Woman

by Haider Shahbaz

Dear M,

Today, Lahore is drenched. A shy sun has disappeared. The night hides in darkness muddy water invading the streets. It jumps from under car’s tyres on to unsuspecting pedestrians. It is mid-July; I am back from boarding school to watch a dirty, white, rather ungraceful minaret. There are strange things that the first sight, after three years, of a fog-covered minaret – the same minaret you watched everyday for fifteen long years – can do to a man, a boy. You are here to watch it with me, wearing that disgusting plaid you love, plastic glasses askew on your small nose, thin-lipped smile and a long neck. The nights of full moon have passed. We have just come back from our fifteenth trip to a bakery in fifteen days. I and you are in a search for the perfect dessert.

Yes, for the perfect dessert. Amongst low, Lahori rooftops, parallel Islamabad streets, ruined Greek cities, bright bakeries, semi-naked sword wielding emperors, and idlers, monochrome family pictures of uncles in stiff military suites, dilapidating Mughal art, grand old castles and wrinkled storytellers.

But will we ever find the perfect dessert? The perfect ending? The perfect good-bye? Maybe we shouldn’t, so we keep coming back to find it again.

To many more waves.

Much love,

************************************************************************

Well, can I kiss you, then?

Thoroughly unromantic. She thought.

But we’re friends. And I’m seeing someone.

Thoroughly unromantic. He thought.

But it’s just a kiss.

Pause.

Okay.

Forty minutes.

It’s never just a kiss.

************************************************************************

Did you know there was a wall here? There is a wall here! Hahahaha! Buddy, look, there is a wall here!

Buddy sat silent, observing, trying to touch the refrigerator from across the room.

Buddy. Hey! Buddy! We need to get out of here!

Criss-crossing, hopping, navigating, undressing and addressing Buddy.

We need to get the fuck out of here. Fuck the job. Fuck that desk. Fuck that magazine. We’ll sit in this room and trip all day. And we’ll tell everyone to come join us. We’ll never have to eat again or sleep again or work again. But we’ll fuck. We’ll fuck in between trips. Hahaha. Fuck. I have a penis. Buddy! I have a penis! How beautiful. And an anus. Look at my hands. Look at them. Wait. Wooow! I can touch your skin with them. I’m telling you Buddy. Let’s get out. We’ll get a hippie van and ride across the USA! We’ll spend our life together. You and me. Whad’ya say Buddy?

Right on, Buddy said.

Right on? What are you? Black? I think I’m coming down Buddy. You know, there are other people in this world. They come knocking. Will you hug me? I’m feeling cold. I think I’m coming down.

It comes in waves.

Okay.

Take a hit from the bong. It will help you come down.

Buddy! What are you thinking?

Black and White and Yellow and Brown. Black and White and Yellow and Brown.

I love you Buddy!

I love you too. It will be fine. Just take a hit from the bong.

Black and White and Yellow and Brown. Black and White and Yellow and Brown.

************************************************************************

Dear Diary,

It’s 5.30 in the morning. The sun still hasn't come up here; well, the sun never comes up here, but you know what I mean. I am sitting in my common room. The books I got from the library for my paper are stacked neatly in three stacks on one side of me, on a blue couch that I am sitting on. There is a rectangular wooden table in front of me which is also full of books: my suitemate's paper. We are all busy going groggy over final papers which our professors will have to read. Why we do this I'll never understand. But then again, there are so many things I don’t understand. There are two bedrooms (each for two people) in my suite. In my room, roommate is sound asleep. He is a complete stranger to me; an amicable one, we make do. In the last bedroom are Adam and Jason. Adam is addicted to snuff and Nietzsche these days, and I think he is falling for Tory again. Tory is the girl he was having sex with for the past few months. He stopped that because he is still in love with Angie, or so he thinks. Angie is in China and sends him long e-mails. This makes me think if I like Andrea. Andrea is the girl I think I like. I think she likes me too. Well, I don't know what it means to like someone. We kissed and laughed. We slept together. I took care of her cats. But these things are all so confusing, no? Jason is annoying, gay and well-meaning. I don't really know him. He is typical: studious, musical, awkward. I guess I call him typical because I don't know him.

