The Cheat Who Would Be King

The Cheat Who Would Be King

A Story by Justin Fenech

The Cheat Who Would Be King

In the vernacular Italian Alexander would be described a mammone. Regrettably the term cannot be translated into a single equivalent word in English. Mummy’s boy does not have the same, the Italian requires the speaker to attack the double m with a mouth open as wide as a piranhas. India loved him for it. For the sheltered daughter of the Dutch ambassador to Malta he was a role model for all men to follow. He was a macho man when he came to protecting her, but the rest of the time he was a flamingo as she liked to call him.

In the years of credit crunching, belt tightening, austeritizing and whatever else the news called it, it was rare to find a man that so indulged his fiancé. Alexander’s romanticism was more indigenous to 19th century Italy than the pornographic 21st. He was far from rich, he was the son of a mildly established chef and a hairdresser. His parents were part of the caring class, that rare group of people that valued family over careers. They were happy to be happy. Mendelian genetics predicts some of that to rub off on Alexander.

Alexander and India had been together for almost two years. He engaged to her on their second anniversary in the restaurant they went to on their first date. It was all whimsically perfect. After dessert Alexander, dressed in his father’s best suit, got down on his knees, held the resplendid engagement ring in front of India and recited a poem he had written for the occasion:

“Daughter of the stars

Perpetual foe of celestial strife

Would thy diamantine hearts

Honour me by making thee my wife?”

India was swept away, her destiny of becoming a princess was fulfilled �" her prince had arrived from a distant land to make her his own. His eyes were of sunset amber, his skin a royal tan, his voice smooth and eloquent like jasmines blowing in the wind. Upon their engagement India decided she was no longer her father’s daughter, she was now another soul wed to the man the stars had conceived just for her.

Her father, curly-haired, suited nervous-wreck Edwin was as elated as his daughter. He likewise had great fairytale ambitions for his daughter �" but his hopes were dashed upon her birth. India was beautiful beyond her years. Her long curly hair danced on her lower back, dangling on the fringes of her refined buttocks. She was tall and had grey eyes that looked like Florentine silver when she wore her black eye-liner. She had a petite face for her tall frame, her features were delicate and understated, and her small-nostriled nose wore a skirt of ginger freckles.

But India, O India, she was unique in a way more unique than most others. Her speech was slow and dragging, her body language trippy and her attention span stolen by the fabled sky. She had no inhibitions, yet she was as innocent as a doll. Her father hated himself when he heard her speak at dinners he held for his diplomatic colleagues. She wasn’t supposed to speak like that, so ditzily and incoherently: she was supposed to be eloquent, a chip off the old block. What had he done wrong? It was her mother’s fault, surely. She could be air-headed at times. But he shouldn’t think like that of her, she died when India was only three. He knew truly that his daughter was everything he had hoped for, to hell with what everyone else thought!

But he knew she would never be completely independent. Doctors had told him so when she was very young. But what hope did she have of ever finding a man to love her and care for her? Love, like financial market, was a dog eat dog world: a lot of demand and ever decreasing supply.

Alexander and India met when she started attending a prestigious private school in Malta. She enrolled when she was 18 and took to studying languages. No one expected her to get any qualifications �" teachers are a mercilessly calculating bunch �" but she showed great flair in her essays and class presentations. She wrote with the carelessness of a Bohemian and spoke with the self-consciousness of an Elizabethan orator. Abilities and talents were a result of the brain’s random wiring; India was a truth laid bare.

At the time Alexander was studying International Relations at university �" he was six years older than India. They met on a Friday night in November through a mutual friend. She was studying in India’s school but knew Alexander through her brother at university. When India first saw Alexander it was as if a snake was snapped out of its trance. She introduced herself politely and courteously, trying hard to hold herself together. Alexander was a nobody, but he had the looks of a prince she had always envisioned. He was fair, had soft red cheeks and smooth features, with olive eyes and wavy blonde hair. He looked like a renegade from a fairytale book. And like most fairytales he found the reality of dating and sex hard-going �" he was tall and thin, too much of a frail twig for the best women. But for India he was a neotenous dream come true.

In the first two years Alexander and India were together Alexander became close to India’s father, the way a boss becomes close to his latest employee. They ploughed the same field of international diplomacy and soon established a relationship of equals. Alexander found himself invited to balls and parties and the embassy and began to make important contacts. He befriended old diplomats who cleared their throats after every sentence they uttered, he exchanged details with ambassador’s aides, the filter feeders of the political world and was even invited to a conference in Zurich by the Swiss ambassador, the one with the 1920’s horse-haired moustache. Alexander was grateful to India’s lucky stars.

When he began dating India, Alexander had taken to writing India love poems, as befitting a prince. He read them to her in gardens besides rose-bushes, looking down at his paper but aiming the arrow of his words to her fluttering eye-lashes. When he read her the poems she was entranced in the moonlight of love. Lost to the world, gone, enamoured, enchanted. Love did funny old things to a funny old head.

