Part 2 of a Madhuri’s fictional ‘real’ story: two princesses and a queen meet princes, fortune tellers and finally…
Well, after this the Princess had many adventures, and travelled to many lands. She fell tenderly in love with a Prince who did not know he was a Prince, but left him in a land called ‘Provence’, because the voice tugging at her belly told her she must go on alone; she fell desperately in love with a Prince who thought he was a Prince but didn’t have it quite right just how; she fell in love with mummers and minstrels and mimes, and she wandered and was sometimes alone, and she wrote and bound and illustrated little books of her poetry, embroidering the covers with her own hair, to amuse herself and to give as gifts; and she was often mightily confused about the ways of the world.
So often did our Princess suffer, wondering who she was.
So many sights she saw – so many moods she felt – so many people she met – but what was she in all this? She felt no center in all of this save when she wrote. And even in the flowery meadows and high snows of the land called ‘Switzerland’, which she did reach, she felt that a veil stood between herself and the world.
One morning quite early in her onward journey she was adrift in a vegetable market in a great and famous city. She was accompanied by the Prince-who-thought-he-was-one-but-didn’t-have-it-right-just-how; and his brother, who was young and envious. They were in a crush of people all buying and selling cabbages, and skinned hares, and oranges, and pears. All the night long the black-haired minstrel Prince, for it was he whom she thought she loved, had done to her what is called ‘making love’. And perhaps he was, making love; but the mushrooms he had eaten, and fed to her, had not this time given her any flight into anywhere, but only served to remind her coldly and soberly that ‘making love’ was still unknown to her.
Suddenly out of the crowd there stepped a tiny lady. She was about four-and-a-half feet tall; she had eyes like brown egg yolks; she wore a brown coat buttoned up against the frigid morning. She came right up to the Princess and looked her in the eyes. A great love seemed to flow from her; her eyes had a melted, runny look.
“You!” she said to the Princess. “You’re a beautiful girl. You’re going to have a wonderful life! You’ll have a hard time for a while yet, but then it’s going to be all right – it’s going to be very, very beautiful.”
The Princess, in her flame-pink satin and net skirt and her witch’s boots and too-thin blouse, gazed at the little lady, heard her thick Cockney brogue; and looked, questioningly, first at the black-haired Prince on her right side; then at his brother, on her left, as if to say: “But what about them? What about my black-haired Prince, the hippest, the most brilliant, the most groovy in all the land?”
The old woman glanced cursorily at each brother and then back, eyes brimful of love, to the little Princess. “You”, she said. “You are a beautiful girl. You’re going to have a wonderful life. I see these things!” And she melted back into the crowd, gone completely.
One day long after, when many adventures – sad, absurd, tender, bizarre – had proceeded past the Princess’s untutored, often bewildered eyes and heart, she found herself in a pretty, rather anarchic city, back at the very western edge of the continent of her birth. She was with her mother, the ageing Queen-who-didn’t-know-she-was-a-Queen; but who, having finally left the poor, oblivious old King, was just beginning to lay the groundwork to finding it out. The Princess had rescued her mother from the desert town far to the south and they had rented cheap lodgings together on a hill high above the sometimes-foggy, sometimes-sparkling bay.
One foggy day, the postman came and brought them a letter from a faraway land called ‘India’. For the littlest, youngest Princess, being very brave and having followed the tuggings in her belly, had hitchhiked alone, armed with a knife, her hair in dozens of little braids, wearing the gown made from a bedspread, over the vast and scary continents to get to India. She too had had many adventures, and flown in the belly of a huge silver bird over the water; she too had been in love with a Prince who was definitely a little bit confused about the issue.
In the letter from the littlest Princess there was a miniature portrait, and it fell out and fluttered to the pavement as the elder Princess unfolded the thin blue paper. She picked it up. It was of a man—but was it a man? No – it was a spirit – but more than a spirit. He was laughing. The elder Princess felt a strange sensation in her stomach. He’s laughing! she thought. Why—I haven’t laughed in a year! And she was filled with a terrible regret. And yet, she was afraid to look at the portrait again; for it seemed to be reminding her of something, deep inside her backbone and deeper, even, than her vitals. Something she already knew, and yet which it would upset her entire life to remember. (And yet, what had she to lose?)
Her mother, the Queen-who-did-not-know-it, took one look at the portrait and said, “I’m going.” For she, too, was brave. And she, too, had nothing to lose. But she was older, and she knew she had nothing to lose. The Princess her daughter still trembled and held back.
But as inevitable as the sunrise, they went. Through a strange and unusual coincidence, they both had exactly enough money to pay the fare in the silver bird; and so it happened that around noon on a day which smelt, as all days smell in India, of frangipani, and spices, and excrement and urine and damp, like an old wet washcloth slapped across the face, they got out of the belly of the silver bird and greeted with glad cries the youngest Princess. But the eldest Princess stood a little aback, for her sister had changed.
Still long-tressed and slender and beautiful of countenance she was, but lit by a flower of passion and inner sustenance…a maturity had settled in her, though she was just eighteen; a beauty and joy glowed out of her and surrounded her as she stood on the warm earth in her long orange skirt and short Indian blouse, and she smelled of spices and oriental musks.
She took them to a dwelling-place she had found for them all, in an ancient wooden house with carved window-shutters, where servants brought strange fruits for them to eat; and there they bathed and changed their garments.
And then she took them to meet the man in the portrait.
First they went in a rickshaw to a large, plain building with a flat face; climbed many stairs; went into an apartment high up; and there, in the hallway, met the fierce gargoyle, which referred to itself as ‘Laxmi’, which guarded Him. It gazed at them in ferocity and said a disparaging thing or two, but it let them pass.
They went down another corridor and, knocking first, opened a door. First the youngest Princess, then the Queen (who was just this moment stepping over the threshold into her Queenliness) stepped in; the eldest Princess stepped – and was hit by a wall of bliss so strong she fell to her knees. A perfume enveloped her, as of pines and intimate, primeval forest mysteries; but the intensity of the consciousness in the room was so strong that those primeval smells had been transformed into light. She was blasted by it. She felt like a beetle suddenly transfixed in the vivid daylight of an open door. She could barely breathe, and yet all there was to breathe was ecstasy. She didn’t know what to do.
As she managed to rise and step forward, as if on a stage before a thousand people (but all were light, and only her own fears were played back to her instantaneously) one single thought came in the calm bright empty space, and sat startled in her mind: Why, he’s not an Indian – He’s an Everything!
And so it started.
Madhuri, October 1996 (Higashi-Nakagami, Tokyo)