• Shalini Devi



There was something about us and rooftops.

We'd meet under the stars, and spend the whole night in each other's arms underneath the galaxies shining above, wondering at our place in it all, knowing there was no place we'd rather be than right there with one another.

We made our home in this universe from a simple embrace, you and I.

This is what I remember most about us.

You'd come to see me, always with beautiful roses in hand, my favourite flower. On some rooftop overlooking the square. You'd serenade me with your beautiful stories and what felt like lullabies with your melodious voice and whatever instrument you could carry, a musician you were even then. Composing love songs for me on a cool summer night on a rooftop in Venezia.

Contessa, you would call me, oh so formal you'd be, with your tailor-made suit and your straight stance, and all your very romantic and dashing gentleman ways.

I was a little more of a wild card, even then, testing the boundaries of what one would consider "proper" for a lady of nobility at the time. Only because I loved you so. And you were so sweet to always let me. Giving me that smile of yours like, woman, you drive me mad I could just reach out and touch you, but I won't - so committed you were to the gentleman's code of courtship at the time and the respectable distance that was considered proper for a man with values such as yours.

But you'd let me tease you anyway. And perhaps this is why I enjoyed doing it so much because I knew you'd never give in to me, but I enjoyed that amused smile you'd give me and the burning look in your eyes that told me you wanted so much more.

We would spend our time talking, and laughing, and discussing music and poetry, and art of the time... it was beautiful our rooftop meetings. Especially our stargazing, when no one was watching.

And sometimes, when I was feeling devilish enough, I'd convince you to take me away from the confines of our palazzo, to walk freely by the canals and see the night lights and the people passing by. I was always a free spirit, it's what you loved most about me. But being a Contessa, in such a time, I was not permitted to go anywhere unattended, by my father's laws. And so, you, my respectable suitor, had to follow the rules. But you loved me dearly, and so you'd play along when I wanted to test the boundaries and go off on my own adventures. A willing accomplice in you is what I'd always found. Whether you'd admit it or not, you'd do anything for me and although I never wanted to take advantage of such beautiful devotion and gentlemanly love, I always thought what was the harm in a little walk around the canals?

And so, you'd take me, and of course some chaperone of mine in tow. And then we'd give them the slip and go off on our way, arm in arm under the moonlight over the cobblestone walkways and over the bridges into one of the other quarters by the canals, heading to the great river by the Grand Palazzo walls. And you'd sing to me and I'd laugh at our cleverness at slipping yet another chaperone, knowing those precious moments with you were worth every bit of outrage I was likely to face later.

There was one of those nights we went out, for Carnival, and the city was celebrating the festival with their elaborate masks, games, singing, dancing and music in the Grand Palazzo Square. We had snuck out that night as usual, you wearing a black and white mask and I, a lovely mask typical of a Princess at the time, although I was in disguise. You promised me a dance and went off to buy me a drink, and I waited for you under the lights of the crowded square.

What happened next should probably be no surprise, given who I was and the danger always lurking in the corners of the royal houses. Someone in a mask like yours approached me, and in the loudness of the night I could not hear his voice, but took his hand as he led me away from the crowd to the back alleys beyond the lights. Thinking he was you, I wondered if finally we'd escape into the night. However, it was only when it was too late did I realize he was not, and by then they held me hostage in retribution for something they blamed my father for - yet in the end I was the one to pay the price for, as they tied me up and threw me into the canal, when I would not cooperate.

It was a difficult end to a life I deeply regret. Hoping one day my father would forgive me, as I see now he was only trying to protect me. That you'd forgive me for disappearing into the night. I don't know what you had thought - run away without you. Gone off with someone else. Used you to escape my family. I don't know. All I know is over the course of our lifetimes, there were times I disappeared and broke your heart, but I want you to know it was never in my heart to leave you, my love. And whenever that happened, it was due to forces beyond my control. Because there was never a place I'd rather be, than in your arms.

So perhaps you now know why I may feel so frightened by masks, physical or otherwise. Why I get so alarmed when I don't know if it's you, because once, such a mistake led to a most untimely and unhappy end. And even if I do know it is you in my heart, sometimes I feel unsure and it is then I need you most to take it off, so I can see that beautiful smile of yours, those beautiful smoldering eyes, and know this time,

I am home for sure.

With my love always,


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