Woman, Lover, Statue
Based on the story of Ahalya from the Indian Epic, the Ramayana
She knew it wasn't her husband.
She knew by the way his eyes lingered on her body, the way his touch was feverish when she accidentally brushed his hand when getting him food, the way he sat – overtly still except for his fidgeting eyes that were magnetically drawn to her movements.
Her husband never looked at her that way. Her husband was a noble soul, and oh, she loved him – she did! He was so intelligent, so peaceful, so wrapped up in his introspective, nonviolent life, always thinking of God. He was handsome, too, with a broad rippling chest, tawny skin, deep powerful dark eyes, lips curved into a permanent smile. He had kind words for her sometimes, when she worked especially hard to clean their abode or cooked for visiting guests. She knew, with quiet despair, that his love for her was the love he offered to all living things – nothing less, nothing more. She, to him, was just a human being who deserved compassion for being human, not for being a wife. And she worshipped that, too – who wouldn't worship such selflessness? Her husband was a good man, and she loved him, but – sometimes –
She remembered that day last year, when she arose from her bath glistening, her long dark hair entwined with violets, her eyes starry, and she determined she would woo her husband to love her like a husband. And oh – humiliation! He did not look once her way, apart from the normal kindness he bestowed on her when she served him his dinner, and that night he meditated outside under the moonlight instead of coming to sleep by her side. She wept then, furious desperate tears, because she was a woman and not a saint and wanted a husband who would warm her at night, not a saint who didn't really need her.
She was used to her lonely life, but she knew she wasn't undesirable to others. Her husband often had visiting students who had heard stories from afar of his ascetism and spiritual prowess, and she served them as she served her husband. They hadn't taken vows of celibacy in their minds, not yet anyways, and even while she knew she was only gratifying her own ego, it was pleasing to see them drop things and lose their speech when she came near. But that pleasure was short-lived when she looked up and saw the austere eyes of her husband – and saw that they wasn't looking at her.
This man in front of her now was not her husband, even though he looked exactly the same. The same dark eyes, broad chest, but there was lust in those eyes instead of patience, and she could almost hear his heart beating from here. In her husband, she sensed power, certainly, but this impostor exuded power of a different sort – masculine, erotic power. She knew he wanted her. It quickened her own breath, made her conscious of how her long arms and feet and abdomen were bare under her thin cotton sari.
When he finished his meal and sat looking at her wordlessly, his heart in his eyes, she looked back at him and silently accepted his offer. What came next was natural, beautiful, powerful. He whispered his real name in her ear as he kissed the hollow beneath it – "Indhra" – King of the Heavens, powerful enough to take the guise of her husband but not powerful enough to fool her, God of the Thunder, the Monsoon, the Lightning. She felt the elements sweep over her body and, for those forbidden moments of ecstasy, marveled. And yet – she kept her eyes open, because it was her husband's form and body after all, if not his spirit. Maybe this is what it would feel like if her husband loved her…
She lay in his arms for a moment after, her ear against his chest so she could hear his heart beating for her, a feeling she had never had before. She felt safe, secure, and then at the end of all that, she felt – incomplete, somehow, but she didn't dwell on that for fear of spoiling this stolen moment.
But she knew that they would be discovered. She knew a few seconds before it happened that it would happen, that her husband would find them. But she didn't know, or expect, the anger in her husband's eyes. She stood and covered herself with her sari again as her husband silently took in the scene. Even Indhra – Ruler of the Palace in the Sky – was stricken as if by his own lightning bolts at the awful gaze of Gautam Maharishi, her husband. She had not known that her husband possessed such an emotion, and strangely, she was unafraid of the anger, though it poured out like flames and engulfed both the King of Gods and her. No – she had provoked her husband into feeling an emotion, and that amazed her so much that she was unable to feel fear.
Her husband's ascetism had given him great powers, and Indhra fled humiliated with the marks of their sin on his body, and then Gautam turned to her.
"You will forever dwell in this hermitage with nothing to eat – air as your only food – and your passions stilled, as a statue for eternity," he thundered, his words crackling with anger and power.
She looked at him with her large dark eyes. "To err is human," she said, her voice steady. "To forgive is divine. Is my sin mine alone?"
He turned away from her, and she glimpsed anguish before he raised his hand and transformed her. "You will be Saved someday," he murmured. "When your lust has disappeared."
She could not say anything, but her awareness gently touched his. My passion was only a desire to become closer to you, my Lord.
His teeth were clenched and his eyes filled with tears. With the wisdom of a statue, she knew he had loved her, had separated himself from her on purpose to avoid temptation, had been wounded by her tryst. His tears were as much for losing her as for the fact that he had yielded to anger and vengeance, emotions that no saint indulged in. He left the cottage and she spoke no more to him in this lifetime. Frozen in rock, she was alone again – except this time she was really alone, and before she hadn't really been. Maybe someday she will find peace with herself. She has an eternity to think, after all.
She wondered how the stories would be told. Gautam Maharishi, blameless, Ahalya his wife, guileless, Indhra the crafty one? Or Ahalya the wanton and the proud, Indhra the lustful, Gautam Maharishi the victim?
Or maybe just a love story gone wrong?
Statues have feelings, children. They are waiting for their Lord to grant them Salvation just as we are.