I don’t know if you remember the first time I saw you but I do—I remember it as if it were yesterday, even though years have passed. The years have passed between us like mile markers on a highway but I remember. Yes, I promise my love that it won’t be embarrassing at all. Memory is such a treacherous road—it meanders so much that it is difficult to know where one road leads to. Sorry I digress—I know that you don’t like it when I do but what can I do? Whereas normally I am someone who doesn’t speak all that much, when it comes to the history of you and of us, I am quite a bit of a loquacious person.
You were there outside Kutub Sir’s coaching, ten years ago, almost to the day today when I first saw you. I know it is the hallmark of cheesy love stories and saccharine pop songs but I knew then, knew as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that you and I, our lives would be intertwined together. There was no hesitation in me about that—it was as though someone had turned a switch on in the inner recesses of my heart and your name shed light on the dusty void that was my soul. It is a wonder to me how little we know about how and why we become attracted to each other, isn’t it? It is as though, we people, we humans pretend that we, in the words of the poets, are masters of our fate yet so much of us, so much of what makes you, perfect intractable you, you and me, imperfect and flawed me, who we are, are out of our control. Scream and cry and shout about freedom all we want but in the end our lives are controlled by others—as though we were puppets. Or characters in a story.
It took me the longest time to work up the nerve to speak with you—I will be honest about that. I was smart—probably smarter than so many of the other people who were there at that time. Our peers, your friends, and for me, the people who presented obstacles whenever I wanted to talk with you, were more interested in having fun and enjoying the prime of their lives than I. They wished to love, to make merry and smoke cigarettes and play sports and I could see, from the distance vantage point that I had, that you weren’t of that sort. Perhaps you were like me then? I often, at the time and still do, find myself with my head in the clouds, wondering about the grand scheme of life, trying to figure out the big questions—life, the universe and everything. I even laughed, the weird laugh that sometimes scares other people but you found endearing, when Adams wrote the answer to that was 42. I wondered, while reading it, if you would have found the answer as funny as I did—would the mellifluous tones of your laughter ring through the air like the sound of angel’s wings beating against the sky? I had heard it before but the progenitor of that laugh was always, always someone other than I. And like a trained dog, whenever I would see such a case, I would burn with a hellfire’s fury.
The first time we spoke you asked me something. It was something mundane at the time—we were put on the yearbook committee and we had all agreed to meet. I don’t know why I was put on the yearbook committee—I suspect it was because I was the only person capable of stringing two sentences together in a row, especially compared to the other troglodytes who were on the committee. I suspect that they were there because it was an easy extracurricular activity—something to pad out their resumes when they would apply for university in a few years. You asked me for a pen and after a moment’s panic, of feeling that I was a deer caught in the headlights, I passed you the one I was using. You asked me—what will you use? I did not reply, looking around for another. You, angel that you were, passed my own pen back to me. Thanks anyway, you should be the one to have it—you’re a much better writer than me.
If I had loved you before, I revered you after. You and I, we had sporadic conversations after that but that was the beginning of what would be considered a burgeoning friendship (even in my wildest dreams at the time, I would never dare to presume that you and I would ever be in a relationship—calmly rational man that I am, even I am susceptible to our all too human proclivity to believe in jinxing ourselves). Sadly though, with the yearbook published and the encroaching threat of A level exams coming to us, our lives drifted apart—circumstances pulled us away from each other like planets losing each other’s gravity.
University happened—for you in the West, I chose to remain in the East—not because of any particular longing in my heart; if anything, the longer I stayed in Bangladesh, the more I loathed it but because the deities did not deign to give me the financial means to make my exodus. Thus I remained—the lens of Facebook allowing me to keep watch of you, to look at you having fun, travelling the world on your semesters off—Paris, Rome, Venice, Helsinki—all of that I watched and saw, sometimes dreaming that I was with you. I would use my vivid powers of imagination and picture myself there with you—the salty wind of the Baltic blowing your black tresses into my face, us being serenaded on a gondola in Venice, walking the promenade bathed in the firefly glow of the Parisian night.
