Do you remember that afternoon in Dhaka? It was the Tuesday you thought was a Wednesday and you spent the morning preparing for a guest who wasn’t due to arrive until tomorrow. Even though you felt ill once you got out of bed you turned into a host with a mind hard as crystal, focussed only on the lady set to arrive for tea. As master of our borrowed flat you were anxious about the laundry hanging in the bathroom and the dishes in the kitchen sink.
Because you were too unwell to bake what you’d envisaged, you went out to fetch a cake and after returning home, sat at your desk to cool off after the rickshaw ride through the hot roads. You glanced at the calendar then and realised it was Tuesday after all. Now what to do with your time? Your hands full of sudden luxury, you relaxed and wrote for several hours to whatever music was playing while I watched you through the bedroom doorway. Looking out at you through the frame I studied the sun-bleached back comb of your hair and the darkening tan of your arms, since you insisted on wearing short sleeves in the heat.
What were the days like for us together? We concealed the same secret, you and I, of being in love without voicing it. We could argue like we were on stage, good natured but hot, one complementing the other perfectly for the entertainment of curious spectators. We found our flat, or rather your friend found it for us, down an unpromising alleyway but away from the chaos of the city, with a view of treetops and rooftops and the night view of our neighbour’s windows, frames of variegated light over which the curtains were never drawn. Most of our furniture was on loan, though we bought a table we never dined off; we ate on the floor, crossing our legs over the reed mat that left a pattern of zigzags on your back when I bent you to it to make love.
There was something in you then, some innocence of face that made people in the street single you out to beg spare change from, that made you defensive when you should have been soft, that made you all muddled up. Despite the lack of height you complained of you had grace but never showed it until you were thinking of something other than moving. That afternoon, in the slackness of time, you walked around our rooms in red cotton trousers, planning in your restlessness your outfit for dinner. After another moment’s thought, you announced you didn’t want to leave this place of air and light but wanted to stay on the floor with me, or on the bed with a book and me, or have me help you tend to the plants you said cleared your chakras, but always with me.
I remember we didn’t argue but quietly continued with our business, perhaps thinking about the nearness of each other’s bodies, though never telling. We could not be in love because of my husband, removed by continents but remaining in fact.
“I’ve been through three incarnations, maybe more,” you always said. “Yet I’m not an impressive person.”
You were always intent on gaining my approval. You couldn’t help your mind being invaded by the bedlam of the outside world. Long and hard you struggled to keep your integrity, your sensitivity, your ethics in all that din surrounding you. How strenuously you always argued, but only with me, as if it were one less barrier between us.
You also said there was water in the air. What air it was in that small set of rooms, clear and grey as if filtered through quartz—or smog, which is less romantic, but then Dhaka is not a romantic city.
I could never tell you I loved you. It seemed to me then, as it still seems now, an abuse of your sentimentality and the peace of our narrow world.