Random. Love. Paris.
Have you ever tried to figure out what love is? Yes? No? May be? Might have? Why do you even need to figure out? Why not? It’s what we spend most of our lives doing anyway, whether we know it or not. No? You don’t think so? Yeah right! Ever thought about why a gal you liked said something you didn’t expect and what did it really mean? Was it a hint to take the next step? Did it mean she didn’t like you? Ever discussed your guy with one of your friends, trying to find out why he doesn’t say what you want to hear? Or says too much of it?
Still think you don’t care to find what love is? Ah that’s ok! Neither do I. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to find the right guy, fantasize how he is going to be sitting right next to me on a long, cold flight. We would click the moment we said hello, talk, laugh, share, dream, and flirt and then kiss under the blankets, sleep in each others’ arms when the lights go off.
I wish life, especially my love life, was a movie. I especially wished for it while getting on an airplane. And if the flight was to Paris, a city I always associated with love and romance, could I really hold any other fantasy in my head? Cut, Cut, Cut, said the Director! Let’s reduce the dialogues and laughing footage and add deep, wet kisses, feeling up each other, necking, fondling and whatever else can be done without removing the clothes, to this scene. We imagine, we create, and we present what gets the audiences’ nerves racing and their breaths heaving. Did you ever hear of anyone losing their breath over dreams and a little laughter? Only chick flicks and Mills & Boon have that kind of shit.
So, here I was, waiting to get on a flight to Abu Dhabi, where I had a stop-over for three hours before I boarded another flight to Paris. First scan of the guys in the Airport Lounge at Mumbai and I was scared. Of course there is a soul mate theory we grow up on. Of course we were taught that he might be anybody, anywhere, out there waiting to sing songs around trees with us. But an electrician or a plumber with a pudgy face, dripping and shining with oodles of fat of the Arabian lambs? Are you kidding me? Oh yeah sure I believe in dignity of labor! But what can an electrician and I have in common?
Disappointed, scared to find my pot of a soul mate next to me, I walked to my seat on the aisle. Though I loved the window seat, I had requested for an aisle seat when I noticed my fellow male travelers in the check-in queue. I wouldn’t be trapped at the end of the row with two of those guys blocking my path to freedom and the toilet.
I waited with painful breaths for one of those guys to come and sit next to me. The boarding was complete. No one sat next to me, not the sexy, rich, humane conversationalist who was a creative but pragmatic genius with proficiency in science, mathematics, arts and literature and neither the pea-brained, pudgy-faced pot of fat. Not even an average man with whom I could just talk? Is that what my luck was going to be in this journey?
The aroma of lemon rice and coconut curry poured in with my dish of random thoughts. Broken fantasies don’t mean a thing. Chicken curry, the second best option to warm up my tongue, came along and it was enough to make me feel better. It wasn’t too bad either to notice that the Steward serving the dinner had the eyes of a playful puppy in the softly-chiseled face of a man.
The steward loved to talk. After the customary inquiry about my name, destination, and profession, the steward told me he is a steward who is interested in NLP, Neuro-linguistic programming and how beneficial it might be to people in my profession. Just the information I needed on a late night flight to save myself from the intoxicating ripples of a nap. But the steward was handsome. And it wasn’t my job to stop handsome guys from talking to me. So, how did it matter that the intelligent or even common sense didn’t find its way in their conversations?
But then what was my job? My job was to engage them, to let them know how interesting they were in my wide with curiosity, popping eyes. My job was to say ‘really?’ ‘That’s great’, ‘wow’, every now and then.
Someone called the Steward for help and saved me from the NLP monotones and my fake life for a while.
As I drifted into sleep, I missed my dreams, of loving, of giving, of having a home, of living. Why didn’t God give me what I wanted?
Confused, tired and just waiting to rush into hostile Arabs, I walked out of the airplane on the Abu Dhabi airport. Hostile you said? Aren’t they all supposed to be hostile? Isn’t Middle East a dirty word?
Indians tend to nurture a hostile story for every other city, state, nation except for their own, very personal home town. Even before I started to travel, I had decided I wouldn’t travel with any of my Indian colleagues. The fear of being alone and lonely in a foreign land, touched me, mangled me, paralyzed me some times, but didn’t stop me from coming this far on my own.
