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‘I missed my dear wife so painfully that one day, when brooding by the river, she appeared in my vision. A paradisiacal vista opened and among the fluttering multihued butterflies and swaying fragrant blooms, I espied a maiden. A figure that wavered, disappeared and reappeared. The sun silhouetted her, and she looked like a feminine divine. But my wife was real, as true as you are before me. She reposed under the shade of a leafy tree and invited me to join her. Her soft fingers traced my cheeks, her warm breath teased my curly hair, and her sweet lips promised ambrosia. I drew her close and her firm breasts aroused sensations which I thought I will never enjoy again. We engaged in wild love as if we were new lovers. When I withdrew my hand, I spied fresh blood as it was on our wedding night. Fulfilled and secure in her wrapping arms, I fell asleep.

‘Alas, it was all a dream. It must have been, for when I awoke under the spangled sky, she was gone. Her welcomed fragrance tinted the air. But there was no trace of her on the sands. She had taken even her foot imprints in her wake. Only the caked blood on my hand, carried over from the dream, remained.

‘I felt a dull pain in my groin and found a bloody wound two fingers width. It made no sense. What demon’s deed was this? Outraged, I grabbed my sword and challenged the evil to show itself, to battle in the open. But it remained hidden. I ran hither and thither but, tired and weakened, I collapsed.

‘My men found and carried me back to the palace. The prime minister kept my condition a secret. I was unconscious for several hours, he said. Jaga-Puthirar inspected my wound and declared a sharp object of sorts inflicted it.

‘Chitragandan reckoned a dagger thrust caused the wound. If it was an attempt on my life, why did the assassin not finish his dark task? The prime minister had no answer but hoping to be helpful, he suggested a weak one. He thought our soldiers frightened away the assassin. Or I could have cleaved the coward and made him flee. I recalled no such fight but also refrained from sharing my dream of the mysterious apparition who consorted with me. By now I convinced myself that the vision could not have been my wife for my queen was pure and protective, and would not allow even an ant to bite me.’

Pari removed his waist belt and white wrap. I was a little taken aback to see him standing in nothing more than a loincloth. He pushed down the cloth and held a lamp. A small scar, though faded with age, was prominent above his groin.

‘After that incident, I noticed changes, several small but important changes in me,’ said Pari, and he fastened his clothes as he spoke. ‘I did not experience morning arousals. Previously, I always woke ready and in happier days endured my wife’s teasing.’ He laughed, a sad sound. ‘And she always obliged.’

For a moment, I caught a glint in his eyes, as he recalled his treasured days. He sighed, and his tone changed, and became soft and monotonous again.

‘Suspecting something amiss, I tried to pleasure myself, a most disgusting affair, I concede, but I had my reasons.’ Then, as an afterthought, he said,

‘Have you ever pleasured yourself?’

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued on 23 September, 2019