His jet black hair shone blue black under the merciless late afternoon sun as he picked his way amongst the ruins of what was once a magnificent palace built by one of his ancestors. The oppressive heat almost burned his skin but he loved it here at this time of day, when the place was closed off to tourists.
Built with sandy pink stones quarried from the local mountains the palace looked like an intricate jewel set amidst high rocks giving vast expansive views over the whole district. Intricate carvings, jaali windows, huge wooden carved forbidding doors graced clusters of rooms which mushroomed in the vast expanse of terraces.
He could almost imagine how life must have been at the time when his ancestors ruled over this land. His grandfather had told him many tales of valour, of princesses so beautiful, wars were fought over them and princes and kings who fought against invaders from far away shores. Also stories of opulence, greed, deceit and murder. He had listened to these stories late into the night snuggled between him and his grandmother completely fascinated.
Now his dark eyes behind his Ray Ban's filled with pain as he looked around the place. Muttering a curse under his breath he wondered where more then a million dollars that he had paid out over the last few years to his uncle for renovations and upkeep of this place had gone. It was obvious that not a single cent of it had been used here. Its was practically crumbling before his eyes. Some of it was downright dangerous, signs were broken, gates had not been repaired.
His grandfather had always brought him here making so many of his favourite stories come alive for him away from the shadow of his father. He instantly felt better just for being in this place, it was full of happy memories for him.
He was back for now, he would make his uncle account for every cent. The peacock palace had been stifling, he had needed to get away from his sycophantic aunt, plotting uncle and sleazy drunkard half-brother. He had been reluctant to come back, had long since turned his back on it all, but his mothers voice haunted him always. It pricked his conscience, she had always ingrained in him to do his duty, to do right by his people. Now because of his fathers death, he had no choice, there were so many rituals and so much paperwork.
The irony of it all was that even though his father had always treated him with the utmost contempt and yet he had left every single rupee to him in the end. A gambler to the last, his father had saved his best ace for the last deal. He knew that his wife had instilled a deep sense of duty in his son and that and only that would drag him back even if it was kicking and screaming.
After 15 years away, he hated it even more, the atmosphere in the palace was suffocating. The rituals, the bowing, the false love from his relatives. He had opened his mother's rooms, which were in an annex separate from the main palace. Everything was exactly as he remembered it, looked after by the devoted Bahadur Singh.
Each piece of furniture and ornament held his mother's memories. He felt at home here where he had spent many a happy carefree childhood moment with his mother. From here he could run his own vast business interests from the state of the art facilities he had installed whilst he sorted out the whole damn sorry mess with the help of Bahadur Singh.
All eyes were on his father’s wealth except his, he could not give a damn about it, but neither was he going to let any one of them take a single rupee of it. He was going to make sure it would all go towards improving conditions for the whole district, build much needed schools, hospitals and improve the infrastructure. They would all have to realise that things were about to change. Once he had done that he could go back to his own life.
His father had robbed and pillaged the area through local politics filling his own coffers; his mother had suffered badly from physical and emotional abuse at his fathers hands. Then he had been so young, he had not been able to do anything about it. She had died under mysterious circumstances when he had been just fourteen, away at boarding school. When he had come home to grieve over the terrible loss of his beautiful mother, he had seen...
His thoughts came to an abrupt halt as he came upon an abandoned light white shirt, a woman's pretty straw wide brimmed hat and a bottle of mineral water. What the hell!
His lightened mood evaporated instantly and he scowled menacingly, had someone forgotten and left this behind or had some stupid hapless tourist lost their group and been left behind.
The vast rambling palace had fooled many a tourist into believing they knew where they were going. He strode forwards on the terrace looking towards the main gate and sure enough outside stood a lonely Taxi. His face as stormy as monsoon thunderclouds he walked towards the taxi with a purpose, it was quite a distance away. Eventually reaching it, he spied the driver fast asleep in the back with his feet sticking out of the window.
“Wake up!” He growled “Wake up!”
The driver groggily awoke and glared at the person who had dared to wake him and fell off the back seat in fright.
“Sir! Sir...Your highness! What happened, how can I help you?”
Samir's frown grew, it was obvious the man had recognised him much to his annoyance. Thankfully not many people recognised him yet around town, he had deliberately tried to keep it that way.
He growled at the taxi driver. “You do know that this place is closed to tourists from two pm onwards. Tigers have been seen sometimes roaming here in the afternoon looking for a good meal. And if one idiotic tourist gets injured or mauled or worse still eaten, the whole of the tourist industry in this area will suffer.”
