The day Bhuvan Chaudhury breathed his last breath, his wife began planning her departure. Paro would mourn the loss of her husband as befitted a good Hindu wife, and then as soon as that time had elapsed, she would leave. No longer would the walls of the palatial manor that served as her opulent prison keep her locked within its perimeter. She would leave behind the memories of her loveless marriage in search of freedom and the woman she considered to be her kindred spirit.
Her imprisonment began before her infamous performance with Chandramukhi at the Durga Puja. In truth, it began the night her husband asked her forgiveness for seeking no further intimacy from her since he was still in love with his first wife, Subhadra. Bereft of sexual intimacy with her husband and separated from her one true love Devdas, Paro’s stepchildren and her mother-in-law had provided her only sources of love and tenderness until the fateful day she went to collect the soil for the Durga Puja.
Her stepson Mehendra lived in the manor with his wife and infant, and her younger stepdaughter Kalika was engaged to be married after the appointed mourning time. Paro saw her elder stepdaughter Yashomati on rare occasions, but she knew that could be attributed to the enmity between her husband and her son-in-law, Kalibabu.
In her plans to depart, she would be sure to include vengeance against Kalibabu to avenge the abuse she knew he meted out against her daughter and for the public humiliation of Chandramukhi on that infamous day her physical imprisonment began. If not for his revelations about Chandramukhi’s vocation and Paro’s love for Devdas, Paro would not have been sentenced to spend her days within the confines of the manor. She stopped her train of thought there, because to continue would only lead to tears. At that moment, Paro vowed she would not cry another tear until she could shed tears of joy over reuniting with Chandramukhi.
Now she considered her sentence to remain within the confines of the manor as dead as her husband. No matter what anyone else might think, Paro believed the sentence became null and void the moment he died. Step by step, she would make her plans, laying out her path to the person with whom she was most bonded. She still felt the bond, even after all these years.
A soft sigh escaped her as she called to memory the elegant tawaif who’d loved Devdas almost as much as she had herself. A shiver danced along Paro’s spine, and she crossed her bedroom to the small sandalwood box on her bedside table. She lifted the lid and gazed with longing at the jewelry inside. With a gentle caress she petted the golden ankle bracelets. She lifted them from the velvet interior and smiled at the soft tinkle of bells. A dozen tiny bells adorned each bracelet, bells that would alert anyone to the presence of the wearer. Bells presented to her as a gift from Chandramukhi the day she came to the brothel to retrieve the soil for the puja.
Paro sat on the end of her bed, caressing the bells. She smiled as she recalled the afternoon at the brothel.
Paro kept a tight grip on the pouch of soil. She watched the tawaif move across the room, quietly envying the other woman’s inherent grace. Her breath caught when Chandramukhi placed a hand on her forearm.
"Paro, please stay and have some chai with me."
A shiver danced along the length of Paro’s spine. The gentle pleading tone of the soft melodious voice touched her heart. She met Chandramukhi’s gaze and swallowed. "But I really should be leaving."
The other woman smiled. "What harm can it do for you to stay for chai?" She cast a meaningful glance at the pouch of soil. "You have a valid reason for being here, so no harm can befall your reputation."
Paro considered Chandramukhi’s words then gave a slight nod. She returned the smile. "Alright, I’ll stay."
Chandramukhi curled Paro’s arm through hers and led her up the stairs to a private room at the back of the palatial home. "It will be quieter in here." She turned away from Paro to whisper something in the ear of the young woman tidying up the room. Chandramukhi gestured to a chaise covered in a deep red tapestry fabric. "Please make yourself comfortable. Maya will bring the chai."
Paro crossed to the chaise and settled back in the chair. She surveyed the room and noted how the opulence mirrored her own manor. Silk saris with bejeweled and elaborately embroidered pallus lay strewn about the room. Other clothing of a similar quality to her own was draped over a chair. Paro’s gaze stopped on Chandramukhi.
Based on appearances alone, the only difference between the two women was their social status. Paro stared at the other woman and realized there was little difference between them. While she might be the lady of the manor, the wife of a wealthy and respected man, Paro had given her virginity to the highest bidder after Devdas had allowed his family to disgrace her mother and her.
As a tawaif, Chandramukhi sold her talents and occasionally her body to those who paid the price and offered the most valuable gifts. In truth, they were no different, both of them kept women. But Paro had higher social status and was considered respectful because she had married the highest bidder. A soft tap on the door interrupted her thoughts.
The maid entered the room, carrying a tray with two glasses of chai. She set the tray down then slipped silently from the room. Chandramukhi crossed to the tray and handed a glass to Paro.
Paro wrapped her fingers around the glass then took a hasty sip of tea. She watched the other woman, noting the lyrical grace with which Chandramukhi moved. When she straightened, the curve of her breast caught Paro’s eye. Paro worried her bottom lip then took another quick sip. Her eyes watered at the scalding path the tea took from her mouth down her throat to her stomach. Even that brief pain did not distract her train of thought and interest in the other woman’s breast.
Chandramukhi sipped her tea and let out a soft sigh. She smiled at Paro. "Tell me about your husband, about your family."
