Like a lingering music note of that locked song inside of you, she will resonate into your soundless abyss one day.
You will admire her the way one might hold abstruse poetry or abstract art in a certain high esteem.
And later, when the steaming, viscid darkness holds your frenzied cries at ransom, pieces of her melody will reprise in fading echoes.
It will be your favorite kind of English spring when you see her bound into your 19th c. Poetry lecture like, indeed, one of Clare’s young lambs.
The first few nights, the two of you will sleep together at her bedsit. Lying on an ancient box spring over a makeshift dais. Floating above a galaxy of borrowed books with crumbling hardcovers and rasping yellow pages; empty soda cans with stale cigarette ashes clotting in them, and the landlady’s cat mewling outside the dust-ridged windowsill. In this stationary universe, your body will hold rigidly still, while her limbs will slipknot around yours.
Kay will talk in her sleep, her humid breath finely stirring the hairs on your chest. An unclear and utterly absorbing speech. An Indian dialect. Strain closer each time, and try to catch a familiar word or phrase. It will be a couple of months before she will mumble something you should be able to comprehend. Almost imperceptibly, ‘Bastard fucked me up.’
The following morning, in the glassy sunless Conservatory, ask her what she might have meant. Of course, she will shrug those marble-like shoulders and stare at you.
Scales tipping this way and that with the weights and measures of the powers each of you give and take.
When you first start to go out together, you will meet in public places, off-campus.
Lagers at The Eight Bells, your local pub, with the glittering cut-glass mirrors and the multiple reflections; the timeworn beams from which lighting fixtures of veiled bronze girls hang; the Oriel windows that lead out to the garden with its thick carpet of grass and the flowering rhododendrons, so brilliant in early summer. Dinners at The Beefeater, some thirty miles out in the country, on the high-backed settee in front of an Elizabethan fireplace with a real log fire. These will be your only private haunts.
Remember that you will still be her English Professor. At all other places and times, you must meet like two shadow players on a vast screen — revealing only sketchy profiles (to your indifferent audience) of what you will have become to each other.
Discuss her writing. Or yours. The book you have been trying to write for the past three years: ‘Writers and Their Muses’. She will joke with you, palms upraised on the pine tabletop, that perhaps you need a decent muse of your own to get the book finished. Make that effort to laugh back, for she will observe the flush creeping up from your collarbone.
Her writing will be like her conversations — fragments of half-whispered and half-sung reveries. You will not know, sometimes, when she will speak to you about her home and her family, if she is making it all up or not. No matter. Her voice and the words will seep through your pores like the saturating and sustaining moisture of a rainforest.
With the power of her language, then, Kay will be able to say anything. Yet, most superbly, she will be able to say nothing. Simply sit there and let her body do the talking. Her body, like that of a child’s, will always betray her. Her language, like that of a sophisticated adult’s, will articulate things she will not even mean.
You will wonder about how and when you let yourself fall in love with her. When will her desires start to seem superior to your own? Could such a strong focus on another person mean anything other than a deep sort of affection? So, you will reach out to her carefully, one sky-blue afternoon on the deserted Commons, with I love you.
Not knowing how to respond to such a statement, she will sit back with her arms crossed over her chest. This will also be her favorite morning pose in bed when she will sit up, bare, except for the sheets pulled up to the tops of her breasts with crossed arms and hair in a bundle of black curls on her thin shoulders — looking and waiting for you to open your eyes.
Should she say, ‘I love you’ back?
Should she say, ‘So do I’, with a smile?
Actually, she will ask, ‘Do you?’
One Thursday evening, some stoned yobs will walk into the garish student bar where she will be serving. They will ask for beer. She will refuse their extremely young, hawkish, and leering faces. A couple of the other barmen will try to chase them out. One kid will mock her as he leaves, calling out her name and promising to meet her outside her bedsit. Then, instead of going down towards the perimeter road, the boys will cut back onto the spine round the back of the bar. The mocking one will run up to a window and thump it hard, bringing it down with a massive shatter. A large piece will wing through the air and cut her left hand. Too afraid to walk home alone, she will call you before closing time. And, you will take her back to your place.
She will ripple towards you like a plant in a river because of this modern-day rescue (of sorts). With this increased currency of closeness, you will hope to remove all the mystery; to know, need and want every particle of her.
This is how, within two months of meeting, the two of you will move in together. Keep in mind, though: this could be bad for both of you. The University might not approve. Contrive it to look like you are taking in a lodger. Make certain she always uses the garage entrance and her own key. It will work well; you will both be comfortable and secure with this arrangement eventually.
