me with uncertainty on his face.
Slowly, I move it back to my breast. Moving closer to him, I pressed my body against his and
sought his mouth with mine.
After a nanosecond of hesitation, he flipped me around so that I was under him. He climbed on
top of me and lowered his muscular body to mine, his hard-on digging into me.
Even though I was nervous, I found myself melting in places I never thought I could a sensation
totally unfamiliar to me.
My body arched against his, inviting his hips to mine. When his fingers moved down my stomach
and slid between my thighs, I gasped and clutched at him.
Slowly, his fingers caressed and dipped, while his tongue gently licked my nipples.
Pleasure ripped through my body. I was glad that he knew what he was doing, because the way
he touched me, where he touched me, how he touched me it was magic and it played havoc with my
head. All Rekhas lessons flew out the penthouse window.
With a guttural groan, he scooped me up and carried me to his bed. My body throbbed and
writhed for him as he tore off his clothes.
Wanting him more than anything in my life, I spread my thighs and raised my hips for Rusty to
make me his.
With a thrust, he did, ripping at my core and eliciting me to suck hard on his shoulder. Then total
pleasure, closeness, ultimate intimacy.
When he finally shudders inside me, I was little relieved. Rusty, I whispered into his shoulder.
I have something to tell you.
He planted a light kiss on my lips and said, What is it, baby?
Rusty I Rusty, I was a virgin and sweetie, I need to shower and Im sorry I should have
told you
Whaaaat?!
I emitted a nervous chuckle as I looked at his stunned face. Before he could say anything else, I
rolled out from under his arms and dashed into the shower. I turned on the taps and stood under the
running water. Fuck! That was embarrassing!
I was smiling though. Smiling that I was now a woman, that I gave my virginity to someone like
Rusty. Smiling at the look on Rusty s face when I dropped the bombshell.
Guess I was drunk enough to find it funny.
A few minutes later, Rusty shuffled into the bathroom with a towel draped around his waist, a
confused look on his face. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at me, causing me to giggle
more.
Burning under the intensity of his gaze and feeling naked, which I was, I covered my eyes with
my hand.
What the fuck was that all about?
I dont answer.
Youre twenty-one and a virgin?
I peeped at him through my fingers, my face red from a combination of alcohol and
embarrassment. For a few moments, we stood in silence. Then I moved my hand away from my eyes
and looked at him. Come here, I finally said.
After a moments hesitation, he dropped the towel and stepped under the water with me.
I took him into my arms and kissed him as water cascaded over us. Sorry, I should have told
you.
Why didnt you, Anita?
Cause cause I was afraid youd not want to you know ?
You were afraid? Of me not wanting you?
Yes. Youre a lot more worldly than I am and I I find it intimidating and we really shouldnt
be having this conversation right now as something huge has happened to me a few minutes ago and

Okay. He nodded several times and then hugged me. Sorry. Didnt know how to react. I got
scared.
You got scared? You?
We both laughed and shared a tender kiss. Then he dried me with a towel and led me back to
bed.
We lay naked and entwined in each others arms, warm and contented from the afterglow of our
lovemaking.
Light filled my heart and I burrowed deep into him. I wanted to stay forever in his strong arms
and never, ever return to the ugly, deceitful palace.
I knew that I was not supposed to feel that way about him, but the way he held me, the way he
touched me, the way he wanted me it made me feel absolutely cherished and even loved.
Stay, he whispered, his face buried in my neck.
The night?
Forever. I want you to.
Slowly, I raised his face to look into his trusting eyes. Then I kissed him.
Please?
Another time.
When disappointment flickered on his face, I held him close, feeling overwhelming love for him.
As he drove me home, I smiled to myself.
What you grinning at?
I looked at him.
Im a woman today.
Yeah?
I leaned over planted a kiss on his shoulder.
He smiled and pulled up outside my house.
See you tomorrow? he said, taking me in his arms again.
Tomorrow? You want to see me again after ?
He smiled. I wanna see you every day.
Okay, you asked for it, I teased.
After a million kisses and hugs, he finally tore himself away.
Everything okay? Rekha asked when she saw me. Youre very quiet.
I no longer wanted to share stories with her or the rest of my crew. I just wanted to keep my
precious Rusty all to myself.
Yes. Just tired. Too much red wine.
Did anything--?
Ill talk to you in the morning, I said, cutting her off. Guess my tone of voice wasnt inviting,
because she left it at that.
Alone in my king-sized bed, I could still feel his scent on me and when I closed my eyes, I could
still imagine his arms around me, his breath on my face. It felt so wonderful to be wanted by someone.
I had never felt wanted and needed before, and suddenly I felt really sad.
Sad, for the little girl who led a life of such deprivation. I hadnt been held or hugged for more
than three years, except by Rekha when she pitied me.
My existence had been lonely and I was such a shell. I felt sorry for that young, unwanted,
abandoned soul who has so much to give.
In spite of everything I went through, I remember thinking that I wouldnt change a thing, because
it led me to my precious Rusty.
I brushed away my tears and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep.

Chapter Twenty-One

HENNA

Life became a rose-tinted haze. I spent just about every evening with Rusty, in his arms, in his
bed.
He gave me a key so that I could be at his apartment waiting for him when he arrived home from
work.
I love it when youre here waiting for me, he said. Feels good. Now if I can just get you to
cook ...
Ha! Fat chance of that, I said and smacked his butt.
When I was not with Rusty, I was thinking about him. I lived in my very own bubble all day and
watched the clock. The moment it was 4 PM, I was out the door heading towards his apartment.
You have to learn to drive, he said.
What do you mean? Why?
Learn how to drive, get independent so we get more time together. Im getting frustrated that
you always have someone waiting for you. Im not used to that.
All I heard was more time together and I was sold.
Ill teach you to drive, he said and he did. Another way, another reason for us to spend time
alone and isolated from the rest of the world.
I loved it. We took long scenic drives and he showed me Asokastan even though I was a local
who was supposed to know the place.
One we found a deserted road. Rusty made me pull over and began to kiss me, slipping his hand
under my skirt and caressing my thigh. Slowly, he moved aside my panty and slipped a finger into me.
I gasped and squeezed my thighs around his hand.
But I was nervous this was a public place and he was doing something so intimate to me.
We should we should stop, baby, I whispered, feeling a thrill in spite of my fears.
His response was to slide deeper into me. With his free hand, he cupped my butt and squeezed
hard. The sensation was amazing.
Oh God, Rusty! I moaned as he increased the intensity. Just as I felt I was going to explode, he
withdrew his fingers.
My eyes flew open. What the hell, Rusty?
Take off your panties and get in the back seat, he flung, as he made his way to the back seat of
the car.
No! I said, my eyes darting around nervously.
Do it! he said, an urgency in his voice. Now!
I didnt move. Rusty, this is a public place and
Do it! Now.
Fine! I said and rolled down my panties, threw them aside, and climbed into the back seat of
the car.
He had already sat down and unzipped his pants, revealing a huge erection. Before I could do
anything, he grabbed me and sat me down on top of his erection. As I slid over him, he lifted up my
top and bra and exposed my breasts. My nipples were already hard and demanding his tongue.
Here I was, in the back seat of a car, on top of this huge guy whose head squashed against the
roof of the car, my skirt around my waist and my sweater up to my neck.
As I bobbed up and down on him, he sucked on my nipples, making me want to explode right
away.
Thats it, baby, he said. As I moved harder and faster, he stopped me and made me turn around
so that I faced away from him. Reverse cowgirl, he said as he reached around me to cups my
breasts.
Hee haa! I said and managed a small laugh.
The sensation of my clitoris on his erection was so intense and so amazing that I exploded at the
same time he did.
Afterward, as I lay limp against him, he said, Youre on the pill, right, baby?
Right, I lied. Now you ask me, Rusty?
Good. Dont want to have to fight your father if you get pregnant, he said, as he pulled down
my top and covered my breasts.
You you dont want children, Rusty? I asked, as I straightened my skirt and wriggled back
into my panties. If he said no, Id be so disappointed.
Yeah, I do. I dont care if you get pregnant its you I worry about. How will your family react
if you go home one day and tell them youre knocked up.
Knocked up? What a funny way to put it.
He smiled.
You drive, I said. Im too weak after that explosion to drive.
His smiled widened. Its gets better, you know.
Really?
He wriggled his eyebrows at me. Wait and see.
I cant wait, I said, meaning it. Sex with Rusty was so enjoyable and he was so eager to please
me that I wanted to have sex with him all the time. We both had great sexual appetites so we were a
match made in sex-heaven, if there was such a place.
And I wanted to please him. I loved looking into his eyes and watching him lose control because
of what I was doing to him. It made me feel powerful and in control.
How did you get so good at this, I asked.
Well, when I was fifteen, I had an affair with my school teacher who was forty, he confessed.
She taught me exactly how to please women. He chuckled. She was pleasure-seeking and shed
say, Rusty, your stamina, my experience a win-win situation.
Was it?
Fuck yeah! I was in love with her. Wanted to marry her and fuck all day. He laughed. I was
fifteen, remember?
And how am I? I demanded.
Youre fantastic. His guilty smile told me otherwise.
Liar!
He laughs. Okay, youre getting there, my twenty-one year old virgin. Not to mention that
youve got huge potential.
I want to be there, I whispered. I want to be your best. Take me there. Teach me. I wasnt
shy with Rusty. I loved him too much to be. Besides as I mentioned, he had a way of making me
comfortable and relaxed.
Yeah? He reached over, grabbed my neck and drew it towards him.
Yeah I mimicked.
Youre so on, he said and kissed me.
From then on, our love-making became phenomenal and each time I left Rusty, my body tingled
for hours from the memory of the new moves, the new positions he had taught me.
Of course, he led, I followed. He was a great teacher and I loved the aftermath just as much as
when he was inside of me. It was fun learning from someone who cared about me and who I trusted.
I found myself buying Ylang Ylang candles and body oils and sexy lingerie. In fact, Rusty took
me shopping for lingerie and introduced me to G-strings. It was as uncomfortable as hell, but it made
me feel so sexy that I wore them anyway. In them I felt like a whore and I wanted to feel like that.

