Bok the Rakkhosh rubbed his bleary eyes and looked out at his domain. “Huh,” he said. “I’m bored.”
Nobody replied, because there was nobody to hear him. Bok peered around hopefully, but there was not a soul to be seen. Actually, because it was a new moon night, and cloudy with it, there was nothing at all to be seen, except velvety darkness; even Bok’s immense eyes couldn’t make out the glimmer of a lantern in the distance.
“It would be nice if someone would come,” Bok reflected, gnashing his gigantic teeth together so that even the frogs paused in their croaking, struck dumb with fear. “I’d have somebody to talk to.”
But nobody ever came, because they were terrified of rakkhoshes. They were more frightened of rakkhoshes than they were of ghosts, and with good reason; ghosts might only break your neck and leave your corpse on the side of the path, but a rakkhosh would eat you, and wouldn’t even take the trouble of killing you first. Rakkhoshes had no manners.
Or so the people believed.
This had always distressed Bok, who actually had excellent manners. He even wrote a column on etiquette in the rakkhosh newspaper, the Hau Mau Khau, which was widely read by rakkhoshes, who didn’t just follow his precepts but taught them to their cubs. In his own way, Bok was famous. Well, every rakkhosh knew about him.
“That Bok,” one rakkhosh would say to another in exasperation, “is getting too big for his boots.”
“He doesn’t wear boots,” the listener would reply.
“Don’t interrupt,” he would be curtly told. “It isn’t polite. Now, I was saying this Bok’s politeness column is getting to be a headache. The wife reads it.”
“Oh...” the second rakkhosh would reply, understanding. “That sounds nasty.”
“You can’t believe how nasty,” the first would snap, turning his eyes round and round like ox-cartwheels. “She even demands I brush my fur when I come into the house so I don’t shed on the furniture. I ask you!”
The second would shudder theatrically. “She read it in Bok’s column?”
“Yes, and what next? Maybe she’ll order me to trim my claws,” the first rakkhosh would say, warming to his theme. “Or even take a bath once a year.”
“No, no,” the second rakkhosh would exclaim, horrified. “Claws, all right, I can believe it – just about. But a yearly bath? That’s impossible.”
“You don’t know that Bok,” the first rakkhosh would tell him. “You just read his column once and see.”
“Excuse me,” the second rakkhosh would ask, deferentially, “if you’re so troubled by his column, why not simply stop reading the Hau Mau Khau? Just stop taking the paper.”
“I can’t,” the first rakkhosh would admit. “I need it for the sports news.”
If his wife had been present, she’d have pointed out that he took it for, specifically, the dragon race news, and that betting according to the racing forecasts of the Hau Mau Khau had almost made him a pauper before she’d taken a rolling pin and beaten sense into his knobby head. But, fortunately, she wasn’t among those present.
A third rakkhosh who had been listening to the conversation would come up at this point. “He’s worse in person,” he would report. “I was just finishing off a haunch of crocodile – nicely aged, too, just ripe – when he came up and told me I should have the courtesy to my fellows to clean my fangs afterwards so’s not to stink up the neighbourhood. I ask you!”
“Yes,” the rakkhoshes would conclude gloomily, “he’s getting too big for his boots, even if he isn’t wearing any.”
So it came about that the other rakkhoshes began to avoid Bok. They couldn’t avoid his column in the paper, but at least they could give him – and the patch of tamarind grove he lived in – a wide berth. And this explained why Bok was talking to himself and wishing there was someone to listen to him. But there was nobody, not even a she-rakkhosh, even though there were so many more females than males in the rakkhosh society that the ladies were always sneaking off to seek mates among humans. Exactly nobody would want to associate with Bok any more than they had to.
Finally Bok decided he couldn’t take it any longer. He had to find someone to talk to, even if it meant going to the realms of the human race.
Now this was not easy for Bok. Female rakkhoshes are natural shape-shifters, who excel at the art of disguising themselves as human women. Males, on the other hand, can’t even look like anything except monsters. And Bok was one of the most monstrous-looking of the rakkhoshes, as even he was aware.