************************************************************************

The chair is wet. The marshmallow bottle is not open. A few people stare at each other. The smoke slowly rises from the ashtray. They do not put their feet down on the floor because it is all wet. It is a peculiar night. Yasmin had invited him over for dinner at her house. She had promised him Arab food, good company and some pot; he went to be reminded of her old college apartment. They were gathered around a white coffee table on her balcony. Someone was talking of Habermas. Someone else chimed in with his thoughts on the human condition-borrowed, as usual. He had started to feel fever creeping in. He had had a sore throat for some time. The little white coffee table between them, standing on four stout legs, was really the only thing holding them together. Of course, the small plastic bag which had held pot half an hour ago helped. It lay there, rather uneasily, aware of its function as the meat of the plot. Sarah was sitting next to him. She brought the flat chest back into his erotic imagination. She was sitting cross-legged, in torn black tights, and staring at the table with large smoky eyes. He tried to kiss her at the end of the night but she refused. He started walking back to his place. Not pessimistic, not even dejected. Simply bored. A little feverish.

************************************************************************

“It’s about how a woman holds you at night.”

A few nods. Some smiles. A reluctant sip of beer. He knew what they were thinking: cranky old man and his stupid advice. He continued:

“How she lies next to you or on top of your shoulder. How she touches your chest. Does she kiss your neck?”

He was back; the old Plough and Harrow with its wooden bar and its shiny pint glasses was always there to welcome him. The dim yellow lights. The stinging, frothy ale. Ben, his favourite bartender. Thirty minutes from his house to here, everyday. House: 42 Elluned Street; he could never call it home. He could never call anyplace home. Always hurrying, finding a new house. And now? Ten years had passed on this corner but still – house. Maybe – he sometimes thought – he didn’t know how to make a home. Why bother now?

The students left. They always did. He liked them like that – people. Coming and going. Never staying. Unless, of course, if they insisted. He, then, got used to them. Their laughs. And silences. And their smell. And how they held him at night. He remembered all that. He remembered no faces now. Just how they held him at night.

Loud opinions, an old cane and a new TV: he had few possessions. But many boxes: old and crumpled; new and firm; papers and manuscripts; toys and letters; bygone days. A big old house; just like him. Bare, to place his boxes and hold his memories, within its naked walls. He had much of those two: memories and boxes. Many miles from his country, why he had chosen this place to live, without friends and family, nobody knew. There was no racism in this town; he had no problems.

He had two mattresses in one of the bedrooms. That is where he would lie. Watch his ceiling. Go off to sleep. Dream.

************************************************************************

She entered as a stranger, a complete unknown. She gave him her arms to rest in, her body to kiss, her ear to talk to and her big black eyes where he could see his reflection. In her short frame she held a lot of affection; all the affection that he needed from an older woman. She held him so close it was painful, but never uncomfortable. He was afraid to cling to her, especially that night. He had been burning with fever. Lying in his bed, cursing god and the weather, too lazy to take medicine. She called him and told him to come over. She gave him medicine and a bed and lied down next to him, silently kissing his neck, running her tiny fingers through his curly hair and whispering comforts. She knew what to do: what medicines he needed, how warm he should be feeling, when he will break into a sweat and when the fever will go away. She always did. And in the morning, feeling rested and awake when he entered her, it was rejuvenating. She held him around the waist with her legs, slowly digging her nails in his back and her teeth in his shoulders. It felt like he had emptied himself and yet never been so full. Her bed was in front of the window and the sunlight was peeping in. They sat up and he rolled her and himself a cigarette.

“Why do you have that moronic smile on your face?”

He didn’t have an answer so he kept staring, moronic smile intact. He thought she understood. He thought she smiled as well.

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