He was a scholar par excellence at the University of Warsaw 

His magnetic presence illuminated his music classrooms. 

His voice was mystical. 

He attracted students like butterflies to the bloom. 

He was the personification of confidence in his music.  

He was Maczysz. Meaning “Gift of God.”

She was the queen of the street plays at Warsaw square, where she enacted dramatized versions of biblical events and worldly affairs.

She had graduated with distinction in theological studies. 

She was a natural dancer.

She was the epitome of the kind of beauty that lingered in the eyes of the beholder for eternity

Her knowledge, manners and beauty dazzled the elite and the proletariat audiences alike. 

She was Izabella. Meaning “Devoted to God.”

This is a story of these two astonishing individuals of extraordinary skill sets, whose love story ruled the streets of Warsaw in the 19th Century. It is inevitable that their story would belong to the class of cupid and psyche narratives. Is the beholder content with the beauty of the saga or distressed with the tragedy bestowed upon them?

******

Canon Józef was pacing the corridors of Casimir Stainslaw’s mansion in Masomcz, Eastern Poland. Casimir Stainslaw, the grandfather of Maczysz was late as usual. These elite clans had the audacity to even keep the Lord waiting, Canon Józef cursed under his breath. Eventually, Stainslaw arrived, adorned in a navy-blue kaftan with tassels on the pleated edges and a high brimmed hat. After exchanging the customary salutations that followed a silent prayer, Stanislaw led the Canon to a wooden bench below a giant granite statue of Casimir III.

Stainslaw spoke first.

“I haven’t sinned more, Józef. It was a mistake to send him to Warsaw. This is what education does. Insolence creeps into their minds easily. Maczysz is brilliant, but there is no reason why one should forget our customs and traditions. He has upset our entire order. I have promised to Highness Alexander that Maczysz will not wed outside our sovereign family order.

My bigger worry is that things are getting messier with this affair, adding fuel to the uprising.  She has the image of a queen in the minds of the middle-class morons. The movement must be handled cautiously. The Monarch has advised restraint. The Church agrees as well, I understand.”

 “And you, Józef, go immediately to her mother and make it clear that the lass has to forget Maczysz for good. The Prussian lord has expressed his desire for Izabella. I hear that he is half Jew himself. The obstinate hag will have to decide without any further debates on this. Only you can convince her, and I am aware why you are being especially kind to her. Tell her that it is an order from the monarch! Am I clear?”

******

The Lazienki park was their favourite meeting place. They loved debates on various subjects that usually ended with long arguments, both unwilling to cut short the discussions and thereby their time together. Izabella loved these moments. Whenever she sensed Maczysz getting worked up at the prospect of losing the argument, she would swiftly deflate the tension by putting her slender arms around him and sealing the debate with a kiss.

******

 “Calm now, let me hear your new song.” Izabella coaxed him to be at peace. 

“Even after this?” Maczysz enquired. “You are pretending to be calm, Iza!” 

“My love, I have crossed more turbulent waters as a homeless and fatherless girl. If not for my resilience, I would be now swabbing the marble floors of the cathedral instead of cheering up a heart-broken prince as I am trying now.” 

“They can’t do this to us, Iza. Our love story is extraordinary. It has created a social movement, Iza. We have unwittingly broken the shackles that divided our society. My grandfather knows it well. The monarch is torn between his desire to implement reforms necessary to save the failing state and the perceived necessity of remaining in a subordinate relationship to his Russian sponsors. I think, ultimately the movement will succeed. And when that happens the elite will need the support of the bourgeoise. There is so much at stake in the state with our love story. It would be imprudent to take you away from me.”

She loved to listen to his sweet voice even if it was pleading. 

He continued “I expect to be selected at Salzburg Music college as their fine arts teacher. Three years, I have toiled for this dream. Finally, they have shown interest in my music.  We will go together. I am sure you will also find something interesting to pursue, as well. So, sweetheart, do not succumb to the sinister designs of Canon Józef and agree for the alliance with the Prussian Lord, about whom I hear that womanizing is the sole purpose of his existence.”

The musician in the garden was playing the tambourine. Maczysz picked up the rhythm and synchronized his lyrics to the notes. Izabella swayed to an impromptu Kujawiak. dance, leading Maczysz with her to the circular clearing on the lawns. A small crowd formed a ring and started clapping. The assembled crowd burst into a roar of applause at the reprise of the ballad. Maczysz and Izabella bowed in curtsy and walked together waving to the dispersing crowd. The homeless musician picked up the silvers and thanked God for sending his two angels to earth. 

