Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Birth Right
When Sanjay arrived he found the road leading to the palace littered with candles, like a river of fire leading him there.
The flight had been swift, and he’d had no problems with security upon landing, but then everyone knew who he was – just one glance at a newsstand from the window of the chauffeur driven car explained why. The photo was an old one, taken long before he’d gone off to start a new – anonymous - life.
As he navigated the candles and reached the steps up to the main entrance, Sanjay was reminded of its cold sterility. It was beautiful, but in a way that a museum was –white and grey marble walls, high ceiling, and perfectly placed furnishings and art. Nothing warm, nothing personal. He found it hard to believe that he had ever grown up here with his brothers and sisters.
In the entrance hall the servants were there to greet him. They all bowed as he entered. He despised the sight, and asked, “Where is she?”
The butler stepped forward and said, “In the sanctuary, sire.”
He gave a sharp nod and headed for the stairwell.
“Sire, won’t you use the lift?” The butler called after him.
“I’m not stepping foot in that contraption,” Sanjay retorted, remembering all too well being trapped in there as a child. It was old, with wrought iron gates that always got jammed. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t have improved with age.
He took the stairs two at a time. The sanctuary was five floors up, but Sanjay enjoyed the climb. It brought back the few good memories from his childhood. This was where they had always played, getting under the servants feet. Here he could avoid his heritage and mapped out future.
When he reached the large open floor that was know as the sanctuary, the sentries guarding his mother’s body snapped to attention. He ignored them, and walked up to the open coffin, which had been placed on a stone platform in the centre of the space. The top was open, and Sanjay hesitated.
Just two steps from the end of it, he paused, and took in his surroundings. The ceiling had been hung with swaths of white and gold material, which flapped in the air coming through the open sides of the room; only pillars separated the room from the outdoor balcony, which displayed the magnificent view over the palace grounds.
The late afternoon light glowed a warm yellow, and Sanjay revelled in, having never seen the like in another land - certainly not in the city of London where he now resided.
He was sorry that the reason he had to come home was for his mother’s death, and he chided himself for not having returned sooner. But he knew that really he hadn’t wanted to ever return, even though it was destined. He was here to take over, it’s what was expected, it’s what the people wanted – or so they believed.
In truth he hadn’t wanted to see his mother growing old, it only reminded him of what he had to face and how time was running out before he would be bound to live a life of obligation and duty. He hadn’t wanted to face it; he had wanted to remain free and anonymous, answerable only to himself.
He stepped to the edge of the white coffin, and peered over, feeling like a little boy again. His mother looked serene and peaceful, as though finally at rest. The little frown she had always worn throughout his childhood mysteriously absent, and he wondered if she too felt finally free.
“Arh, the prodigal son returns!”
Sanjay spun round to find his brother Nav standing between the two guards, a goblet in one hand.
“Finally decided to grace us with your presence, have you?”
Sanjay turned up his nose. “You're drunk.”
“Arh brother dear, I could never get anything passed you.”
“Leave me in peace.”
“I think you’ve been left in peace for long enough, don’t you?”
Sanjay turned back to look at his mother, refusing to acknowledge his brother’s digs.
“So brother dear, are you ready for the ceremony tomorrow?”
Sanjay didn’t look up from his mother’s face. “I’ll be gone before it starts.”
Nav, who had started to stagger to the balcony, stopped mid-step – foot poised in mid-air, arms out, doing a balancing act.
“What? What did you say?”
“I’m on a plane first thing in the morning, after mother’s ashes have been scattered.”
Nav rushed to his brother’s side and grasped his arm. “You can’t do that! You have to take the throne! You can’t bring that shame on our family!”
Sanjay shrugged his brother’s hold on him off and stepped back.
“I have a life in London now, Nav, I don’t want to return here. This is no longer my home; this is no longer my country.”
Nav spat on the floor at his feet. “Blasphemy! How can you reject a homeland that loves you so much?”
“Loves me?” Sanjay let out a hearty laugh that echoed round the room. “No one here knows me.”
“But you can’t Sanjay, you can’t just walk out on us.”
“Us? Whose here, Nav? I don’t see my sisters, or our brothers, where are they?”
Nav looked into his empty goblet. “They are on their way.”
“And how long will they stay? Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, and then? Then they will go back to their lives, scattered all over the world.”
“What about me?” Nav’s head shot up, his eyes glaring at Sanjay.
“Yes, what about you? Could you take up the reins? Take over from our father’s powerful hold? That our mother tried in vain to uphold? Is that what you want?”
“I could try!” Nav took a step forward as though in defiance.
Sanjay laughed again. “Oh Brother, brother, dear brother.” He stepped forward and cupped Nav’s face in his hands. “You’re love for this lifestyle is touching, but you only love it while it serves you drink. You know you couldn’t do it, you know you would fail. Let me end this, let me end it for all of us. I promise there will be a home for you and money to keep you.”
Nav pushed Sanjay’s hand off his face. “Don’t speak to me like I’m a child. I’m not a child. I might be the youngest, but I am a man now, and deserve your respect.”
Sanjay raised his eyebrows, but a smile still danced on his lips. “So what do you want?”
“I want a chance. If you don’t want the reins, pass them to me. You can do that, you have that power now. Give me a chance to rule and show the world we haven’t given up.”
Sanjay pulled a face. “Okay. We will speak about it tonight at dinner, with the others. If no one objects, you will get your chance.”
Nav smiled. But then it faltered. “But brother, can we draft up a back up plan too, can’t we, just in case?”
Sanjay threw back his head and laughed. “Oh Nav, you are so funny.”
He ruffled his brother’s hair and walked out to the stairs. “We’ll see what our siblings say tonight.”
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