He had added the tiger bit for good measure; hardly any tigers had been seen in the area for a long time, he also needed to look closely into the conservation programme, which his half-brother was part off another area that he had also been funding.
“S....SSSorry Sir, but she was insistent she had to come in the afternoon something about the light. I did tell her....” he said not telling the entire truth. He had not told madam that it was closed in the afternoon. He had just said it was too hot and neither had he mentioned tigers. But then she had given him a thousand rupees to bring her. A thousand rupees, 'Jai Shiv Shanker!' He was not going to give that up.
“Where is she then?” Samir questioned the man glancing around the area. “You let a woman wander around by herself? Have you no sense man? There are also troops of monkeys roaming around, they could pick on her or God forbid she could fall somewhere and be injured”
“Well Sir she has not come yet so she must be in there.” The driver said his hands shaking now as he saw the anger in Sir's demeanour.
With a growl Samir strode back in through the gate towards the ruins. Where the hell had this woman vanished? Thank God, the breeze was picking up, the heat had been unbearable, he wondered if the woman was wandering around in a dehydrated daze, as he absent-mindedly rubbed the collar of his shirt.
As soon as he passed the gate he heard the taxi zoom away. He turned around and stared at the dust cloud rapidly disappearing into the distance. Damn the coward! The taxi driver had left her and run, now he had to find her. He had no choice.
He went back to where he had found the items and looked around, she could not be far he thought. In front of him were all open terraces and lowers buildings, he could not see her there. Behind him were more broken buildings, which had overgrown with vegetation, and he could not see her there either. To the left was the 5 storey Hawa Mahal which was closed off, as it was quite unsafe, although he noticed the sign had fallen on the floor. The stairs were partially blocked and to the right was the entrance to Maharajah's rooms perhaps she had gone inside there he thought. He was just about go in that direction when he heard the fall of rubble coming from the Hawa Mahal.
Unable to believe her stupidity, he carefully followed the sound up the stairs, he kept climbing as he did not see her on the other floors. The Hawa Mahal was just as the name implied 'palace of wind', open platforms one on top of each other all supported by ornate pillars. It had been one of the most architecturally astounding and useful buildings in the palace, especially because of the intense summer heat in the area, his ancestor had it built so he could enjoy the cool breeze with his queens.
He cursed her as he climbed each floor. The condition of the building was getting worse as he slowly made his way up. Sure enough, he saw her in one corner of the top floor.
He just stared at her unable to believe his eyes. She was so precariously perched that even he, a lover of extreme sports was shocked. Her slim form outlined against the clear blue sky, long brown hair tied by a loose scarf blew softly behind her. Her white tank top showed of a tantalising glimpse off golden skin at the waist, the long white skirt she wore was hitched up into her waist gypsy style. Her bare right foot was balanced on her blue-varnished toes, stretching behind her dangerously. Whilst her left foot was balanced on the crumbling wall in front of her, again her foot arching as she balanced a huge camera with telescopic lens on her knee. She did have very nice legs he thought and then told himself sternly to get a grip. She seemed to be muttering away to herself and clicking pictures by the dozen moving fractionally with each shot.
Once he had gotten over his shock at her incredible foolishness he was just about to call out to ask her exactly what she was doing trying to kill herself, when he realised that if he startled her in this quiet atmosphere she may well go tumbling over the wall and it would be entirely his fault. Stealthily, he edged forward quietly as possible whilst she kept clicking. Eyes fixed on her, he watched her closely as the rubble she was putting her weight on looked as if it could collapse any moment.
He had just about reached her when his foot crunched on a loose stone. The loud noise broke into her concentration. He watched helplessly as if the whole scene played out before him in slow motion.
She whipped her head around in fright at the noise, the rubble she had balanced on to give her height, collapsed under the sudden movement. With a scream, her arms wildly reached out as she sought purchase. She started to fall awkwardly trying to save her camera from being dashed by the rocks.
He leapt forward and caught her by the shoulders his hands under her armpits
before her head bashed against the floor. Unable to do anything about the sharp rocks under her feet that cut deep into her legs as they all fell in from underneath her feet trapping them in the pile.
He stared upside down into her shocked pain filled face, which now seemed to be rapidly clouding over with anger. Frozen he stood just staring down at her into the most amazing, furious blue-violet eyes he had ever seen.
“Were you trying to kill me? Because you damn well nearly succeeded.” she said glaring up at him ferociously.
As her words sank in, his own temper came back like a raging storm.
“No, I think you were doing an excellent job of that, all by yourself” he replied to her in a deep quiet voice dripping with sarcasm.
Jane Meme Copyright 27.02.2012www.janememe.wordpress.com