As she lay with her tresses on his naked torso, Maczysz fondly recollected their moments of courtship.

******

In pursuit of mastery in music, Maczysz had shied away from frolicsome past times. It was not until he met her that he discovered the joys of physical or romantic love. She was the same girl who couldn’t resist swaying to his music during his first public performance at the Basilica. He stalked her later, only to find her this time compering a stage play at the old town square. She wore a costume consisting of a white shirt with a wide embellished collar, a wide long skirt, an apron and a bodice. It was a dramatization of the peasants’ movement in the Kujawy region of Poland. She seemed unaware that the script bordered on blasphemy. 

The royal soldiers waited until the play ended before heading towards the small tent that served as a makeshift changing room. Maczysz sensing trouble, ran across the stage and barged into the tent. She was half naked. Startled at the intrusion, she struggled to hide her modesty. He shielded her protectively. The troops entered but stopped abruptly, recognizing well the elite who was between them and the insurgent woman. The commander bowed in apology, made a quick salute and hastily retreated. 

It was the calmness of this young girl at this horrendous turn of events that melted his heart. She did not appear even a trifle frightened. He could hear her rapid heartbeats though, while escorting her to the dorm in the big Cathedral. 

They met regularly after that and he was always astounded by her knowledge of worldly matters. It was at the pond in the The Lazienki Park that she first heard him sing. It startled her, initially. Melody flowed from his vocal cords and the song seemed to draw butterflies from the bulbous plants, and beautiful rhododendrons.  

At the end of it, they waited for the early winter darkness to set in and made love under the stars. Their passion intensified as days passed, with their debates becoming fewer and kisses easily outnumbering conversations.

******

.Canon Józef’s visit to Marge Skorupko, Izabella’s mother, was not unexpected. The news from Warsaw was worrying and she was sure the canon had some plans. 

As Marge listened, she started to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The Prussian Lord was rich. Iza would live like a queen. And her child would rule the territory someday. Iza was intelligent enough to mend the oaf’s coquettish nature. On the other hand, Maczysz, in pursuit of excellence was seeking to move to lands of uncertainty. Despite his affluent stature, he would struggle and amidst all that, he wouldn’t find time for Iza.

She knelt before the Canon. Józef’ stooped down, held her shoulders and drew her closer.

******

The shtetl was abuzz with excitement over the Prussian Lord’s visit. The Lord alighted at the entrance gate of walled town and preferred to pompously walk the rest of the way to Izabella’s house and bask in the adulation of the onlookers. 

The Lord was aware that everyone was enamoured by his royal costume. However, his eyes immediately sought Izabella, about whom laurels on her beauty and brains were echoing all over Eastern Europe. 

And then he saw her. She looked older than his expectations, but something about her was indeed magnetic. He could not take eyes off her. 

“Shalom,” she greeted, respectfully

“Shalom Aleichem, Shalom, my dear. Am I the luckiest person on earth, today?”

Marge stepped back in confusion. 

Canon Józef stepped in to stem the awkward situation. 

He greeted the Lord with his customary salutation and whispered in his ear. “She is her mother, Piotr. Izabella hasn’t arrived yet, but she is on her way” 

Lord Piotr felt elated. If her mother could stir up his loins instantly, then….

******

Canon Józef was aghast by The Lord’s blatant flirting with the ladies of the house. He instantly knew that he would regret the rest of his life for sending Iza with this rogue. The Lord Almighty would make him rot in hell for this. 

Lord Piotr was sipping highlander tea when the Canon walked into the guest room. “Izabella has arrived.” Józef announced. “She will join us for the breakfast.”

******

Lord Piotr dismissed all but Izabella at the breakfast table. He opened a silver box wrapped in silk and went near her.

“Do you like it?” he looked into her eyes

“It is indeed beautiful, Lord”, she replied seriously

“It is yours, then. Keep it”

“I don’t want it.” She pushed back the box across the table

“Iza, I don’t desire any woman as I long for you” he ranted

“I am glad, so be it.” She replied

“Oh, you are agreeable to that?” He persisted

“I am” she clarified.

Lord Piotr sloppily jumped up and down in excitement.

“What antic is this, Lord?”

“Antic? why shouldn’t I dance? I am the luckiest person on earth. I have Izabella and the whole Europe will be green with envy from now on.”

