I had an idea for a non-fiction piece when I realised today’s A2ZChallenge prompt ‘C’ would carry a story version well, if I said it stood for City. Tell me what you think.
C is for City
It was hot even at that hour. Summer was here. Rhea stared at the dial and patted her forehead. The girl who was supposed to keep the place clean had skipped the timepiece. Rhea had overlooked her misdemeanors once too often. It was time to let her go, she decided, waddling back. She slowed down her step as she passed a door. She didn’t want to wake her husband. Arrian was a light sleeper and he was going to wake up very irritable, after all the drinking he had done the previous night. Rhea didn’t want a tongue-lashing or something worse, the first thing in the morning.
Her daughter Alia came in carrying a bunch of roses. She stopped when she saw Rhea and the hand cradling the bouquet dropped to one side. Her slim form was draped in a low necked white dress. The fabric clung to her hips and its hemline was a little higher than decent. Rhea pursed her lips, trying to decide what to pick on first. The dress, she chose.
“What is that you’re wearing? And where do you think you’re going dressed like that?”
“Mama, I was just going into the garden.”
“For what? To plant those flowers?”
“No, I…I just cut them. I thought they would look nice. I was going to put them near your bed.”
Alia took a step to her right. Rhea started.
“Don’t go in there! Your father is sleeping. You know how tired he gets after his late nights.”
“Tell him not to drink so much then.”
“Go back inside! And stay there until you learn to behave like a well-brought up young lady. And put on some clothes!”
Alia pouted but didn’t budge. Rhea gave her a little shove. And when Alia didn’t move, she grabbed her long hair and gave it a yank. That would teach her to talk back to her mother. Pulling her all the way, Rhea continued scolding her in whispers.
“You’re not going anywhere without a palla. And today, you’re not going anywhere. Go to the kitchen. You’re going to learn to cook!”
Alia mumbled something inaudible but since she was moving, Rhea took no notice. She continued scolding her and as they passed the long hall, she resumed her normal volume.
“Where did those flowers come from? Tell me now!”
Alia yelped and there was a thudding sound. This was followed by various knocks and bumps. A few minutes later, Rhea stepped out and bolted the door. Daughters needed disciplining. Thank God Arrian had not been awake!
The little minx probably knew he wasn’t and that’s why she was acting up. And the flowers – Rhea hoped they weren’t from the gardener’s boy. One word to Sabeen and he would never walk straight again. Sabeen didn’t permit anyone to look at his sister. And as a lowborn, the boy had no right to even raise his eyes to look at Alia. Rhea poured herself a glass of wine and downed it in a single gulp. Arrian wouldn’t notice today anyway.
She heard the door opened and she turned, startled. It was Sabeen, his clothes disheveled and hair unruly. He reeked of alcohol too.
“Were you out all night, you wayward boy?”
Sabeen waved her off and slumped onto the mattress. Rhea rolled her eyes. As soon as she had one child disciplined, the other one turned shenanigans. Boys were so much harder to manage too. She thundered over to him, before she remembered that she was supposed to be quiet. Tugging his arm, she began frantically whispering,
“Get up and go inside, quickly! If your father wakes up and sees you in this condition…go in quickly. I’ll send in some food. Just go!”
But too late, she heard the door open behind her. Arrian was standing in the doorway, his eyes red, one hand on his portly stomach. Sabeen sat up in a flash. To their surprise, Arrian padded heavily past both of them and plonked himself down at the table.
Rhea hurried up to the table, wishing Sabeen would have the good sense to vanish. He was still rubbing his eyes.
“Shall I bring you some breakfast?”
Arrian waved her off impatiently. Then he gestured for her to wait.
“We have to start packing today.”
“Yes. Tell the servants. No, don’t tell them. They will need to stay.”
Arrian growled at Rhea in irritation.
“Woman, shut your mouth and listen!”
“Where are you going?”
Sabeen’s drawl sounded behind Rhea’s ample back.
“We are all going. You will go and start packing also.”
Arrian paused, scratching his chest hard. Then he let out a loud burp. And his humour returned.
“Master is coming. I received a message yesterday. They want to move back here. And they want me to manage their business affairs.”
Rhea gaped, trying to take it all in. Arrian smiled at her affectionately. Women were so simple-minded. She was probably thinking of her gardens.
“Don’t worry, you will have a garden there also. It will be smaller but that’s okay. You’ll be able to go shopping there. You’ll meet all the high society ladies. It’s the capital, after all. We’ll go watch the horse races at the Circle. I’ll even take you to The Circus.”
Rhea bowed her head. She was just wondering how long they had. But she didn’t dare ask. Sabeen did, however. He couldn’t wait to get going. No doubt, he’d be out chasing every girl around, the minute they set foot in the city. If he was this bad, here on the farm estate, there was no telling what he’d get upto with the crowd there.
“You will come to work with me every day. The master has agreed to let you be my assistant.”
And with that, Arrian put an end to any grand plans Sabeen had had a chance to make. Somewhat mollified, Rhea shuffled off to talk to the servants. She wasn’t sure what to think about Alia though. On one had it was a good thing they’d be getting away from the gardener’s boy. On the other hand, just like Sabeen, Alia would also be in bad company once they got there. It would be a lot harder to restrain the girl in city. Besides, Rhea had seen how the girls there dressed. Sabeen would end up killing somebody or Arrian would die of rage.
She sighed, sitting down on her bed. She didn’t really like the loud noises and flashy people in the city. She knew Arrian had wanted a lady who could impress the others in his circle but she had failed. She wished she was more beautiful or charming. She never knew what to say at big parties. She was a very good cook, and that’s what had made Arrian fall in love with her. He had been a lean, young man then and look at him now! But she hadn’t been able to spend her married days closeted away in the kitchen. Ladies of her station didn’t do that, he told her firmly. Servants did.
It had been a relief to both of them when they were able to move here, managing the farm estates. She liked it here. It was peaceful and beautiful. But she was a good wife. She knew her duty was to follow her husband wherever he went and try as hard as she could to make him happy.
She stood up and waddled slowly to her daughter’s room.
“Get up, Alia. We are moving to Rome.”
Alia jumped up, clapping her hands, the slaps forgotten.
“Yippee! Can I have a new toga, mama? And my own chariot?”
*Image courtesy potowizard on FreeDigitalPhotos.net