The Peacock Throne (An Excerpt) by Shaheen Akhtar

Published in Vol. 5 of Reunion: The Dallas Review (March 2015).

I brush the dust from myself and peer through the lattice. Everything looks blurred. It must be drizzling out there. When I blow away the cobwebs, like magic the river appears closer. I can hear the boatmen holler. Gypsy boats and passenger boats have grown scarce since the war began. There are only fishing boats now with ripped sails, damaged helms. Fishing nets piled at the prow. Nightfall calls out the patrol boats. They blaze with torches, turning night into day; not even a fly can sneak past. Amid all this, the Eunuch Nizam shall deliver the letter to the enemy camp at Dogacchi! Has he the mettle?

I do not have to wait long. The Eunuch stamps up the wooden stairs to the tower. Barefoot. Hungry. Bony looking. He lacks the wherewithal to replace the buskins he lost two months ago the night we fled from Rajmahal. Even his robes, the hue of the folsha fruit, is patched. Is he the emissary of Princess Gulrukh Banu or a beggar? I say in jest, “Fear not, oh brother! If you catch Mir Jumla’s eye, you might get alms instead of a beating.”