There are those who are made for living, and those who are made for loving. Do you remember reading this by Camus?
Every so often, when you kiss her, you will taste the bitterness on her mouth. It will spin you and you will not know what to do about it. You will never know, and hope silently that it should go away. Do not even begin to wonder what Camus would have said of this. You are no existential Don Juan (yet, your melancholy will send her to her end).
On a cool, soft, haze-tinted May Bank Holiday weekend, as she is helping you creosote the old garden fence, she will tell you that people don’t get their hearts broken over love. Kneeling on the cobble-stoned path, making expansive brush strokes on the yellowed wooden slats, she will roll her eyes and add that it is no more than a silly expression for egos getting bruised.
For goodness’ sake, do not mention youth and naiveté. Simply listen to her body carefully as she speaks these words. See how she defies the unsympathetic slice of wind that whips her green oversized cardigan about her. This could be your chance to understand whether you break her heart eventually, or bruise her ego. But, regardless of how hard you try to read the signs, you will never know.
Kay’s moods will fascinate you. For no apparent reason, she will walk on air for weeks, taking huge gulps of life in between breathless convulsions of joyful laughter. During such times, you will frequently happen on her holding delighted court within her omnium gatherum on campus. Just stand by quietly and watch as she makes everyone fall in love with her silky smiles, trenchant discourses, eyes the color of wet coffee grounds; sitting pretty in the glancing light of a shy evening sun. These are the moments you must hold forever, like stills from old movies.
Or, she will become a dream creature in her prolonged and solitary periods of silence. With you, but still far away. At such times, she will make herself almost indiscernible. Now, this is where you will make one of your biggest mistakes. Instead of hanging on to her, you will let her slip away. You will give up, too easily, trying to reach her in these moments.
Only one time in the entire relationship will she lose her temper with you. You will be discussing mimesis in the arts after having watched yet another classic work of literature ruined by Hollywood. Huddled together under her worn-out patchwork quilt, in front of the old ashlar fireplace because the radiator in your room will have packed it in. Gringo, the flat-nosed Persian, will lie in a heat-swoon in his willow basket at your feet.
Of course, you will be appalled at what the novel has been turned into for popular entertainment. How you will hate those large, ice-covered wastes of Russia pretending to be the frozen Thames; the American actress with her fake nose and worse accent; all those tacky, plaster-of-Paris sculptures at the end. Above all, you will loathe that the novel’s characters live into the present day of internet and smartphones.
So, you will try to explain how a practically comatose actress could not save such a miserable movie with one-line voice-overs, or full-face stares into the lens, or dialogue lacking in the original wit, sensibility and subtlety and politics of one of your favorite authors.
Convinced that the colorful two-hour series of jump-cuts is a reasonable substitute for ‘the insightful riches of a novel’s internal monologues’, Kay will giggle at your earnestness.
You silly sod! You will not know when to give up. Your despair will be twofold: that the novel’s wry perceptions have been oversimplified into banality, or erased completely; and that your darling Kay does not agree with you.
She will counter ravishingly about revisionism in art, and about the immediate sensory perception of cinematography having its own appeal.
Now, think! This would be a good place to stop such an absurd conversation. Instead, shaking with some unknown fear, you will continue about how delayed mimetic perception of ideas and images fashioned with merely words is more lasting, vital and vivacious. Oh, if you could only listen to yourself then! If you could only know how pretentious and old you will sound.
In the full and final glory of her own rhetoric, she will snap at you that there is no need to delay what is instantly available.
This last will hit you like a squall of arctic air.
Why will you never see that nothing in your prosaic life has prepared you for the strength of even her barest convictions? Mute, in a deathlike exhaustion, you will turn to look at her. Through little slivers of ice, flashing in the dead of winter, her soul will look back at you.
Quite unexpectedly then, her fingers will steal around yours and she will ask for a midnight wedding, with lit torches, like Emma Bovary had fancied.
Always, that involuntary touch; those telltale hands. You will understand this tactile lingo of hers better than any other; as her fingers will guide yours into her rich crevices, or as they will release the plunges of hair from an old-fashioned, jeweled barrette. Never fluttery, like a bird. Always purposeful, like red-hot iron. Branding you as they will travel over your body and rouse every nerve. Made for small kisses, that cool and bitter mouth will trail after the fingers, stinging, not assuaging, your inflamed sensoria. Then, her eyes will shine like a fire that does not burn; like the magic coals that her Hindu ancestors must have walked on; the very transcendence of pain.