As I was walking towards the main lobby, I recognized many people from my flight, standing in a queue against a door. I asked a few people in the queue why they were standing there. They said, they saw that queue and since everyone else was there, they too stood there. I excused myself and walked a little ahead to find the most magnificent airport lounge that I had stepped in.
Rest of the time just flew with coffee at the Abu Dhabi airport. I had lost interest in my fairytale fantasy. It was time to board the flight to Paris. I don’t know if it was the sight of a handsome black Steward, the empty seat of possibility next to me, or the smell of coffee on my fingers, but my fantasy came banging the moment I settled into my abode of next 7.5 hours. I closed my eyes. Every guy who came walking on the aisle could be walking with me on that one special aisle! I opened my eyes and looked with expectant eyes to the aisle to deliver to my fantasy. And deliver it did, the guys, their wives and kids.
I love sighing. Deep breaths that release every clutched vein, untie every knot in my heart. But it doesn’t save me from analyzing and looking for reasons why I don’t have someone in my life. I sighed and turned to the movies in the in-flight entertainment system to rescue me from the empty seat next to me.
I avoided romantic movies and skipped to a thriller. There was nothing like a racy thriller to engage my mind. No point engaging a heart that I didn’t know very well, anyways. I could go on and on about the guy I didn’t want but the one I wanted was still a mystery. And in the meantime, I bumped into guys, who were commitment-phobic, or the ones who seemed to be looking only for sex, or still others with whom I felt no chemistry. I sure had a knack for attracting all those guys I didn’t want.
God! I must be really screwed up to attract all the wrong guys in my life. And I must be double-screwed up to expect anything to happen with these guys and still make any moves with them! Why don’t I just avoid or run away from them at the first chance? I drifted into sleep with hopeful notions. Maybe while I am in Paris, my ex will decide to come back to me. I don’t want him to but still it would be nice if he would. Or maybe someone would see my online matrimonial profile and say to himself, ‘this is it, this is my girl.’ Maybe I will meet someone while roaming the streets of Paris.
Why was there no love in my life?
Love was in the air, so was the chill of temperature a few degrees less than Zero. I was in the queue to buy a ticket that would take me to the top of the world. Maybe the view from the top would give me a better perspective of the ground realities of my life. The tall, beautiful Italian couple ahead of me in the queue didn’t seem to think so. They had found their ground realities in the thread of stare that never seemed to break between them except when they bent to kiss each other. Electrifying, yet soft, sucking everyone’s energies around them in to a warm cocoon only they knew existed.
I was cold. With hordes of tourists around me, I felt my excitement of being in Paris and getting on top of the Eiffel Tower giving way to a nervous chill I could not place on anything. Maybe it was just the icy weather. Maybe I should have worn more layers of clothes. Maybe I was wrong about everything. Maybe I should have never come here in this weather. Maybe I do need to feel loved at all times. I pushed past the Italian couple close to the ticket window. They didn’t notice. I had to move away from them. I relished their love, their kisses, the sudden bending towards each other’s ears to mumble and nibble. I savored each moment of it. They had something I yearned for. It bothered me. It’s unnerving to see so much of Public Display of Affection sometimes. It mocks my independence. It puts a mirror to my lonesomeness. It shows everything I hide behind the four words, “I love to be alone.”
The view from the top chilled me to my bones. A soul flowed in the form of Seine River through the beautiful structures that made Paris. The river showed things that no one saw in the beautiful lights over its many bridges. The river said things that no one heard in the stampede of the traffic. There was more to the river than the boats that cruised all night. There was more to the river than tourists who came, took pictures and went back to their homes. I knew I had to touch the river and hear what it had to say.
I heard a loud, happy scream and looked away from the river. A man, with his arms stretched wide open, was screaming at the top of his lungs. He stopped, turned, looked at me and smiled.
“You want to do this.”
“No, I don’t.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I wish you would.”
