Fiction: Eden’s controversial ex-occupant Lilith goes on a rampage to discover all that she can be

What a pathetic woman a wife is. Seeking shade in her husband’s shadow. Doomed to be in awe of him because only then can she feel blessed and fortunate in that union. When awe dips, she doubts the sky above and the sea below, her very moorings shaky. She has no choice but to go back to worshipping him; every hosanna she sings in his praise hikes her worth among other wives and in her own eyes. Which is why sex outside marriage can never go stale. Within marriages, it is all missionary position and procreation. Perhaps mankind should have lined the streets with beds, taken the guilt out of the act and finished off the species on a note of high, exquisite pleasure.

watched Eve every day, cartwheeling in her sylvan yard. Once her domestic jobs were accomplished, she sunned herself with a passion. She picked pebbles and fallen jackfruit and kept them aside to show Adam later. An Adam who grunted absent-mindedly in return. She hung out the washed mats humming little tunes. Birds who flew past her and elephants who trumpeted, she was friends with all of them, big or small. She kept pace with snails and turtles and pursed her lips to hiss at me now and then, whenever she sighted me, to appear harmless and friendly to me. Yet to make up my mind about her, I stared at her unblinkingly, hoping to detect a dot of fear in her eye. But she was artless in her amiable curiosity.

Shortly after that, she began to address me in passing. “Look,” she would say, pointing at something to the left or right even as I did not look at all. It was a childish game, but we both played it well. She would look beyond me with an abrupt shriek and wide eyes, but no, my beady little eyes stayed trained on her. Or she’d rush off in a direction, looking back slyly to see if I followed, though I did nothing but stay put.

Even though I supped on the plentiful fruits, she left out little puddles of milk for me. If she found me sleeping, she would start talking to wake me up. Upon opening my eyes, her eyes were the first I saw. Playful, friendly, darting all over me. Tentatively at first, she began to confide in me. It was awkward, jerky small talk that paused often, as if to let me interrupt, which I never did, hoping she would be goaded into more disclosures, words she could not take back. She spoke about her small pleasures – the sweet pea that flowered that morning, anemones, the lily of the field and maranta, the prayer plant. Apricots and almonds, figs and dates. Within her was an entire encyclopaedia of vegetables and fruits, insects and fish. She knew them all by heart though she never named them like I would have. She shook with laughter or trembled in remembered horror before my steady, unsympathetic gaze. Asinine I found her, knowing well that my opinion of her would neither affect her nor matter to her. Her attempts at speech with long-drawn vowels and sudden, unexpected shrieks augmented by her expressions amused me no end so that, against my will, I was entertained.

I heard raised voices sometimes from within the house at night, but she always came out with a fresh smile every morning. That unfailing cheer… I did not know whether to sneer at it or envy it. At last, it was that innate smugness I set out to dent. I addressed her when she least expected it. (Also, she had run out of things to say and had begun to freely repeat herself, and I could not take yet another rehashing of what was now engraved on my ears!)

“Eve,” I lisped, lacking a tongue in one piece.

She looked at me politely.

I cleared my protracted, slimy throat and tried again. “Eve.”

“How do you know my name?” she asked curiously when what she should have wanted to know was how could I speak at all.

“I have heard Adam call you that,” I said.

She looked confused, as if Eve wasn’t her name. The next day, my opening statement was more charming (having practised consonants the whole night): “Eve means life.” Eve meant nothing of course back then, but it was I who infused it with subtext.

She looked mildly interested. I wanted to rip that placidity off her face, tell her that Eve should mean “second” – second to a man, her husband, second to a woman, his first wife. Second to me, me, me, but I held my tongue – the split tongue in my strange, new mouth.

Eve loved Adam. Love was the answer to all female questions. Love a man, and vroom through the highway of life without brakes. Love was the myrrh oil that cured everything from syphilis to leprosy. Love, love, love. I can almost hear Eve hawk it in a basket.

Excerpted with permission from Eden Abandoned: The Story of Lilith, Shinie Antony, Hachette India.

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