Rani | 2220 C.E.

Rani | 2220 C.E.

A Story by emilydeibler
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Part of "Nadir: A Post-Apocalyptic Story in India." A young woman moves to a home she doesn't remember. Cover image by Karen Kaye Llamas.

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After poisoning her uncle and having him collapse in front of her, a fog encompassed Rani's world. It has not left, even when her parents reclaim the city. There are elections and intricate ceremonies and declarations that she barely registers. Her father reclaims his old title as Councillor Mayur, and he joins the rebellion leaders in reforming Karaar, their dear city, after the Antiscians have had their way with it for about two decades.


Eighteen years, precisely. It’s a new dawn for them all. Eighteen years ago, Rani had only known how to walk and babble. She was wobbling and drooling about, and her older sister had carried her to the compound (the prison) that had been her family’s home as she and Arja grew. Now, they’re both adults and, even with their differences, they have both become lost.


Rani lingers about, crossing and uncrossing her arms, rubbing her neck when there's a tickling in her throat that won't go away. She doesn't want the accolades for what she did to Uncle Jaidev -- the man who called himself Krishna in shameful blasphemy. Ever since her fingertips brushed her sister's temple, she’s wanted to disappear. Wherever Arja is, she's probably hurt. Or tired. Or hungry.


Lost.


Rani hurts. She had her uncle, the self-appointed leader of the city, on his knees in front of her, and she feels no retribution. There are her physical injuries:  the childhood scar on her left knee that twinges from time to time, the bruises and broken flesh and pulled muscles from training, the scrapes Arja would tend to while humming -- even when she wasn't one to be whimsical. Then, there are the old quarrels and her uncle’s orders.


A hateful numbness consumes Rani. While their parents and Uncle Jaidev ate dinner as a family, she and Arja would often eat by themselves, knee-to-knee. Her sister would eat slowly, taking deliberate nibbles. Neither of them ever had prodigious appetites like their mother, and Rani cannot currently scarf down anything without a pang at the bottom of her belly, an ache beneath her ribs. Arja would tell her that she was savoring the taste when Rani teased her about eating like a mouse with her tiny bites, and Arja's eyes would snap down every two minutes to inspect her watch.


Soon after the coup, Rani and her parents move back into their old home. A mansion, practically. Modern with a grand courtyard -- though it's been abandoned for so long, now overgrown and a mute brown -- and top-notch furnishings. Yet there are adjustments that must be made. Rani was halfway to her third birthday when she was relocated to the compound with her family. Her old room has a crib and this mobile with smiling bears. Chanda recounted the first time she laid eyes upon the crib with cloudy eyes. Yes, it doesn’t accommodate a twenty-year-old woman who’s spent more than a decade crafting herself into an expert blade for -- what purpose, exactly? She presses both palms to her eyelids just thinking of the "lessons" with her uncle, where he goaded and forced her to torture prisoners with magic. The coldness had sent pangs, jolts of shock down her fingertips when she touched their heads, just as she had touched her big sister’s.


Uncle Jaidev’s words echo in her head. They deserve it, Rani. Do you know what he did, what he'd do to you if you couldn't fight back?


(His eyes bulging, hand clamped over the fabric of his shirt...)


Rani has to relocate to her sister's old room. The arrangement in the compound may have not been much, but they’d been hers when she and Arja stopped sleeping in the same bedroom.


Arja’s mansion room is full of blues and grays. The wallpaper is lined with gold, which surprises Rani. Red was Arja's favorite color; Rani always preferred blues and greens. Then again, this room was probably all ready for Arja years before her conception -- before there was a child Mayur thought he needed to be ready for.


In fact, if it weren’t for her mother’s prowess and title, Mayur would have never married for love -- much less have married a woman pregnant with another man’s child. And for that man to have been his long-lost brother? Well, that had been an impolite reckoning in the making for all of them.


A guest room had been Arja’s designated bedroom, and there has never been a shortage of space here; Councillor Mayur was at the highest echelons of the city's social situation, and he could afford such vast accommodations.


The bed is littered with stuffed animals that squat atop the pillows with their unsettling marble-eyes like beetles. One that catches her eye is a particularly lumpy, hairy elephant. And the sheets are blue-green and dull with time. Rani's heard her father hound on about how teal is such a wretched color, and she grins, though her eyes sag. She's been especially mopey lately, so much so that her parents have taken notice when not preoccupied with their duties.


On the left side of the bedroom, there's an ornate vanity. There's nothing on it but a music box and a vase of dead orchids. The music box is smooth under her fingertips, like painted porcelain.


(We're free. We can visit them now, my mother's parents. Uncle isn't in control of all of us anymore.)


Her palm on the glass of the mirror, Rani sweeps the dust away in strokes, biting her bottom lip. She doesn’t look at her reflection, shame blossoming inside her lungs. She pulls her bangs to cover the fading acne scars on the sides of her face; Arja referred to them as leopard spots. Rani has always resembled her father, and, from what she's seen in pictures, she has her maternal grandmother’s curls and smile.


Rani’s hair is loose, and she almost crumples right then and there. Clearing her throat, she bends forward, supporting herself with her elbows as she leans like a tree in the wind. The memories come -- her older sister brushing her hair, her, Arja once being forced to clean her sister’s teeth when Rani was especially negligent about hygiene at the age of seven and had, dingy, plaque-caked teeth.


Rani doesn't turn the lights on, but sunbeams illuminate the room through a window behind the bed; the bed itself is too large for the four-year-old girl who’d once rested there. Sitting on the edge, Rani drapes her arms into her lap. The mattress sinks underneath her.


An hour later, Chanda checks on her daughter, and Rani has not moved from her position, though her head snaps up when her mother enters. She's always found comfort in her mother's less garish tastes -- much less ostentatious than Mayur’s. Several years ago, Chanda had been one of the most powerful mages in this land, the southern tip of the continent.


“I was a fireball,” her mother once told her, “back then.”


Rani decides that she'll never braid her hair again. No, that had been Arja’s job. When her mother approaches, Rani stiffens and blinks away her tears away. Hands quivering, Rani says with stony resolve, "Is there any word about Arja?"


Chanda's frown deepens, her eyes bright. "No, but -- "


Uncharacteristically agitated, Rani says, “I need to know, and nobody else seems to be in a rush.”

Chanda’s sari is a dark blue, and hair is free and falling in waves on her shoulders. Her mother’s two glass bangles clink as she shifts an arm. "Rani, you don't think we care?" Chanda's voice is stern, but she grips Rani's shoulder, turning her so her daughter's trembling lips and glossy eyes are apparent. Under scrutiny, Rani falters.


"M-Mom." Her mother pulls her into an embrace, something where they could only be any closer if their bones were stitched together. Her visage crinkling like dead leaves, Rani weeps against her mother’s jacket, wiping her snot on the back of her hand before returning the hug. Her hair is oily against her mother’s cheek. "I don't know what to believe, Mom. I don't know what to believe."


Rani repeats the words over and over in a distressed mantra, until her voice is reedy and eventually quiets, her tongue stinging as she clamps her teeth down on it. It seems like she's always running into the arms of someone.


Her mother says little else, rubbing her back, cupping her neck, their bodies snug and warm. In truth, Chanda is just as lost.

© 2013 emilydeibler


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Added on November 30, 2013
Last Updated on November 30, 2013
Tags: rani, 2220 C.E., nadir, science fiction, fantasy, post-apocalyptic

Author

emilydeibler
emilydeibler

About
My name is Emily. I am a nineteen-year-old woman in the United States who is currently attending a university. I am a full-time student, and I am currently working at a BA in English in hopes of also .. more..

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