They say that hope is a prison—during those long years while you were traveling the world, I certainly felt that way. I hoped against hope that you would come back, that the life of the West was not enough to enrapture you and make you settle down roots because I wanted you to come back here, to me. Yet that hope enchained me as well—wherever I went, the weight of you not being there was enough that sometimes it was like I couldn’t breathe.
Did I ever muster the courage to tell you how I felt? Not during those times—I am nothing if not someone who does his research and I read the statistics. Long distance relationships do not work—the failure chance of a long-distance relationship is a function of how long the couple were together before the relationship became distant. It’s not an exact formula—human nature can never be quantified to an exact formula but it was a strong enough correlation that I wasn’t going to risk the fact that our relationship might not work out if I became impatient.
I waited and watched and prepared myself. I had to—your light was the only thing in my life at the time and even now, it still is. I studied hard and silently berated myself, during those four years while you completed your degree and I mine, that I hadn’t spoken to you more, that I hadn’t touched you, at least once.
You were my first orgasm—it’s true and I won’t delve into the minutiae of the fact but you were. Unlike my peers, I do not indulge in the practice of onanism; only weaklings do that. Yet once, I saw you from afar—this was back before you had left the country and all of us, your friends and everyone else at the yearbook committee and I, we were travelling through the streets of Dhanmondi and we were beset by a rainstorm. It was a sudden rainstorm and perhaps I don’t know if you recall this particular memory but this was one that haunted me for the longest time—we ran through the streets, trying to find shelter but we were on a street that offered none. We had not ran for more than a few hundred yards yet it was enough—the dress that you wore became sheer, hugging every inch of your perfect body and I felt electricity travel through me. I hoped you did not notice—did not notice the fiery rod of iron in my pants nor notice the way my eyes seemed to crawl over your skin. One of your friends, Saif, did notice but he said nothing to you at the time—later he teased me about it. That night, you became my first.
Years passed between us—you came back and sometimes I would muster up the courage to message you on Facebook, asking you how you were doing but I never did. That would not have been the smartest play. There were way too many variables involved in trying to rekindle a spark, however minute, over the internet. So much of human communication is non-verbal—it’s a matter of touch, of smell and of, as they say, body language.
We ran into each other at an after-work party—you had come back, with your shiny foreign degree working at a bank and I, with my business school degree, doing the same. As fate would have it, we wound up working at the same bank, albeit in different departments. The years had changed you—like a fine wine you had aged, going from a beautiful young girl to a classy and seductive young woman. That night, I remember I couldn’t make it home—I took leave of the party after you had left, after getting your number and furiously masturbated in my cubicle of work, thinking of your plunging neckline, thinking of you.
I had to enact my plan soon—I asked you, a few days later after the party, if you kept in touch with anyone from our old coterie. You did not. I already knew that. Yet that gave me the opportunity to begin speaking with you. I asked you out for coffee—you acquiesced.
We started talking and soon we began dating and it was like someone had brought color to my dismal life. It felt as though I had been, for the longest period of time, holding my breath and it was only in your presence was I finally, finally able to exhale. We talked for hours—you and I and I could feel the spark light up between us, the spark that I knew was always, always there. You introduced me to food from all over the world and many a night, you and I, we would lie in bed, separated by geography yet connected through the magic of technology. Our voices ropes that tethered us over the ephemeral void.
Here have some water. I’ll have some as well. Talking is thirsty work, yet those first nights, we stayed up to watch the sunrise. I remember you telling me about how, when you were living in the West, how the rain didn’t feel right—how whenever it rained you expected the kind of thunderstorm that you grew up with; electricity in the air, the sky turning an eldritch purple, the entire city feeling as though everyone was waiting, staring up at the sky, waiting for the world to end.
