JB Polk

The Night She Remembers

 Jahanara remembers it not because it was the second night of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but because her universe exploded into millions of fireworks and luminosity.

The maids started the day by cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, decorating the yards with lamps, candles, and rangolis – floor decorations made of colorful sand and flower petals – and praying to the goddess Lakshmi for wealth and success. Everyone, including Daiamai, the mistress, gorged on Aloo Gobi with mashed cauliflower and potato, flat parathas dunked in vegetable jalfrezi, and rice pudding with vanilla and brown sugar washed down with gallons of Bangla liquor.

They all danced, cheered, and were in good spirits. Sameer, the mistress’s husband, was also present. But his presence intensified Daiamai’s vigil and strained the festivities because Sameer was an incorrigible womanizer. She had a chilly grimace on her face the entire evening as Sameer ogled the dancing girls’ slim waists and supple buttocks and pulled their lovely braids, swinging to the rhythm of Manipuri rhythms. Her face was tight with irritation, and her body drawn out like an elastic band stretched almost to breaking point. The other guests tried to ignore the feuding pair while enjoying the meal and the light display.

Years later, when age had already frosted her hair with an icing of silver and her lover’s whisper was only an echo in her memory, Jahanara wondered what had made her go to Nirav’s room that night. Because things like that don’t happen to decent Hindu girls like her. Or…do they?

Perhaps she sensed it was her only chance at happiness, no matter how fleeting. Maybe the loneliness burned within her so fiercely that no amount of water could extinguish it. Or perhaps it was the desire of the flesh to find solace in a lover’s embrace. It could also have been the prosaic result of the two glasses of Bengali liquor she drank that night.

The house was quiet. The clock on the sitting room mantle struck one. Gita, the other maid, snored on her bed by the window, through which distant stars played hide-and-seek with the curtains. Daiamai, exhausted by the chaperonage of her wayward husband and bathed by the odors of her curry-laced breath she tried to disguise with betel, slept the sleep of the righteous. Sameer, bursting with unfulfilled sexual desire, crept out to indulge in his favorite pastime: pursuing girls in tight bodices, fishnet stockings, and scarlet suspenders who danced in the sole Rameshawaram bordello staffed entirely with Western girls.

Only Rishi, the gardener, was still awake, padding around the house barefoot, burning candles to the earth’s spirits, and murmuring prayers to Vedavati. But he ignored Jahanara as she tiptoed across the kitchen.

Trusting her steps solely to the dim light from the skylight, Jahanara entered Nirav’s room dressed only in a cotton singlet. A board creaked under her feet in protest. The moon reflected in a mirror above the bed, and her eyes, impossibly large and scared, competed with its brightness. Generally plaited, her hair, released from the confinement of a ribbon, cascaded down her back. She remained completely still for a long time, staring at Nirav’s pouty mouth, slightly parted and his handsome features shrouded by shadows.

She moved carefully, then lay beside him, listening to his breath falling and rising.  She kissed his lips tenderly and smoothed the waves in his hair till he opened his eyes. She breathed his exquisite fragrance, a blend of sandalwood, camphor, and musk, the three scents reserved by the Vedic tradition exclusively for men. 

He didn’t move, allowing her to rub his neck and relishing the light strokes on his skin before pulling back the sheets and gathering her up to him. It was their first time, and even though no one told them what to do, they undressed. The girl’s starched singlet whispered as it fell to the floor. Her breasts spilled out, and Nirav cupped them like the most exquisite persimmons. He even squeezed them gently as if to check their freshness and maturity, as one does with fruit, and brushed his fingers against her nipples, causing a ripple of excitement to travel along her limbs, veins, and even her toes.

At first, they loved each other with hands and tongues, leaving no piece of skin unexplored, fashioning together a synchronized duo, melting their loneliness into a newly fostered companionship until they no longer formed separate halves but a single unit of flesh and spirit.

She grew wet and sticky, letting him explore her depths. His touch was feather-light and excruciatingly slow. He eased himself into her, taking the gift she was offering. In trial and error, their bodies moved imprecisely, flesh ground against flesh and bone against bone. With each thrust, their rhythm became more harmonious, and their pulse quickened as they progressed from a languid adagio to a frantic scherzo. She was the first to climax, the waves of ecstasy flowing into her belly and thighs wave after wave after wave after wave—until she couldn’t take it anymore and yelled his name and bit his earlobe. He glanced up at her, his face a mix of bliss and anguish, as he clenched his teeth to hold back his climax.

He flipped her over, drew her closer, then placed his large hands beneath her buttocks, and she drove her fingers into his hair, riding this new wave even more vigorously than before. He thrust numerous times until it was time for him to come, the incredible sting of his orgasm seemingly endless.

And when it was over, and she lay next to him, her head in the crook of his arm, her hair tickling his nostrils, he listened to her heart’s frenzied carillon, wanting to say something but knowing everything had been told without words in the intense sorcery of lovemaking. 

An hour later, the Diwali lights outside were nothing more than flickering shadows. Jahanara peered out the window and noticed some candles dying out while others quivered slightly as morning approached.

She knew their love wouldn’t last, even if they were allowed to be together briefly. Because Nirav was a Kshatriya, her mistress’s son,  and she was a servant, a Shudra. It didn’t matter, though. Not that night at least, because she knew she’d do whatever it took to be back in his embrace. Again. And again. And again. 


J.B.Polk – Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. First story short-listed for the Irish Independent/Hennessy Awards, Ireland, 1996.  Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, more than 80 of her stories, flash fiction and non-fiction, have been accepted for publication. She has recently won 1st prize in the  International Human Rights  Arts Movement literary contest.

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