Afu stood in front of the bookshelf in his study room. He was all alone and worn out. His written words were read in fifty tongues and translated into as many languages as Harry Potter. These books were beloved across the globe, yet the author is virtually unknown in his local domain.
Ambling through the balmy streets of Amos—a city village in the humid thick of central India, Afu stumbled upon a food stall. He settled at a quiet corner table and wondered where his life had gone wrong. A punchy whiff of red curry wafted to where he sat stoop-shouldered as a young server in a purple sarong rushed his order and brought him an Aquafina.
She swirled like a Sattriya dancer, prompting memories of Adela, whom Afu had not seen in ten years but loved like a daughter. “She looks nothing like you,” Afu’s mother had told him. Adela is not your daughter. His mother also revealed these sentiments to Danny; a contractor hired to remodel her Egyptian countryside home. Danny surprised her by raising a floral garden in the backyard. One day when Afu’s mother was staring from the kitchen window at the blooming bed of lilies, Danny crept from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist. Dragging his mouth from her ears to her neckline and prompting Adela with his hands and legs until entangled on the floor.
Afu entered, spotted their rumpled, intertwined garments, and threw a glass vase across the living room. Stewing silent, he hopped a plane for India— becoming the land of his eternal enchantment. Soon after, everyone in the Egyptian village knew that Afu and his daughter were of different bloodlines. For a whole year after the public disgrace, the thought of his wife having a child outside of their marriage had left him in a fog of grief. His mother’s words, ‘not your daughter,’ stung him to no end.
Lunch arrived with a peppery aroma in a ceramic pot with fiery curry over a plate of steamy brown rice. Afu dug into the colorful vegetable medley with a fork, loading his spoon with broth and grains. Food helped Afu forget some of the things he endured. Ashe was the first known girl in Amos to have been born with blue eyes. People in her hometown called her Matsyaangana, an Indian word translating to a mermaid—a tribute to
her striking, sensual form. Her long shimmering strands flirted with the soft contours of her hourglass figure.
Afu looked up gaping at her, as his fork slipped from the table, and he was embarrassed by the loud clangor. She tilted her head his way, and Ashe smiled first with her eyes. Her ephemeral glance warmed Afu’s blood instantly. Ashe’s girlfriends tapped her shoulder, and they giggled among themselves. Ashe followed them down the bustling street.
Afu looked ahead as they slowly vanished from his view. He squinted, tracing Ashe’s descent into a sea of people until he could see, but a wisp of her sunshine kissed hair. At night, their paths crossed once again. Afu took the podium to introduce a local festival celebrating the inventions of women from the most remote corners of India. In his closing remarks, he invited Ashe to dance. The delicate warbling notes on the sitar stirred Afu, thereby crystallizing his waning eyesight into a catlike precision. Their clumsy embrace countered the odd rhythm to which they danced for hours until the unused camping space became their private party. “You’re so beautiful,” Afu mumbled into her ear, rolling a glance around the free platform as no one was around.
“I’ve always admired you, your books…the way you…” Ashe began to say. Afu cut’s in with a kiss. She leaned closer, returning the gesture as they locked lips once again. “I almost pissed my pants when you first kissed me!” Ashe later told him, gasping with laughter. Though the earlier event honored Indian innovation, they joked endlessly about their surroundings, and the people in the village were sure to be rolling in mockery over the more than double age gap separating Afu and Ashe. Inside a tent near the festival grounds, they retired for the evening. The clarity Afu had enjoyed earlier had now melted into something shadowy and unreal. They knelt upon a white blanket, locked in a mutual studied gaze, sliding off one garment at a time. Afu moved behind Ashe, and he caressed her wrists while lifting her flowing mane over his forearm so that he could nibble at the nape of her neck. As he turned to face her once again, Ashe closed her eyes. She bit down on her lip, and he kissed a trail, starting with her neck and going lower. She cooed her voice deep and was wavering in uncertain ecstasy.
Afu pulsated upon her, precisely as a hummingbird pecking gently on a rose. He proceeded in an unbroken rhythm until, at once, she released her hold on his earlobes to embrace him, wrapping limbs around his body. He then mounted her as though it would be the last chance to leave his mark on the universe. Ashe pulled him closer as they imagined the cacophony of laughing villagers cutting into their private space.
‘She’s in it for the money,’ Afu could hear them crackle.
‘He’s old enough to be her father,’ one man shouted, evoking chuckles. ‘No, her grandfather’! Afu’s heart dropped like a stone, even as Ashe clenched him so tightly as it felt like she would never let go. How could he, a weathered and leathery-skinned man over fifty, not question the motives of this angel of the sea who swam into his life so unexpectedly? Weeks later, Ashe was ready to ask Afu to travel north with her to her
family’s village when he arrived outside her home, sullen and decisive. “I must go to Egypt to find
Adela,” Afu mused to himself. A tear dropped from Ashe’s right eye, a strange signal of joy. “I love this place,” Afu told her.
“I can’t wait to meet your family when I come back to India. But things have changed.” “Changed how?” Ashe asked, shooting him a puzzled look. “You’ve made this place feel like home for me, and it always will be, I’ll be back,” Afu replied.
Afu took a tumble, and then another. End-route from the airport, a taxi driver held him at knifepoint, demanding all his money and his gold pocket watch. Later, he discovered that the assets in one of his bank accounts were frozen, the blowback from a recent government coup. He spent half a year searching for Adela, persisting to no avail for clues from the local gentry. Flustered, he asked the police for help. A reluctant Chief led him to Adela’s doorstep. Her jaw dropped in disbelief at Afu standing rumpled on the threshold of his old house. “I am with Danny now,” she announced.
Afu clinched his eyebrows, shooting a fierce glance across the room with his arms outstretched, ready to wrestle Danny to the ground. Afu shouted, “He slept with my mother! How can you be with him? He’s more than twice your age!” “This is ridiculous.” Adela said, “It is time you know the truth.” Her announcement sucked all the oxygen from the room. We are not of the same family.
Afu head dropped. Feeling defeated, he walked out and boarded the next available flight to India. The City of Amos had filled out during Afu’s self-imposed exile. Construction workers hammered the days away. The village was more colorful and visibly more crowded. The golden glazed horizon seemed more expensive than nine months ago. On that first sunny afternoon back in India, Afu fell upon the news. “She is confined to bed rest,” a neighbor told Afu, offering him a rickshaw ride to the hospital.
Every wisp of Ashe’s hair was gone. A respirator breathed for her as she slept. Afu kissed her forehead, running a trepid finger across the tubes that sustained her. She opened her eyes for a tiny moment, only to fall back into a deep sleep again. He stayed at her bedside, and although he was closing his eyes, he was unable to drift away.
At sunrise, the doctor arrived and lowered Ashe’s blanket to unveil her swollen belly. “She’s having a baby,” he said, scribbling a note on his clipboard. Her vital signs have been in decline. There is hope, but little else. A bouncing baby boy was born, but Ashe was no more.
Afu held his son to his chest, and he whispered, “I must admit that I found so much joy in a woman I did not know, more joy than I ever found in the ones I’d known for most of my life. In the life of a privileged man, many secrets are unknown. With a blink of an eye, the naked truth escapes, and his pride masks the answers he seeks”. Afu resolved to write his final novel, “Women Are Eves in The Garden.” While the infant slept, dreaming of something better than the world into which he was born motherless, Afu retreated to his study, where his fingers danced upon the metal keys of the typewriter.

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