A tiny picturesque village cut off from the rest of the world by mountain peaks became my sanctuary. Wooden houses nestled in the blooming trees, cows calmly browsing the hills, smiling people – that place seemed to be the epitome of peace and serenity. One of the senior villagers kindly offered me to stay at his place. His name was Rethaf. He lived alone. His wife had died and he considered himself too old for another marriage.
Taking care of the cattle and doing the garden work turned into my everyday routine. There was neither electricity, nor telephone lines in the village. I felt detached from everything that was an essential part of my past life: politics, backstabbing friends, two-faced women and money issues. I spent most of my time exploring the nearby mountains. I climbed towering cliffs to enjoy the view of the rolling hills and sunlit valleys. I felt myself free there as if I rose above any conventions and stereotypes.
Captivated by the beauty of the nature I did not care to get closer to the villagers. Having spent three weeks there I hardly knew any of the residents. To be honest, I did not make much effort to get acquainted with them.
Rethaf was the only person I communicated with. He wasn’t an inquisitive or talkative type, but it suited me perfectly. I didn’t want to open up for anyone. Only sometimes when we were fishing together, Rethaf was telling me different legends and myths popular in his region.
One day we were sitting on the bank of the river when I heard someone singing. It was a female voice: high, breathy, quavering. I turned around and saw her. Tall, slim with the hair darker than the moonless night… Her black doleful eyes met with mine. My heart fluttered and my palms got sweaty.
“Good day, father” – her voice echoed in my ears. Rethaf hugged her. “Alexander, this is my daughter Janaya.” “Nice to meet you” – the only phrase I managed to force out of myself.
From that moment on I became a prisoner of Janaya’s beauty. I adored her so much that even in the regular conversation with her the words failed me. I remember once she approached me while I was working in the garden. I wanted to say something pleasant to her:
“The locket on you neck is so beautiful.”
“Thanks,” - she smiled. “My mother gave it to me. She received it from her mother.” “What is inside?” – I asked to keep the conversation going.
“It’s a tradition to keep a curl from your husband’s head inside,” – she answered in a quite voice.
Only now gazing at the pile of ashes that was left from my beloved I can fully realize what a dreadful sin I had committed. Back then I could not think clearly, I was obsessed with Janaya. Her image was chasing me. Even when I was hounding her husband in the mountains, even while crawling to this bastard I saw her black eyes in front of mine.
Villagers brought his bloodstained body in the evening. Probably he was chasing a goat so recklessly that he overlooked the edge, they said. In this godforsaken village no one could even suspect a crime, there was no thefts, let alone murders.
Next day I came to the bank of the river. Not for fishing this time. All the villagers stood around chatting, gossiping. Nobody looked at the funeral pyre with the body wrapped in a white shroud. Rethaf stood next to me. “This is insane,” – I shouted to his face. “You are out of your minds,” I continued hysterically not paying any attention to the rumble behind my back. Rethaf shrugged his shoulders. “This is our tradition. This is how it’s used to be.”
All of the sudden everyone stopped talking. I saw her. Barefooted, dressed in a long white dress with her sleek hair freely gliding down the shoulders she gracefully approached the pyre. “I can’t go with you, I have another destiny,” – Janaya’s words were bumping inside my ears. Last night I tried to make her leave the village with me. I begged, I urged, I shouted. Her marriage was not built on love and passion, she said. “But I ought to be faithful to my husband and show him respect.”
The villagers formed a tight ring around the pyre. Several people raised the blazing torches. Dry logs flared up in a few seconds. An earsplitting yelp pierced the silence. Demented with pain and fear the woman jumped out of the fire. Her hair streamed ablaze and her charred body was seen through the flame-eaten dress. Rethaf rushed to her, grabbed her agonizing body and pushed it back to the fire. I fainted.
When I opened my eyes the air was saturated with a nauseous smell of burned flesh. I approached the huge black spot on the ground which became the grave for my beloved. The grave I dug for her. Something gleamed in the ash. I bent and picked up the Janaya’s locket.