“Hmm,” she sighed.
“What’re you thinking?”
In a little while they would get up and go their separate ways but for this one instant in time, they were together and for now that was all that mattered. His big hands, slightly rough and very warm, gently stroked her smooth back as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and one slender finger traced his face.
“You’re probably the first man to ever ask the woman that.”
He chuckled. “We’re not all shallow creatures. Besides, it’s my feminine side – it hijacks me at vulnerable moments and then I like to talk – with certain people, of course.”
“Why, thank you,” she mocked gently. “Actually, I was thinking – do you remember the first time you said you loved me?”
“Hmm. And you said, ‘thank you’.”
She laughed. “Well, I’d decided I wasn’t going to say ‘I love you’ to anyone I didn’t really truly love.”
He pushed himself up on one elbow. “You mean you didn’t really truly love me?”
She put her tongue out at him. “We were sixteen.”
“I know – you were hot!”
She screamed with laughter as he nuzzled her neck while his fingers unerringly found all her ticklish spots. Finally, she caught his hands and giggled into the pillow.
“I had glasses,” she said at last.
“Hmm,” he said. “And your hair dripped with oil…”
A pillow landed on his face. He wrestled it away from her and looked up as she climbed on top of him.
“Ooh,” he said. “This is how a million fantasies have begun.”
“Whatever you say, baby,” he grinned.
“But seriously, did you ever think back then that we’d end up here today?”
“Do you mean did I see myself naked under you with – all right, all right, don’t smother me! Cut it out! Sheila… You mean when I saw you dressed in that dull gray pinafore with your fat glasses and your oil slicked hair, did I think I would still be in love with you fifteen years later? Nope, I didn’t – I didn’t even think I was going to fall in love with you then!”
“Bastard,” she grinned. “Was that when you were still panting over Smitha?”
“You say that like I ever got over her.”
“I hate you!”
“Funny way you have of showing it,” he said, his hands wandering over her.
“Stop it,” she said half-heartedly.
“All right,” he said, promptly putting his hands behind his head.
They both laughed as she leaned down to kiss him.
“All right, truthfully?” he asked.
“Your face was only incidental.”
She looked at him skeptically. “You fell in love with the ‘real’ me? My inner beauty bedazzled you?”
He was shaking with suppressed laughter. “No, I fell for your adorable little ass – or should I say your adorable big ass?”
“Beast!” she yelled.
“Shh-hh. Not so loud.”
“Really? I noticed you don’t practice what you preach.”
“Some women would take that as a compliment.”
She frowned in mock reproof. “Know a lot of these women, do you?”
He held up his hands. “It was another man in another lifetime, Your Honor.”
“You’re very cute when you lie.”
“Ah, the perfect woman – the one who finds deceit charming.”
“Well, there’re your hands too… I love your hands,” she said, drawing one from under his head and kissing the palm.
“Is that all?” he asked wickedly.
“No, it’s true… they’re just right.”
“Hmm, depends on what they’re doing.”
She pinched his nipple.
“Ow,” he said, rubbing his chest. “See, now that’s not a turn on.”
“I thought you once said I turned you on no matter what I did.”
“Did I? I must have been trying to talk you into bed.”
He laughed a little. “What? Didn’t you tell me all men are the same?”
“Ye-es, but not you!”
“Because I love you.”
“And I love you,” he said softly, drawing her down for a kiss.
“I’ve got to go,” she said a little later.
“Hmm,” he sighed, his chest rising and falling beneath her.
“I have to leave.”
“You might have done that a while ago – but now that you’ve already broken my rib cage, you might as well stay a while.”
“Stupid,” she giggled. “Are you calling me fat?” she asked mock-ferociously.
“Mm, moti khoti,” he said, slapping her lightly on her behind.
They collapsed laughing.
“I really have to go,” she said again.
“What time is it?”
“A little after five.”
“So the afternoon is over?”
He was silent for a bit, his hand rubbed her back idly. “You feel good.”
“Hmm,” she said. “You too.”
“When can we do this again?”
“Next week as usual?”
“No, you know that’s not possible. Saturday.”
“That’s a whole seven days away.”
“Call me if you get lonely.”
“Aren’t you afraid your husband will find out?”
“Not if I call you from work.”
“Doesn’t he wonder where you go on Saturdays?”
She shrugged. “Girl things.”
“Girl things…” he murmured and fell silent. Finally he said, “Sheila?”
“What are we doing?”
It was her turn to be silent. “I don’t know.”
“But it feels good?”
He hugged her tightly. “Do you ever feel guilty?”
“All the time.”
“Liar,” he whispered.
“Lover,” she replied, kissing his neck.
“What will you do if he finds out?”
“Do you want him to?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you love me?”
“Are you sure?”
She raised her head to look at his hazel eyes, now glistening dimly in the early evening sunlight. “You have the most beautiful eyes.”
“That’s my line.”
She kissed him softly. “Does it matter?”