Chapter Twenty-Two

HENNA

I hurried over to Rustys one day and found him in the parking lot. His smile told me he was up
to something. What are you up to? I asked.
I bought you a car! he said, his voice full of excitement.
You what?!
He grabbed my hand and almost dragged me further into the parking lot. Look! He pointed to a
red Toyota.
My hands flew to my mouth. Oh my God! I whirled to look at him. For me? You bought it
?
You like it? he asked, his eyes scanning my face. Its a demo model, easy to drive, easy to
park, and safe. At night youll .
Oh, I love it! I said. It was a lovely, car. At the palace, we rode in limos and Mercedes. ( I
was married to a prince, remember?) I pictured myself parking this Toyota in the parking lot next to
the other luxury vehicles and I giggled at the thought of all the staffs reaction.
There would be so many questions.
Baby, I love it! I gushed. Thank you so much. I threw my arms around him. I will take great
care of it and I promise not to scratch it.
No need to. Youre learning to drive. Make all the mistakes you need to. Thats what insurance
is there for.
You are so sweet. Can we go for a test drive?
Sure. He got in and buckled up. No one has to pick you up and drop you off anymore.
I absolutely loved the car and I loved him for being so sweet to me. But there was the issue of
my drivers license. Rusty wanted me to get one, but I was afraid that he would then see my real
identity.
But, like everything else, I shelved it into the attic of my mind and hoped it wouldnt ever come
up.
I would have loved to tell everyone about the great gift my boyfriend gave me, but I couldnt. So
I told everybody that it was Rekhas car to prevent any suspicion.
The freedom that came with driving and having my own car was absolutely liberating.
I still had a curfew, but I took liberties even though it stressed out both Vijay and Rekha.

*****

HENNA

Its been three months, Rekha said, watching my face in the mirror as I applied my lipstick.
Yes, but I still got my period, I pointed out quickly.
She fell silent.
I was so happy with Rusty, that I sometimes forget my mission. The palace suffocated me and I
didnt want to be there, not even for a minute. Even though Rusty lived in an apartment, I felt as free
as a bird when I was there, and it was an effort to return to the palace.
It was a bonus to be able to see him during the day. But I had to make sure that I was not spotted
by him during his lessons with Vijay.
Hes always in a good mood these days, Vijay reported. I think he likes you a lot.
Has he told you that? Barood asked.
What? I asked, not making eye contact.
That he like you? That he loves you?
No. We were not in that place yet.
You sure? Barood persisted. Youre glowing, hes always in a good mood makes me
wonder if the two of you are not falling in love.
Dont be silly. We hardly know each other. My attempt to snap at him failed miserably.
But I could tell Rekha wasnt fooled by the way she looked at me. That made me mad how
dared she stand in my way of a little happiness?
Temporary happiness, okay, but still, it was happiness that I never had and was not ready to say
goodbye to very soon.
Im off! I said and hurried into the Toyota.

