The Betrothal (V/?)

Posted on October 17, 2004 by Jenna

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It is 560 years before the common era.

In the room below, women flock to Prince Siddhartha. To each he gives a gift from his table of gifts. There are those in the court who watch. There are those who take notes. One says,

Ah! He gives this one a peach.
He loves her like a peach.
He finds her firm and succulent.

And others say,

A peach?
He thinks her hard and twisted at the core.
To Princess Adevi he gives a jewel.
She glitters brightly in his eyes!

Minister Rajik is withering. He says,

What matter jewels?
He has ten thousand of them
But look at Umi
Princess of the west
Who holds the only flower in her hands.
She is not pleased.
She wished a richer gift.
But is it not a measure of his heart?
He gives her what he has no riches of.

Pravin argues,

It has six petals.
He loves her not!
The one he gives a stallion
Shall be the one he wants to take to bed.
Glorious is the innuendo of Siddhartha!

Sefreen laughs, and suggests,

Perhaps he shall give to one his dove.
Brought home just three weeks back
And treated with great tenderness.
To favor love with horse or halter
Takes a lewd man’s disposition
Siddhartha is as gentle as the wind.

Yet all agree:

In the end, it matters not.
May he find a girl worth marrying!

There are two women who watch from the balcony above. Their interest is of a different character.

Maya, says Prajapati. I have missed you.

Maya smiles wanly at Prajapati. She says:

I did not want him to know me,

He has grown up strong, says Prajapati.

Maya says:

I would make him weak,

Maya, says Prajapati, You need not lie to me.

Maya looks up. She is startled. Then she laughs.

The mother of Siddhartha.
They called me that
Though you should bear that name.

They took me skyward
As I lay rent
After the birth of Siddhartha.

The Devas roared in Heaven
Bringing me gifts
Their umbrellas covering the vault of Heaven,
Their music filling the spheres.

And all around me
Nandavana Gardens
Brightest of the Heavens
And they said, “This shall be yours
But do not go back.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati. You are too stubborn.

Maya answers:

The mother of Siddhartha.
They called me that
Though you should bear that name.

They took me skyward
They showed me things
I had forgotten of the world
They gave me hope
That I could be redeemed

And said,
“This shall be yours
Queen Maya
But do not go back.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati.

“I was weak,” Queen Maya says. “And tarried.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati. He has grown up strong.

Maya asks,

Which, do you think, shall he choose,
To that one he has given a wreath.

Prajapati giggles. She says,

A wreath of pretty flowers
That smell bad.
It shall not be that girl.

“To that one,” Maya notes, “he gives a firefly.”

Prajapati purses her lips. She says,

Few can see a firefly
Before its sun has set.
It shall not be that girl.

“To that one,” Maya says, “he gives his mother’s gown.”

Prajapati reflects on this. She opens her mouth to speak.

A serving boy enters with their tea. He stumbles at the door. Hot water spills. It scalds Prajapati. And Prajapati screams.

Everyone present finds this quite surprising.

The world moves slowly now. Maya speaks. She is intent:

You cannot scream.
He must not know.

Prajapati regains control. She has gripped the front of her dress. Her knuckles are white.

“I am using all my strength,” she says.

Maya is intent:

You cannot scream.
He must not know.

Prajapati says,

It is opening the floodgates in me.
Maya. Maya, she is here.
She must be here.
Yasodhara, my secret-keeping god.
I can no longer hide.

There is a mist in the room, and the hot water is gone, and the scald marks are gone, and the errant servant too.

“The pain is gone,” says Maya.

Prajapati’s face is white. There is a scream trembling within her lungs, trying to break out. She says:

There is nothing real but pain.
I have learned the monster’s touch.
And learned this too
That peace
Is nothing more
Than the interval between two sufferings.

Be strong, Queen Maya says. The pain is gone.

Prajapati answers:

It is in me, Maya.
He placed it in me
With the emptiness
So I should always live with pain.

“Be strong,” Maya pleads.

