The Lovers_Art.jpeg
The Lovers

By Nisha Addleman

Synopsis: Forced to visit with suitor after suitor, Hasna’s one true companion is only a statue. Though when strange things start happening, she hopes he’s more than that.

This story was used to generate donates for the ACLU. Thanks to all who donated, we generated $170 in donations.

Hasna leaned against the statue in the garden, her legs stretching out in front of her as she plucked dates from a tray and tossed them into her mouth.

"I wish they wouldn't manicure the garden like this." She waved a hand over the busy gardeners tending bushes and sweeping pathways.

Shrubbery was tamed into perfect angles and dead leaves whisked away too quickly. It seemed wrong to her. If they wanted the plants to live, why not let them flourish?

"Imagine if they let it grow! Wouldn't it be beautiful to see the garden stretching to the sky?"

The statue offered no reply. 

She glanced up at the gentle face of a man staring into his empty lap. The Lovers, the statue was dubbed, but it was only a lone man cast from bronze, tenderly gazing at nothing. 

Even without his partner, it was obvious the statue was depicting a romantic scene where he lounged in the grass, leaning back on one hand and reaching out to his lover. Whoever that was should have been stretched across his lap. 

Instead, Hasna leaned against his chest. She had found that, despite being made of unyielding metal, his body seemed to give to her.

She settled back to rest her head against his shoulder. "My father wants to marry me off." She picked up another date, but found her appetite had disappeared and dropped it back on the tray. "Call me spoiled, but I'd much prefer to lie here eating dates than do anything else."

"Hasna!" Her older brother popped out from behind a tree. "I knew I'd find you here." Irfan–as loving and doting as he was–was only fanning the flames of betrothal to keep eyes off himself and the lover he had yet to reveal to his parents.

"I'm not meeting him."

"Oof, just entertain him! This one seems nice."

"No!"

Irfan rolled his eyes. "Has, you can't hide from this forever. Baba will drag you to your wedding if he must, and you won't have a say at all if that happens! Meet this man. He's only…" Irfan looked up at the sky, lost in thought. His lips pulled into a tight line and he muttered, "Fifteen years older than you."

"Fifteen!" The tray of dates dumped to the ground as she jerked up. "The last was twelve years older and I said that was too much!"

"Yes, I know, but this one is also nice."

"To you."

"Ay, Has…" Irfan tugged on the black curls sprouting from his head–a feature he shared with both his sisters. "Please! Meet him, and if you really don't like him, I'll tell Baba I didn't like him either."

 

Hasna held out one hand, which Irfan begrudgingly shook to seal his promise. 

With that, she hopped to her feet. Her dress nearly ripped off as it caught on the statue, and she stumbled.

Irfan steadied her, and they followed the hem of her skirt to see it pinched in the hand the bronze lover leaned back on.

"How did…?" She gave her skirt a tug, but it was stuck, secure in the statue's grip. "I thought his hand was welded down."

Irfan furrowed his brow, staring at the statue a moment before bouncing his shoulders in defeat. "Perhaps not, and your skirt got caught beneath it."

She twisted her mouth to the side in disbelief. Irfan didn't seem any more confident than her as they watched her skirt slip down unbidden. 

"I suppose."

***

"Fifteen?" Hasna paced in the garden, passing alongside the statue. "He was at least twenty years older! I was perfectly nice–I hope you're proud of me, I waited until he left to tell off my father."

She dropped onto the statue's base and crossed her arms. "He was nice though."

Save for the trees rustling in the breeze, the garden was quiet that night. No owls hooting or monkeys whooping to interrupt her thinking.

She lay back with her head in the statue's lap and stared him in the eyes.

Though still, his gaze mimicked that of a lover so well she almost blushed. 

Why couldn't the men her father found look at her like that? Not even for a moment did such an honest expression cross their faces. Those men were made of only appraising smiles that never met their eyes. 

She dragged one finger along his soft smile. "Lovers are in art and art alone."

Years past, when Hasna was only a child, she used to lie with her head in his lap and stare up at his frozen visage, telling herself one day a man would look at her that way. 

That such a loving gaze would caress her features now seemed foolish.

As happy as her father and mother were together, they never looked at each other like this. Irfan kept his lover hidden from their family–the two were bound to be ripped apart one day as a bride was forced upon him. 

No one else shared this pure expression that made her heart pound madly in her chest.

She traced his cheek and ran her fingers along his wild waves. What she would do to feel his hair between her fingers. If only for a moment, she would have loved to know what such romance felt like.

Perhaps then she could reconcile to marry a man twenty years older than her based solely on the knowledge that he was nice.

Her lips puckered into a bitter frown. She was fated to stare longingly at a statue for the rest of her life.

"I wonder if I can take you to my new home." She dropped her hand to her stomach. "I hope I can."

