Beauty and the Beast
The few moments of peace calmed down its bestial instincts and a few human thoughts surfaced. An image of a young lady in her early twenties with face pink like the roses, eyes like almonds and her hair- curly locks of pure gold appeared before its eyes. “Has my Belle abandoned me,” it asked itself. “I showered so much love on her and she still chose to abandon me?” “No,” it told itself. “She could not have abandoned me. She said she will return to me and she is usually true to her word. She could not have deceived me.” But then though it hoped against hope that she would return, weeks had passed by and there was no sign of her. “Maybe.” It reflected, “Promises matter only when given to humans. I am only a beast after all. Of what value is a promise given to a beast?”
“But then if the promise to a beast did not matter, why did she come to me in the first place, honoring the promise given by her father?” it thought. “She could have decided not to come to me at all. Why did she come? Why? Wouldn’t it have been much better if she had not come at all?”
It lay under the bushes motionless for a while. It liked the feel of the cold dirt under its body. Things suddenly seemed to make sense. She had come out of fear. She had probably feared the beast would come seeking out her father and kill him if she did not come. Now that she knew what a soft hearted creature it was, she had gone back reassured that it would cause no harm to her and her family. How wicked! How cruel! How she had cheated it! Should it go after her and kill her and her family?
The minute the thought of hurting her came in its head, its mind was filled with revulsion and self-loathing. “What a terrible creature am I? I am a horrible beast not only in body but in mind as well. Otherwise how would have I even entertained the thought of hurting my dear angel? I think I got what I deserved. It was all my fault right from the beginning. What I demanded of the merchant was not at all fair. What a terrible price he had to pay for a night’s boarding and lodging and a single rose! Who but a monster could have demanded such a thing? When I saw him hesitate, without paying the slightest heed to a father’s emotions, I used life threats to enforce my demand. "
Its mind was filled with a calm serenity. The ground was feeling increasingly alluring. It wanted to be one with the soil. It had completely lost its desire to live. Death would only be the most welcome release from this miserable existence. In some ways, it reflected on the poetic justice of the whole thing. It was fitting that its life would end under this very rose bush where this whole series of events had begun.
* * * * *
Three young girls in their twenties chased each other around the garden. All of them wore similar satin gowns and had similar golden curls and cheeks red like apples. A distant observer would have found it difficult to distinguish one from the other. However a more subtle observer would have noticed, the younger one’s features were more delicate, her manner a little bit more graceful and her eyes a bit more soulful. Though she had a smile on her face and no care in life to all external appearances, something kept disturbing her in the depth of her mind.
She had not kept the promise to the beast. She had promised to return within two weeks. It was six weeks now. She wondered what the beast must be thinking. But her sister would not let her go. “We are seeing you after more than a year. How can you leave us and go so soon. We have missed you so much. Please stay for a few more days with us,” they had said. She had stayed on for a couple of weeks. Then her father had fallen sick and she had to care for him. By the time their father had recovered, it was just a week from the country fair. The father as well as the two sisters had said, “Dear Belle, how you used to enjoy the fair. Last year you had to miss it. We don’t know if you will even see the fair again in your life. You are anyway delayed by five weeks. What difference will one more week make. Stay and see the fair and go.” She had lovely memories of the fair and was tempted. She told herself firmly that she would leave immediately after the fair. The fair was to happen the next day.
That evening as they had supper, one of her sisters said, “Do you have to go back at all? Why don’t you just forget the beast and stay on with us.” She did not reply. Her father also joined in, “I feel so terrible that I have ruined your life to save my pitiable life. The guilt is killing me. I wish I had not been such a coward. Don’t go back. Let us all face the consequences together. I will speak to our Lord Gideroy and ask him to send us his soldiers to protect us if the beast attacks us. What life is this: living in constant fear of that beast. Let us end the menace once and for all.”