*****

HENNA

I was stressed. I had a special dinner at the palace with the Royal Family and Rusty and I had
tickets to a late show. Since they clashed, I tried to find a way to juggle both.
Anyway, I did my hair and make-up with Rusty in mind, and I slipped on an elegant, knee-length
dress. I figured it would be fitting for both the royal dinner and the theatre.
Vijay and I were the last to enter the royal dining room. The Queen, who wasnt supposed to be
there as yet, was already seated and talking to her daughters.
The moment I entered, all eyes jerked to look at me.
I curtsied and took my place next to Vijay.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What have you done to yourself, little Henna? Hritik, Chandinis
always-tipsy and loud-mouth husband said, admiration all over his blotchy face. Youre looking
greeeeeat!
Yes, Chandini said in a sneering voice. Youve lost all the weight. You used to be so fat.
Uncomfortable under their scrutiny and not prepared for this, I shrugged several times then said.
Had my hair done and did some dieting.
The diet really worked. Hritiks leering button-like eyes lingered on my breasts and I felt a
flush creep all over me.
Chandini nudged him. With a frown, he looked at her, then at Maharani, before he shut up and
slinked back into his Edwardian Chair.
I look at Maharani. Her lips are a thin line. Finally she said, So youve been working on your-
self, your weight then? Her tone was accusing, which confused me.
Yes, Maharani, I murmured.
Mmm. Everyone stared at me and I regretted dressing up.
Hennas working hard to get pregnant, Vijay screeched, his eyes cast to the floor. Vijay
seldom spoke, defended himself, or argued for him to step in and say something on my behalf was
surprising to me and everyone else.
After looking thoughtful for a moment, Maharani nodded. Thereafter, she addressed Vijay and
ignored me.
Which I didnt mind. In fact, I preferred it that way, as I felt really intimidated by her and her
daughters and couldnt wait for her to leave so that we could leave.
Chandini and Madhuri put their heads together and whispered, and I just knew that they were
talking about me. The started giggling. Bitches. Well, they could laugh at me, I thought, but they dont
know that handsome Rusty had just bought me a car.
After dinner, to my annoyance, instead of going our own way like we usually did, we all had to
retire to the family room where Maharani mingled with her children and grandchildren.
Hritik eyes followed me around. Finally, he cornered Vijay and I. I too want to lose some
weight, he whispered and touched his pot-belly. Maybe you and me should get together and talk
about it. As he spoke, even though Vijay was present, and even though I showed not a hint of
cleavage, his eyes fastened onto my breasts.
He moved closer so that his shoulder deliberately touched mine. It was creepy and sleazy. His
voice dropped to a whisper. I too want to look sexy, like you. I mean, look at you, you look very
sexy. Very, very sexy. He ran his tongue slowly over his lower lip. I cringed and moved closer to
Vijay, who flicked his fingers on his chest and appeared to be retreating into his world, like he
usually did whenever there was conflict.
Muttering something about the bathroom, I headed to the bathroom furthest away in an attempt to
shake off Hritik.
I was anxious about Rusty, irritated about Hritik, and annoyed with Queen Karisma for delaying
this evening.
After I used the bathroom, I stood in front of the mirror and checked my make-up. I didnt hear
him until he was right behind me.
Hellooo, baby, Hritik said, placing both hands on the sink on either side of me.
Stunned, I looked at him in the mirror. Wha ? My voice caught in my throat.
With a sinister gleam in his eye he pressed himself up against me, anchoring me to the sink and
preventing me from escaping. Terror oozed through me.
You need a real man with that body, he whispered, his whisky breath singeing my ear. Vijay
cant give you what I can. To my utter disgust, he rubbed himself against me.
Why did I choose this bathroom?
I tried to elbow him, but he laughed and slipped his arm around to squeeze my breast.
Then I remembered Rustys training. He had always said that if Im in a bear hug, I should go for
the shin. Kick back hard, then stomp on the attackers foot. I did both. It worked.
You fucking bitch! he screamed, as he doubled up in pain.
I grabbed my purse, ran out of the bathroom and smacked straight into Vijay, who stood at the
entrance to the bathroom looking very distressed and muttering incoherently. He must have sensed that
Hritik was up to something so he followed me. That was his way of trying to protect me.
Its okay, I said and grabbed onto Vijays arm. Im okay. Even though it didnt help much, I
still appreciated Vijays gesture.
You okay? I asked.
He nodded.
Shaking, we made my way back to the rest of the family.
Moments later, Hritik returned and resumed his drinking. After knocking back a few more
whiskeys, he raised his glass. To Hennas new body! he slurred and gave Vijay an exaggerated
wink. You look as beautiful as the Maharani herself now. What a sexy Queen you will make.
There was a collective gasp in the room.
All eyes flitted between the Queen and me. When I looked at Maharani, she had a smile
plastered on her lips, but it didnt reach her eyes.
Shortly thereafter, Roop Singh walked over to Hritik and whispered in his ear. Hritik scowled,
downed his drink and stormed out, muttering under his breath.
When the evening finally ended, I raced back to my suite and blurted out everything to Rekha and
Barood. Hes such a jerk! I cried. Now hes going to be after me.
Not to mention, hes put you in the bad books of Maharani, Rekha said, a huge frown on her
forehead.
Yes, Maharani doesnt like competition in the looks department, Barood said.
Barood, dont say that! Vijay admonished.
Its true, Vijay, Barood said. She only hires male staff and when she does hire women,
theyre downright ugly.
Vijay glared at Barood, then went off in a huff.
All three of us exchanged exasperated glances.
Youre in deep shit, Barood said. And Hritik hes going to pay for his stupidity. Mark my
words. Biiiig idiot.
Rekha scratched her eyebrow and looked at the floor. Then she looked at me, a frown on her
face. Next time you see her, dress down.
Okay, I said.
By the time I reached Rusty, we had missed the theatre and he was getting ready for bed. Im
sorry, Rusty, I said. Couldnt get away from home. Im really sorry, baby. Really sorry.
He sat on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees. I went to your house, he said quietly.
I didnt expect that.
Family dinner at a relatives, Rusty, I quickly said.
I dont know if I believe you, Anita. Why was your grandmother not at that family dinner? His
voice was cold, different, and it made me really nervous.
Never thought of the grandmother bit. Damn!
Rusty, please! Youre giving me a hard-time. For what? My grandmother never leaves the
house. Shes old and shes shes a bit paranoid, okay?
He stared at me and his silence told me that he didnt believe me. I was a little annoyed because
of the pressure I felt from him, from Maharanis dinner and the jerk Hritik, but after a few moments, I
took a deep breath and focused on the man in front of me.
He had a right to be upset with me, I thought. Id be too, if the roles were reversed. I walked
over to him, put my arms around him and tried to kiss him.
He turned his face away.
I grabbed his chin and turned it so that I could look into his eyes and lie. You have a right to be
mad at me and Im really sorry. I will make it up to--
You seeing someone else, Anita?
What?! With a chuckle, I pushed him onto his back and climbed over him. Dont be silly, I
said as I straddled him. I like fucking you too much. Dont you realize that by now? I kissed his
lips.
He didnt respond.
Slowly I moved my hips over his till I felt him hard-on.
He reached up, grabbed a fist-full of my hair and brought my face down to his. Ill kill you if
you do, understand?
His eyes were so serious and so dark, that I believed him.
Deceive me and I will murder you, he whispered, as he flipped me around so that he was on
top of me.
Rusty, Im here every day, every evening. Dont push me away with your insecurities. I want to
be with you. Cant you tell?
He didnt answer, but continued scanning my face for something, clues, whatever.
I took his hand and slid it between my thighs. Feel me, baby, I whispered. Im wet just
thinking about you.
I felt his body relax at my words. Pulling his mouth down to mine, I kissed away his insecurities,
as I undressed him and used my body to placate him.
His lovemaking was rough, forceful, maybe even territorial that night, and I understood why.
As we lay spent in each others arms, he turned my face to his. I smiled and tried to kiss him but
he held me back and looked into my eyes. I braced myself for another bout of reproach.
I love you, Anita, he whispered to my surprise.
After I got over my shock at his words, my heart sang. I love you, Rusty, I said. I love you so
much. I held him tight and basked in his love.
He smiled for the first time that evening and planted light kisses all over my face.
I love you, I chanted. I love you. It felt wonderful to utter those words.
I love you, Anita, he said, entwining his finger in my hair. I do.
Rusty said he loved me. Someone loved me. Finally.

*****

HENNA

I was blissfully happy and my head was in that 9
th
cloud or whatever cloud was responsible for
happiness.
Love is a selfish emotion, it true. I was selfish after Rusty told me that he loved me. I wanted to
be happy more than anything in the world. More than I cared about Rustys long term happiness and
imminent heartbreak.
Nothing could dampen my spirits for long because of my love for him. I ran around the palace,
humming to myself, watching the clock, waiting for it to tell me that it was time to see my love. Then
Id race over to his place and wait for him. When he entered I would jump into his arms and hed
swing me around and tell me that he loved me.
He often bought me presents. A gold chain with a locket on it, a pair of diamond earrings, a book
that he thought Id like he was generous and loving. The best boyfriend in the whole world. I felt
like an addict. He was my fix. Holding him, breathing in him, lying in his arms--that was what made
life worthwhile.
The moment he moved away, I kept thinking of him. A scary feeling. Like an addict.

