When the Lady B. entered a room, she drank up all the air, smiling the while like she didn’t know what she was up to. The boys went to her first, then the men. The ignored women followed, and soon they surrounded her, humming like bees paying homage to their queen. She strode across corridors and lobbies, and if her admirers ventured too close, she raised a hand as if in greeting, but really, asking them to stay away. They cheered when she smiled at them, like children waving flags at a visiting dignitary. They stood in place for a while after she’d left, looked at each other, not sure why they’d gathered.
She was married, some said. Others spoke of a secret lover. The most strident claimed she was a virgin, and given that her mother was a royal, likely to remain that way for a long, long time–her mother had married and divorced a commoner, they said, and paid the price. Yet others laughed when they heard the gossip. She craved anonymity, they said, swallowing their smirks, and inclinations to wink, and when asked, replied they didn’t know anything of the Lady B, and indeed, who could presume such knowledge?
No one could remember exactly what year she’d stepped on to the red carpet on her movie mogul father’s arm, or figure out how, in an era of selfies and social media accounts, she managed to retain that untouched, almost shy air, so at odds with her effect upon those who worshipped her. Which was everyone, from the Prime Minister, all the way to the salesgirl extending samplers of cheese to passers-by at malls.
So when the news broke, people thronged the streets, crowded around televisions at sports bars showing coverage of her white villa obscured behind high walls and tall trees, of women who claimed to be close friends, and goggle-eyed, tousled men who looked like someone had dragged them by their ties through long and winding hallways. It could not be, they said. Lady B. was so vital, so alive. They mourned her that week, the entire nation in grief.
The week after, most papers and TV programs carried features on the circumstances of her death, but by now, almost everyone knew she had taken too many prescription drugs, and her body hadn’t been discovered for three days till a cleaner reported a stink from the bedroom.
In the next month or so, the chatter about her death quieted. On her death anniversary, her admirers watched the patchy, sad documentaries about her life, and read her bestselling memoir, posthumously published. She smiled a faint, elusive smile from the book cover, her face plastered on store windows, looking at no one and everyone at once.
The next year, other than a quick column or two in the inside pages of some of the more obscure papers, you could find no mention of Lady B. This pattern continued for the following year, and after that, other than copies of her memoirs at bargain book sales or a chance mention on a gossip page, you could not find the Lady B. Those who thought of her still, in closed rooms and parks, felt happy for her. After all those years, she had found the anonymity she craved.
Damyanti’s short fiction has been published at Litro, Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Atticus Review, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, UK, and Asia. She serves as one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her debut novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was recently published by Simon & Schuster India.