There is smoke in the air; smoke, and spice, and laughter, rich and heady. Music snakes through the thrumming hub-bub of the crowd, interjected irregularly by the gunshots of firecrackers and the delighted shrieks of children and adults alike. The waves of people are an ocean of colour surging around him, their comings and goings a strong ebb and flow that pushes and pulls him along through the busy mela until he is hopelessly lost. Every now and again, he thinks he catches sight of her: a swirl of her bright lehnga, a flurry of shining black hair though a gap in the masses and he throws himself towards where she should be - only to find himself alone again. Even in the early evening of a post-monsoon October, the heat was starting to get to him - stiffling, his beige summer suit sticking to him with sweat and envy as he scowls at the natives in their loose silks and light weight cotton. It's draining but he knows she shan't best him; no, he will be worshiping his own Lakshmi tonight.
He had chased her all the way to dusk (which offered him almost no cooling relief), desperate to see her, blindly following that flash of green and gold. She was elusive as ever, finding a rare pleasure in this cat and mouse game that he has neither the time nor patience for, but holds the same secret childish thrill hidden beneath a stiff straw hat. He almost laughs when he finds himself being led further away from the crowds down every increasingly narrow lanes between stalls and shacks and lean-to huts with mud plaster walls, but merely mops his brow as helter skelter children steal the sound from his very lips with their own raucous celebrations. It's darker now, and far above him he's sure the stars are out already but he can't quite see through the intimate rooftops and gently swaying laundry more colourful than any British bunting. Little lights gently gutter in every window, a soft sticky illumination dispersing the gradually grasping shadows thrown by the spiritual and hunters alike. The explorer in him is revelling at second guessing twists and turns through streets little better than gutters when she slips from sight, every new doorway a possible encounter, round every corner a chance to conquer.
His accidental grin takes on a slight predatory edge as he halts before a sudden entrance to a small ramshackle courtyard. There was no other way to go but into it or back and he knew she could be nowhere else. She was in the there somewhere, he can practically smell her, taste her. Slowly he steps forward, once polished brown brogues caked with dust and her gods know only what else. A rope slashes the square diagonally with yellow sheets draped to dry and even here there are Lakshmi's lamps in every window. It is calm in the courtyard, no breeze to disturb the flames and yet they still danced, silhouettes flickering on the smooth wall. The jovial sounds of the festival fails to reach him here. Green eyes narrow, and he nods to himself. Behind the sheets most certainly, as there was simply nowhere else to hide. He drifts forward, hand oustretched and light on his feet even though it doesn't matter anymore - she's caught. She's cornered. She's his. His finger tips ghost over the bright soft material as though he was trying to find her blindly, and he breaths in the clean crisp smell of it as he crushes a handful in his fist seconds before he tears it back like a cheap curtain. The sheet slips from the line to pool at his dirty feet. Of course, there is nobody there.
A soft almost mischievious laugh from behind sends him spinning on his heels to face his would-be quarry. In the low light she had hidden in the shadows of the courtyard archway itself, and now steps forward holding a lamp plucked from a lower window ledge. She is bare foot with her sable hair long and loose around her neat shoulders. Gold glints at her wrists, neck, midrift, bindi and the vibrant jade of her silk clothing are a sultry emerald without the sun. She approches him with rolling hips and glittering smile that's all eyes, and holds out the little light to pass it by his face. His searching eyes do not follow the flame but are instead hungrily fixated on her beautiful oval face and the way the shadows catch on her painted lips, full and curved in a smirk. As she draws closer, close enough that they share the warmth of the lamp on their faces he moves to take her, to claim those false rubies with his own thin lips. There is a soft laugh, gentle breath and the illumination between them is gone. The clay pot fails to shatter as it clatters to earth, but before it's contents can even start to seep into the dry soil she gone again in a rattle of chains and swirl of sweet jasmine.