He disappeared in the crowd and I looked at the Seine River again. Just like the Seine River, desire was too strong a force to ignore. Just like the Seine River seemed to divide Paris into two, this force always divided me into two. But unlike Paris, my two parts fought. No one won, no one lost. Only I lost on my life as I tried to discipline my desires, trying to want what I had learnt to want.
What would happen if I really did what I was feeling in a moment?
My mornings are randomly sleepy and painful, for my legs and a cold heart. Waking up next to no one has been my bane for years. Of course, some mornings I woke up and found a man, a different man some mornings and a same man for some continuous mornings, but a man every time nevertheless. But either I or they didn’t stay. Breakfast and other mundane events of life took over and we moved on to sleep next to unburdened pillows. But isn’t that how it is supposed to be? I asked myself one more time and turned over for another doze.
No, it isn’t. I yawned and sat up. There are some relationships that touch you like the wind and pass you by. Hot or cold, good or bad, wind is not meant to stay, neither are these relationships. And there are some other relationships that get under your skin, you become the consciousness of the other person and you become his sub-conscious too. He becomes a keeper of you, your dreams, and your purpose in life and you hold his history as if it were the key to your very existence. Maybe you do the same thing in both kinds of relationships, you smile, you shout, you fight and you make up, you push away and then you kiss, you hold and you fondle, you listen and you are heard, you forgive and you are forgiven. Everything is the same; everything looks like it always was with everyone else. But something somewhere is different in the latter kind of relationships.
Yeah right. They sure are different. Yet they too break apart. Isn’t that the only common denominator across all my relationships? Apart from, of course, my depraved, hurt and lonesome self?
But I am not always hurt, depraved or lonesome either.
The only truth I know to be true about myself is oscillation.
Life. Death. Moments in between.
I do. I don’t.
I slipped into the cozy blanket again. The warmth of the blanket reached my bones. My bones had been chilled with the questions, the choices that life threw up every time it went the random way. And that was almost always.
You would be touched by the wind,
You would become the source of the wind,
If only you would throw your blanket away,
If only you would step out of your shell.
Sex is all I ever do when I step out of my shell.
Random, I told you.
Why is what I am supposed to feel when I am in love is the same as what i feel when I am lusting for someone?
In one case I choose to call it fuck and in another I call it making love?
All in all, it’s the same thing we do.
Sometimes I lust but let go, even pray.
Sometimes I love but can’t let go, just want things for myself.
Doesn’t that go against the very definition of love and lust?
And what about the times when I say yes and then take a U-turn and say no?
And those times when I say no but go crazy trying to prove it was a yes I meant in the first place?
I told you everything is random. Especially falling for someone, who that someone might be, what I might feel for him and what I might do in between my confirmation, denial, desperation and detachment.
It’s all random. But there is always a story in all randomness. The story we live to tell through ourselves, the story that others can read in us, the story that shows through every random event of our lives.
What is my story?
I didn’t really want to go there. One more place with people laughing. One more place with couples. A place to worship Art, as I was told. A place with such a huge artistic, historical, beautiful baggage that I wonder how it didn’t crumble with the weight of its own vanity by now.
But I went nevertheless.
“Would you take my picture?” I looked up at a man in his late 30s (or was it early 40s?), holding out his phone to me.
“Sure.” I put my bag and unlit cigarette on the corner of the pond outside Louvre pyramid where I was sitting after four hours of walking inside the museum.
“I can hold that cigarette for you. It will fall in the pond otherwise.”
“It will be in the picture too then.”
“Take my picture only up to here.” He motioned to his chest with his hand and held out his other hand with the phone to me. I took the phone and gave the cigarette to him.
His eyes smiled, I clicked.
“Thanks.” He handed back the cigarette to me as I gave him the phone. I put the cigarette to my mouth and he took out a lighter, lit my cigarette and then one of his. I sat on the pavement and he sat next to me in silence. The two different streams of puffs combined above our faces to merge with the air, while we sat there, separate yet together, slowly dissolving into each others’ space.
I finished my cigarette, stood up and almost waved for a bye. He handed me another from his box and lit it. I have never been a chain smoker except for that cold evening outside Louvre in Paris.
“Do you like music?”