“My Lord, I am sure you have misunderstood my answers. Your desires are not in my control. So, I have no issues with that but I never implied that I will be your wife. I can never be, for I am promised to Maczysz, heart and soul. I am his and he is mine.” She stormed out of the dining hall, her head held high. 

He vowed that one day he will make her regret this rejection. 

******

It was almost a month for Maczysz at Salzburg, the birthplace of the legendary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He had left the day the Iza updated him about the turn of events on that eventful meeting with the Prussian Lord. It was indeed an honour to work at the music college. He was supposed to return to Warsaw for a week after the formal induction, but fate had other plans. The socialist movement took an extremist turn and people challenged the monarchy. His grandfather had fled to Kiev but had managed to send a message to Maczysz, entreating him to remain in Salzburg until normalcy returned to Warsaw. He was now more than desperate to bring Izabella to Salzburg. She was not safe in Warsaw anymore.

.******

Rumour mongers thrived during the times of strife. It was rumoured that the Prussian Lord took the side of the reformers and was funding the movement against the monarchy. There was also news about him visiting Warsaw central prison and freeing some of his trusted loyalists. A certain beautiful lady was among the ones freed by the Lord. It was rumoured to be Izabella and that she had left for Prussia with the Lord. 

 Maczysz was devastated. He tried to reach Canon Józef through the messengers at the Salzburg Cathedral, for some confirmation of this shocking news, but to no avail 

.*****

The only purpose for Canon Józef to live was to meet Maczysz once and let him know that Izabella was still waiting for him by the pond at the Lazienki Park. This was the only way he could absolve his guilt. She had managed to escape from the clutches of the traitor Lord again. Devastated by the developments at home, Maczysz had given up teaching and left westwards, the cleric at the Cathedral had confided in the Canon. He went in pursuit, despite his failing health. It was outside a motel at Wien, that the Canon saw a billboard advertising a new age musical titled “Izabella” at the opera house. The Canon knew instantly that this could only be Maczysz; wherever there was music, there was Maczysz.

***

After the surprise meeting with the Canon, Maczysz wasted no time leaving for Warsaw. If he hurried, he could reach before the new year. With great warmth, he remembered the cold New year eve night with Izabella at the Lazienki Park. He cursed himself for misjudging her mental strength.

***

Outside a pub, he spotted a royal carriage sporting the royal flag of his family. He tapped on the window, instantly a curtain was slid across. He peered and found two women inside who were hardly regal. 

Lord Piotr emerged out of nowhere and pushed Maczysz away

“Stay away from the ladies, nomad.”

“I need help.” Maczysz pleaded. “I need to get to Warsaw for the New year. I am Maczysz, the grandson of Casimir Stainslaw. The Maczysz who belongs to the divine Izabella”

***

He felt the sting, then the pain and then total numbness as the coward stabbed him without warning. The prostitutes fled from the carriage. The assassin grabbed Maczysz by his long curly tresses and mimicked into his ear “The Maczysz who belongs to Izabella, ha, ha ha….”. He roared in laughter as he dropped the lifeless form of Maczysz down in the gutter

***

It was the third straight year without Maczysz. She refused to believe those ghastly rumours on his fate. She resolved to wait for him, even if it meant forever. Her only grief was that he had given up on her, underestimating the power of her resilience. 

The homeless musician in the park got ready, Izabella stepped into the spotlight and prepared for one last dance of the evening. The crowd got involved in chorus as the musician belted out his version of the new age ballad “Izabella.”

***

Adaptation from the Malayalam Novel “INDULEKHA” by O. Chandumenon, and English translation by Anitha Devasia

Widely held to be the first Malayalam novel, Indulekha (1889) is an endearing love story woven around feudal Nair family, the story interwoven with social movements of that time, impact of English education, effects of British subjugation and the Nair matrilineal society. The original has a happy ending.

 

Glossary

Canon– A canon is a member of the chapter of (for the most part) priests, headed by a dean, which is responsible for administering a cathedral or certain other churches that are styled collegiate churches

Kujawiak. Polish folk dance from the region of Kujawy in central Poland. … The dance typically involves couples walking gracefully in a quarter-note rhythm, on slightly bended knees, with relaxed turns, around a circle.

Shtetl- was a small town with a large Jewish population, which existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust

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Photo By: Adam Niescioruk

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(This is an entry in ArttrA-4, a room8 writing game at ArtoonsInn. We’d much appreciate you rating the story and leaving a review in the comments.)

 

 

 

Thanks for reading.

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