Alan opened his mouth to retort, then shut it again and frowned. He had almost blurted out the reason for being distant from her. She had followed him to the training arena after the first day. Perhaps she enjoyed being there or she just accompanied him for his sake. He had appreciated her presence there, always cheering him on. But everything had changed with the appearance of this new friend that she had apparently found.
However, before that, Alan had only seen Siana as a friend and had thought little of it. But Siana’s growth had spurred more to her chest, rather than her height. She had been conscious of this and tried to opt for loose-fitting clothes. She already suffered much because of her insecurities, but every time she came into the training arena, the boys training with Alan made obscene remarks about her, behind her back.
They tried to rope Alan into their degrading conversation, teasing him about living with her, asking him if he had felt her up. He had had an outburst at that and beat them bloody for insulting Siana. Although he had suffered some blows as well, the other boys had felt the brunt of his hits the most and the matter had been taken up with their respective guardians.
Viscount Anetta had been grateful and impressed. He had expressed gratitude instead of chastising him after he had revealed the truth. But Siana had been scarred by the event, and her self-esteem took yet another plunge because of the demeaning comments that others had made of her.
Alan knew even then that the way the society viewed and insulted women wouldn’t have changed with a few blows from him, but Alan would have beaten them a thousand times more for humiliating her. To spare her any painful experience like that, he sternly told her not to come to the training arena anymore.
Siana had found it cold-hearted, and maybe he could have said it better. She was denied entry into the arena from then on and had gone to her relative’s place, sulking because of his rudeness towards her. “You tell me not to come,” she had said with tears in her eyes, “And I won’t, but please tell me why. Do I embarrass you?”
He had been silent then. “I hate you,” she had declared, crying. She punched him in the arm. He still remembered the pain, not so much from the punch as from the hurt that he had caused her.
“Don’t tell me, then,” she had cried in frustration, “I don’t care, anyway. I don’t need you if you don’t need me. I have Yulia, anyway!”
She had sat down, wiping her tears, relating to him about this Yulia that she adored. She boasted about her to him, mostly to make him jealous. Alan didn’t really care very much about this new friend, but he listened to her, hoping that she would be soothed after venting out her resentment and anger.
She smiled when talking about her friend. It prickled at Alan’s heart that the smile was because of the new friend, while he had only caused her tears. He had listened to her every time after that, patiently, to make up for making her miserable.
His patience was stretched thin, however, when a few months later Siana mentioned a ‘lover’. She was all thrilled and envious, simultaneously, when her friend Yulia was being courted.
“I want someone to love me, too,” she proclaimed, sighing.
“You can find somebody, if you like,” said Alan, trying to sound nonchalant. But his heart was in turmoil whenever he imagined Siana falling in love with somebody else.
Siana, unaware, shook her head. “Not that easy, you know,” she said sadly.
“Why not?” he enquired, looking at her, putting down the book he was reading.
“Well, I am not very beautiful,” she said, affected by her insecurities, “I am short, unattractive and have nothing to offer.”
“That’s not true,” said Alan, “Besides, what does that have anything to do with being in love or in a relationship?”
“Everything!” she threw up her hands, “Men are so fickle-minded. I might as well set my standards to ‘only handsome men’ as well.” She sighed.
Alan had pondered on her words and thought about his own self. Was he handsome? Was he plain? His thoughts were interrupted by Siana. “Handsome men don’t look at women like me though,” she sighed, “All they are is vain, and they want everything to be pretty.” She rolled her eyes.
Alan didn’t think that was entirely true. Maybe partly. He didn’t know if he fit in the description of ‘handsome’ but he knew Siana was far from unattractive. He always has boys from the training centre asking about her with timid eyes.
“Do you really care about love, or even marriage, so much?” Alan had asked, “Maybe you can choose to live by your lonesome.”
“Only men have that luxury,” retorted Siana, “In the society we live in, an unmarried woman is considered defective and ill-treated.” She heaved a weary sigh.
Alan, being a man, hadn’t understood the extent of social repercussions that women faced, but he lamented the fact that the world was so cruel to unmarried women. He felt even more sad seeing Siana’s unhappiness as she narrated to him the woes and worries of being a woman in a man’s world.
“Well, maybe I can’t change the world,” he said, “But I can marry you if you are still unmarried in the future when we meet, if you want.”
He had blurted it out without meaning to and had instantly regretted it. He hadn’t meant for his unassuming proposal to imply anything. Alan felt ashamed. Here she was sharing the painful experiences of being a woman, and he offered himself as though that could solve her woes. But whatever he had said, it had come from his heart, with sincerity.
“Alright,” she said, “If we are still twenty, and unmarried, we will marry each other. It’s a promise!”
Alan, at her words, was overjoyed. It was so unexpected that she would accept it. He imagined a future with her and resolved to become a high-ranking officer. He had left her to head to the battlefield in requirement for his ambition of becoming an officer.
Alan, of course, didn’t know if she had married already. But he kept his resolve and braved the war. He didn’t want to be a man with nothing to his name, shamelessly coveting her. He wanted to be a man worthy of being a husband to Siana Anetta.
He found the war to be fiercer and brutal than anything he had ever faced in his life. Every day, he saw his brethren die in the fight and feared himself to be next. He was helpless when his colleagues lived in torture. He related to them when they couldn’t bear it anymore and deserted their station, in hopes of surviving. He would have done it too. He had wanted to desert and run away just to live. However, whenever despair caught him, he thought of Siana. He wanted to survive and get back to her one last time. So, he endured it all.