It has been so long my love, so long that we have been together. We’ve had so many firsts together—you were all of my firsts. All right, perhaps not all of my firsts—there was this one girl I had dated while I was in university. Are those tears I see in your eyes? Please do not cry my love. She didn’t matter—she only served to be a tool which I would use to eventually win your heart. See the fact of the matter is, I knew that you wouldn’t like me at all if I was completely fresh and new to dating; I had kept tabs and browsed through your social media. Seen the kind of parties that you went to and the vacations that you had. Was it wrong of me to assume, even though it pained me so much, that you would find someone who would want to wrap their arms around you, to circle your waist and pull you closer, to smell the ocean in your hair? For a girl like you, at the time, who had been with others, and I am not just speaking in the biblical sense; for a girl like you, if I had said that I was no more experienced than a teenager experiencing his first erection, than you would not have found that desirable. You would have found me wanting and I couldn’t have that.
So there was this girl—she was not the smartest girl in our class, though because of the elite nature of the program we were in, she was quite smart yet not at your caliber or mine. Her personality, if I had to describe it, reminded me of a used condom. She was interested in me—perhaps seeing in me, what you later came to love, a proto version of the man that you helped me become. She started spending more time with me, asking me to help her with simple econometrics problems that even children would be able to do and of course, I went with it. I knew that for my plan to come to fruition I had to have the necessary experience that you would require in a man.
So she dated me. Not vice versa though. So remember my darling, when I kissed her, I was kissing you; when I held her hand, I was holding yours and when I made love to her, it was your face I was orgasming to. Who I’ve always orgasmed to.
Let’s forget all about her for now—she is no longer consequential. I don’t even remember what happened to her. Although let’s be frank, the first time we made love, you and I, one of those stolen afternoons when your parents were away and, for a scant few hours, we had your house in Banani to ourselves, it was so much better. I remember after, bathed as we were in the after glow, that you asked me, making the face that you make when you are genuinely curious, which bin did condoms go into? I looked confused and pondered the question and we proceeded to have an animated discussion about the whole thing—it couldn’t go into organic, even though my leavings were and it couldn’t go into recycling because god forbid someone should reuse a condom. I don’t remember how seriously we had each taken our positions, you the proponent, I the opponent, but we ended up making love twice more before we reached the mutually shared conclusion that it was nothing if not garbage.
Our bliss was not to last though—the first few years of our marriage went as smoothly as such things go and then things happened. I worked too many late nights, not giving you the kind of time that you required, believing falsely that if we were to both become monarchs in our spheres of the corporate world, we would have the most stable of marriages. It was a miscalculation on my part, I must admit. Slowly, though we drifted apart, we did not speak; our long conversations that lit up the night were nothing more than perfunctory hellos and goodbyes. I said some things that I should not have. You said something that I considered unfortunate. You had to go to the hospital after you hurt yourself falling down the stairs. I had always told you to be more careful.
To be honest, it came as a shock when you said you wanted some time apart. You wanted to think things through, not knowing that I knew you were being egged on by your sister. She never did like me but then again, she wouldn’t know quality when she saw it.
I, of course, had to do something. There was no way that I would let you leave. You were my everything—what would my world be like without you? I remember paying a visit to your sister and afterwards, I managed to convince her to be on my side. It was not that difficult.
There was this one moment in all of this, the morning you said we were through that I almost thought I was going to lose you. I really did. You said that you had had enough, that being with me was like being with an automaton (that was the precise word you used and despite my panic, I appreciated your verbosity—god you are such a treasure) and I realized I had to do something.
We talked. I talked mostly. And then you didn’t listen at first but then you did. You decided to stay. I can be very convincing when I want to be. I know it. Now so do you. You have always been my angel and you always will be.
After that incident, I thought it best that the two of us retreat a bit from society and work on our marriage. I was very happy when you decided that you wouldn’t be going into work anymore. More time for us to spend together and reconnect. Your sister knows enough about how much she had hurt our marriage that she doesn’t call anymore. That’s good. One good thing about the rise of social media is that you don’t really need to see people to be connected—you just need dexterous digits and a little adeptness with Photoshop. Our trip last month to Fiji looked quite spectacular—I am sure our friends were quite jealous. I mean they should be—I’ll be promoted to managing director soon and wouldn’t that be lovely?
Oh honey, I have to go to work. It seems talking has made me lose track of time. I just wanted to say
Zubier Abdullah is a software developer by day, writer during the night. His works have appeared in a number of literary publications all over the world, notably, in Wasafiri and Kitaab.