Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Burning Garden By Olya Makarova

They had found me in my gardens, underneath the Gulmohar trees. The sky had been a wild blue, with fervent clouds streaking off– gathering themselves up in big bundles and slipping to the edges of Swarga Loka, leaving flat, wisp-like tails of white in their haste. I should have known they had good reason to leave. The sky brandished the other flag, their flag. Its deep blue background, with crests of red and white.

My husband had been beside me, resting on our new wooden bed. My parents, and his, gathered round us – tears of joy and grief mingling and sliding down their deep brown cheeks. I felt tears as well. Cold tears, for my husband so far from me, and hot tears for how near I was to him, how near I would be. His father lit the torch, bright as Gulmohar leaves, bright like their uniforms as they burst in.

It was like a mountain splitting into fire, the flood of red cloth spilling into our holy garden. They seized his father, who threw his torch at our bed in a last mutiny. The red-clothed man closest to us cried out, and leapt into our bed. He seized me– I was helpless, I did not have the strength to resist. I clung to my husband, to our burning bed, to the one hope of heaven I had left.

I prayed to my gods not to leave me behind, over and over, and saw my family doing the same. Except my mother. She was crying as well, but not from shock and tragedy as all the others. Her tears were dew on a persimmon, dripping down onto her red sari robes. I met her eyes and knew she had given me up. How selfish, how shortsighted. By allowing my mortal body to live she had barred my soul from Swarga Loka.

She saw the judgement in my eyes and cried out, “It was for your own good, Indiya. You are young, and foolish. You will find some other way to repay the gods. Do not give your body away.”

Just my soul, just my soul. But the fire was spreading, and the white man pulled me away. He held me back from the flames.

I watched my husband burn without me. I watched as the Gulmohar trees caught fire, illuminating the twilight. It seemed to me that my heaven burned that night, and all I could do was watch.

The white man took me, and made his house my prison. I wear his clothes and speak his tongue. I even wore his white dress and veil when he asked. I knew there was nothing I could do to take back my old life, my culture. Now when I look at women in sari robes, I can remember only the Gulmohar trees, searing the heavens and raining their ashes on my home.

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