They both knew she wasn’t referring to her compliment. He was silent for a moment before whispering to her, “Yes. It matters.”
“It didn’t used to.”
“I was a stupid kid.”
“So was I.”
“So you knew about these things before I did. Women always do.”
“That’s a cop out and you know it.”
He sat up abruptly. “What would you like me to say? That I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder to make it last when we were both kids?”
“No,” she said, sitting up as well. “No.”
“How was I supposed to know this was the real deal? How was I supposed to know that you – “
“No, of course not,” she said, stroking his back. “Of course not.”
He didn’t turn around. “I love you.”
“I know,” she said, her hand resting on his back.
“Are you going to leave him?”
It was the first time he’d ever asked. The first time since they’d met at a class reunion three years ago. The first time he’d ever asked her that question since they’d begun their affair a year ago. She sat there silently as she thought about what she was going to say.
“No,” she admitted at last.
“You don’t love him.” It was a statement.
“Yes I do.”
He turned to her then. “You said you loved me!”
“I do. But we took vows… I meant them, Aakash.”
“Yeah? When? An hour ago when I was fucking the hell out of you?”
She looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, expelling a long sigh. “I didn’t mean that.”
She said nothing.
“At least… I don’t understand.”
“Maybe you will when you marry.”
“Oh, please. Don’t give me the married-bullshit. You don’t understand this, Aakash but you will when you have a wife – like marriage gives you extra grey matter.”
“Don’t say that!”
“All right… I need to leave.”
She got up and was at the bathroom door when he spoke again.
“So this thing has a shelf life?”
She turned back to face him. “Doesn’t everything?”
He rubbed his face. “Yeah. But somehow… I guess I watch too many movies.”
“First love?” she smiled.
“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, will you? It’d probably destroy my street cred.”
“Like you ever had any,” she scoffed lightly.
They stared at each other.
“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms for her to crawl into.
He smoothed away the tangle of black hair and looked deep into her brilliant black eyes with their thick fringe of lashes. The late sunlight lit their depths and turned her skin to gold. Her lips were soft and pink, the traces of her lipstick still visible after all their hours of loving.
“Will you love me forever?” she asked, smiling.
“And a day,” he vowed, bending his forehead to rest against hers. He rocked her gently against his body as they held on to each other.
“It doesn’t really mean anything does it?” she asked.
“Saying I love you. I thought it did when I – we – were young. Back then it seemed so important.”
“You don’t think its important now?”
She looked at him. “You love me and I love you and then what?”
He was silent. “It could mean something.”
She nodded. “If I were willing to leave him.”
“Why aren’t you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because I love him.”
“Oh, come on Sheila – you really think any of this would have happened if you really loved this guy?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Seriously?” he asked incredulously.
“You’ve never met him, I’ve never really discussed him – how would you know?”
“Because you’re here with me!”
“And what does that prove?” she looked him in the eye as she asked him that.
“It means – it means you love me goddammit!”
“Doesn’t mean I don’t love him though, does it?”
“Sometimes I don’t understand you,” he said, getting off the bed and walking over to the window.
“No, that’s true. If I had been some poor woman in need of rescue, if you could just be my knight in shining armor come to rescue me from my sad, miserable, lonely existence as a bored housewife – then you’d understand me, wouldn’t you? Then I’d fit into your idea of me, of how I ought to be and then you wouldn’t have to deal with the real me. The me that you don’t understand. The me that has a life outside this room – a life that I like.”
“Weren’t you running late for something?”
“We’re always too late, Aakash. Always.”
Neither chose to break the silence. Aakash lit a cigarette and Sheila watched the lighter spark and light in the cool semi darkness of the room with its drawn cotton curtains.
“Come here,” she said finally.
Still silent, he padded over to the bed and sat down next to her.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” she said softly, draping her arms around him. “I’m not sure I do, myself. But somehow, I’m okay with this. With you and I in this bedroom once a week and with him and me in that house the rest of the time. I don’t know if I love you more or if I love him more or how my feelings for him are so different from my feelings for you. But if you weren’t here right now – if you got off this bed and walked out of my arms, away from me forever, right this minute… I would be – I would be – upset. The same way I would be – upset – if he were to walk out of my life right now, this minute. Do you understand?”
He drew deeply on his cigarette and then looked at her. “No.”
“Yeah.” She looked down.
He reached out and caught one hand and kissed it. “I love you.”
She smiled a little.
“And to answer your question – or at least, I think to answer your question – it does mean something. Not when we were so young all we wanted to do was touch each other, not then. But now – now that I’ve touched you and held you and tasted you and … loved you. It means something, Sheila.”
Leaning across, she kissed his forehead. “Even if it means something to you and something else to me?”
“Even if no one was ever able to tell me what that something is. It still means something.”
“I love you, Aakash.”
“I love you, Sheila.”
They held each other close as night drew nearer outside, knowing that while this afternoon had come to an end, another would soon come by.
[Originally published at Chowk.com, 2006. See you all next Monday!]