The house had been pretty much a hellhole for a while. Sweaty, half-nude workmen rushed around the place as they labored daily, their sinewy strong hands flying as they hammered at the nails of the mandapa. The sound of saws eating away at wood had never pleased her either, and her head was filled with it when she passed the house’s alms-hall. Looking in their direction would surely throw them off and distract the poor, simple bastards.
Perhaps these men had mastered concentration in a way that she never would.
For a minute, Vishaka stood still, feeling the softness of her supple arms and the silk kasisalushe’d decided to wear as part of her day’s attire. Her nostrils were confused by the stink of sweat and the sweet aroma of her own perfume, neither scent being particularly inviting to her when mixed together.
One laborer smiled broadly at her as she passed him on the corridor facing the courtyard.
That dark-skinned man’s gnarled hands and skinny stomach would never belong in a noblewoman’s home, but here they were! Men like him had built her house, but here he was, hands together in salute to her.
This simple man hadn’t the time to look at his cowlick in the mirror, to oil and comb out his hair! He hadn’t the time to see to his fingernails, but they still met.
“Oh, what am I thinking about?” She shook herself out of her reverie in a split second after he had passed. “He just wants to live and he wants to be reborn as someone with privileged. Maybe the next time we meet, good sir,” she told herself with a smile, leaning against a pillar. Its capital needed a thorough brushing. Already cobwebs were trapping bits of dust, and she could swear that she saw a tiny brown gecko; the little reptile had been scrounging about, ambushing flies like some miniature cat pouncing on rats.
How monstrous she seemed to this tiny beast. Its shining ebony eyes reflected a titanic monster, tan-skinned, with a black patch of something on its head, from another world as it ran-almost slithered-across the shiny surface of the pillar. The new sunlight was just filtering through, into the courtyard, and invisible waves of heat drew themselves up from the soil. Strange shadows flung themselves onto the floor around her as she passed.
His Lordship Surya was always the best artist. She smiled in acknowledgement of the solar king as she let her fingertips graze through the ethereal rays. A little shower of dust was raised into the air with every light footstep, and they rained down to the tiles once more after their short second of levitation. Vishaka’s smile lasted for about as long too, but she locked her lips afterwards. Her expression wavered between shades of uncertainty and certainty as she leaned heavily against another pillar.
The end of her long plait hung down like the head of a giant artist’s brush. Her fingers toyed absently with the individual hairs for a while, after which she let go with a sigh.
Pity her celestial artist wouldn’t be able to color a pleasanter shade over this scene.
Her expression darkened slightly.
She always told herself that she was unshakeable, but the conversation with her guest had been enough to drive Vishaka straight to the kitchen. She still had no clue as to what made her take shelter. It was small, and always slightly smoky. Today, it was bathed in what seemed to be a moderate grey fog. Quickly, her hands rushed up to her face to guard her nose and mouth from the fumes. Yet the fumes rose from the great pots of mixed vegetables on the stoves.
One of the maids constantly restocked the firewood at the heart of each hearth. When one of them opened another pot, the delicious aroma of ghee filled the room, inviting Vishaka to take a whiff. Yet her hands did nothing that allowed her to commit the olfactory sin. She did, however, find the courage to reach for the window just above the stove.
“You know I like to air the place a bit, don’t you now? Do you want to suffocate in here?” she demanded, feigning crossness.
One or two of the servants nodded at her and rushed about the kitchen.
“Pardon me, my lady.”
It was old Ran Ethana. “Oh, dear,” Vishaka attempted a smile at the maid, “I think you might be overdoing it a bit in here! We can’t have the priests eating burned or overcooked food. Also,”
“If I may say so, my lady, it’ll be a worse sin if we serve it to them under-cooked.” She had to laugh at the small, pinched sixty-year old face that grinned rather strangely at her. Ran Ethana’s eyes always sparkled so mischievously and yet were washed over with a slight tint of innocence and energy, all in one. Vishaka always sighed softly to herself in secret, “I wish I had half the ability to live as long as you.” Yet that dastardly old thing always happened to hobble over with that infectious smile and reply, as always, unabashedly:
“You were named after one of our Lord Buddha’s most pious female disciples. If she could live to a hundred and twenty, so can you, madam. So can you.” At this she would always laugh at the old maid’s sweet stupidity.
“By the way, how many have you invited?”
“I don’t like making a show of things, Ran Ethana. Just five, not fifty. I’m doing it…for him. It’s what he wanted; it’s what I promised him before he left for the war,” she answered softly with a sigh, fighting a few tears that tried to escape the grasp of her eyes. Vishaka bit her lip immediately. The other servants had heard it, and she flounced out of the kitchen.