Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

They called her Salome behind her back, the women anyway. They loathed the way that she, the outsider, was welcomed to the village by their husbands with such warm open arms. Of course they were warm towards her, they thought disapprovingly, she was mysterious, and fair with a figure most of them had over the decades lost to childbearing and age.

She stood on her verandah every morning waiting for the newspaper, brushing her hair and waving to the schoolboys that cycle pass and the men riding to work in their scooters. She would smile sweetly and call out to the women on their way to the market, but of course they who spoke much of her spoke little to her and her calls would go unanswered.

“See the way she stands,” the women would hiss, “in that transparent nightshirt brushing her long lush hair flirting with our men.”

“She is from the city, that is why,” some of them would hiss back. She had not come from the city, but from down south to claim her late father’s estate. She had been estranged from her father, her family and was not allowed back until, as they said in their will, they are gone. She had no siblings so the sprawling estate, grand and colonial, complete with a housekeeper, Ana was hers. She was young, not even thirty, but her manner was not of a virgin’s. It was more of one that has been around, quite.

“Hold you judgments ladies,” Lady Dani would say gently, “Hold them, judgments should be reserved until they prove to be well deserved.”

They laughed. “Who is judging?” they would reply snidely. Of course Lady Dani was on her side, they thought, she was the other foreigner.

They were much kinder to Lady Dani when she arrived. But then Lady Dani had come with her husband to open up a local school, she was of the noble kind. Plus she had her own husband, and was a plump thing. She did not put their bodies to shame.

Lady Dani came to her door with cakes the first day she arrived. She was overjoyed at a visitor, and invited her in. Ana made masala tea and they had a very nice chat. The next day the ladies immediately flocked around Lady Dani asking, “Where was she from? What does she do for a living?”

When Lady Dani told them to ask her themselves, they scoffed. “Bet she is a whore,” they would say shrugging Dani off. All Lady Dani could do was shake her head and sigh.

“I apologise for the women,” Dani would tell her, “they will come around at some point.”

She would just shrug or smile at Dani and start talking about other things. Initially she was alright with the ladies, and she did whatever Dani asked to gain their favour. She began teaching at Dani’s school and began visiting the ladies with cake. But she would not be received, and even if she were, the conversation was often hostile and probing, as if the host was only there to get gossip for the other neighbourhood women. After a while she gave up resorting to reading in isolation. She became rather comfortable with isolation.

The more she was shunned, the more Dani began to resent the women. If they would befriend her Dani would not need to feel guilty about not agreeing to dine with her once in a while.

The ladies often meet over tea and “that whore” was always a topic of interest amongst them. They were fascinated by her, however much they disapprove of her, which is what Dani found amusing about the women. She became the common topic of their discussions.

The women also had a knack of placing their blame of anything that goes wrong in the village on her, even the broken well, and the rain. Apparently the village was paying for her sins. Dani often shrug off their theories and like their men laughed at their silly notions putting it down to envy.

One tea time an angry Mrs.Lyer came reporting that her son spoke to her of marrying for love, and when she asked to who he told her, “that whore”, which of course aroused the women’s talk and questions. The oldest Lyer boy was about 20, tall, handsome and had much promise. He had just been accepted to medical school and was to leave in a month’s time. “That whore” as Mrs.Lyer constantly declares aloud, is almost a decaed older than he is and is planning on ruining his future, obviously.

And when both her and Mr.Lyer refused, Ray threatened that he would quit medical school if he did not have his way. He insisted he is very much in love and would not dream of marrying any other. The women began discussing the different theories as to what had happened.

The next day Lila, Mrs.Jessy’s teenage daughter approached Dani and declared she would not be attending school anymore. She was offended, and very disappointed for she was the one that was to wed Ray Lyer. Her teacher, apparently, had stolen her man. Dani felt a headache coming on and sought to appease the girl, but failed.

