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The Story of Rama Chandra--a Scene from Liberation
By Linda Ambrosia
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
This is a sequence from my novel "Liberation" that tells how the hero, Rama, came to be. He and his girlfriend Bess have attended a celebration in town where they publicly announced their engagement. During the festivities, a local bully struck Bess and Rama came to her rescue, beating the bully to a pulp. He then brought Bess back to the guest cottage at his estate, where she's staying with Fatima, Rama's grandmother.
Fatima sat before the dresser mirror, brushing down her thick gray hair. "Rama told me this friend of his, Brenda Cartwright, is visiting Tuesday morning. She sounds like a very nice lady. We should prepare a special repast for her."
Receiving no response, she turned to look at Bess, who lay on the bed with her back to Fatima, the covers drawn up to her armpits. From the girl's quiet whimpering, it was clear she had yet to fall asleep. No doubt she was staring at the wall, her head rambling with all the anguish young people are prone to feel.
Putting the brush down, Fatima went to the bed, sitting down behind Bess. "Poor Rama! When he carried you to this cottage, I had to pry you from his arms. That boy didn't want his princess to go to bed weeping."
"I'm no princess...That's just somethin' Loretta made up for the newspapers."
"That's not what I've heard. It was Rama who gave you that title, not your cousin. In his heart, you are as much a princess as any in the Arabian Nights."
"But that's not the real me! I don't deserve a guy like Rama!" Bess turned on her back, facing the old woman. "I'm a coward, Granny! A no good coward! I've always been that way. Long as I can remember, I've been scared of everything. If I see a spider on the wall, I want to faint. Sure, I put on a big show to hide it, but that don't change the way I feel. First time you met me, you saw right through my disguise. You called me a mouse, and you were right." She buried her face in the pillow. "A stinky little mouse!"
Fatima gently turned Bess so she was looking up at her again. "I never meant it that way, little one. And from what Rama described, you were no mouse tonight. It took a great deal of courage to stand up to that Trask boy."
"A fine lot of help I was! One slap and I was out of it. When I came to, I was shakin' like a leaf."
"Precious, if someone twice my size were to knock me down, I'd shake too." Fatima sighed. "How like Rama you are...so sensitive...That's in your nature, child. There's nothing you can ever do about it. But it does not make you a coward." She thought something over. "Would you like me to tell you a story?"
"A fairy tale?"
"No. Not this time." The girl nodded, and the old woman proceeded. "Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived in the desert--the grandson of an Arab sheik. The boy's name was Rama. He was different from the other children in the sheikdom. They laughed at his brown skin and soft, curly hair. But he took it all in his stride, as if their taunts meant nothing to him. He even liked to show off his skin, he was so proud of it. If this was what made him different, he said, then that must mean he was special in some way."
"Special..." Bess whispered.
"But there were others, even among his family, who wondered about Rama's quiet manner. There was talk that he was a weakling." Fatima paused when Bess giggled at this. "Yes, I know that sounds absurd now, but in those days it was no joke. Desert life could be harsh, and we who loved Rama wanted him to grow strong. So it was determined to find for him the best of teachers. Someone to train him well in the ways of manhood, and the arts of survival. And since Rama's father wanted his son raised a Hindu, we had to find someone from India.
"In time we located such a man. A widower, a renowned scholar who in his youth served the Indian army." Fatima chuckled. "He was called Professor Gupta back then. A huge bear of a man. How funny Manish looked when we first saw him. So very proud and dignified in his suit and tie, a load of books tucked under one arm.
"And he brought something else with him, too. A waddling three-year-old girl, his one and only child. She clung to his pant leg the day he came for his interview. Even then her little brown face could charm the sun from the sky. Manish often boasted how pretty she looked the day she was born. She was so lovely, he named her Marianna after a woman in a Renaissance painting.
"I think it was because of her that we hired Manish. As no one else would play with Rama, he needed a companion his age--and it helped that she was his own race. He and Marianna became close at once, always together, never apart. If you saw Marianna, you could be sure Rama was not far behind.
"The years went by. By the time he was a teenager, Rama had outgrown his shyness, and made many friends. Yet he still maintained his mild-mannered ways. It became the joke of the village how he let Marianna tell him what to do. Ah, how he waited on that girl hand and foot. She had only to snap her fingers and he'd obey her like a trained pet. That's why she called him her 'puppy-dog.'"
Bess smiled broadly. "I can't picture Rama getting pushed around by a girl!"
"It was only a game between the two of them. One they understood, but we elders did not. We had given up on making a man out of Rama. Even his parents believed he'd grow up to become a bookish scholar--and Marianna's henpecked husband. But then..." Fatima looked sad. "Then the cholera epidemic hit the old country, and our village was not spared. To our surprise, Rama and Marianna rose to the occasion. They worked night and day to tend the sick and the dying, not caring about their own safety.
"There were few doctors in the homeland, but Manish had some medical knowledge. He pulled the village through the epidemic, with minimum loss of life. But even with all his great strength and wisdom, he was powerless to save Rama's parents. They were among the first to die." The old woman ran a hand over her wrinkled face. "If only they could have lived to see the man Rama became. My poor daughter...she died thinking she'd raised a pampered son."