Paro winced, gave a shake of her head. "There is not much to tell about my husband. I am his second wife, married by arrangement to be a stepmother to his children and lady of the manor. He rarely talks to me and the only time he touched me was the bridal night." She stopped speaking and dropped her gaze. "I have said too much."
"Shhh, Paro. I am hardly one to judge you. Go on."
"He told me that he was still in love with his first wife and that night would be the only night he would touch me. I have been left on my own, responsible for the house and his children, spending time with his mother." Paro sipped her tea. "If only Deva had…" She shook her head. "It does not matter now. I am married to Bhuvan and I must resign myself to that."
Chandramukhi rose from her seat and joined Paro on the chaise. She reached over to stroke the back of Paro’s hand. "Tell me what happened. All Deva has ever said to me is that he wronged you and you both are paying for his sin."
Paro sighed. "It was a simple deed, or rather lack of one, but its impact still ripples in my life. He didn’t tell his family the truth about us, about our love, and his mother and sister-in-law disgraced my mother, who vowed to marry me into a family richer and more prosperous and more respected than Deva’s."
"Ah, so now you are the lady of a palatial manor but in a loveless marriage?"
"Haa." Paro nodded. "And Bhuvan cannot seem to stand to touch me." She let out a sad sigh and closed her eyes. "As much as I love my stepchildren, their touches do not fulfill my needs," she whispered.
She opened her eyes wide at the caress of fingertips on her inner ankle. Paro glanced down at Chandramukhi kneeling at her feet. She sucked in a sharp breath as the other woman slid her hands up the backs of Paro’s calves to tease the backs of her knees.
"Like this?" Chandramukhi tilted her head to the side and gazed up at Paro.
Paro sank her teeth into her bottom lip and nodded. She let out a moan as the elegant tawaif moved her hands to the front of her knees then slipped higher to the fronts of her thighs.
"You have such soft skin." Chandramukhi smiled. "Almost as soft as mine." She scraped her nails in a light manner across Paro’s thighs. "How does this feel?"
Paro let out a sharp cry and shuddered. She whimpered when Chandramukhi repeated the move in the opposite direction. Her knees fell open a bit.
Chandramukhi slid her palms down Paro’s thighs to rest on her knees, then she nudged her legs open wider and moved her hands up to Paro’s inner thighs.
A soft whimper slipped out of Paro. "Chandramukhi?"
"Do you trust me, Paro?" The other woman looked at her.
It seemed a strange question so soon after meeting the tawaif, but Paro knew in her heart and soul that she trusted the other woman more than anyone, even more than she had Devdas. "Haa," she murmured.
"Lift your skirt."
Paro edged her skirt up, lifting it to her waist. She swallowed, her gaze riveted to the pair of hands on her inner thighs. A flicker of sensation coursed through her, something alien yet pleasant. A finger edged upward, the pad of the fingertip touched the seam at the juncture of her legs. She shivered. Paro licked her lips then opened her legs further, revealing her most intimate area to the other woman’s gaze.
Chandramukhi took a deep breath. "You smell of honeyed spice."
"Have, have you touched other women like this?" Paro felt a flicker of envy at the thought of this beautiful woman pleasuring anyone else but her. She shook her head to chase the thought away. She wanted to know this touch, needed this touch.
The dark-haired courtesan shook her head. "Nahin." She circled her thumbs round and round, over Paro’s labia. Chandramukhi used her thumbs to spread them.
Paro shivered. "No one…" She bit back the rest of her words.
"Shhhh," whispered Chandramukhi. She leaned closer and flicked her tongue against Paro’s clit then covered the sensitive bud with the most intimate of kisses.
Grabbing fistfuls of fabric, Paro clenched her hands as new and intense sensations ripped through her body. Similar to the earlier sensation but deeper and stronger. Something unfamiliar and different but almost too pleasurable to bear. She closed her eyes and released a keening cry as the strange phenomenon spread like a fire from her core through her body. Her body quaked and she thrashed her head from side to side until the pleasure subsided to a lesser intensity. She panted for breath, eyes still clenched shut.
Lips brushed her inner thigh and Paro opened her eyes then gazed at Chandramukhi. The other woman’s lips glistened as did her chin and even the tip of her nose. Intense curiosity filled Paro and she leaned forward. A scent, musky and heady, filled her nostrils. She drew in a deep breath then covered Chandramukhi’s lips with her own.
The courtesan slid a hand into Paro’s hair and held her in place then slipped her tongue into Paro’s mouth. Paro imitated the move, slipping her tongue along the other woman’s. A hint of salt and something else, that was what she tasted. With a start, she realized she was tasting her own essence. Out of instinct, Paro deepened the kiss then pulled away after several seconds had elapsed. She stared at Chandramukhi. "Thank you."
Chandramukhi smiled at her, brushed her lips over Paro’s knee. "It was my pleasure."
"Your pleasure!" Paro gasped. "You, you deserve pleasure for, for what you’ve done to me."
The other woman let out a soft laugh, shaking her head. "It is not necessary."
