The crowds around me are going wild. Here I am, standing in the middle of the arena. The afternoon sun is slowly sinking below the magnificent marble arches, but it’s still hot at this time of year, at this time of day. Clouds of dust settle around me as I climb down from my carriage. I look around, and although many have met their demise on these oval grounds, I am not intimidated by the wall of noise coming to me from all directions. Slowly turning around, I take it all in. I breathe in the warm, earthy scent of the arena. The scent of blood of those who died here before me still lingers. It strengthens me, comforts me in a strange way. I know I am not alone, others have stood up and died for their beliefs, just like I will. I am not scared. This is what needs to happen.
In my hand I carry the torch lit from the hearth of the home I grew up in. Today is my wedding day. My parents arranged it all – that is how it is done in our circles of society. Matrimonium, tssk. The word in itself shows the purpose of this trivial ceremony; women are to become mothers. Marriage is for procreation, to carry on the family name. The name of the man, mind you, women have no say in this at all. My father even paid a large amount of money to my groom’s family, to fund the festivities and to seal the political deal. But what do they know about love? What do they know about true union? They have not experienced the depth of the love I feel for her. They have no respect for what the heart wants – they only care for money and status. In their eyes, I have committed a crime by loving another person with every fiber of my being.
I can see her face in the crowd. She is the only person just standing there, not cheering. She begged me not to do this. It breaks her heart to see me like this, facing death, just as it breaks my heart to see her this devastated. Early this morning, we met in private for the last time. When my family thought I was preparing myself for the festivities, I was with her. We met before dawn at our special place, on top of the angels’ castle. The view of the city, over the river, enchants us every time. Standing underneath the stars, we feel like little figments in the universe. We feel at home underneath all this glittering wonder. We are part of something bigger.
“Please, don’t do it” she said. “Please, don’t… Maybe we can run away. We could run away from our families…” But deep inside, she and I both know that wasn’t an option. No matter how far we’d run, a love like ours would never be accepted. We would never be truly free to love each other just like we wanted. Society would never allow it. The other option was not possible either. I could never marry a man I did not love. It would be betrayal to her. This was the moment I had to stand up for her, for us, for our love. Even if it meant I would die. So be it. My love for her means more to me than my life, and the world has to know this.
I kiss her on the head as she cried silently. I hear her swallow the tears, her chest moves heavily. I try not to cry, but I can feel her heart beating unevenly through my wedding gown. Her tears fall on my chest. This, her sorrow, has got to be the hardest part. Never wrapping my arms around her anymore. Never kissing her perfect lips anymore. Never seeing the sun brighten the soft curls on her head. Never feeling the electricity run through me when she strokes my arm. The pain in her eyes pierces through my soul, and hurts a thousand times more than the dagger ever could. As I kiss her one last time, I feel both our hearts breaking. It is time to go.
“Where have you been?” My father is standing in the door opening. Next to him is the man I am supposed to marry today. They look upset, angry. They know where have been, who I have been with. It doesn’t matter anymore. My father will never understand, he never has. He only cares about politics and status. My choices have disgraced the family, and I can see the hurt across his face. He wishes I was more like my younger sisters, but I have always been different. They do as they’re told by the pater familias. Not me. I turn to my groom, and say: “Death will come before I give my hand to another, a man.” I can tell he is furious. My words have disgraced his family, too. Whatever, his ego will heal in time.
I call to one of the household servants to bring me my torch as I step back on my chariot. The fire in my hand should represent the joining of two households, but to me, it represents my burning love for her I carry within. It is a love that will remain burning, long after my body has died. With a flick of my wrist I urge the horses in motion. As I turn my head, I can hear my dad call orders to the servants. He knows where I’m going, and because he wants to see his reputation restored, he calls out to gather as much people at the Colloseum as possible. He wants the city to know that a traitor is will get her just punishment.
When I arrive at the stadium, the place is packed. You have to hand it to the man, he knows how to organize a public with the simple mention of his name. It is impressive to see how many have gathered to see me die. But I will not die a traitor. I will not betray my love for her, ever. Traitor in the eyes of many, maybe, but a rebel in the eyes of one. The eyes of the only one that matters.
“You all think you know why you have come here today, fellow Romans!” I command the attention of the crowd and spread my arms. “You think you have come to see me executed, to see me punished for putting shame on my fathers house! You know nothing!” Suddenly, I see her face in the crowd. While everything else becomes a blur, her face is crystal clear. Her lips tremble, holding back the tears. “Don’t do it, don’t leave me” she mouths. “Stay with me, we’ll find a way.” But there’s no turning back now.
A sudden calm washes over me, as I watch her farther approach me. In his hands he carries a velvet pouch. I can vaguely discern the shape of a dagger. Of course he is here. He does understand the love I feel for his daughter, he knows. He knows I have no other other option than this. He keeps his head bowed down, trying not to break in front of this massive crowd. I pray that he will take care of her for me, as I take the pouch from his hands. I pray he will not be punished for his support to love, as I take the dagger from the pouch. I pray that she will remember how much I love her, and that I will never leave her side. Not really. Someday, she will realize what this means.
“Romans, before you stands no traitor, but a victor in love! Death becomes me, but I will rise again. Love will rise!”