Chapter Twenty-Three

REKHA

Henna had no idea how beautiful she really was. Her sister had brainwashed her into believing
that she was ugly, stupid, and a tomboy. Her familys apathy towards her reiterated that in her head.
Obviously, the position of the beautiful daughter in their family had been filled with vain and self-
absorbed Rani.
But all that changed. Under my constant guidance and Miss Sarahs tutoring over a year, Henna
morphed from overweight teenager, into a pleasant, smart, educated lady.
Bathed in Rustys love and attention, she blossomed into a beautiful woman with an equally
beautiful heart.
She was so happy that she glowed like an ember. Shed run around the palace, dancing to the
music in her head. She danced, not walked. In many ways, she was still a child, yet she could be a
lady when necessary. A fine balance to achieve in such a short time, but we did it.
When we took our walks around the palace, she always stopped to speak to the servants, give a
compliment, ask about their children, or just tell them what a great job they were doing. In the past,
she didnt have the confidence to speak to servants, let alone make eye-contact with them.
Palace staff fell in love with her once they got to know her. Every time they saw her, they would
tell her how beautiful she looked. After they got over their shock at realizing who she was, of course.
You are going to make a beautiful Maharani, they always said.
And her generosity was phenomenal. Like the time we saw two servants huddled together. One
was crying.
What it, Jaya? Henna asked.
It is nothing, Princess, Jaya replied.
Henna put her hand on Jayas shoulder and raised her eyebrows.
Realizing that Princess Henna wasnt going to leave without an answer, Jay explained their
plight. Meena here, her childs eyesight is failing, Princess. The doctor, he says that they need to
operate soon, but she doesnt have the money for the operation, Princess.
Thats too bad, Henna said, a pained expression on her face. How old is the child?
Three years old, Rajkumari, Jaya replied while Meena sobbed harder.
Henna looked thoughtful for a few moments, then turned to me. That is terrible. I mean, I plan to
have a child soon. What if my child was going blind, Rekha? How would I feel? What if one of my
sisters was going blind?
She slipped off a bangle and handed it to Meena.
Meenas eyes widened, while Jaya gasped with her hands on her chest.
But Princess, that thats Maharani Jaya spluttered.
Henna waved dismissively. I have plenty and we wont tell. Take it and sort out your daughter,
okay?
Meena stared at the bangle in her hand, then threw herself at Hennas feet. Thank you, Thank
you! Thank you! Rajkumari!
Now remember, just dont tell anyone that I gave you the bangle, Henna said.
I wont, Rajkumari, Meena promised. I promise, I promise, I promise!
Now, dry your eyes and go be a loving mother, Henna said.
We continued our walk. She always wanted women to be loving mothers. That was something
she longed for her mothers love. Unfortunately, she couldnt get that.
A few days later, Dev Anand, one of the gardeners, accosted Henna and I during one of our
walks through the palace grounds.
Whats wrong, Dev Anand? Henna asked.
He tearfully told us about his daughters plight. She had been raped and was now pregnant with
the child of a rapist. The village he belonged to wanted to stone her for being pregnant out of wedlock
and he feared for her life. He begged Henna for money so he could buy her a ticket to go to his sister
in Sri Lanka. I heard you helped Meena, he said. Please Rajkumari, please help me now.
Meenas big mouth.
Without a word, Henna removed a gold bangle and handed it to him. He clasped his hands
together and bowed to her.
Tell her if she needs a job after the baby, she must come to me. She can bring her baby with.
For a moment he stood with his mouth agape. Then he too threw himself at Hennas feet and
said, May God keep you and your family safe, always. I will always be your servant. For the rest of
your life, Princess Henna.
Thank you. Now, dry your tears and go be a loving father to your daughter.
I will, I will, Rajkumari.
And ask her if the babys middle name can be Henna! she teased. Only if its a girl.
Absolutely, Rajkumari. Absolutely!
As we walked away, I said, You know, that story could very well be a lie.
She stopped walking and looked at me as if I was crazy to think that.
They could just be taking advantage of you because youre eighteen and innocent and
vulnerable. You do realize that?
After thinking about it for a moment, she gave a dismissive shrug. Maybe. But did you see the
pain in his eyes? It seemed real. Anyway, it doesnt matter. I like helping people.
She skipped around me like a little girl. Besides, Im happy and I want the whole world to be
happy!
It became a regular occurrence servants wanting charity and Princess Henna always giving
freely. She put out her hands, raised her face to the heavens and whirled round and round.
Theyre calling you Princess of Hearts, I informed her. Word is it that youre more popular
than Maharani now.
Really? What does that mean?
Means that youd make a great Queen one day and you will be loved by all your subjects, not
like Queen Karisma. Nobody likes her because shes a mean bitch. Not to mention a slut.
We both laughed.
But now, look at your arms, Henna. Youre down to, what forty bangles?
She looked at her arms and nodded grimly.
If palace officials discover that youre parting with royal jewels, giving them away, youre in
big, big trouble, Princess Henna.
Here eyes were full of worry. What must I do, then?
I thought about it. Ask Prince Vijay for more bangles. Tell him tell him you want fifty gold
bangles as a gift, then fifty more when you announce your pregnancy. Tell him not to mention it to
anyone.
Okay, she said meekly.
Luckily, Prince Vijay hated any form of conflict so he immediately said yes, and within a week,
all Hennas bangles were replaced.

Chapter Twenty-Four

HENNA

Rusty and I were happy, and as the days went by we became closer. He wanted more of me,
more than I could give.
Why cant you just move in with me, he badgered, as I dressed to return to the palace. Tell
your family to get with the times.
Rusty, please! Its not that simple, baby. Living with your boyfriend is out of the question and
as for pre-marital sex its a no-no! I smiled and leaned in for a kiss. But youre so fantastic in bed
and and and the way you make my body shudder With a mischievous smile, I slid my hand
down his broad chest, over his firm stomach muscles and between his legs. I just cant resist
He grabbed my hand. Know what I think, Anita?
Here we go again, I thought, removing my hand and sighing. What?
I think youre married. Or you have a boyfriend or something.
I froze. Was he onto me? I looked away.
He grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him. You cant be reached during the day, your
family never appears, and you wont stay the ni
I thought I explained all that to you, Rusty?
He folded his arms tightly across his bare chest. Somethings not right, Anita.
I was a virgin when I met you, Rusty!
He nodded, a pensive look on his face. Yeah. See, that --he circled his index finger--thats
the confusing part.
I introduced you to my sister, my brother-in-law, my grandmother Annoyed, I slid out of
bed and furiously threw on my clothes. All this because I wont stay a night with you?!
All this because of everything I said, Anita.
I slipped on my heels and walked over to the mirror to brush my hair.
He sat up in bed and watched me silently.
Our eyes met through the dressing table mirror.
I see you every day, Rusty. Every single day.
He stared at me, a thoughtful look on his face. Finally, he got out of bed and walked over to me.
He cupped my face, looked into my eyes, and kissed me lightly on the lips.
Ha! Couldnt stay mad at me for long, I thought. Im irresistible. At least, the new and improved
me Anita is irresistible.
I think we should stop seeing each other.
Rusty!
Im sorry, but its not working out, Anita. Sorry. Call me when youre ready to give yourself
one hundred per cent to me. His voice was so foreign, so determined, he sounded like a stranger to
me. He walked towards the bathroom.
Rusty, wait! I ran after him and caught him at the door. You cant be serious?
With a determined look in his eyes, he stepped into the bathroom and locked the door on me.
Shut the door on your way out! he said through the locked door.
Stunned, I tried the door. Rusty!
He didnt answer.
Rusty, I have your car.
Keep it. Its yours!
Now thats just silly, Rusty. Rusty? When I heard the shower going, I left the apartment and
drove home in a state of shock.
Rekha jerked to her feet when she saw the look on my face. Whats wrong, Henna?
He he he broke up with me, Rekha.
She gasped and put both her hands over her mouth.
He said I must keep the car.
For a few moments we sat in silence. All our plans, our hopes, all down the tubes.
Ive let my team down.
It was all for the best, I said to a disappointed Rekha. It was too stressful for me. He would
have found out sooner or later. I sounded a lot like my wimpy husband.
I dried my tears and went in search of ice-cream. I found a tub, grabbed a big spoon and settled
in front of the TV. I took a spoonful of ice-cream and almost gagged. It tasted awful like cardboard.
If I couldnt eat ice-cream then something was wrong. Furious, I hurled the spoon at the wall.
Fuck you, Rusty! At Rekhas insistence, I went to bed to sleep it off.
Twenty-four hours later, reality set in. I would have to live my life without Rusty. Without his
arms around me, his touch, his kisses, his naked body over mine
Every day without him would be as empty as this. As lonely as this.
The loss I felt was so intense, I curled up into a ball and lay on my bed.
Rekha walked in and sat next to me. Youll see him every day but it will be at the palace.
I nodded. At least I had that to look forward to.
But Rusty did not show at the palace.
Hes off sick for the next week, Vijay said.
Henna, Barood said, I think I mean, look at you, youre a mess I think you have fallen for
him. Have you?
What a stupid question! I snapped and turned away.
Miserable and dying to see his face again, I found myself visiting our regular haunts, craning my
neck to look out for him. But I didnt see him anywhere.
I thought about going to his apartment on the pretext of returning his car, but I didnt want to
finalize things to such an extent; and I was scared hed reject me. I went back to Charnie Road with
Rekha and asked the old lady if the Gora, (white-man) came looking for me.
This time the white-haired lady didnt say Haa. She shook her head from side to side.
Hes really serious about breaking up with me, then, I thought, my heart splintering into a million
pieces.