Now you could pause, if only for a second or two. And, watch the fresco of her arched body straddling yours. See how she gives herself up so completely to the act, unfurling like a lush fern. Look at those eyes! That face, which looks like she is about to cry.
Except, you will not do any of that. Too scared to stop, thinking she will not even notice.
Eventually, when that unmistakable intensity will shake your very core, you will be like a man who has every reason for happiness, but not happiness.
You blind, careless, illiterate bugger.
You will never stop desiring her. Can anyone truly stop desiring a thing of beauty? You will simply need to withdraw, like a tide that must abandon the shore. Could voice even begin to lend breath to the backwashed débris from your mind?
The French distinguish between le rationel and le raisonablé. What is rational is not always reasonable.
It will seem right to let her know. Then, it will feel unreasonable to upset the balance in her exacting world, where even things like ‘Melon prefers to be eaten alone’ are strictly adhered.
Lovers, they say, look for a complete reflection of themselves in each other. Like Narcissus and his pool, where each was enamored by his reflection in the other’s eyes.
What will Kay see in yours? Aim to gauge this each time you will catch your reflection in hers. No, you will not be able to think of anything when you look into her eyes because what you will see there will never fail to stun you — inexplicably and indescribably. Essentially, she will magnify every aspect of you, her lover. Your virtues and your faults will appear many times greater than you could ever imagine.
Is this truly what lovers want? Is this really what you two should be doing to each other?
When it is all over, her family will come over from India. Parents and two sisters. Fractal images of your lover, they will tell you she had been a troubled child; you are not to feel responsible for what happened. You will not feel sorry for them because you will be too busy feeling sorry for yourself.
Her father will assess you from that distant, universal refuge: a watchful silence. His compact and swarthy frame will be so unlike Kay’s. Only those large black eyes, soothing you like a poultice every time they will rest on your profile. Why not invite him to accompany you to your local afterwards? Do this discreetly, as you are not sure whether he will consider alcohol sacrilege or not. You know so little about him.
The two of you will go to The Eight Bells for a couple of pints. You will want to ask him to tell you more about her: what her first fight had been; who her first crush had been. It would help you to bring all those narrated oddments together, to create some semblance of her wholeness — so you are not left with the jagged splinters. You need to find out who she cursed in her dreams.
Instead, the old man and you will talk about the weather and his last trip to England. The pub landlord, Ian, will give your pint to Kay’s Dad by mistake, and give you the lemonade instead. In your entire life, you have never had lemonade when in a pub (not even the alcoholic hooch the students pretend to like because it is so cheap). Still, you will know not to hold it against Ian, your mate, because you will have seen his confusion on being introduced to Kay’s Dad. He had always thought of your girlfriend as Spanish, not Indian. You had never bothered to correct this assumption.
A series of lectures in Berlin.
Wet December weekend.
Distel, Berliner Kabarett, Friedrich Strasse.
Raucous Irish pub, Ku’damm.
Last round of Glühwein for all.
Kay: sheathed in long russet silk moiré;
Perfumed with oriental jasmine;
Landlocked by bearded German academics.
Völker’s large hand on her bare left shoulder,
His knotty, double-jointed fingers
lost in the dense pile of her hair.
Her eyes, magical and fiery now,
Locked irresistibly with his.
Thick, painful obstruction
Rising in your throat.
Goodbyes at midnight.
Currywurst at Konnöpke’s Imbiss,
Underneath the train tracks,
at the corner of Kastanien Allee
And Schönhauser Allee
In Prenzlauer Berg.
Tiny, airless hotel room, Berliner Strasse.
Too tired to speak, reason, understand.
Numbness inside your head at his name.
Early morning shadows.
Kay, glacial on the bathroom floor.
Eyes like slivers of ice in the dead of winter again.
Trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth.
Like the russet silk from the night before.
The texture of memory: like confetti-ed glass raining down on your skin. You will gather each fragment lovingly, every night, sleepless and alone in your bed. Polish it carefully, till it glitters with the hope of a false diamond and refracts your stark life into a spectrum of luminous rays, lighting up the darkness briefly.
Plautus said: Factum est illud, fieri infectum non potest.
Done is done, it cannot be made undone.
Jenny Bhatt’s writing has appeared in Femina India, Wallpaper, Storyacious, The Ladies Finger, Litbreak, and the anthology Sulekha Select: The Indian Experience in a Connected World. Having lived and worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland and various parts of the US, she now splits her time between Atlanta, Georgia in the US and Ahmedabad, Gujarat in India. Find her at indiatopia.com.