“Can’t be helped, though,” he thought to himself. “If I stay here I’ll go stark raving crazy.”
So, early one morning, when all the rakkhoshes had returned from their night’s work and gone to sleep - except for the disreputable day-clubs, which, as Bok had written in his column, a respectable rakkhosh never visited, ever – he slipped out of his home, ducked into the alley behind the Rakkhosh Stock Market, and down to the road passing through the wood leading humanwards. In a matter of only a few years he was cautiously scouting the outskirts of a human village.
It wasn’t much of a village. In fact, it was so small a village that the inhabitants were all one extended family. But it was a human village, and Bok didn’t really have much experience in these things. For all he knew it could’ve been a metropolis.
For a long time, Bok watched the village from hiding. Finally, he grew tired and wandered off to sleep in a ruined temple at the edge of the forest. For the next several days, he lived in the temple and studied the people, and tried to make a plan of what to do next.
Bok never had been a particularly foresighted rakkhosh, so until this time he hadn’t made any plans on how he’d go about introducing himself to the humans. Nor was he careful enough to keep well hidden until he had a plan. So the villagers soon enough realised that there was a rakkhosh living in their ruined temple, and they sent a message to the king of the land, telling him of the monster almost in their midst.
Now the king of the land had a daughter who was as brave as she was clever, as strong as she was stubborn, as adept with a sword as she was on a horse, and as beautiful as...there are no words in any language to describe how beautiful she was. Long had the king sought a match for her, but she had refused all suitors, and spurned them from her presence, be they ever so handsome, rich, and high-born. So the king was in despair, but the princess cared not at all about that.
“I’ll only marry someone I choose,” she declared, often. “I’m willing to wait as long as need be, until the right person comes along. And then –” she’d pause, dramatically. “And then, I’m going to make him pay for keeping me waiting so long.”
But there was one thing that was even more important to her than taking her revenge on the right man, and that was killing a rakkhosh. To be sure, she had never actually seen one, but of course she knew all about them. She knew that they were cruel man- (and even woman-) eating monsters, that they were capricious and evil, and that it was the duty of any royal hero (and heroine) to destroy them. She only waited for a chance.
And now, it seemed, at last that chance was at hand.
“I,” she announced to her father and to the assorted white-bearded ministers, who were discussing in hushed tones how to take care of the menace, “will go myself.”
“My dear,” said the king, “these are only villagers. If we just ignore the situation, the rakkhosh will merely kill them and move back to its home country. We don’t actually have to do a thing.”
All the ministers nodded vigorously. “Princess,” said the minister with the whitest beard, who accordingly had the top spot among them, “these villagers are expendable and not worth bothering about. The kingdom has much more important things to think about than them. I was just advising the king of the necessity of immediately declaring war on the land of...”
The princess cut him off with a gesture. “I’m going, whether you like it or not,” she said to the king. “In the meantime, you keep your army right in its place and don’t move a muscle until I return. You understand me?”
“Yes, dear,” said the king, weakly.
So the princess buckled on her sword, climbed on to her favourite bullock cart, and set forth on her journey. Fortune was with her, and in only twenty-seven days she reached the village, where the terrified residents were anxiously awaiting her coming.
“The monster just sits in the ruined temple, my lady,” the village chief said respectfully. “We know it’s there, though we haven’t actually seen it. We have all been praying for you to destroy it, before it destroys us.”
“You can be sure of that,” said the princess grimly. Since it was coming on to evening, and everyone knew rakkhoshes were only active at night, she decided to go into the temple and wait for it there.
Bok watched the princess come with great pleasure, because it was the first human who had entered the old temple. He had spent the day resting from the heat, and decided to let her rest too, and only approach her in the evening when the air was cooler. Settling back, therefore, he waited contentedly for the night.
The princess, on the other hand, was far less content. The temple was old, the ruined stone jagged and uncomfortable to sit on, and she was hot, sweating and irritable. Also, as evening approached, she discovered that the temple was full of mosquitoes.