*****

HENNA

A week went by and there was still the issue of my falling pregnant. My disappointment and
broken heart had to be put on ice for now. I needed to handle the issue of their heir or go back to the
village of Geet.
At the behest of Rekha, I found myself seated at a bar and ordering a Tequila Sunrise. It wasnt
like I was ordering a Tequila Sunrise because it brought back memories of Rusty and I drinking
together and having fun, I told myself. It was just a goddamn drink. It meant nothing!
My eyes swept the room. Lots of drunken men of all ages to choose from. Almost immediately,
men sent me drinks. Six Tequila Sunrises stand cheek-to-cheek in front of me.
When I looked at the drinks and the men eyeing me like a gazelle being eyed at dinner time by a
pride of lions, I stop sipping and switched to gulps.
Pretty soon, three Tequila Sunrises had disappeared and my confidence had re-appeared.
A drunk staggered towards me.
He was around forty, blotchy face, a startlingly innovative comb-over, the buttons on his white
shirt threatening to become airborne any moment. Allo beeetiful! he said to my breasts.
I didnt reply.
With a smile, he wet a finger on each hand and slowly rubbed down his eyebrows with them.
That makes a huge difference, I said.
Want to have good time, beby?
Uuuuggghhh!
Your ... I pointed to his eyebrows, theyre all messed up again.
Ohhh! He wet his fingers again and furiously rubbed them down again. Better, beby?
Ah, yes. Much better.
Now, what wasa beeetiful girl like you doing in a place like this?
Im married. Im waiting for my husband.
He jerked back and looked at me with huge, bloodshot eyes. Me too! But that shouldnt get in
the way of a good friendship, beeetiful. With great difficulty, he heaved his bulk onto a barstool next
to me, his pudgy thigh rubbing against mine, reminding me of Hritik.
Hey! Leave her alone! a voice shouted.
The owner of the voice was around twenty-five, tanned skin, tall with an earring in one ear. He
had a toothy grin and crinkly eyes. He wore black on black with the words Security on his T-shirt.
Pudgy tore his eyes off my breasts and slunk away.
Hello! What have we here, I asked myself? Donor material for sure. I sat up really tall and
smiled at him.
Fuck you, Rusty! Youre so replaceable.
My kids would have big teeth for sure, but being royalty, we could afford good dentists. Theyd
probably make great security guards too. Maybe they can be head of Palace security if all else failed?
The possibilities were endless now that I had met a good looking security guard at a bar.
You okay, maam?
Yes, I am, thank you.
Hes harmless, handsome security guy said. Just likes the ladies. He sat next to me and we
made small talk.
He held out his hand. Im Abisheik, by the way.
A Sheik! I met a Sheik. See? Fuck you, Rusty!
Im Anita, I said and shook his hand the way Miss Sarah taught me to.
As we talked, his eyes swept appreciatively over me. That should have been great, but it wasnt.
I found myself comparing him with Rusty his nose was bigger than Rustys, his chest was smaller
than Rustys, his aftershave made no impression on me, his T-shirt was not black enough
I was so sick of myself for doing this.
Can I get your number?
This was where I was supposed to say, Sure, here it is. Then fast-forward -- he calls me, we
go to dinner, we have sex at my house in Charnie Road that night, or at his place or in my car and Im
pregnant. Easy peasy.
Im sorry, but Im married, I heard myself say.
His face fell.
When I walked away from the bar, I was more in love with Rusty than I ever had been and I
realized that I could not sleep with another man while my heart was in pieces.
I wiped away my tears and headed back to my prison, where I had every material thing I could
possibly want, but didnt give a crap about any of it.
I just wanted Rusty. So badly I ached, physically and emotionally.

*****

HENNA

It had been two weeks since Rusty had dumped me. Rekha had said it was no use keeping the
house now, so we were there to end all dealings with Daadijii.
It was a rainy day and my mood was as grey as the skies. Giving up the house meant finality with
Rusty. That set me on the brink of tears. How could Rusty be so strong that he could stay away from
me? Maybe he didnt love me that much?
I missed him so much, that I had an unbearable physical pain inside of me that nothing could
ease.
As we sat across from Daadijii and sipped our tea, the doorbell rang. Since I was closest to the
door, I walked over to answer. When I opened the door, I looked into my lovers face.
Rusty!
He stood in the rain, shoulders slumped, misery etched all over his face. Im sorry, he said. I
love you so much, baby. I shouldnt have
With a cry, I stepped into the rain, threw my arms around him and silenced his apology with my
kiss. I love you, Rusty! I love you so much. Lets never fight again.
We hugged each other, not caring that Rekha and Daadijii were looking at us.
Come with me, he said. Now!
I nodded and turned to Rekha. Dont wait for me. Before she could answer, I ran off with
Rusty .
In the car, we kissed and hugged and vowed never to fight again.
I love you, Rusty, I said and clasped his hand to my heart. I love you forever.
Then risking everything, I spent two days and nights at his place where we stayed in each others
arms and made love sweet, long and unhurried. We pledged our love to each other and both of us
promised that we would let nothing stand in the way of our love.
Nothing, he said.
Nothing, I dittoed. I was so blinded with love that I said things I had no right saying, but I
couldnt stop them from pouring out of my mouth. I meant every single word and I would have
sacrificed it all for him at that moment.
Rusty baby, lets go away to New York. Ive never been there.
Soon, baby, he said, hugging my naked body to his. I cant leave India right now because of
my contracts, but soon, okay?
Dont worry about the contracts, Rusty, I said trying hard to keep the urgency out of my voice.
Please Rusty, lets just go. Get on a plane tonight and leave forever.
He smiled and thought I was kidding. But I wasnt.
I love you, forever, I said. Forever, and ever and ever and ever
Rusty was happy again.
I was happy again.
When I got back to the palace, Vijay for the first time since I had known him was angry and
extremely agitated.
I had to tell everyone you were gone to Geet! he screeched. What if they checked, huh?
Huh?
Im sorry, it wont happen again, I promised. Im sorry.

Chapter Twenty-Five

HENNA

Two weeks of bliss passed before I woke up ill, vomiting and unable to stand the smell of tea.
Youre pregnant! Rekha whispered, her face alive with excitement.
No, I got my period, thats all, I said, in an attempt to throw her off scent.
Knowing that she was aware of everything and that she would check, I opened a pack of sanitary
towels, removed a few and threw them in the trash.
Then I headed over to Rustys. On the way to his place, I stopped at a pharmacy and bought two
pregnancy test kits.
With shaking hands, I sat on Rustys toilet and checked the results. On one hand I wanted to be
pregnant so that all the stresses surrounding me over an heir would be over; and on the other hand, I
didnt want to be, as it meant saying goodbye to my lover.
I couldnt bear the thought of not seeing him again.
The lines turned blue.
My heart did somersaults. I was going to be a mother!
But to be sure, I redid the test.
Blue again. I was definitely pregnant with Rustys child. Rustys and my child. I smiled. Our
seeds, our love would produce a beautiful
Honey? Rustys voice cut into my reverie.
I wasnt expecting him home. Damn! I muttered and quickly gathered the contents of both kits,
threw them into a paper bag and stashed it behind the toilet bowl, out of sight.
When he wasnt looking, I planned to remove it.
Hey! I said, rushing out to greet him. Whatre you doing home so early?
He scooped me up and whirled me around. I wanted to see you.
We spent the rest of the day in each others arms. I so much wished I could share the wonderful
news with him. So many times I came close to it, but I had to stop myself. When I left for the palace,
my heart was heavy.
A few days later, Rekha confronted me with a pregnancy test kit. The look on her face told me
that she knew.
I bowed my head and silently chewed my bottom lip.
Now, she said in a voice that didnt allow for any arguments.
Without a word, I nodded and took the test.
I was aware that I had to say goodbye to Rusty. I couldnt hang around with him with a huge
stomach.
Also, I was unable to eat meat and I was nauseous all the time. Sooner or later he would catch
on and knowing him, he probably would buy a pregnancy test kit and force me to take a test.
When I handed Rekha the stick, she jumped for joy. An heir to the throne you did it! You did
it, Henna!
Barood and Vijay were thrilled and opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
While they are celebrating, I started to get dressed.
Where are you going? Rekha asked, confusion all over her face.
To Rusty.
Her brows knitted.
I looked at her in the mirror. I cant just leave him like that. Have to say goodbye at least,
Rekha.
She said nothing. She didnt have to.

