Forbidden Jewel of India(3)

By: Louise Allen

 Her father wrote to her uncle, she knew that, for he would tell her there were messages. There had been a note a year ago when her mother had died. She had not read it any more than she had read the others. The moment she saw her father’s name she had thrown it on the brazier and watched it burn to ash.

 From the flash of dark eyes behind the veil Paravi was sending her sympathetic glances, which is not what she wanted. No one had any right to be sorry for her. Was she not, at twenty-two, the pampered niece of the Raja of Kalatwah? Was she not indulged with the right to turn down every approach that had been made for her hand in marriage? Was she not supplied lavishly with clothes and jewels and servants and all the luxury she wished for? Did she not possess everything that she could possibly want?

 Except knowing where I belong, the nagging little voice in her head said, the voice that, for some reason, always spoke English. Except knowing who I am and why I am and what I am going to do with the rest of my life. Except for freedom.

 ‘The angrezi is going to the bath.’ Paravi drew back a pace from the parapet even as she craned to see. ‘That is a fine robe. His hair is long now it is loose,’ she added. ‘What a colour! It is like that stallion my lord sent to the Maharaja of Altaphur as a gift when the monsoon ended, the horse they called the Gilded One.’

 ‘He has probably got as high an opinion of himself as that animal had,’ Anusha said. ‘But at least he bathes. Do you know, many of them do not? They think it unhealthy! My father said that they do not have champo in Europe—they powder their hair instead. And just wash their hands and faces. They think hot water is bad for them.’

 ‘Ugh! Go and see and tell me about him.’ Paravi gave her a little push. ‘I am curious, but my lord would not be pleased if he thought I was looking upon an angrezi without his clothes.’

 He would also have much to say if his niece was discovered doing just that, Anusha reflected as she ran down the narrow stairway and along the passage. She was not at all sure why she wanted to get closer to this stranger. It was not any desire to attract his attention, despite the shiver which was, of course, simply a normal female reaction to a man in his prime—far from it. She did not want those green eyes studying her—they seemed to see too much. There had been a flash of recognition in them when they had met. Recognition and something far more basic and male.

 She left her sandals in the doorway and peeped around the corner of the bathhouse. The Englishman was already naked and face down on a linen sheet draped over the marble slab, his body gleaming with water. He rested his forehead on his linked hands as one of the girls, Maya, worked the mixture of basun powder, lime juice and egg yolks into his hair. Savita was bent over his feet, oiling and massaging. Between head and heels there was a great deal of man to be seen in an interesting shading of colours.

 Anusha walked in with a warning nod to the two girls to stay silent and keep working. His neck was the colour that his face and hands, both hidden by his wet hair, had been. His shoulders, back and arms were a paler gold. His legs were lighter still and the skin behind his knees was almost white, a pinkish shade. The line where his belt must habitually lie was very clear, for his buttocks were as pale as the backs of his knees.

 His legs and arms were dusted with brown hair, she noticed. It was wiry and much darker than his flaxen head. Was his chest like that, too? She had heard that some Englishmen were so hairy that their backs were covered with a pelt of it. They must be like bears. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the thought, then found she was standing right next to the slab. How did his skin feel?

 Anusha reached for the jar of oil, poured a little into her palms and placed them flat, one on each shoulder blade. Under her hands she felt his muscles tighten, the skin twitch with the contact of the cool liquid. Then he relaxed again and she brought her hands sliding down slowly until they rested at his waist.

 The pale skin felt just like any other skin, she decided. The muscles though, those were...shocking. Not that she had any basis for comparison, of course. She had never touched a man’s naked flesh in her life.

 Maya began to rinse his hair, pouring water from a brass ewer and catching it in a bowl. Savita had moved up to his calves and was kneading the long muscles. Anusha found she was stuck, unwilling, for some mysterious reason, to lift her hands, too disconcerted by the feel of a man’s body to venture any further.

 Then he spoke, the vibration of his deep voice reaching her through her palms. ‘Am I to hope that you will all be joining me in my room after this?’

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