“Hell!” she cursed, a little self-consciously, for she’d been given to understand that cursing wasn’t ladylike, let alone royal. “Blast!” she swore, scratching way at a bite. “At this rate these little vampires will suck me dry before I even get to the rakkhosh.”
Bok, who had been listening, thrilled at the thought that she had come to meet him. Therefore, he decided, he had no further reason to stay in hiding, and he unfolded himself from his hiding place and walked over to where the woman was slapping and scratching.
“I’m so glad to see you,” he said.
If he’d planned it, he couldn’t have done better. With a yowl like a startled cat, she leaped into the air and came down already yanking at her sword; but the sword had got tangled in her belt and she couldn’t reach it. Bok, who had once written an article for the Hau Mau Khau on how the true gentleman always helped a lady in need, courteously reached out and took the sword out of her scabbard and handed it to her. The princess grabbed the sword and turned, raising it to strike. And then she paused and let it fall.
“Why,” she said, “you’re cute.”
Now Bok was not cute. He was so not cute that even he was aware of it. In fact, throughout the length and breadth of rakkhosh-land Bok’s non-cuteness was a byword. “You’d better eat your carrion,” mothers would tell their children, “or you’ll grow up as Ugly As Bok.”
And now this human female was calling him cute. Bok stood there and looked at her, wondering if she were blind or merely insane. He didn’t have a chance to wonder long.
“Who are you?” the woman asked. “I mean, what are you?”
“I’m a rakkhosh,” Bok said. “Of course.”
“You can’t possibly be a rakkhosh.”
“Why can’t I?” Bok asked, reasonably. “I’ve always been one. I don’t see why I should stop being one just now.”
“But a rakkhosh is supposed to be huge and ugly, and you’re merely medium-sized and cute.” The princess sighed and lifted her sword again. “It’s such a pity that I have to kill you.”
“Kill me?” Bok was astonished and outraged. “What have I done?”
The princess stared at him. “You’re here to kill the villagers and eat them, aren’t you?”
“Kill and eat them?” Bok had a queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. “I’m a vegetarian. Most of us are. And those who aren’t, eat carrion. What on earth makes you think I’d kill and eat villagers?”
The princess blinked. “Why were you skulking around here if not to kill and eat them?”
Bok stared at her. “If I were going to eat them,” he said reasonably, “don’t you think I’d have done it by now? What do you imagine I’ve been waiting for?”
“You have a point,” the princess admitted. “But,” she added, “do you mean to tell me that everything I ever heard about rakkhoshes has been a lie?”
“I think that’s very likely,” Bok said. “I have never, ever, heard of any rakkhosh eating any living animal – let alone a human. Are you still going to kill me?”
“No,” the princess admitted, putting down her sword. “Oh,” she said, stroking Bok’s fur, “you are cute – and polite too. You make me go quite weak at the knees.”
“Is something wrong?” Bok asked in alarm. He looked at her knees. “Has something happened to them?”
“No, no,” she assured him. “It’s just that I fancy you.” Lurching forward, she threw her arms around his neck. “Marry me?”
“Uh,” Bok said, backing away in panic, “thanks for asking, but, you know, I’m, I’m too young, to think of marriage. Why, I’m only seven hundred and thirty eight years old.”
“So?” the princess demanded. “Am I not beautiful enough for you? Not desirable enough? I’ll have you know that I’m a king’s daughter, and if you marry me you’ll be king when my father dies. Of course,” she added, “I’ll run the kingdom, but you can sit on the throne and play with the crown. Isn’t that good enough for you?”
“Yes, yes, my lady,” Bok said unhappily, trying to push her away. “There’s one thing you ought to know, though.”
“What?” she asked, frowning. “What’s so important that you can’t even grab the opportunity to marry me with both front paws?”
“Just this,” Bok replied. “I’m gay. I have always been gay. And I’ll always be gay. I’m sorry, but there it is.”
And pushing her away so hard that she fell down, he rushed away into the gathering night.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013