The minute her father mentioned about killing the beast, her eyes immediately filled with tears. “No father. No. The beast is not as terrible as you think. It will not do us any harm.” Her other sister who had been quiet so far joined in, “What a good natured little thing our little sister is. She has place in her heart for even the most terrible of monsters. She can’t even bear the thought of hurting a creature like that. If you are so sure that the scary thing won’t come after you, why do you have to go back? Stay with us.”
Belle remonstrated, “Please don’t say things about the poor thing. It is not as bad as it looks. The past one year it has been very kind to me. It has taken care of every need of mine. I have not been lacking in anything. Last month when I fell sick, the beast sat by my side looking after me day and night and nursed me back to health. When I expressed my desire to see you all, it just let me go without the slightest hesitation.”
Then her sister spoke up, “It can give you all these material things. But is life all about physical comforts? What about love? Don’t you want to experience love? Do you think you can ever love something that looks as grotesque as that?”
Her face clouded. Her sister had asked the very question that had been plaguing her mind. She became very thoughtful. All attempts by her father and sister to cheer her up were to no avail. She kept asking herself if she could ever love a beast. Like every girl of her age she had dreamt of a prince charming who would come riding on a horse and take her away. She had reconciled herself to the fact that there would be no prince charming in her life. But could she spend the rest of her life with an ugly beast? The beast had always been so attentive to her needs. She sometimes felt she could see love in its eyes. She was fond of it. She respected it. She felt sorry for it. But the question was would she ever be able to love it?
* * * * *
Slowly its vision was dimming and it felt peace descend upon it. The pain also seemed to reduce and then everything went dark. It did not know how much time passed for it was now beyond the confines of space and time. But it again felt pain returning and thoughts seem to be entering back into its head.
It felt something soft below its head and felt oddly pleasant. It slowly opened its eyes and its eyes looked straight into the face of the angel of its dreams. Is this what they called after life? It had often wondered what happened to beasts after death? Whatever this was, it felt good. It was back with Belle and that was all that mattered. It wanted to make the moment last for eternity.
It looked closely at her face. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She had her arms around its neck. “Oh, my poor beast! This is exactly as I have seen in my dream. I have been so unkind to you. I leave you for six weeks and see what you have done to yourself. I am glad that the terrible dream made me decide to miss the fair and come to you at once. Please get well. I will never leave you again.”
The beast could not believe its ears. She had rarely ever expressed her emotions to him before. She had always seemed polite and distant. But there was still more in store.
When he opened his eyes and looked at her, she planted a wet kiss on its cheek. “I am so glad you are still alive. I couldn't bear the thought of life without you. I love you so much.”
The last words reverberated in its ears. It felt something strange happening to it. It felt as if an electric shock was going through its entire body. The body convulsed and it shook and it shivered. Its whole essence seemed to be pulled apart. Slowly it found its thinking was becoming clearer and the entire bestial rage seemed to have disappeared in a trace.
“Who are you?” yelled Beauty and jumped up letting its head hit the floor with a thud. It picked himself up and looked at itself. It was no longer a beast. He was now a man. He wore robes fit for a king. He lifted up his hands and examined them. The smooth skin sparked like pearls. His old memories came flooding back to him. He had been a prince. He had killed an old druid in love play with his consort in beast form during a hunt. The druid’s wife had cursed him in rage and transformed him into a beast. But the good druid even in his dying breath had given him a benefaction to mitigate the curse. “Thou shalt remain a beast only till the day thine heart shalt true love know.” He had gone many years without finding true love and slowly the beast nature had begun to assert itself taking over his human nature. He had begun to lose all his memories and only the rare company of humans like the merchant served to help him hold on to some last shreds of humanity.
But his soul had continued to yearn for love and he had finally found it. He looked at Belle standing front of him gazing at him with her almond eyes. Shock had given way to awe and she was surveying him from head to foot. He would still have to explain everything to her. But they still had a life time together for all explanations.