I am strong, says Prajapati. You can hear: I do not scream.

Then Maya stands. She looks to the room below. She looks beyond, and through the palace, with great faculties of sight. Her voice is soft, but like a falcon’s scream:

Where is she?
Where is the dove Yasodhara?

And down she flies like the darkest cloud of hate. And all through the room the people shiver, and the girls draw back, and the ministers blink and rub their eyes. Siddhartha stares as she passes, and alone of them all he seems to see Queen Maya.

“Ah,” he says, in an uncertain tone. “Ah, mother, what is wrong?”

Then Maya is through the doors, raging like a wind, and they slam closed behind her. Then she is in the halls, and the rooms, and Siddhartha’s room, where the dove Yasodhara sleeps. She catches the bird by the neck, and says:

You must leave now.
He must not know.

The bird changes in her hands. It becomes a girl. Her hair is long and black. Her body is fit. Her clothes would fit a princess well. Her voice is soft like a dove’s purr as she says:

He is a kind man.
A good man.
A hope in dark places.
Must I hide from him, Queen Maya?

Maya says,

He is a good man.
A kind man.
He shall turn the wheel
And end the suffering of the world

But he cannot do this
If he knows.
To save the world
Requires innocence.

Yasodhara says, quietly,

It is not good
To dwell in silence
Hiding wounds from doctors
And ignorance from the gurus.

Must I hide from him, Queen Maya?

Maya answers,

The way of innocence
Is the way of sovereignty.

He will trust
That people are good.
He will find
The way of ruling
That brings that from their souls.

He will hope
For his people,
And love them well.

Even the monsters.
Even the beasts;
And honor
Even the murderers and thieves.

You are a lie, Yasodhara,
I am a demon
And everyone around us is a beast.

They are prey to evil
Prey to their wounds,
Faulty, damaged, horrid, sad.

If he knows,
He will not trust them.
He will not love their sad and broken dharmas.

He will not see
What I can see.
He will see only dukkha,
And break my world
To find an answer
To their suffering.

A Buddha is a man
Who ends the natures of the world.

“To cling to the things that hurt you,” Yasodhara says, “is a child’s act.”

And Maya says:

And more so
To wish them all destroyed.

Yasodhara sings, softly,

If he knows, then,
He will free us
From the things that cause us pain?

No longer, then,
Will we be bound
To the things that hurt us?

For Maya, I have always thought
Our natures
Were nothing but a curse.

Has not Prajapati suffered?
Have not I?
And have not you?

We are bound
To endless rounds
Of incarnation
And always driven
By our natures
To the same pains once again
And I ask, Queen Maya,
Would it not be good
If he becomes a Buddha?

If he ends the natures of the world?

I have kept my secrets
For sixteen years
But sixteen years of duty
Felt not so clean
As five seconds in his hands.

I could tell him my secret
And break my soul
If he’d become a Buddha.

“This outcome is not desirable to everyone,” Maya says.

Yasodhara says,

The monsters
They love this world.

I know every touch
The monster gave to Prajapati.
And how they pleased him so.

And I wonder, Maya,
In all this world,
Why is it only the monsters
Who are
Truly happy with who they are?

Maya is silent.

Yasodhara leaves the room. She walks into the room of betrothal. Siddhartha sees her, and the beauty of her, and something in that beauty he has never seen before.

And Yasodhara hears these words, spoken by Maya into the silence of her soul:

It is not myself
In whose nature I find happiness.
But Prajapati,
And Suddhodana,
And Siddhartha,
And … you
For I am not without pride in you,
Though better I had killed you
Then I had let you go.

The room is silent.

Yasodhara straightens her back. She looks Siddhartha in the eye. “Have you no presents left for me?” she asks.

Siddhartha looks behind him at the table of presents. It is empty. He fumbles for the necklace he usually wears, but it has been mislaid, and his bracelets are not on. Recent events have unnerved him. He does not remember where the backup table of presents is kept. He thinks, quite hard and desperately, in the way a young man ought.

“I have a dove,” he says.