But hope seemed to be all she had as her father's patience rapidly waned with pressed smiles and narrowed eyes.

"What do you say? Would you come?" She flashed a sardonic smile as she sat up, reaching for his hand and squeezing it as if he could return the sign of affection.

Something twitched against her fingers and she yanked back.

His bronze hand hovered motionless in the air. 

She tried to tell herself it was an insect that flew away when she moved, but as she walked away, something in the back of her mind nagged. Her skirt had gotten trapped beneath his hand. His bronze fingers flexed against hers. It didn’t seem a coincidence.

***

Not quite at the point of forcing Hasna into marriage, her father had made her sit with her siblings in the garden to meet the newest suitor.

He was far more age-appropriate, only a few years older than her, but something about his smile made her skin crawl.

"Tell us, Bassam, why should I let my dear sister go?" Though Irfan played a jovial man, Hasna could see the uncertainty lurking in her brother's eyes. He didn't like Bassam. In fact, in the half-hour the four of them had spent lounging in the sun, Irfan had hardly let Bassam get a word in.

Bassam leaned back, looking first over Hasna, then her younger sister–Jumana.

Open disgust twisted across Jumana's face and she turned away.

"I think it's evident enough," Bassam began. "I'm from a good family. I've not only inherited wealth, but proven I can make money as well. I've a mind for business. Hasna will want for nothing with me."  He bowed his head to Hasna.

Before she could question him, Irfan pounced. "What of her emotions?"

"I live close enough. She can visit you and Juma whenever she likes."

"Jumana!" her younger sister objected. Though not usually against nicknames, she didn't seem fond enough of Bassam to let him use one for her.

"My apologies." Bassam spoke through clenched teeth. 

"Juma! Irfan!" their mother called. "Come help me!"

Hasna exchanged a desperate look with her brother.

"Now!"

Jumana was on her feet and running back to the house, seemingly enthusiastic to get away from Bassam.

"Excuse us." Irfan turned on his heel and strode away with his fingers curled in fists at his side.

"Isn't it funny how they always leave you alone with a suitor? As if two strangers could make friends with marriage lurking on the horizon." Bassam began to rise, but Hasna was to her feet first, circling the statue and grasping the arm on which the lover reclined. 

"Odd indeed." She swore the bronze gave way to her fingers, but she would much prefer the statue jump to life than Bassam come any closer.

Bassam leaned beside the statue's outstretched hand and smiled at her. "I know. I have an unkind face." His shoulders bounced with a chuckle. "But I'm seeking a wife, not an enemy."

She pursed her lips. "Excuse my hesitance, I've met many men who I've sent away." 

He folded his hands in front of himself and smiled. "Of course. I'm a patient man."

She hid behind the statue's head and whispered to herself, "I have never heard a patient man describe himself as such."

"What was that?"

She jerked up straight and smiled at him. "Nothing. I was thinking aloud that perhaps I should give you a fair chance." Her fingers tightened on the statue's arm as she prayed Bassam would stay away.

He rose and took a step toward her only to be jerked to an abrupt stop.

"What?" He twisted his body to reveal the back of his tunic bunched in the statue's fist. He let out a yell and tried tugging himself free, but the metal fingers were clamped tight.

"What's going on?" Bassam jerked so hard a few stitches popped in his shirt.

Hasna let out a giggle. "Let him go," she whispered.

Bassam jerked again and hurtled face-first into the dirt. His face flushed red, and he scrambled to his feet and bolted from the garden.

She leaned in close to the lover. "A fist?" She circled the statue, running her finger down his arm to his fist and tapping a finger against it. "So you can move. And you kept him away."

The bronze was cold against her lips, but she pressed them to his cheek anyway. "I certainly do like you."

***

After Bassam had fled in a fit of tears, Hasna and her father argued for the rest of the day. He had proclaimed that if she so rudely chased away another suitor, he would have her locked in her room until her wedding to a man she wouldn't be privileged enough to meet. He didn't believe her when she said it was the statue.

The moment they stopped fighting, she ran to the garden and collapsed against the statue's chest. Sobbing and shuddering, she clung to his neck.

As foolish as it felt to seek out comfort from a man made of bronze, she had seen he was more than that. 

Perhaps–she traced his cheek with her fingers–perhaps he could hear her. She slipped into his lap and stared up into his eyes. 

“Can you see me?” She brushed his brow. 

It could have been wishful thinking, but she swore his gaze followed her. Her heart pounded in her throat, threatening to strangle her. Or was the artist just so good she had been fooled into thinking the statue was alive?

The metal was icy beneath her touch. Life could not lurk within something so cold.

She stroked his face and let a tear slip down her cheek. If fantasy was all she had, she would seize it before she was whisked away to the bed of a man twice her age.

She pressed her lips to his, cold and unforgiving. Yet she leaned into him despite the chill reminding her he was not real. 