*****

HENNA

That night, as we lay in each others arms, I prepared myself to give Rusty the bad news. I
decided to tell him that I was going away for a while and that I would see him when I got back. Then
after a few weeks, I planned to write and tell him that I was not coming back. It was easier that way, I
thought. Let him down in stages.
While I was mentally working out my pitch, Rusty reached into his bedside drawer, removed
something from it and turned to me.
Marry me, he said, producing a ring.
Oh my God! I cried as I looked at the ring. It was the most precious thing I had ever seen. I
have jewellery tons of it: ugly gold, diamonds, rubies you name it, I had it, and I hated all of it.
But this ring, this diamond solitaire which sparkled in the light I could wear it every day, every
single moment of my life.
I looked up at Rustys smiling face.
Will you marry me, Henna?
With a cry, I threw my arms around him. Yes! I will marry y you, I choked. Then I started
to cry as confusion, despair, and sadness rained over me.
He laughed and slipped the ring onto my finger.
I held onto him and sobbed. I didnt want to give up Rusty. Ever! I loved him so much. He was
the only person in the world who loved me and who wanted me.
I want three children at least, he said. How bout it, honey?
Three? I chuckled through my tears. Sure.
Im gonna teach them how to perform stunts
I zoned out as the bands around my heart constricted.
How bout it? Huh? Huh?
Of course, baby, I said. Whatever you want. I love you so much.
I love you so much, Anita.
Suddenly, I hated the name Anita.
I put my finger to his lips. Call me baby. I like it when you call me that.
He removed my finger and pecked my lips. Sure, Baby.
I smiled.
He smacked my bottom. Baby, baby, baby!
For that, Im going to stay the night.
You are? he was thrilled and we lay in bed making plans about our future. I agreed with
everything he said and even made plans with him.
When I heard his soft snoring, I slid out of bed, removed the ring, kissed it and slipped it into the
back of the night stand.
I quietly dressed and walked out of Rustys apartment, out of Rustys life.
Tomorrow, he would find the ring in the drawer and the keys to the car in his letterbox.

Chapter Twenty-Six

RUSTY

Of course I didnt want to work with Anita! She looked like a diva her nails were long and
painted, her hair was shiny and beautiful, her heels looked like knives that could easily put out
someones eye!
How the hell could I have taken her seriously after the way she looked? So pretty?
Anyway, I had had enough people knocking on my door and I was busy enough. Also, I didnt
think someone like her could afford me.
I was, I must admit, taken aback when she flashed me wads of notes. Had she robbed the 7-11
she worked at, I wondered?
Thats offensive. I take it back.
I dont work with women, I politely explained.
Oh, why not? she demanded.
Cos theyre not I dunno, theyre just not serious enough, dedicated I really watched my
words and tried to be respectful.
What I really wanted to tell her was that, from my experience, women were slow learners, full
of themselves, never punctual, and I had to treat them with kid gloves something I just didnt feel
like doing.
Even though I wasnt in any way arrogant or disrespectful, she kicked me. With those stilettos.
Just kicked my ass and I never saw it coming. My mistake. First time in my adult life, ever.
Anyway, as I lay on the ground, groaning like a girl, I was convinced she was some sort of
psycho who was going to yank out her stilettos and drive one of them into my temple and remove my
brain or something, for, I dunno, something I did to her in another life?
Was I scared? Fuck yeah! Wouldnt you be?
I needed to get my bearings quickly.
But after the psycho knocked me to the ground, she knelt before me with a look of genuine
concern in her eyes. Sir? Are you okay? Sir?
Then, she got a glass of water and tried to feed it to me. Tap water! It would make me sick. She
forced it down my throat so I hit the glass out of her hand.
Drink up please, she urged. Then she tried to hoist me to my feet. When I was okay, she
suddenly grabbed her bag and high-tailed it out of the studio.
What a nut-job, I thought as I locked and bolted the studio door. Couldnt take chances maybe
there were more like her out there. Maybe she had a sister, an aunt, or an equally fucked-up best
friend waiting outside in the dark.
But I got home, dressed my head wound, and as the hours passed, something strange happened
my fascination for her peaked and the questions in my mind flowed.
Who was that feisty girl?
Where did she come from?
Why was she so mad?
How could I have made such an idiot of myself? I mean, Ill be the first to admit I should not
have been caught unawares. Not me. Especially not me.
Two days later, she re-appeared. Of course I put her in a headlock. I was taking no chances. But
she groveled and she was even prettier than I remembered, so I invited her in. Okay, so maybe
invited isnt all together true.
But I quietly adopted my fighting stance, ready for her, ready to beat the shit out of her in case
she tried anything. Well, I wouldnt beat the shit out of her; I was just ready to defend myself against
her.
With a sheepish smiled she stood before me and said, I, eh, I came to apologize.
Yeah? Then do it.
She put her hand to her chest. Im sorry.
Mff, I said and nodded. But be warned, try that again and Ill beat the fucking shit out of you,
understand?
She smiled and bit her bottom lip and when I looked into her eyes, I lost my fighting stance, my
train of thought, forgot who I was, forgot where I was, and I stared at her like a cretin.
Luckily, I snapped out of it, looked her up and down, faked a sneer and said, How old are you
again?
Eh, eh twenty-one?
I was smart enough to know she was lying about her age. I mean, she hesitated and then said
twenty-one like it was a question. Women they always tried to pass themselves off as being
younger, so I assumed she was twenty-five and struggling with the mortality of her youth. Or some shit
like that.
Anyway, she looked way younger than twenty-five for sure.
Then she went off in a tangent something about me being a sexist and how I wasnt successful
with women.
Did she even know who I was? I had chicks throwing themselves at me all the time; I had to
literally fend them off. What a dumb broad, I thought.
Anyway, I resumed my fighting stance and told her off. But she just smiled and said, Yes, yes,
whatever you call it. Her smile, man! It made me lose my fighting stance all over again.
Then she had the nerve to tell me that she kicked my ass and her smile became so condescending,
it made me downright furious.
Do you know of another instructor who enjoys a challenge? Can you believe that question? Me
turn down a challenge? I dont think so. I looked up at her.
She had a lock of hair in her hand which she was slowly twisting, her head cocked to one side,
an amused smiled on her face. She looked so pretty that my mind went AWOL, and all the abuse I was
about to hurl at her dissipated.
Be here Thursday 6 PM! I snapped. Dont be late. And I take my payment in advance. Get
it?
Her smiled brightened and she nodded.
Then I threatened the shit out of her. And dont expect that just cos youre a fucking woman, Im
gonna go fucking slow on you, understand? Bitch. I amped up my fighting stance and looked fiercely
at her.
Do you know how she responded? Ill tell you. She told me that she was going to kick the shit
out of me. I plan to kick the fucking shit out of you, Rusty.
Now, I should have gotten mad with her, but she said my name so pretty, I overlooked her
cockiness and a smile escaped me.
Goodnight and sweet dreams, she said. What the hell did she mean by Goodnight and sweet
dreams? Was it because she knocked me out cold the last time? A reference to her blindsiding me?
Sweet dreams? As in, Dream on if you think you can outwit me because I got surprise after surprise
in store for you, honky?
She sashayed out of the studio. Lucky she didnt look back or shed have seen me gawking like
an idiot.
In anticipation of seeing her again, I donned on my most expensive aftershave and ensured I
looked decent for our next lesson, something I never bother to do.
But my intrigue for her escalated, as I remembered and analyzed our last conversation.
She was surprisingly good for a beginner and I must say, I was impressed with her. She was on
time and she wasnt in any way a diva. I liked that about her, but I kept my distance as I was a
professional in my game.
When she twisted her ankle, I rose to the occasion and became the hero. To show off how strong
I was, I carried her down the stairs even though she protested. I liked carrying her. Liked the
closeness and the smell of her perfume.
Shortly thereafter, she asked me to dinner.
Out of the blue. I guess she couldnt resist me. Anyway, I hesitated but I finally gave in. Guess I
felt sorry for her. It was during dinner that I finally fell for Anita. Head-over-fucking heels.
Gobsmacked!
We saw each other often and I secretly looked forwards to the lessons with her. I liked the way
she bit her lip and the way she tilted her head to one side, so that her dark hair curtained her face.
I liked how affectionate she was and how she said my name. I wanted to marry that girl and have
children and grandchildren with her.
When I learned that she had been a virgin, I was stunned. What had I done to that innocent
creature?
I worried that she would be mad at me for not knowing, but she seemed happy that I was the one
who took something so precious from her and it was all good in the end.
I loved her even more thereafter. I felt she belonged to me and I wanted to take care of her,
protect her all the time.
But she was cagey and I always felt there was something she was holding back. It bothered me
but I always silenced the voice of doubt and caution inside of me. See, in the past, I liked women,
desired them, but now I loved. I loved Anita and I wanted her to be with me all the time. The reason I
held back from telling her how I felt was because I was feared I may lose her if I moved too quickly.
Shes Indian to my knowledge they are a lot slower than western women.
Anyway, I wanted to be with her all the time and often I would call in sick just so that I could be
with her.
I loved the way she walked, the way she moved, like a dancer. And she would dance at the drop
of a hat. A sensual dancer, a sensual woman, I could look at her for hours. I got irritated when men
looked at her. She appeared clueless as to how beautiful she was and I liked that.
Compared to the beautiful but vain women I dated in the past, she was a breath of fresh air.
I got mad when Anita always had to go off. Always unreachable, always had to choose the most
secluded corner in a bar or restaurant, always cagey. When I questioned her about it, her guarded
answers made me think she was hiding something.
We argued about it and her blas attitude about it pissed me off. Eventually, I told her I wanted
to end things. I meant it. But I stood behind the bathroom door and listened to her pleas and I had to
fight the urge to open the door and take her into my arms and tell her its okay and that I will take the
crumbs she offered.
But she left before I had the chance.
I spent the next two weeks trying to put her out of my mind, telling myself it was for the better
and that I shouldnt think about her. My mind betrayed me and I thought about her all the time.
Often, I drove past her house, hoping to see her Toyota in the driveway, secretly hoping to get a
glimpse of her. I was so bothered, I had difficulty functioning. But she was never there.
Then one day I saw her car in the driveway. I quickly sped off. Seeing her car jarred me and I
felt rattled for a while. But, I turned around, drove back to her house and knocked at the door.
I was so nervous that shed be mad at me. As I apologized, she suddenly kissed me and she held
me so tight that I believed she had missed me as much as I had missed her.
It was simply the greatest moment in my life and I was happy again.
I love you so much, Rusty, she said. I will love you forever!
Shortly thereafter, I bought her a diamond ring and asked her to marry me. I remember that day
clearly she said yes, then held me and wept. Was I complete!
After all that, imagine my shock when I woke up the next day only to find Anita had disappeared.
Gone.
Anita and her family, whoever the fuck they were.