I smoked, he sang. He smoked, I watched his eyes. He sang again, I smoked again. He smoked again, I watched his eyes one more time. He sang to my eyes and I watched a broken wave of my loneliness rise in his eyes.
“Do you know what it is like to stand on a bridge, watching the two worlds on each side merge into each other, flowing beneath you, taking you, killing you, yet giving you life in a way that nothing else but a bridge can?
He smiled and held out his hand. I put my hand in his.
He walked. I walked. He sang.
We reached a wooden bridge somewhere outside Louvre. We stood in the middle of the bridge, watching Seine River, taking us, killing us, yet giving us life.
I turned to him and we kissed.
“We will not be meeting each other again.”
“There is a music shop nearby. Can I take you there and play guitar for you?”
I held his hand. We walked again, to the other side of the bridge this time. We kissed, we laughed, we didn’t talk. We didn’t need to.
At any other given point of time, the realization that it indeed is a momentary relationship, would have been source of discomfort and an angry depression that destroyed me. I could make myself clingy if I saw a guy moving on. I could make a guy’s life hell if I wanted to move on so that I could make it look like he was abandoning me.
Abandoned was the only word that I had ever allowed to define my existence.
Today, I chose to let songs and kisses of a French man define me.
We entered the music shop. He put his hands in mine and rubbed them.
“Now my hands are warm enough.” He grinned, kissed me one more time and found the guitar he was looking for, sat on a stool and began to play.
So far, though he said he was playing the songs by Jimmy Hendrix, I couldn’t understand a word of what he sang.
A small crowd gathered around us in the shop. But only I had tears in my eyes.
He stopped, held my hand and we came out of the shop.
I said bye, he asked me to stay.
We roamed on the streets for some more time and said bye again but stayed back to share a slice of pizza and a kiss. Our lips drew warmth from each other in the torturous cold of the Paris late evening. It seemed cruel to part.
I came back to my hotel a few hours later.
Did we have sex?
Does it matter?
We stood on a bridge. My two fighting, paralyzing parts were together at last to make some thing come alive. Does anything else matter?
I prayed. I was warm. I slept a questionless sleep that I had not known in a long time.
A choice to be someone I had never been before, myself, yet accepted without a fight.
I had prayed the night before, promised to visit the Notre-dame Cathedral. I woke up without any fights in my head, kept my date with God, and took a Metro to the station nearest to the Cathedral. I walked after getting off the metro and found the twin islands where the Cathedral proudly stands but couldn’t find the main entrance. I was crossing a small park, when I heard a faint, child-like voice, urging me to stop. I stopped.
The stranger, barely in his teens, wearing a high school kind of blazer, and carrying a small backpack, saw me first. I didn’t. He called out to me first. I didn’t. Yet when he walked to me and said Hi, I didn’t feel we were strangers.
“Can I speak to you for a moment?”
“I have not felt this attracted to anybody ever as I just felt when you entered this park.”
“What are you? 19, kid?”
“How do you know my age?”
“You are Asian?’
“Can you tell me my future?”
“What makes you think I can do that?”
“Asian people know how to read palms and tell the future.”
“There are some people who read palms. I am sorry I don’t know how to do it.”
“I am studying mathematics. What do you do?”
“You are beautiful.”
“You are beautiful because your eyes have love.”
I looked at him, startled. He sounded corny and bookish to my mind. But his wide eyes thrust upon an innocent, ‘searching for something’ haze upon me. I couldn’t rubbish his sweet sounding words away.
“And your eyes are searching for something.”
“Well so are yours, so is everyone else’s. Aren’t we all searching for something?”
“What are you searching for?”
“Meaning of my life. What are you searching for?”
“You will find it.”
“So will you.”
We giggled. We hugged. We kissed. We said goodbye.
I turned and saw the main entrance to the cathedral right behind me.
Islands, two of those, places of faith, places for families, places for romance for Parisians, are not really any of those places. Islands stay true to their lonesomeness, don’t travel, don’t reach out, and don’t merge with the river or each other. Islands stay where they are. Islands were the most beautiful places of whatever I saw in Paris.
You don’t get on an island what you don’t bring on an island.
