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    In the wild fields, a balloon flew loose into the sky. Then a dirigible, beneath the clouds, spitting flares which spouted into showers of coloured puffs.

    They were gathered around the massive campfire, burning within an erected tent. The people, the press – who had driven here over the autoroutes du Soleil, their parked vehicles forming a concentric circle around the tent.

    The festivities had begun. Bohemia 2017. For Tania, leading her troupe, it was her first foray into major waters; the unexpected success of the show from Madrid.. especially with Amarna, had landed her this opportunity. She wasn't going to let it go to fluke, and after spending two days without sleep – ensuring that every one of her dancers was well, in-costume and prepared – here she was.

    Her troupe was chosen to open the festivities after a psychedelic rock band's number.. and as the music resonated out, out from the massive tent such that even the people outside camping could hear.. Azad had the tape rolling in camera.

    "Check, check. One, two, three." The mic, which he had attached to the camera via USB, was working well, and so he turned to the troupe members who were by the makeup tables, applying eyeliner, lipstick. "This is Ethan, he'll be playing the cowardly hunter in our production of dance opera-"

    "Shut up! My role kicks ass!" Ethan's voice was gnarly, as he pasted on the lion's whiskers. Beside him was Alex, who had stagehands curl his wings in preparation for the grand unfurling of them. He waved and gave a coy wink to the camera.

    As Azad walked the backstage, he bumped into Tania, who gleefully did a pirouette (before resuming her organizing of the troupe), and then finally, entering a tent..

    He saw Amarna by her backside. She was getting her hair wreathed into a bun - her own hands, kneading her long stands of brunette hair into compact shape. He paused for a moment, still aiming the camera upon her.. before she said, "I can see you filming, you know, hehe."

    Azad circled around her. He could hear the music, a distant distraction, reverberating in the chambers. "And.. this is Amarna Miller," he went. "She's the cornerstone of the whole show. I danced with her last year, wave hi to the camera!"

    She waved with one hand, grinning, before finishing up on her hairdo. Whiskers wavered beneath her nose, along with eyeliner and lipstick which accentuated the look of being a lioness from her face.

    "It's my first time being the star.." she said, then an aside glance, realizing that with many viewers who'd know her from sites like PornHub, added, "With millions of eyes upon me, as I perform.. the pressure is so real. But I'll do it. I know I will."

    Azad paused filming, lowering his camera. They were alone together, and it would be one of the only moments he could afford to ask how she really was.

    "What about your pregnancy?" he said. He had flown here, apart from the main cast who had the luxury of first-class concorde, with a thousand questions still bursting at the seams. He was expecting an abortion. That thing.. that child growing in her belly – for Azad, it was an abomination, born of that son-of-the-bitch rapist, that needed to die before she could birth it, and be forced to call it a legitimate life.

    Azad could not even voice these thoughts out loud. No one would even accept the idea of wishing the end for a life. But with Amarna..

    "Azad," she went, weary of the subject. "I don't want to talk about it."

    He felt her resignation, as she turned away from him, trying hard to touch up her appearance in the mirror. Somehow, he knew it meant she wasn't comfortable talking about it with him. As though there was still an uncrossable distance. But sooner or later, she'd have to confront the topic-

    He raised his camera once more, but then Amarna interrupted him, as if with a last-minute thought. She went up from her makeup chair, and face-to-face, Azad gulped. He'd have to take the step forward..

    "I've found a clinic," he told her, "it's in a town near here. They'll do anything. I know it's not easy to give up on a growing baby – but the pain eventually becomes memories. Otherwise, the regret you're going to feel, to bring to this world Mohammed's son – giving time and energy to raise him, or giving him away like an unwanted pet, it's going to last a lifetime."

    Normally he'd never speak these kinds of words with anyone, let alone a girlfriend, but Azad had to draw upon reserves of his spirit that he wasn't even aware of, under this kind of situation.

    "That's not for you to decide, Azad," she told him flatly, but the thought lingered in her head to consider. She had about enough of running away – having been impregnated several times before, and now, as she was nearing the age of 30, she felt in her life a sudden void. The women she'd met in the industry, the ones who didn't have children, all carried with them a sense of existential despair, as they had nothing to look forward to besides using their bodies for attention and money.

    And Amarna – as hard as it was already, to ignore her knee-jerk reaction to being pregnant with her ex-boyfriend, she didn't want to let go of her possible last chance to have a healthy child, while she was still young.

    She didn't know what to do, honestly, as she watched Azad carry on his filming, him venturing out of her makeup tent. Her child would need a good father. Someone who'd be with her by her side. It wouldn't be Mohammed, that was for sure.. but Azad? As young as he was, and as unprepared as he was – he was earnest.