****

RUSTY

I never paid much attention when people talked about the twilight zone. But now I did. I felt I
was there, in some weird psychedelic dream.
Maybe I was losing it, going crazy? Maybe Anita was simply a figment of my imagination?
It was like she never existed. Did I dream the whole thing, I wondered?
Our lessons, our lovemaking, her love for me everything.
In desperation to make sense of things, I post-mortemed every fucking thing the day she left,
she had wept a lot, but I just put it down to her being simply overwhelmed by my marriage proposal
tears of happiness. I mean, she cried easily.
I remembered that she held me for a long time before she let go of me. Now I know why. Stupid
me.
Whenever Anita left, she took a part of me with, and that day was no exception.
Her mysteriousness, which mainly frustrated me at times, added to her allure and it may have
been one of the reasons I dug that chick and wanted to marry her.
At first I was in denial and I rationalized her disappearance: her father had taken her home to the
village she hailed from, she suddenly took ill and had to move back into her parents, she was arrested
for something
Knowing that her father did not approve of her dating, I hesitated about visiting her home. No
need to get her into trouble, I reasoned. Ill just be patient and she will return. She loves me, I love
hershe will return.
She didnt.
I waited three days before I went over to her house. And when her grandmother communicated to
me that Anita had gone away, I was frustrated. Unable to handle the communication barrier, I sought
out a man in the street and paid him to interpret what she was saying. Imagine how stunned I was to
learn the truth.
Saab, my interpreter said, the lady, she says The man hesitated and looked at the ground.
What? What? I demanded. Tell me!
Saab, eh, mister, she wants money before she speaks.
I looked at the old woman in disbelief. Was she serious? Apparently, the old hag was. Of
course, I paid her. Anita said her grandmother was nuts I didnt think so. The old woman was smart,
I tell you.
Then she explained after counting the money: Two women had approached her and hired out her
place. They gave her lots of money and asked her to pretend to be their grandmother.
Whaaaat?! No, no, no, thats crazy, I said, a little embarrassed. I leaned forward and
whispered in the interpreters ear. Shes a little crazy. Anita, her daughter, warned me about her.
Slowly, my interpreter nodded. I hated the look of pity on his oily face. He chatted some more
with the lady then turned to me.
Dunno, mister, she seems pretty coherent to me.
I glared at my interpreter, then at the old lady, then at my interpreter again.
That is bull utter bullshit! I pulled out a photo of Anita from my wallet and flashed it before
the old lady. This is the girl. Get it?
The lady nodded and rattled off in Hindi.
The man listened to her and nodded. Thats the young women, yes. She says that the other lady
used a scarf to hide a scar on her face. Says there were two young men with them all the time who
waited for the young lady whenever the young lady went out. One of the men was the young ladys
husband.
Hus? The words died in my throat.
She says she remembers you taking the young lady out to dinner. The husband and the other
three waited here for her and when she returned from dinner, all four of them drove home. They didnt
stay here. You apparently came to the door and you brought roses.
Dumbfounded I stared at the old lady. She was indeed coherent. So many things she said was
true.
This cant be happening, I mumbled and stormed out of the house.
Bemused, I sat in my car and waited for my interpreter. When he came to me, I paid him and
thanked him.
You okay, mister? he asked.
I nod.
Never trust a woman, mister, my father always said. She is the best liar in the world.
Yeah. But Ill get to the bottom of this, I promised. She was married, eh? What a slut.
Unable to believe what the old lady had said, I found myself at the only call centre in Asokastan.
The man looked at Anitas photo and shook his head.
But she did work here. I dropped her here once.
I know every person here, because I do all the hiring, he said. That girl never worked for us.
Stunned, I stared at the man. If she didnt work in a call centre, then what did she do for a living?
She dressed well, she had great manners, she spoke beautifully, and she carried herself like a lady.
When I visited our haunts, I flashed her photo around but nobody knew her. I thought about her
husband who was he? Had I met him? Did he set her up?
He was obviously aware of me, aware of the deception if he waited for her when she went out
with me.
Did she go back home and discuss our conversations, our dreams, did she laugh at me? Did they
laugh at me? Call me a sucker? Mock my declaration of love for her?
Alone in my bed, I tossed and turned. Why? That was the big question. Did they want money? I
was well off, but I certainly didnt have the kind of dough that warranted an orchestrated deception.
Identity theft? I quickly scrambled around and checked to see if any of my credit cards were
missing. All were intact.
The ring. Of course. I stood in the middle of the room and nodded to myself.
It was worth a lot. Cost me three months pay. She vamoosed with it the night I gave it to her.
How dumb was I?
I sank into a chair nodding.
Finally, I concluded that I was indeed duped and that she had stolen the ring and something else
that I wasnt aware of.
What a bitch! I wanted to kill her. Strangle her. Tear her head off. Drive a knife through her heart
like her lies did to mine.
Id march her off to the cops and make sure she was charged with, I dont know something.
But in spite of everything, I missed her.
I missed her musical laughter, her twinkling brown eyes, her lovely smile, the way she held me
in her arms when we made love. Her innocence in bed, her perfume which I could still smell each
time I went to bed.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Anita! Anita! Anita! Why did you do this to me? I cried. You
seemed so sweet, so sincere. I swear you loved me. Nobody could fake such love. Why, baby, why?