Being the attention-seeker that he was �" all mammone’s were addicted to the teats of life �" Alexander began to experiment with more writing. He found the effect his poems had on India utterly mesmerizing. Over time he began to write full-fledged stories and when he read them to her he found, to his amazement, that India would spend days lost in the fantastic world he had created for her. Of course this only worked if Alexander said the words, “imagine reading these out to our children one day” before he began to read them. That was the cue her brain needed to drug itself into the abyss of myth.

The stories he wrote her were fantastical and exuberant, the kind you would find in One Thousand And One Arabian Nights. They told of exotic lands with jungles laden with golden trees, monkeys that warred over territories and errant monkeys and monkettes who ran away on the backs of eagles to fall in love beside star-kissed lakes. They were utterly hypnotic. She would spend days on end pirouetting around the house, reciting memorized lines from the stories, having conversations with the Dickensian characters �" and even going for walks in Nethertasia, the jungle Alexander had created for her. Her brain in those days was no longer directed by neurons but by imported words.

She became addicted to Alexander’s stories, her literary heroin as she innocently called it. On her way to school in her father’s car she would shout in a loud whisper: “On Irina, on! Take me to Vinesse, the tree-tops of the Macaques so I may find the lovers whose tails are forever bound in loving embrace.” Her school work began to suffer and her grades to fall behind. Teachers were concerned in their paid mothers role that they had to be concerned. They critiqued and advised but never acted. They were passengers seeing two cars heading for a collision whilst they sent a text message to the respective drivers to stop.

Her father was aware of the teacher’s concerns, and he was worried as well. And yet, he had never seen his daughter so happy, so immersed in her uniqueness. She was being herself, and he loved her all the more for it. No father wanted to see his daughter grow up, and India’s father got his wish. He was Peter Pan the dad.

There is no greater tragedy than when a man blossoms out of his sexual cocoon during the course of his first relationship. It was the embodiment of the ‘when it rains it pours’ fallacy. Whilst India twirled in her bedroom to the music of harps that snowed down from the tree-tops, Alexander was discovering a new found confidence that rubbed off on his erotic charms. The first time it happened was at a debate held on campus, where he had been invited to represent his faculty on account of the connections he had. It wasn’t just India that lived in a jungle.

After the debate, about the dangers of globalization or something likewise deliberately tantalizing, an Italian economics student came up to him. She had long black hair as smooth as her silk scarf, she had wide hips but a slender frame. Her face was curvy and tanned her eyes as large as exoplanets reflected in a telescope’s glint.

“I really enjoyed listening to you, Alexander. I think you are right that the west responsibility to the world, no. It was a brave thing to say.” She spoke with the vowel-swallowing rapidity of an Italian as she shook his hand with her text books and handbag in her other arm.

“Thank you, not a lot of people agreed with me. I’m glad I’m not a complete pariah.” He knew he wasn’t, he had been quite successful in fact.

“I am Ilaria, a great pleasure to meet you, Alexander.” Alexander felt celebrated, for the first time in his mediocre life. The way she swallowed her words in awkwardness made him feel respectable. And why shouldn’t he? He was successful, a great writer and, apparently, a great debater. He was surprised at how unsurprised he was by Ilaria’s approaches.

Over the following weeks Alexander and Ilaria struck an instant friendship. The drab month of September of that year was resuscitated by drinks and late-night conversations with Ilaria. They had not been anything other than friends, but the fact that he had a fiancé made their every trivial meeting into an escapade. She was expecting him to one day get shrugged off, she waited for the day when she made a suggestion too far. But that day never came �" she knew it wouldn’t. On the very last day in September, in a secluded pub on a Wednesday night, she flirted and tickled and flirted, until they fell unto each other’s lips on cushions of stolen leather.

Alexander didn’t mean to hurt India, and he knew he was being awful �" to her of all people. But when a man discovered an addiction late in life, especially to something he previously believed to be unavailable, he becomes ravenous and incessant. He plumbed the depths of his creative mind to create an exemplary model of a self-deceived brain. His relationship with India became like rapids that rushed over uneven riverbeds: so he rushed through life indifferently flowing over periods of guilt and pleasure.

But Alexander was careless, he soon realized. His late start in the affairs game (Ilaria had gone back to Italy but there were others) had made him over eager and inattentive to the fine details of an affair. He absent-mindedly forgot to delete messages from his phone, stayed out later than he should have done, kissed his mistresses just before meeting up and kissing India, and he even left pictures of the girls on his laptop. They were hidden in well-concealed areas of the laptop’s virtual caverns, but they were still an unnecessary liability.