Bess put a hand on Fatima's lap. "You don't have to go on, Granny. You can tell me the rest later."
Fatima got a grip on herself. "No, there's is more you need to hear. For the epidemic was only the beginning of our troubles. The homeland's government had failed to act when cholera swept the countryside. There was much anger among the people, and an army general stirred up talk of revolution. This became an infection far worse than the plague. Within two years, the general had the full support of the population when he drove our king from his throne. It didn't take long for our people to realize they'd backed a man more terrible than the king.
"Within weeks of his takeover, the general ordered troops into every village of the old country. He let them do as they pleased, so they killed and stole at will. The soldiers who came to our shiekdom were the worst of the lot. They turned an abandoned ruin near the village into a prison compound. To this hell-hole they dragged anyone who opposed them, and did unspeakable things to their victims.
"The lead soldier of this group came to our home one day, with a half-dozen armed men. They ransacked the house for valuables, and then discovered a prize kept hidden in a back chamber." Fatima hesitated. "Marianna..."
It was a few moments before she could start the story again. "The lead soldier looked upon her with a fiendish gleam in his eyes. As always, Rama was never far from Marianna's side. He struck the soldier on the face. But the others seized Rama. The lead soldier had Rama chained, snapping heavy manacles upon his wrists. The boy watched helplessly as the troops dragged Marianna off, kicking and screaming.
"Her father Manish threw himself into the fray, killing one of the troops with his bare hands. But he was overpowered by greater numbers. Even my aging husband tried to stop the intruders, and only got knocked out for his efforts.
"Rama and Manish were hauled to the jail compound. They could have been killed outright, but the troops preferred torture--it was more fun for them! They started with Rama, because he seemed the weakest. That was their mistake. Rama had a few tricks of his own. One was how to pick locks. During his torture session, he found a strand of wire in the dungeon. That was all he needed to free himself. Then he overpowered a guard and took his machine gun."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Bess.
"You are surprised just hearing this. Imagine the amazement of Manish when Rama freed him from his jail cell. You see, Rama had learned his lessons well from Manish--he just never had a chance to use this knowledge before. Together, the two of them fought their way out of prison."
"Sita told me what happened next," the girl interjected. "Rama got the family together, and y'all fled into the hills."
"Yes, but there's one more detail you may need to hear." Fatima stopped again. It was plain this wasn't easy for her. "On the way to the border, we took a detour. Rama located the barracks where the lead soldier took Marianna...And that's when we found her..." The old woman's lower lip quivered. "Hanging..."
"It was the early hours of the morning...Dawn was just breaking over the hills..." Fatima looked down. "I'll never forget that sight as long as I live...Marianna, swinging lifeless at the end of a rope...suspended from a sign over the barracks gate...Her hands and feet bound by chains..." She puckered her mouth , fighting back emotions long held within. "The two men who loved her both lost control. Rama fell down on his knees and screamed his heart out. He didn't care if anyone heard him. As for Manish--he had a machine gun in his hands. Breaking into the barracks, he went berserk. The stupid soldiers were sleeping inside--they hadn't even posted a guard. Manish slaughtered them all--including the one who'd stolen his daughter."
After one more pause, she continued. "Omar cut Marianna down, and placed her lifeless form into Rama's arms. He held her face against his, like he would if she were alive. I'd never seen him cry before...But the tears just cascaded out of him."
"I've seen him cry too," Bess said. "When he talked about Marianna..."
"That poor girl...Poor child...Still so young...We don't know all they did to her...And now we'll never know...We can only hope...she didn't suffer too much..." Covering a hand across her face, Fatima bent over sobbing.
"Granny..." Bess sat up, rubbing a hand up and down the old woman's back.
"I'm all right." Fatima pulled herself together. "The rest you know. We went through the hills, and over the border. Eventually we made our way to America, and persuaded the government here to grant us asylum. There was a great change in Manish. Not only did he loose a daughter, he took human life. And to a devout Hindu, all life is valuable, even the worst. Believe it or not, he was very talkative in the
old days. Now he only speaks when he needs to."
"How he kept from going insane, I don't know. Somehow he found the strength to leave the past behind. If anything, he became more happy-go-lucky than before. And he'd always been a joker, even in the old country. Perhaps he hid his grief behind a smile. Or maybe he knew how fortunate he was to be alive--and wanted to enjoy living more than ever. I can't say for sure. Yet one thing is clear to me." She looked at Bess. "True, Rama may not be a real prince, in the strictest sense of the word. But when his family needed him, he acted like one. To think we all believed him a coward...Just shows you, even elders can be wrong."
Smiling, Bess snuck a kiss on the old woman. "Thanks...Thank you for telling me."
Fatima patted the girl's cheek. "Feeling better?"
"Um-hm." Bess scooted under the covers again.
Turning off the lamp, Fatima lay down and covered up on her side of the bed. "Maybe now we can both get some sleep."
There was a brief silence in the dark.
"Good night, Granny."
"Sweet dreams, little princess."
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|Reviewed by Joanna Leone
|Enchanting story! Truly enjoyable! A bit of magic in this!|