I need to write about him so that I don’t forget how it happened. (I won’t forget.) We don’t talk much. I find it harder when we do. He tells me he’s on his way, once his visa comes through. That he’ll see me soon. I can wait. I don't have a choice.
He is about as intoxicating as you’d imagine a man raised on Western ideals and Hindi literature to be. That is to say, liberal and practical and whip-smart and boundlessly, endlessly, disarmingly romantic about the world. When he walked past my table onto the terrace outside, the day I arrived, my body felt him before my eyes saw him. That is a real thing that happened - but if you said that happened to you I wouldn’t believe it. I’d say that was a way to make the story better. To make a beginning when you worry you already have your end.
I watched him through the window as he read The Times of India, his shoulder-length black hair thick and silky like woven cotton, teasing his shirt collar. His hands – his fingers - they hypnotised me as he turned the pages. Three weeks later he’d take me to bed and say that rolling those fingertips over my nakedness was like snowboarding. I’d watch his dark-skinned touch linger over my paleness, and think of how his watch sat on his wrist that first day. How that is something that I remembered. The way he wore time.
He asked to join my table, eventually. Then he asked me what gets me in a tangle and how I want to feel. I liked his impeccable English and the melody of his accent. He told me about his chair of forgiveness – an old “do-er-upper” an ex-professor had given him, where he sits and learns to heal. He told me about the uncles that beat him as a kid, because nobody knew how to deal with his rambunctiousness, and we talked about the emancipation of women. About how, in his culture, the gods responsible for creation, protection and rebirth are revered most, and yet the gods responsible for knowledge and wealth – the two things we need most for a society to flourish – are actually goddesses. He told me that I am a strong woman, and India – the world – needs strong women. “I want to eat time with you,” he said, as we moved to look out over the water, lit up by reflected stars because it was dark, now. “I am enjoying talking to you so much.” It sounded like a line, but I wanted to believe him so I did.
“I didn’t order the fruit salad because I was hungry,” he told me. “I ordered it as an excuse to stay at your table.”
I decided to love him on that very first night. It happened when he was showing me his photography. We got to a photo taken at sunset, of an old building near Darjeeling, somewhere near where he is from, and the orange sky was littered with birds, wings spread wide open, soaring towards a something.
“They pose for me, you know,” he said. “Birds love to pose for my photographs, Laura. It happens every time.” And there was something in the way he said it, the adoration of his craft and the stories it can tell, how he added in my name as a stamp on my attention, that made my bones say, “Yes. This one. You have a home in this one.”
He pursued me. Messages and promises, questions and ideas. I was intimidated by him, by how I felt with him. My apparent ambivalence drove him crazy. I was scared - and busy trying not to quit my yoga course, too. I think I stuck it out longer because I wanted to stick around for him. One night he said, “I have to see you.” I told him I had time for a single cigarette. We sat beside the water and I hadn’t been wrong. He was a port in a travelling storm. Somewhere to batten down the hatches. A relief. I loved him, simply enough, and I trusted him to let myself.
His tattoo says “mirror” in Latin, because that is what we are, he says, all mirrors of each other. I liked the version of myself he reflected back to me. I didn’t have to shrink to fit his world – he demanded that I rise to the occasion of myself. To take up the space I deserve. It’s only when that invitation arrived that I realised how seldom I’ve had it before. He wasn’t scared of me, was the thing. He wasn’t scared of what it was. He loved me too. I got a part of him the rest of the world doesn’t. Together, we exhaled.
I’m covered in invisible fingerprints. I can feel where he pulled at my mind and forced me to stretch my notion of love beyond myself. Sense where he moulded my ideas on togetherness. Altered my perceptions of sex. There are his marks, all over, where knowing him has shaped me, and that’s the story of my heart, now: that he had it (has it), and was (is) so very gentle with it, and that he has taught me more than I ever thought I might know about surrendering to it all. About surrendering into how neither of us knows what comes next, now that we're a world apart for a little while, and surrendering into the hope that maybe - just maybe - we could be on to something here.
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