"Perhaps not, but I wish to know, to return pleasure to you." Paro worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "Please," she whispered.
Chandramukhi rose, took Paro’s hand in hers and led her to the bed. She released her hand then began to unwrap her sari, dropping the fabric to the floor along with her choli and petticoat.
Paro stared at the other woman’s nudity, her breasts with the dusky areola and prominent nipples, the curls at the juncture of her legs. She swallowed hard as the other woman reclined on the bed, their gazes locked. When Chandramukhi lifted her knee then dropped it to the side, opening herself to Paro’s intent gaze, Paro whimpered. She moved closer to the bed, until her knees bumped against the mattress.
Chandramukhi slipped a hand between her own legs, stroked her labia then pressed a pair of fingers between them.
Entranced, Paro watched those fingers circle and rub. She lifted her gaze to meet the other woman’s then dropped to watch the fingers. "What are you doing?"
"I am pleasuring myself." Chandramukhi shivered. "Have you never tried it?"
Paro shook her head. She sat on the edge of the bed, reached her hand toward Chandramukhi’s then snatched it back.
"Go on, Paro, you can touch me."
Paro stretched out her hand a second time, pressed a fingertip to the opening near the other woman’s fingers. The tip slipped inside and Chandramukhi moaned. Encouraged by the courtesan’s response, Paro eased the finger inside slowly until her finger was buried inside the warm hole.
Chandramukhi bucked her hips, tilted her pelvis up and down and sliding Paro’s finger in and out of her. Paro watched the other woman’s face, curious to see what sexual pleasure looked like.
"Two fingers," Chandramukhi muttered. "Add a second finger." Her own fingers circled and teased the prominent bud, a sight that enthralled Paro.
Paro watched the tawaif's face as she slid a second finger inside her. She recalled how Bhuvan moved inside her, in and out, and she mimicked that with her fingers. In and out, she thrust them. A flush crept up Chandramukhi’s chest and cheeks. Her breathing grew heavier and she clenched her jaw every now and then. Paro thrust her fingers faster, even added a third finger when the other woman growled for more.
A shudder ripped through Chandramukhi then she tensed up with a sharp cry before beginning to tremble. Wet warmth covered Paro’s fingers and she paused for a brief second to gaze at her glistening fingers before driving them deep inside the other woman. She kept moving her fingers.
"Stop, Paro," Chandramukhi pleaded. "It’s too much."
Paro paused, her fingers buried to her knuckles inside the tawaif. She slid them out slowly and looked at them for a few seconds before lifting her hand toward her face. She tentatively licked at the slick essence. A taste similar to her own yet different. Intrigued, she licked one finger clean. Then the second finger and the third. She gazed at Chandramukhi.
The other woman smiled at her, an expression replete with satisfaction and drowsiness. "You are a natural to pleasure, Paro. It’s a shame your husband denies himself of your touch."
Paro felt her cheeks grow heated. "I gave you pleasure?"
Chandramukhi let out a deep, throaty laugh. "Oh yes, Paro. A tender touch of sincerity brings far more pleasure than an experienced touch of greedy men." She sat up and moved to sit beside Paro at the end of the bed. She slid her hand along Paro’s, entwined their fingers. "I am sorry that you are being neglected intimacy and tenderness. You deserve all of this and more. I wish…" She trailed off and stared at their joined hands.
"You wish what?" Paro dropped her gaze to stare at their hands as well.
"I wish we lived nearer to one another. Even if we had to figure out a way to meet in secret, I would enjoy spending more time with you."
"Time like this?"
"Like this, or just sitting together sipping chai and talking."
Paro sighed. "Haa, I would like that too." She lifted their joined hands and pressed a kiss to the back of Chandramukhi’s hand. "Promise me you’ll come to the puja."
The courtesan sighed. "I’m not sure that is wise, Paro."
"Please. You will be one of many and we can spend time together."
"You will be busy, Paro. Busy with preparations and guests. You’re the lady of the manor and will have little time for me."
Paro reached over with her free hand and stroked Chandramukhi’s cheek. "I would make time for you. I feel close to you, bonded to you. It is more than our shared love of Deva. We are joined in our souls, I, I feel it."
Chandramukhi rested her cheek on Paro’s shoulder. "Perhaps you are right. It would be nice to have a true and sincere bond with someone, a kindred spirit." She paused. "But our lives will not permit it. You are married to a respectable man and I am a tawaif. Our lives are destined to be separate."
Paro nodded. The knot in her throat prevented her from speaking. She knew she needed to leave, to return to the manor with the soil for the puja, but in her heart she wanted to stay with Chandramukhi, to live here in the brothel with the courtesan. She recalled her earlier thoughts about offering herself to the highest bidder. At least now she could say she had given and received pleasure for the sake of something other than social status and respect.
Tears slipped down Paro’s cheeks. She opened her eyes to stare at the delicate bells she clutched to her chest. She needed to find her way back to the woman who’d shown her the intimacy of a glance, the tenderness of a touch and the caress of a gentle kiss. Paro wanted to be with her kindred spirit, to love and be loved.