    Her heart pounding, Amarna was caught between a cliff and a landslide, and as she saw Azad disappear around a corner, she realised, she did not want to see him slip away.

    "Azad – espera!"

    But in Azad's place, and the sight of him sent her stomach reeling, there was Mohammed. Like a ghost, he walked over to Amarna, with her slowly backing away like a deer in the headlight.

    "Hi, how are you," he went. "I need to talk to you.."

    "AYUD—"

    Mohammed clamped her mouth, and went to press her against the mirror. No one heard her scream amidst the music and total commotion outside.

    "Listen, baby girl. Whatever you may think right now, it's not important." He stared at her, his eyes magnetic on hers with a feral desperation. For all her experiences over the years since, Amarna was 19-years old again.. helpless.

    "You must listen to me," he went. "The real me. Amarna.. you do not yet realise your importance in the cosmic order of life. When I told you once, that we are destined to be together for our lives, I did not lie." He gingerly wiped a tear from her eye with his thumb. "Right now, you carry my child. It was quite a shock, no? But as it was decreed by God for the virgin Mary to conceive of Jesus, you carry not just a child, but a future. My future. Your future. Our family.. inshallah."

    She was shivering. She wanted to gouge out his eyes – to see this hyena grimace in sexual pain when decimating his groin by kneecap. Her muscles refused to obey her.

    Someone was coming. Mohammed turned his head, giving her a brief reprieve from his rancid breath (like fossils, still decaying), before he gave Amarna a kiss upon the forehead. "Remember – I love you.."

    Even after he was long gone from her sight, Amarna struggled with her composure. She was leaning on the counter, the cabinets.. anything that reminded that this was reality, and not just her imagination popping out. It would have been nice if everything – the whole event – would just stop, long enough to tell them her past was dangerously leering on her shoulders..

    "Amarna, we waiting for you!" she heard – it was Alex. "Are you taking a huge one?"

    She glanced in the mirror; the makeup was astray over her face, and she felt there wasn't enough time to fix it properly. So she took the cleanser, and she wiped off her eyeliner, so that nobody would notice she had ruined it with her tears.

    Calmate.. calmate.. my trembling heart, would you be steady?

    It was like balancing a tightrope when she pretended that she was ready, as the dance troupe was standing backstage, in the shadows, waiting for their cue to be animated. The drum roll popped through the curtains, and Amarna – as she went beneath the stage by the platform, she tried remembering all the steps she went through, drilled into her brain all those months. The passion. The feral intensity. She was the lioness, who would maul those who'd trespass her boundaries, and there was nothing at all she would fear in the world..

    But there was Mohammed's kiss, and like a residual stain, she could not shake off the feeling of his breath and saliva – leeching through her consciousness.

    A beat.

    She quivered, hanging onto the platform's ropes, as she heard Matthew's lines – "A world without love.. without desire, is chaos!" and the thunderous rumble of unseen steps. The trapdoor opened, with spotlights shining upon Amarna's eyes – wavering between her fear, and the tremendous pressure of a public audience. As she rose above, so too did the lioness's roar though the speakers.

    In Madrid, she forgot how nervous it was with Azad, in their dance together. But then, she remembered the joy, the ecstasy which shone through her body. Just like any day when she really felt the connection, sharing that spark of life with someone.

    Amarna tried to muster that up, when she declared: "All that you see is my kingdom's glory! From the hills where the hobbits thrive, to the golden canyons, where the sun fades. And I-"

    I'm really pathetic, aren't I? I wasn't able to stand up for myself, when Mohammed was really there.. all those times when I imagined what I'd do, if I'd ever see him again..

    She didn't realize she was paralyzed, until she heard a gasp from the audience - and saw through the sides of her eyes the Titantron displays, blowing her figure up five-fold. The stillness was deafening, as the realisation poured that Mohammed was there watching her, possibly as one of the many little varigated matchheads, black, blonde, redhead..

    Azad, sitting aside and watching it over the monitors, was baffled by her gaffe. It wasn't like her to suddenly cave in.. he wanted to run up and pull her out of her trance, and say that everything's alright.

    "Uh oh, she's pulling off a Walt Disney!"

    "Somebody pull the curtains!"

    He saw Tania, fuming with her arms crossed. As if in total resignation, she uttered into her headset: "Cut it. Cut it now!"

    And with those words, Azad sensed the disappointment of so many, like a dark cloud that had seamlessly formed out of innocent wisps. The lights dimmed, and the curtains fell, and that was that – it was over.