He was beautiful, or rather, I imagined him to be beautiful behind that mask he wore.
A silver sequined mask.
Of course it was the mask. Of course it was, for my imagination far exceeded any reality. Or, if my imagination did not exceed reality, then surely my assumptions regarding the limits of beauty did.
He was walking. I walked into the event hall as he was walking out and he was masked. What else could I do? We spoke, though why and of what I do not recall. Something simple, I am sure. Simple enough to be spoken of while privately contemplating beauty.
He would return, he promised, after the end of my sister-in-law’s mehndi. We were to meet at the swing in the lilac glow so I sat in the swing in the lilac glow and I waited and pictured his imminent return.
He would arrive on a throne, I decided. Yes, masked and on a throne.
And though normally, that might seem pretentious, I’d hardly even notice it here, for the throne would be atop – or more precisely, held between – four enormous and bejeweled elephants.
His cortege would consist of five thousand Persian charioteers in five thousand chariots (scythed), ten thousand mounted warriors, and fifteen thousand of the finest archers in the land. Before the chariots would come his trusted tnunshi and chief officer, wearing a ceremonial lion skin robe, resting on a somewhat smaller but no less noble elephant than those of my masked friend.
Then would come his silver-thighed cup bearers, mamluks playing bamboo flutes, dancing girls from India, and Sufi poets reciting verses of love for me. His personal mathematicians, his astrologers, physicians, philologers, and logicians would ride, biting their fingers in astonishment at the ostentatiousness of the display.
The perfumes and the flowers – oh, how could I forget the perfumes and the flowers? – the silks, the rugs, embroidered tapestries, lavish vestments from throughout the known world and beyond! Cartload after cartload of fruits and exotic foods from far distant orchards. And more sturdy oxen than you could shake a stick at, if you had a stick and wished to shake it at some sturdy oxen.
All of the royal court and all the regalia of empire, marching along just for me and singing.
I would join my mysterious stranger at his throne and we would all ride off together, off and to a river valley, where we’d listen to melodists from Kabul or from Kashmir (I forget which) and eat pomegranates until morning’s light.
“Naz,” a voice from somewhere said. “Naz, the hall is closing up. Come on. I’ll drive you home.”
There stood my sister. At the swing in the lilac glow.
There were no pomegranates.
There were no pomegranates and no melodists and no oxen and no tapestries and not a single elephant to be seen anywhere.
There never are any pomegranates, are there?