My last evening in Paris, in a store outside the Church in Montmarte, collecting chocolates for people back home, I prayed to meet my soul mate.
“Are you Asian?”
“Yeah. I am from India. And you?” I was talking to a man, who would have a perfectly handsome face except for the dark circles beneath his eyes.
“I am from Pakistan but been here for seven years.” No, I was wrong. The dark circles added a mystery to his eyes that his curious voice unfolded.
He held out his hand. I held his hand in the hand shake for a moment before it began to choke mine with his heat. The handsome to a fault man had far more stronger hands than anyone I had known.
“Do you live here or visiting?”
“I am visiting.”
“I thought so.”
“It’s just your face.”
“What about it?”
“I will tell you over coffee.”
“I have to shop.”
“I am just asking you to have coffee with me. You will have enough time after that to shop.”
I didn’t like people who imposed.
“Ok. You know a place nearby?”
“It’s just down this road.”
We reached the coffee shop, found a table. I waited for coffee to arrive while he scanned my face.
“Tell me now.”
“What was it about my face?”
“You don’t waste anytime, do you?”
“Today is my last evening in Paris. I have to shop for chocolates before I leave.”
“You broke my heart.”
“I had already started dreaming of you and me. Why didn’t you tell me that you were leaving tomorrow?”
“You look nicer when you are angry.”
“I believe Hindi movies are popular in Pakistan.”
“I am a huge fan, so was my dad. I still watch one movie every night.”
“Your dialogues tell me that you must be a huge fan.”
“Women are so heartless. I am expressing my love for you and you are making fun of me.”
“You have a beautiful face.”
“I won’t let you go like that. You have to have dinner with me.”
“No. I told you, I got to go.”
“You are having dinner with me.”
“Let’s finish coffee. Shall we?”
“You have innocent eyes. Your eyes tell me that you are different from the people in this country.”
“People in this country just want to have sex. They don’t care for anyone’s feelings.”
“That’s not a great thing to say”
“Please allow me to treat you to dinner and then drop you back to your hotel.”
“I said no. Please do not make this embarrassing by asking me again.”
“You look so sweet and innocent.”
“Flattery never worked with me. I got to go.”
“Let me come with you till that shop.”
We walked. On the way, he told me I had an angelic face. I began to feel pity for the guy. He was trying so hard. We reached the shop.
“Please let me come with you. I just want to see you in your room.”
“Are you crazy?”
“There is nothing like seeing a woman move about in her room.”
“Whoa! Wait. I know where this going.”
“You are misunderstanding me.”
“No, I am not.”
“You are. Just let me see you in your room once. I promise I will not do anything you don’t want.”
“Ok, you finish shopping. Let me at least walk you to the Metro station.”
“Fine but that’s where this stops.”
After I finished shopping, we walked to the Metro station.
“Good Night. I will go on my own from here.”
“I am coming with you.”
“No you are not.”
“I know you want me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Why did you let me come till here then?”
“You could have said no.”
“I don’t want to argue. I am not going inside the station if you are coming with me. I can stand here for hours but I am not taking a single step ahead with you.”
“You could have just let me drop you to your room.”
“You are wasting your time.”
He turned and left. I felt unsafe just looking at other passengers in the Metro. Sadness and the bad taste of a love less experience wrapped its arms around me. This wasn’t how my visit was supposed to end. This wasn’t how I thought I would be feeling on the last evening of my Paris visit.
I had planned I would find someone with whom I felt loved and safe, not a creep like that. Nothing went as per plan, absolutely nothing.
Maybe, something did. You are safe from yourself. You are safe from the woman who gave into the fancies of men who gave her attention, without thinking if this was the guy she wanted. You are safe from not being able to say no out of a fear that you may not get what you deserve.
I am beautiful because my heart is free.
I will love you forever if you just let me be.
Everything looks the same to everyone yet only I know something has changed.
I can say no.
I can say yes.
I can let go.
I can stay on.
I can get on a flight, relaxed, without expecting every man I see to be my soul mate.
I can sleep without any questions poking at me at night.
All this is possible because I found someone with whom I am loved and I am safe for the rest of my life. And that someone is me.