He was becoming less and less discreet, he began to spend more time with his girlfriends than with India, and in more public places. He took them to nightclubs and beach lidos, and enjoyed the life of a James Bond academic. Great things were in store for him �" it took the validation of easy women to make him see that. But he feared being found out by India �" losing her would ostracize him from her father’s good (and essential) grace. His nights became tortuous, he felt like a gazelle, paranoid that each new day could bring with it a pouncing calamity from the deceptively still grassland.

But Alexander’s worries were ill-founded. India was lost in Netherfantasia, oblivious to the reality of reality. Alexander wrote her more and more stories, inventing new terrains in Netherfantasia for India to explore. He took her to deserts where brave horses fought off robed men who sought to kidnap the beloved mares. He invented mountains with mystical temples into which only those of pure heart could enter. There were tails of great storms which required all the inhabitants of the jungle to seek refuge underground �" huddling together in the apocalyptic warmth. Those stories were mines that exploded India’s last remaining bridges to the world of men.

India’s segregation allowed Alexander looser reigns. He could afford to be careless and life was never better �" he was having his cake and devouring it, all at the expense of his most useful India. The first question women normally ask of men who had affairs was ‘if he wants other women, why not leave her?’ It was a naive question, un-scientific even if irrationally logical. And it was always asked with a high-pitched finish and a flicker of the hair. No man ever dared answer the question aloud, but Alexander knew full well his own personal response: why would I leave her when she is my ticket to a sure-thing career.

As Alexander grew ever more complacent his writing became all the more inspired. He wasn’t a born writer but he wrote for the one purpose worth writing for: self-preservation. Being a cheat and a refined liar Alexander had the necessary motivation and experience to be an excellent writer. Had he not gone down the road of diplomacy �" which always carried the whiff of politics �" he would have gone on to become an award-winning writer.

The weeks leading up to their wedding day Alexander was a saintly husband. He spent all his time with India, stopped writing stories to allow her to enjoy the exciting times and stopped having his regular affairs. The wedding itself was a show-stopper that attracted diplomats from all over the world, their voyeuristic media and a who’s who of all the people who would shape Alexander’s future. The wedding was a political affair, with the VIP’s standing around like Moai statues at the reception, drinking champagne and speaking a plethora of languages.

For India it was her fairytale wedding. Her dress was as exquisite and flamboyant as the bride herself. It had a long train of silk as white as Maltese cotton, with embroidered flowers around the chest. Her veil was long and mysterious, making her into a true princess as exotic as the princess of Jordan. Her hair was straightened and flowed elegantly with the hypnotic grace of a waterfall. The boquet she caressed during the ceremony was a gift from the French ambassador and outshone the sun that graced the embassy’s Chinese gardens where the ceremony was held. Alexander’s parents were disappointed that their son didn’t have a church wedding, but like most non-practising Catholics they soon put aside their disappointment for the sake of a better deal. They were as proud as Romans.

“Your mother would be so proud of you. You are a remarkable angel.” India’s aunt, her mother’s sister told her at the reception.

“It’s ok. I know she is. She’s happy for me.”

“Where are you planning to go on your honeymoon, my dear?” Her aunt asked her in a condescending voice.

“Alexander wants to take me to Venice. But I don’t mind. As long as I’m with him.” Few guests could understand that as long as India had her prince she was happy.

Alexander was having a chat with his new father-in-law by the fountain with the misplaced Greek sculpture of water-spouting nymph surrounded by Asiatic cherry blossoms.

“You've made my daughter a very happy man, Alexander. I am eternally grateful, and I am may not be a man that shows much affection but I never forget an act of kindness.”

“It wasn't an act of kindness, sir.” Alexander replied almost shocked. “I love your daughter �" she is a special woman.” Despite his infidelities Alexander meant what he said.

“Yes, of course, I have no doubt, son. But I can tell you I had my doubts whether she would ever find a good man like yourself. But never mind. You are her prince and now it is time you became a king.”

India's father said exactly what Alexander wanted to hear. But he was melancholically overwhelmed by the condescending tone with which he spoke of his daughter. What did he mean 'an act of kindness?' Did he hold his daughter in so little esteem that he believed a man could only love her out of pity. What a horrible man!

Who am I to judge? He thought to himself. I have been using her, and to use someone is just as degrading as to pity them. As India's father walked away Alexander vowed to keep India happy throughout her life. And it was a vow he took more seriously than the wedding vows of a few hours earlier. His stories would be her wealth and he would forever be her prince. His own happiness was assured through the golden career that lay ahead of him. India's father was happy that his daughter was happy and married to a successful man �" there was happiness all around so why did the wedding air hang so heavy with accusatory guilt?

© 2014 Justin Fenech

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Added on February 10, 2014
Last Updated on February 10, 2014
Tags: love, India, genetics, adultery, cheating, relationships


Justin Fenech
Justin Fenech

Hamrun , Malta

I am a 25 year old writer from the Mediterranean Island of Malta. I see writing as a civilizng force that plays a vital role in a democratic, enlightened society. I read and idolize Hemingway, Fitz.. more..