"Please," she whispered between kisses.

She kissed him harder as if she could coax life from his lips, squeezing her eyes shut. She pressed against his chest and let herself grow lost as the metal warmed against her touch and his arm wound around her waist–she yanked away and stared at him.

His head was tilted back and his eyes shut. One of his hands held her close. 

She scrambled off and stared at the statue. "I-I'm not imagining it." A perfect space was carved out for her in his arm. 

There was no denying he had moved.

She jumped onto him again, her hands searching his body. “What did I do? Tell me!” 

When nothing happened, she pressed her lips to his again, desperately trying to make him move or twitch or something

But he was still. 

She circled him. Looked him up and down, even scrambled around beneath him trying to find a mechanism or hint. But there was nothing to tell her why he had moved.

A heavy weight settled in her chest, squashing any hope that had ignited. The air rushed from her lungs.

“Of course.” She turned on her heel and headed back inside, too defeated to look at him anymore. “I would fall in love with a statue.”

***

Hasna let out a scream and ran to the statue's base. The day had started poorly and now it was worse. She stared at the empty spot where the statue had once sat, her fingers curling around her face in horror.

“Has!” Irfan was out of the house and by her side in the time it took to utter her name.

“What happened?” She pointed a shaky finger at the empty base. “Where is it?”

Irfan set a hand on her shoulder. “We don’t know. Someone must have stolen it.”

“S-stolen?” There was no trace the statue had even existed. No marks like it had been forced or metal bits left behind from being welded down.

“Baba is furious. Let him handle this, you have…more important things to worry about today.”

Of course, he was speaking of the newest suitor. Hasna had yet to see this one, but her father threatened that this was her last chance to make a good impression. She wasn’t allowed to scare him away, or so her father had put it. 

Hasna wrapped her arms around herself. She was alone, and she feared what would happen if she didn’t like this one either. How could she accept a fate tied to a stranger without him?

A brassy laugh wafted out from the house.

“He’s nice.” Irfan squeezed her shoulder.

“You always say that.”

“I didn’t about Bassam.” Irfan pinched her cheek. “Really, this time. I like him.”

She blew a stray curl from her face and turned toward the house. “What choice do I have any–”

Her family walked out with the new suitor in tow. 

He was well built–handsome even, but that wasn’t what struck her. It was his gentle gaze and soft smile. How he looked at her as if he had known her for years. As if he was already in love.

Standing before her was the statue.

The shock must have been plain enough on her face, and he threw his head back and laughed. 

His grin made her heart flutter and her cheeks flush. 

“Could we have a moment alone?” He reached out, and she took his hand as if instinct told her to. 

Seeing the affection, her family was quick to oblige, running before they could ruin the moment.

“You’re…” She stroked the side of his face. “No.”

“Yes.” He chuckled and leaned in. 

After years of yearning to do it, she ran her fingers through his hair, no longer cold and solid, but lush and thick as it should have been.

“I don’t understand.” She marveled at him. Where his bronze skin was once metal and his chest unforgiving, he was now living. Breathing. Warm.

He shook his head. “I was accused of having an affair with a very powerful man’s wife. As punishment, he had me encased in cursed bronze and dubbed me The Lovers. To add to the irony, I needed to make someone fall in love with me to break the curse.” He held his arms out to the side and smiled at her. “And now I’m standing here.”

“I…I don’t know your name.”

He laughed again, that sound she wished she would hear forever. “Kama. My name is Kama.”

“How fitting.” She threw her arms around his neck and grinned. “I suppose if I’m forced to marry a man, who better than you?”

He shrugged and returned her embrace. “You saved my life. The least I could do is swear to be a devoted and loving husband.” He cleared his throat. “I’m certain your brother will hold me to that.” Fear flashed through his eyes. Evidently, Irfan had been the dutiful brother while interrogating Kama. 

She giggled and nodded. “I will hold you to that.”

“So what do you say–the hopeless romantic and the statue?”

She grinned up at him, feeling hopeful for the first time since suitors began popping up. “I believe you mean, The Lovers.”

Time for thank you's!

Alan, how could I not thank my husband after a romance? Also, for reading this over for me.

Rachel (@EditingSkeleton), your guidance and feedback consistently feel honest and helpful while also reminding me of my strengths. You always know how to ease my worries.

Kevin, for the art and always cheering me on! To see more of Kevin's art check out his Instagram @unsleepinghorror. For his poetry go to @kevinlynn_words_things. Or drop a hello on Twitter @KevinLynnII.

Ashley and Sara (@bythebook21), your input is always invaluable! And it's extra fun when we squeal over fictional romances together.

Ryan (@ryanramkelawan), for giving this one extra look over and all your feedback!

And to everyone who donated, thank you! Your generosity in these times is so valuable.