*****

RUSTY

It was time for me to fly back to New York, where I lived.
My contract with the palace had ended and the queen wanted me to renew it. But I had no desire
to give lessons to some wanker who fought like a girl.
Ever since I met Anita, I had thought about staying, but after the shit that went down with her, I
couldnt wait to get out of India.
I gave up my apartment and packed my things.
It was while packing that I found the ring. Stunned, I looked at it. Why hadnt she taken it? I
didnt understand if she was a thief, then surely she would have taken the ring and sold it?
Perplexed, I stopped packing and sank to the floor with the ring in my hand. It made no sense.
From where I sat I could see into my bathroom. It was then that I spotted the shopping bag behind
it. I didnt leave that bag there, I knew that that for sure. It had to have been Anita.
I hopped to my feet and ran to retrieve it.
Imagine my shock when I saw the pregnancy kits. Upon closer examination, I discovered that
Anita was pregnant.
I was totally gobsmacked.
Now I was concerned about Anita. If she was pregnant with my child, how would she manage?
Was it mine or her husbands?
In a state of total confusion, I slipped the ring in my wallet and boarded the plane for Dallas. I
had planned to spend a week with my family before I left for New York.
At home, I was lousy company.
She dumped you, right? Ellen said. She was my twin; she knew me better than anyone else.
I found myself telling her everything.
She blinked rapidly, her blue eyes darkening. Then she said, Wow! Indians cant be trusted,
Rusty, you know that, bro.
Ellen, stop!
Stop defending them, Rusty. Look what theyre capable of?
What could I say? Under normal circumstances, I would have argued with her, but now
After shaking her short blonde curls, she said, Shes probably gonna shake you down in a
couple of months for child support. That has to be it.
If its my child, of course Ill pay for it. But I asked her to marry me, Ellen. She could have
gotten more than child support from me. I love her!
Ellen fell silent and I saw despair on her face.
In spite of everything, I never believed that Anita did not love me.
No one can fake the kind of love she displayed. I felt it in her voice, her touch, her laugh, her
hugs, when we made love. She unabashedly perved me and called me beautiful. Shed lie on the bed
and ogle me and say, Your eyes are so blue, Rusty. You are such a pretty boy. You look like a movie
star. Come here.
I found all of that endearing.
Normal women didnt do and say stuff like that, but she did and I liked being adored by her.
Sometimes when I thought of her and the deception, it made me physically ill and I actually
threw up.
Okay, sure, but look at the facts you were singled out for operation Dumbo.
I glared at Ellen.
Sorry, but its the truth, Rust. Ever wondered why she singled you out? You didnt follow your
instinct. You knew something wasnt right, correct?
I nodded.
Maybe she was a prostitute?
What?! That is the most ridiculous
Rusty, you said she moved gracefully, she was engaging, she spoke beautifully maybe she
was a high-class call-girl.
I thought about it for a moment. Okay, lets say she was how come she was with me every
evening?
Every evening?
Probably I thinkit was just two evenings that I dont remember us spending together. And
she was shy at first. Didnt have the call-girl confidence in bed, she had body-issues. Always wanted
the light dimmed I shook my head. Not a call-girl for sure.
Was she on the pill?
I dont know. Never asked. Evidently not.
Did she ever ask you to wear a condom?
Nope.
Ellen rolled her eyes.
Ellen, I loved her, she loved me and
Evidently, she didnt, Rusty.
I hung my head as hurt tore through my soul.
Ellen became my sounding board and patiently nodded her head as I said the same thing over and
over again.
Fucking old-fashioned father my ass! She was just a lying, bitch! I spat after my sixth beer.
Then in a broken voice, She wanted three cchildren I swallowed the frog in my throat as I
remembered her lying in my arms as we discussed our dreams, our future.
I loved her so much, how could she do that to me?
I should have known that she was married, I said. I mean, she was cagey, couldnt stay the
night, had to leave at a certain time, looked at her watch a lot My lips thinned as I remembered.
Funny thing is, she was so weepy the night she left, as if she was forced to leave me.
Ellen just nodded as I said the same things over and over again.
Okay, so get out of bed and take back your life. Youve been moping and sleeping for the entire
week. Or shall I get Ethan?
Ill get out of bed! I jumped up and looked at her. Ethan was my crazy cousin who was too
much for me to handle right now.
She gave me a hug. Im sorry youre hurting so much.
Thanks, sis.
I have a surprise for you.
You do?
Yes. The doorbell rang. Thats the surprise. We both walked to the door.
At the door stood Reece, my ex-girlfriend. I really didnt want to see her right now but I gave
her a hug.
Reece was tall, blonde and built like a model. She turned heads wherever she went. I always
thought of her as beautiful, but now I compared her to Anita and sadly, I no longer found her beautiful.
Heard you got your heart broken? Reece said.
I nodded sheepishly as I shot Ellen a dirty look.
Payback for all the girls hearts you broke, Rusty, Reece said.
Fuck, Reece, I never meant to hurt anyone, and trust me, if I knew just how much it hurt, I would
have married every single one of those girls just to avoid hurting them.
Yeah, that would have been the answer. So, lets go get drunk.
Reece stayed for three days and I slept with her.
Maybe it will ease the pain, I thought. Maybe after fucking her, I will be totally over Anita.
But it didnt. The only way I could fuck her was to imagine she was Anita and after a bottle of
whisky.
By then I was too wasted to remember how it felt. I woke up the next morning hung-over and
feeling worse than I did in my entire life.
I needed to be alone, I decided, and boarded a plane for New York that same night. Away from
my family, away from Reece and her accusing eyes.

*****

RUSTY

Life wasnt the same in New York. I was unable to concentrate; I lost my desire to accomplish,
to win, to triumph over my competitors. Guess I just lost my drive.
Overnight, I hated New York. Hated the fast pace, the smut, the shallowness of people, the
pretentiousness of my upper-crust friends.
Whisky helped, gave me the solace I needed. Temporarily.
Smoking helped while away time, especially at 3 AM when I woke up and couldnt fall asleep. I
hadnt smoked in five years but now I was smoking a pack a day.
As much as I hated Anita, I could not get her out of my mind. I thought about her all the time. Saw
her in every tanned or olive-skinned women in New York, heard her voice all the time, heard her
beautiful laughter. Smelled her perfume.
Every time I saw an Indian woman or anyone with Anitas coloring, I hastened towards her only
to find it wasnt her.
She haunted me, my dreams. At times I wanted to find her and kill her, drag her by the hair, smile
as I squeezed the life out of her. Other times, I wanted to hold her tight and tell her thats its okay,
that no matter what her past was call-girl and shit-- I forgave her and that all I asked was for her to
come back to me.
That was so not me.
Women were never a priority with me. I lusted after and desired, but I never loved before. Anita
was different; I loved her and she deceived me.
It was as if she had died and I was grieving and the phase I was in anger.
I was livid.
While I was mourning the loss of my love, Queen Karisma had been calling. Well, her offices
had been. They threw exorbitant amounts of money my way. All I had to do was take her up on her
offer and resume my training with Prince Vijay.
It was no secret that she had taken a shine to me, and that Vijays training session were maybe a
lure to get me closer to her, but all of her wooing meant nothing to me. Woman always fancied me
because of my looks. But I was a professional and I never crossed that line.
However, Queen Karisma had become a friend to me. She eventually called and spoke
personally to me.
Be my guest at the palace, she said. Stay for a week and let us spoil you.
Ill think about it, I said. Of course I was flattered she was a Queen asking me to be her
guest. Who wouldnt be flattered?
Prince Vijay and Princess Henna are expecting a baby and we were having a huge party for
them. I would love for you to attend. Please say yes.
I was about to protest when I had an idea.
I could ask Queen Karisma for help finding the woman who had duped me. That was a brilliant
idea! She had all the resources at her fingertips and I knew that shed be more than willing to help.
Then and there, I decided I would resume my sessions with Prince Vijay, attend his babys party,
and eventually ask Queen Karisma for help with finding my elusive Anita. Then I would decide what
I wanted to do with Anita and her syndicate of liars.
I had finally found an answer and recognized an ally in the Queen of Asokastan. The relief I felt
made me feel free. I no longer loved Anita. I was over her. Finally.
Hot anger propelled me into motion and after a month of moping in New York, I got onto a plane
and returned to Asokastan. I needed answers and I was going to get them.
I was going to use my resources to find her and oust her. My most influential and powerful
resource Queen Karisma.
I returned to Asokastan where I had unfinished business.


END OF BOOK ONE



Please click on link below for Royal Deception book two:
http://www.amazon.com/Deception-Palace-Liars-ebook/dp/B00BKLL9M6


ALSO BY EVE RABI

GRINGA In the Clutches of a Ruthless Drug Lord
http://www.amazon.com/Gringa-Clutches-Ruthless-Drug-Lord-ebook/dp/B005CQBCJA
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/247059
Captured My Sworn Enemy, my Secret Lover
http://www.amazon.com/CAPTURED-Sworn-Enemy-Secret-ebook/dp/B0088IBIZC
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/277811
The Cheat A tale of Infidelity and lies
http://www.amazon.com/THE-WAGES-SINEAD-Infidelity-ebook/dp/B008GU42OG
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/242236
Deception A Palace full of Liars
http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Deception-Palace-Series-ebook/dp/B00BC1H04K
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/282463
Burns World A Love Triangle
http://www.amazon.com/BURNS-WORLD-Book-Series-ebook/dp/B00B60PXRS
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278679

Eve Rabi would love to hear from you.

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Table of Contents
Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six