Flash Fiction: Illegal Tender

Flirtatious posturing leading to frivolous phone conversations lasting well past the setting of the sun. Well-mannered date nights greeted with fancy chocolates and flowers. That first kiss, bidding one another a good night. The intertwining of hands that finally signified the budding of a potentially beautiful romance.

The initial experience of connecting with one another, one on one, was passed over for societal reputation and economical factors arranged solely by our domineering elders. To them we were the quintessential match making ours a courtship unlike any other.

The first day we met was on the day that we vowed, in front of those we loved most, to honor and obey. The latter being specifically directed towards me, the bride.

For ours, was not a union of love, but a union of two families coming together to create a singular force of strength, wealth, and security. Based on ancient customs, vedic rituals and Hindu traditions.

The memory, vivid, is burned into my brain in every sense of the word as if it happened just yesterday.

The occasion’s décor was made up of exotic flowers, majestic crystals and silky fabrics of white, yellow, and gold, which complimented my red sari and the groom’s cream sherwani very well.

During the kanyadaan, I sat nervously alongside my father. Internally feeling a sense of reluctance as he proudly gave me away to a man and his family he thought to be worthy. This man promised my father he would never fail me in the pursuit of…

dharma, artha, and kama…

dharma, artha, and kama…

dharma, artha, and kama…

as my hand, covered in abstract mehndi patterns, was exchanged from my father’s hand into his.

The groom and I kneeled before the priest as he spoke firmly of the responsibilities and duties required of us to achieve the highest level of marital happiness.

My husband, that was a term that was going to take some getting used to, grabbed a strong hold of my hand. It felt hard and slightly calloused – lacking any sense of tenderness just as much as his constant smiling throughout the celebration lacked sincerity.

He held it dangerously close to the lit marhwa for the panigrahana portion of our celebratory union. Flames flickered about with every flutter of wind as we took the seven steps of saptapadi. Bound together by vowing unto one another in Sanskrit every step of the way.

With the mangalasutra placed around my neck and a red sindoor placed upon my forehead, it became official. We were now husband and wife in the eyes of Agni.

Hushed meetings behind closed doors. The tension had been rising. Not so subtle whispers in corners of vacant corridors. Thinking back, I could sense it slowly escalating. Empty glares across floors with pasted on smiles and noses turned upwards. It was in the details like the devil himself.

His family no longer requested, but now demanded more than the dowry that was originally agreed upon. Expensive this, luxurious that, five star this…how would my family ever recover from that? I had been transferred from one family to another for thousands plus collateral like a business transaction at a financial institution. I had become a financial burden that my family could no longer uphold.

My husband’s temper flared with disdain towards me for not being able to sustain his undeniable greed.

I was snapped awake from the wedded post-coital bliss of the honeymoon phase with the entire length of my body doused in kerosene. My mangala sutra snatched away from me.

Within seconds acrimonious sparks of red and frantic glows of orange were all I could see. Immense heat and discomfort were all I could feel. Acerbic hydrocarbons were all I could taste. The stench of burning flesh was all I could smell. My ear-piercing screams for help, as my blood literally boiled from the inside out was all I could hear.

Hair singed unevenly. Skin charred, removing all of what had identified me.
I went from blushing to burning bride wishing that I had died instead of remaining alive. Now, living with the painstaking memories every time I see a reflection of myself. The wick of life that shone brightly through my eyes was forever blown.

© Patrice Washington

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