Lila apparently was on a mission to win back her man. Dani began seeing her standing outside the school grounds wearing tiny dresses and smoking cigarettes. She would stand on Ray’s doorstep in sheer dresses brushing her hair and then follow Ray around town during the day. Whenever he stopped she would throw herself on him, and when he shrugs her off the silly teenage girl would be seen scooting off with other village men trying to balance herself on their bikes in those short dresses and high heels. An embarrassing sight she was.

This, or that whore rather, was apparently the worse thing to have hit the village. This and the floods five years ago. “That whore” had brought about nothing but terrible things. The women began colluding. They had to stop her evil business.

“She will bring nothing but shame to the family that silly Lila,” the distressed and very angry Mrs.Jessy told the women at tea time.

Dani was a little taken aback by the news and resolved to go around for a chat with her friend at some point to investigate. When she went over she found the lady bent over a book in the hammock on her verandah.

“Hello Lady Dani, did not know you were stopping by, would you like some tea?” Dani nodded, and she instructed Ana to bring out the banana chips and hot tea. “What brings you here?”

“You would have known that there are rumours about you marrying Ray?”

“Master Lyer, dear Master Lyer,” she sighed, “he insisted upon marriage.”

Dani frowned and pleaded for her to tell the whole story.

The boy apparently watches her as she brushes her hair every morning on her verandah and he would wave. Some time passed and he began approaching her, bringing her daily mail from her letter box to her each morning, and so she began serving the boy a morning cuppa each time. One day the boy professed his love for her, he was quite smitten, she added, and she was touched by his sincerity and thought nothing more of it than just a momentary lapse of lust.

But Ray, the boy, seemed serious. He pursued her and asked for her hand in marriage, and the more she refused, the more adamant he became about marrying her. She could not bear hurting the poor boy, and so one morning, after constant and determined persuasion, she agreed, on the condition his parents agreed. Dani gasped and slapped her forehead with her palm.

“Shall I speak to him?” Dani asked. She nodded, if you would like to stop him from going through with it. Dani left after finishing her tea while chatting some more about life, and books. She skirted off to Mrs.Lyer’s to relate to her the incident and convinced them to put off the wedding.

“You blaming my son for this?” was how Mrs.Lyer responded to the story. “That whore, first she seduces, and then she blames!” Oh boy was she angry, and Dani left disheartened. Weeks later Mrs.Lyer came to apologise and told Dani that they would go through with the wedding anyway.

“Do you love him?” Dani asked her as soon as she came out of her bedroom to receive her that afternoon. Dani sat down on the rattan chair under the fan on the verandah. She lifted her eyebrow and looked at Dani, “love? who speaks of love?”

“You do not believe in love?” Dani asked in surprise. “I always thought…”

“Of course not Dani.”

This was marriage as she was brought up to believe it be. It was as her parents had believed it be. They did not speak of love, when they spoke of marriage. She had left the village when they brought up the business of marriage to her, and how it wil provide them, her, with much. Of course that was a long time ago, and over the years she had come to see their point of view. Marriage was a good arrangement. And an arrangement she had never dared to hope for. This was as good an arrangement as she could hope it to be. He was young, promising, and would take care of her.

Dani, confused, got up to leave, and on the way home spotted Lila spying on Ray, who was hiding in the bushes looking through “that whore’s” bedroom window watching quietly. Dani began to laugh at the ridiculous scene, finding it rather comical. She went home and picked up the telephone to call Mrs.Jessy just as Lord Dani walked in knowing exactly what his wife was going on to the Jessies about because he was hiding in “that whore’s” closet listening in while waiting for her to leave.

Oh what a world they lived in!

Salome looked out of her verandah the next morning in her sheer nightdress brushing her lush hair wondering why Dani had made such a big fuss about it all. She sighed, a little disheartened. Dani never really bothered talking to her, not really, nor did she bother listening. In fact she never really bothered getting to know her, to learn of her, about her. Her mind stopped at a sudden revelation, I guess I do not have any friends after all. She sighed. Because if Dani had taken the time to get to know her, she would have agreed the marriage would somewhat a great arrangement.

Dani would have known that what the other ladies said of her was true.

Yes, she is a whore. Really, that is her profession.