He wanted me … it was obvious the second he appeared on the steps. His eyes were on my body, left right centre, and then he looked straight at me, like never before. I always knew he fancied me a bit, wouldn’t mind, and he was cute too, but he never came out with it, always looking the other way, maybe because he always had that miserable Anna with him. And there she was that day as well, popping up behind him and looking around, not too happy to see me but making a show of it, well who could blame her really. But for the first time he really looked at me, those serious grey eyes on me, and suddenly I was liquid.
He wouldn’t have done anything, though, and that would have been it, but now I wanted to see what he was like, I wanted him to, you know, crystallise my desire. I wasn’t going to wait until he screwed up the courage to screw me. They looked so boringly comfy over dinner, like an old sofa set, that when she started to go on about all the happening shit in her life, oh I made a couscous the other day and I’m learning Arabic and Ben and I are going to Lebanon this year blahfuckingblah, I thought why shouldn’t I have a new hobby of my own? Soon as dinner was done Simon and Tina dashed off to meet some mates up in the city and though I’d been thinking of tagging along, once Anna and Raj said they’d do the dishes I knew it had to be right then and there or never. I knew they would start nattering about something like yoga or aromatherapy, and that it would piss her off if I asked Ben if he wanted a joint, so much that she would pretend she was having a jasmine tea or something and wouldn’t come down to the garden for as long as it took for a fuck in the dark.
It wasn’t much of one, he was so nervous for the couple of minutes it took him, but that was cool, we could’ve done it again soon enough if the idiot hadn’t gone and made his confessions to her. Of course she left him! He came to me quivering, still not sure what’d hit him. Hoping I would take her place. He was a good guy, sure, but way too serious for me. I wasn’t gonna be his next project, his or anyone else’s, he was Anna’s project. To be honest, I’d never be able to trust him, not after!
But I couldn’t tell him all of this, could I? We had to go through the whole bullshit, playing our roles instead of all of us making a clean break and doing whatever we wanted. He cried, she cried, shit, even I cried in the end. Probably because we were still in the same damn place and knew the same damn people and that wasn’t gonna change overnight and it was all double depressing once summer was over. I could’ve told him Anna would leave him, just to save him the time. But I was pretty surprised when she shacked up with Raj. Raj! Maybe it wasn’t that surprising really. I felt sorry for Ben, really I did, but that was about it, what could I do? It was just what it was. It was just a fuck in the dark.
To think that I felt guilty about Raj. It was so wonderful, chatting to someone on exactly the same wavelength. But so innocent. Civilised, you could say. It was only when our fingers touched as I passed the dishes over, and our eyes met, that I thought, but what if? I’ll be honest, I wondered for a moment what it would be like to kiss him. But I just crushed the thought. I felt so bad afterwards I couldn’t understand why. Nothing had happened, nothing would ever have happened, but I couldn’t seem to face Ben, something wasn’t quite right.
Then Ben comes up to me, the day after it was. With this stupid hangdog expression on his face, asking me what’s wrong. I’m trying to tell him nothing, wondering myself if anything is wrong. And he blurts out, just like that, I’m sorry, I kissed Kim, I’m so sorry. While Raj and I were in the kitchen that night. Can you believe it? I couldn’t speak for a few seconds, it was that shocking, that incomprehensible. How dare he? And why would he? With that slut. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life. How dare he try and tell me it meant nothing? It would have meant something if I’d kissed Raj but I didn’t, because I know what’s right and what’s wrong. But he just kisses that bitch, just for the fun of it … that tells me what he thinks is important. It’s not me. Whatever he said, it wasn’t me that mattered when it mattered.
Oh he talked and talked. After a while I couldn’t even make out what he was saying, because I began to understand what the problem really was. Being with him. When it was clear he just wanted to be with somebody, anybody. Being with him when I could be with someone who really wanted to be with me. I’d never have thought something to do with emotions would be so clear-cut as it was then. Better late than never.
Finding out about it made me feel so dirty, so degraded. But that was the only thing Ben ever did for me in the end. It was like he wiped a layer of grime off a dish in the sink, so to speak. I might even have forgiven him, he seemed genuinely sorry about what he had done, but I was so angry. And even if I did forgive him, what was the point? I didn’t want to be with someone who could do something like that.
Seeing her stretched out on an electric-orange oval rug on the sun-baked concrete patio behind the house, her pale legs and narrow buttocks encased in tight white cotton shorts, her skinny torso in red-barred light wool. ‘Hey you…’ I paused at the top of the steps as she looked up from a book and smiled at me from behind her oversized shades, her whiteblonde locks slipping to a side. For an instant I imagined it as it might have been, Kim and I frozen in the sun, the deep-green tumble of the garden a tunnel behind her.
And then Anna stepped out from behind me, her face souring with the recognition of my temptation, and the spell was broken.
It was only later, when everything was over and done with except for a black bubbling hopelessness that threatened to engulf me, that I thought: That moment of betrayal, what were you thinking? When you joined her for a smoke outside after dinner? When she caught you staring at her, when your fingers trembled towards her face? But it’s only when it’s too late that you think, what was I thinking?
You know exactly what the fuck you were thinking. You were thinking of your tongue in her mouth and your hand on her breasts and pushing her down, stripping her, and taking her right there in the garden, that’s what you were thinking. What else would you be thinking?
So you kissed her, but she stopped you, for of course it takes a woman to make both of you feel bad about something you both want to do, and she said, ‘… no … I can’t … this is crazy … not now’, and what did you do? Did you listen to her gasps in between your kisses, for you could have left it at that and all you’d have had would be a bittersweet taste in your mouth that Anna would never have known about because it really wasn’t such a big deal? Fuck, no. You just went on with your business until she was soft enough for your hands to wander wherever they liked and by then, when she felt how hard you were, she couldn’t do anything about it even if she thought she could, she just let you do it to her, right there in the ink of the garden as Anna helped with the dishes inside, you were done before the clatter subsided. And it was her fault that Anna pretty much figured it out because a woman’s intuition is nothing on a man’s secrets, put two women you’ve done together and they just know, don’t they? They just know.
So that was end of that, and before you could even say, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking, I think I love you,’ Anna had gone and shacked up with that morose dickhead who’d always been hanging around her, and that really was the end of that then, you could never have brought yourself to say anything more to her except maybe, ‘You fucking whore, I hate you.’
But that magic moment … in the slanting afternoon sun, where there was no thought even, just an image burned into someone who was not me … none of what followed had anything to do with it, not even making it with Kim on the rug, and certainly not all the lying and the crying and the real-life shit that took her away from me even as Anna was being comforted by that joker – nothing had anything to do with it, really. The rest was just me. My mistake was to think it had to lead on to something else, instead of just holding the moment in myself and marvelling at it, wide-eyed, before turning back to Anna and taking her hand.
~ Rabi Thapa is a freelance journalist and writer in Kathmandu.