I don’t expect to feel much of anything when I see you–it’s been three years since our last encounter– but a visceral swell of excitement and fear swirl in my stomach and recoil like a gun’s trigger. You sit with your legs folded beneath you on a floor covered in old tribal carpets and a woven rice mat. The reflection of the computer screen glows in your eyes and I watch you through the dirty glass window until you sense my gaze and look up. It takes a moment for you to register that it is indeed me, but when you do, your face softens into a smile. You are mostly like I remember but better somehow. Your thick hair now greys at your temples and you have grown it long enough to pull back into a ponytail, which makes you look sophisticated and artistic. I flip my beaten leather chappals off of my feet and slide the door open to meet you where you are now standing. We both laugh, awkward from the years we have spent apart.

You and I wait all day for a private place where we can fully embrace; it finally comes in the elevator between the four floors to the roof cafe of a popular hotel. Until now, we have spent the days walking the streets near enough to brush against each other and hold hands in the back of auto rickshaws. When you talk, I stare at your lips imagining the warmth of your tongue. But here, in the land of the Kama Sutra, a kiss belongs to the province of shadows.

The jolt of the ancient elevator sends us into one another as it begins its ascent. The anticipation of our impending kiss rises from the soles of my feet and courses through my veins like fire. You take my mouth so quickly into yours that I lose my breath. We kiss furiously, stealing as much of each other as we can as though to ration for some future moment when we are once again in our separate worlds. These brief encounters are all we ever seem to get to
express what we feel for each other. As the years go on, we collect these seconds, minutes, and hours, in the hopes they will add up to something big enough that we can live with.

Your skin tastes like mahua, biddis, and village sunsets. We are seven-years hungry to undress one another and finally surrender what has been held back with great pain. We may never have this chance again. Your lust is fiery like the orange sun on rural farmlands as you drag your tongue across my underarm to taste the remnants of this day. You want all of me. And I–I want to press my cheekbone into the hollow of your cheek. I want to find all of your empty spaces and fill them with my love. I run my toes across the arches of your black feet and kiss the slope of
your forehead until my lips reach your crows’ feet. You have the heavy brow and sharp nose of a Javanese shadow puppet and I dissolve in your gaze. I imagine us as husband and wife, your fingertips in the fold of my waist while we eat kulfi under the hot sun. We are both curious adventurers of this country and our love but we will never hold hands freely at roadside chai stalls or in bustling dhabas. No matter how much of you I let inside of me between the cheap sheets of this hotel in Amarkantak, I will never have all of you.

In the light of day, we are choked by custom and convention; it is only the dark corners where our forbidden love is unbound. This is a land where marriage reigns supreme and love is merely its illegitimate cousin. And for that, I am mad at India. She is the mother of a thousand sons and you, another husband who is married to someone he doesn’t love and cannot leave. I probably should feel guilty but instead, I wonder why flowers blossom where there is no rain.
I try not to imagine your wife’s face and have never seen her picture. I know she made you a proud father and I cannot even feel jealous, for I am the one who has seen what is beneath your skin when the mask has been scrubbed away. You will live till the end of your days sacrificing what you desire to walk this tightrope of tradition. Yet, no matter how many times we meet in shady places or I catch your loving look from across the room, our romance will always be measured by what we cannot live. It is our final day together before you return to your other life. When I tell you that I have been bargaining with God to somehow make this all hurt less, you look at me with resignation and say,

“Why are you bargaining? It has always been a fixed price.”

Yamuna can be reached here.

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