You first see him in the summer, when the rivers are dry and the heat is a physical presence in the air. His shirt sticks to his skin, and his face is haggard. You learn later that the well in his village had run dry three days ago, and he is looking for a river, a stream, anything.
You decide to slink away, the sound of his footsteps is loud enough that you can make out his approach. They speed up the farther you move away, though, and soon you are moving quite rapidly through the forest, with this man in pursuit. You do not want to harm him, but if he leaves you no choice…
A strange thump in front of you makes you hesitate, and move forward a little more slowly. And then you round a corner, and see. Your enemy is mating, here, out in the open. Interrupting him now would mean a fight to the death. The female beneath him is thrashing, moving wildly, and his own movements are frenzied. He seems to be laughing, and you realise that this is the sound that has the drawn the attention of the man following you.
Your enemy chooses that moment to look up. You take a fighting stance, but before you can strike –
A sudden movement, and you are flung out of harm’s way. You have just enough time to realise that the man following you has saved you, and you wonder why.
You see him again the next day, again on his fruitless search for water, and you think: perhaps the time has come to return the favour.
‘There is a river near here. I can show you.’
He draws back when he first sees you, and then averts his eyes. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asks the ground, and you frown. Only later you realise that it is not customary for women to be completely unclothed.
You lead him to the river, and he is transported into delights of gratitude. It is a new experience for you, and when he reappears in the forest the next day, you go to him again, like it is natural.
Soon he is spending nearly all his time with you, until one day he says, ‘I love you, you know. Won’t you be mine?’
You look at him quizzically, because hadn’t it been obvious, that he was yours and you were his? Perhaps it is done differently in his world.
‘Of course,’ you reply. ‘We belong to each other.’
He takes you in his arms, and into his house. The days pass in a haze of passion, and soon you are round with child.
Then, one day, a terrible pressure bears down on you: it is time. Leaving your house, you stumble through the dark forest, trying to ignore the pain.
In your state, you don’t realise your husband is following you.
When they are out of you, the pain eases, and the world comes back into focus. That is when you notice your horrified husband, staring at the eggs that surround you.
‘What-what are you?’
In reply to his question, you change before his eyes, drawing back into your snake form, and he gasps.
After a long moment, he reaches out, daring even to stroke your scales. He whispers that he still loves you, will always love you, his love for you is timeless and eternal.
And you think: perhaps this can work, after all.
For the month that follows, you are busy with your eggs; three of them, pearly white and nearly as wide as your arm already. You guard them from predators, human and animal alike. Your husband usually joins you for a few hours in the day, running a wondering hand over the eggs. He is doing this the day your children decide to join you.
They look like newborn humans, your husband assures you, except for their skin, which is moist, and softer than human skin.
You have a boy, and two girls. Your husband says his heir looks just like him, he is already besotted with his children.
In the days that follow, you try hard to be a good wife, and a good mother, but you can only deny your nature so long. When the monsoon arrives, amid the sound of raindrops on the roof above, you remember: the forest air, rich with the scents of moist earth and ripening fruit and home; the sounds of the forest, teeming with all its life –
You cannot help yourself.
Looking down at your sleeping husband, you promise yourself that you will return by daybreak.
Shifting back after so long is a relief, and the delight coursing through your veins makes you ripple like quicksilver through the grass. You spend the night hunting frogs that have been made foolhardy by the rains, coming out to dance in puddles; only the quick ones escape you.
Much later, your belly full and feeling sated as you curl up in the warm hollow of a tree, you do not remember there is a bed waiting for you elsewhere.
When it happens, it is because of a rat.
You aren’t particularly hungry at the moment, but it scurries across your field of vision, and to chase it is as natural as breathing. You’re moving into human territory now, but you are quick and they don’t see you.
What stops you is the scent. Mine, it says. With a rush of guilt, you remember the husband you left behind – how many days ago was it now?
Following the familiar scent, you glide into your home.
Because there is another woman there now, standing in the courtyard as if she owns the place. Even then you are not suspicious, not angry, because you trust your husband, a good man, a loyal man, and you know there must be some explanation –
But he comes out of the house – the house he had shared with you – and stands next to her.
She falls, and even then he turns to her, taking her limp body in his arms and calling her name. You change, then, but something is wrong. By now, he should be pleading for your forgiveness, but he is only staring up at you in horror and alarm –
In the commotion, an old man stumbles out of the house. It makes no sense, your husband has no living parents.
But then you see it, the spark of recognition you were looking for is in his eyes -
When he calls your name, you finally understand.
A/N: From the idea that animals do not have the higher brain functions to tell time, or even to understand the concept of time. They truly do live in the here and now.
-Obviously, this was inspired by all those icchadari nagin stories Bollywood once loved. For those who have never seen the movies, icchadari nagin = the weresnake of Indian mythology – the counterpart to European werewolf myths.
-Mongooses make a giggling noise when they mate. According to Wikipedia. Mongooses can also kill cobras, as Rudyard Kipling famously put into prose.
Thanks for reading, all comments, thoughts and concrit are very welcome. =)
Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
[music| Hole in the Soul: ABBA]