Editor’s Note from Sudha Balagopal: This CNF by Jaya Wagle drew me in from the very first sentence. This story of a brief relationship is drenched in memory and sprinkled with a charming honesty. It’s about train journeys, about motels, about a kiss and most importantly about the tenderness of a fledgling liaison. A might-have-been which will take the reader on a nostalgic ride. This story is for everyone who wonders, whatever happened to …?
Do you remember that time I skipped my train midway from Indore to Bombay to spend a clandestine day and two nights in your city? It was one of those impulsive decisions I made so often in those days. When you came to meet me at the railway station,
I gathered my things and got down,
much to the surprise of the two portly sleepy-eyed aunties in my compartment,
to spend a day and two nights with you.
Do you remember the hotel we checked into instead of going to your flat because you said your flatmate was an unsavory character and you didn’t want to introduce him to me? We lay on our separate twin beds, both of us nervous and expectant, till I climbed into your bed and we cuddled and kissed tentatively but that’s all we were willing to do, both of us in our twenties, both of us virgins.
Do you remember the dry heat of your city the next day when we stepped out of the air-conditioned hotel and
roamed the streets,
hailed a rickshaw,
caught a bus,
stood under the shade of a neem tree,
sipped cold, sweet sugarcane juice with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of black salt?
The sugar and salt coursing through our bodies, cooling the heat, settling the dust swirling around us.
Do you remember what we ate for lunch and dinner that day?
Do you remember the cheap motel room—the smell of stale food lingering in its corners—near the railway station we checked into for that night? My train was due around midnight and it didn’t make sense to book the expensive hotel room of the night before? We shed our clothes under the fan that rattled every time a train passed on the tracks behind the motel. We explored each other’s bodies, touching tenderly, sometimes feverishly, but still, never losing our virginity, because
the distance of two cities,
the weight of our parent’s expectations,
the doubt of our tenuous liaison infringing on our platonic friendship,
held us back. Stopped us from going all the way.
Do you remember why we never pursued our dalliance, after I went back to Bombay and we settled back into our easy friendship?
And then, eight months later, you moved to Bombay and I came to meet you. And you asked if we could kiss because
you were lonely and feeling vulnerable.
A light drizzle sprinkled the streets of Bombay. The muffled sound of traffic filtered up the seventh-floor window. I kissed you to see if I still felt
the spark and the flutter from that time we kissed in your dusty, hot city.
Do you remember on my last visit to India, when we met and talked for an hour inside that cozy restaurant on Gulmohar Road, how I didn’t recognize you at first because your hair and beard, stood out on your dark face like snow and you were wearing glasses? Of course, you do. It was six months ago.
And though I wasn’t planning to, I asked you if you ever wondered about us, if you thought we would have made a happy marriage.
And you said probably. And I said yeah, me too.
And of course, I had to clarify that I was happily married, and this was just a rhetorical, what if, question.
And we talked about our spouses and our exes, and how we found closure with the people who were unfaithful to us and broke our hearts.
And we both sipped café lattes and shared a pizza while the temperamental Bombay rains poured outside, bringing in a cool breeze every time a customer walked in the café door.
The one thing I forgot to ask and you neglected to mention was if you told your wife about me, the brief liaison we had in your city, the two nights and a day we spent together, the brief kiss we shared in Bombay, the one you wanted and I gave. I wonder about that sometimes. Do you?
A former Indian expat, current US citizen, Jaya Wagle’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Barrel House, Jellyfish Review, The Rumpus, Hobart, Little Fiction, Big Truths, Litro, and elsewhere. She has an MA in Creative Non-fiction from the University of North Texas where she is now an adjunct professor of World Lit and Developmental Writing. She lives in Fort Worth with her husband and fifteen-year old son.