Flashbacks in the City

It was a summer of endless dust storms and long cool drinks. I walked in and there you were. I wanted you from the beginning but you begged me to get you a date with a girl you called Peppermint, and I did. I thought you were cool. And I wanted to be cool too.

Days passed. You used to speak of Bob Dylan and wrote Dylan-esque poetry, sometimes for me, which I pretended to like. The Peppermint phase passed. Over a drunken haze of dark rum and mango juice, your hands found mine. We spoke of running away, we spoke of eternity. And the words, in that dark bar, floated like gossamer, just a little out of reach, but still there.

We went to Ladakh together. High up in the Himalayas, the terrain looks like a Dali style lunar landscape. Over momos and Tibetan soup called thukpa, we read the writings of the Dalai Lama and talked of Buddhism, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and how to achieve nirvana. In your arms, I thought I had found nirvana, though there was still an ephemeral quality, like I could not hold on to something, but I would shrug away these thoughts.

In Ladakh, when you’re high on the mountains and maybe something else, anything seems possible. You meet Israelis recovering from their forced year of military service. You meet hippies who seem so stoned that you wonder whether they have real jobs from wherever they come from. You meet people who have made traveling their life. In Ladakh, everything seems possible.

But then you come back to the city. You got a job and started wearing suits. I pierced my nose and wore black nail polish. Our hands, when they touched, did not fit perfectly any more. Or maybe they never did.

This time, you wanted me. You wrote me more poetry, no punctuation and no capital letters. I would read them and tell you of my latest crush. Over the gin and tonics in those seedy bars, and the hazy smoke over Billy Holiday singing, we were growing apart. Together.

You are talking. Your lips move but I can’t hear. In my head, a song is playing. I shake my head and come back to you and your voice. You have cancer. Only a few more months to live. I think of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I think of our hands and how your body used to feel. I want to say something but there is nothing coming out of my mouth.

I cry. I cry for what could be. I cry for the sheer unfairness of life. I cry for you and I cry for me and I cry for us. As I cry, all the images flash in my mind, like black and white photos in a 1940s war movie. And we hold hands. And they fit perfectly. Everything seems possible. You wipe my tears away and we walk home.


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