Akasa looked around the unfamiliar street. He had mentioned a cobbler and a hardware store, and from where she was standing she could certainly see both. But could this really be where he lived? It was a bit risky showing up like this...What if she was in the wrong neighborhood completely? She was a bold girl, but she realized that she had acted impulsively. Even if this were the correct building, how would she know which was his flat? She was about to start walking back to the main road where she could find a taxi, but the cobbler waved her over. Suddenly scared, she began to walk faster. He called out, "Are you looking for Arjun?" She stopped and turning to the cobbler hesitantly responded yes. "Third floor. On the right."
She thanked him and hurriedly entered the building, only vaguely wondering how he knew she'd come to see Arjun. The building was old and dark. A fluorescent light flickered over the spiral staircase. She looked down at her feet and immediately regretted her choice of shoes - delicate blue sandals with turquoise stones on the straps. Too fancy. Why couldn't she have just worn sneakers? Well it was too late now. As she neared the third floor her heart began pounding loudly. What if he's not happy to see me? She stood outside his door collecting herself. Finally she rang the doorbell. She held her breath. No answer. He's not home. All this effort for nothing! She rang the bell one more time. She could feel the sweat collecting in her armpits. She wanted this, she wanted him. Please answer, please answer! Eventually she heard shuffling and then the door opened a crack.
Arjun peered out through the crack and heaved a sigh of relief to see it was Akasa.
"Shit, you scared me," he said.
"Aren't you happy to see me?"
"Of course, babe, but call first. I thought it was the cops or something." He opened the door wider to let her in.
The smell of hash was heavy in the air and The Wall was playing loudly. She looked around, taking in the strange room. It was dark, musty, unkempt. Cigarette butts and joints littered the place. There was a big bed in the middle of the room, but the sheets were rumpled and dirty. He walked over to the big music system in the corner and turned down the music.
"So, what are you doing here?" He asked as he lit a cigarette.
She shrugged, "I wanted to see you."
He came to her, cigarette dangling from his lips. She sat on the bed and he began kissing her. She took the cigarette from his hand and took a drag, then exhaled the smoke into his mouth. She loved him, this dark creature. He looked at her young face, smirking ever so slightly.
"What?" She sensed he was laughing at her. He was always laughing at her.
"How did you find me?"
"You said you lived behind
He chuckled, "Do you know how many cobblers and hardware stores there are in Mumbai?"
"Well I found you, didn't I?" She was proud of herself.
"You did, but you should have called first."
"I would have made this place look more presentable for you. I didn't want you to see this pit I live in." He didn't really seem embarrassed of the place. He was mocking her again.
"It doesn't matter," she drew his face close to hers again. She loved the taste of the tobacco in his mouth. She could kiss him forever. "I just wanted to see you."
He lay her down on the bed and she kicked off her pretty blue sandals. He kissed her neck, buried his face in her hair. She looked up at the dirt on the ceiling fan and wondered why he waited so long to bring her here, to his home, where they could be alone in peace.
She found herself unbuttoning his shirt, she wanted to see him, feel him, smell him. For so many nights they'd been necking in ghoulish nightclubs, feeling each other's bodies through layers, never alone in this crowded city. This is what it's like to be with a man, she thought. This is what men smell like. She was exhilarated and closed her eyes as his lips explored her stomach.
"Why didn't you bring me here before?" She wondered out loud.
"It's not good enough for you." He unbuttoned her jeans and slid his hand in. She wanted to argue with him, to say she wasn't like that, nothing wasn't "good enough"; instead she lay there quietly and let him pull down her underwear. It was black and lacy, and suddenly Akasa felt like a whore.
"I love you," she muttered quietly. It was the first time she'd said it to him in the few weeks they'd been seeing each other. He looked at her with his dark, brooding eyes and kissed the inside of her thigh. The stubble on his face felt rough against her skin.
She found herself wanting to cry. She felt empty. Outside the sun was setting and the room was dusky, melancholy. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the muezzin's call to prayer.
He was on top of her, his tongue roughly exploring her mouth. You want this, she kept reminding herself. This is what men taste like. You want this.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" His voice was a whisper, hot in her ear. It made her tremble.
Yes. Yes, I want this. I want you.
She lay in bed later, the sheet barely covering her. The sun had now completely set and the room was filled with the neon light from a sign behind the building. Arjun sat at the edge of the bed rolling a joint. He offered it to her but she refused.
"The bathroom's over there if you want to wash up," he said, not looking at her.
She climbed out of bed, dropping the sheet, and went into the bathroom. It was filthy. The toilet seat was up and the rim was covered in urine. There was no toilet paper, and the only soap was a tiny bar of something that smelled like dish soap. Don't make a fuss, don't make a fuss, said a voice in her head. You love him, this is his mess, you love him. She just wanted to go home and take a shower. It was hot and humid, the sky heavy with the promise of rain. She washed up, trying not to touch any surface.
When she came back into the room he was lying naked on the bed, his eyes closed. She gathered her clothes and dressed quietly, then sat at the edge of the bed fixing her hair. He reached out and stroked her back.
"Will you come again?"
She turned and smiled at him. "Yes. Yes, I'll come again. Just say when."
"I have school, Arjun!"
He got up and stood in front of her, tall and naked. She could smell herself on him and it made her sick. With one hand behind her head, he put himself into her mouth. She didn't protest.
Yes, I'll come tomorrow afternoon. There is so much more to learn about men and how they taste and smell. Yes, I'll come tomorrow and the next day, and the next.