* * *
The bus bounces over the dusty, pot-hole-riddled roads. You cram your giant body between Maeva and the window, in order to gaze over the passing countryside. Harsh sun cuts yellow squares of light over the glistening brown faces, the white eyes, the black mustaches, the bright reds, greens, and pinks of women’s saris. Ahead, two little children—a boy and a girl—stack their heads one atop the other like an inquisitive totem pole, staring back into the lens of your curious camera. They smile. They laugh. They pose. They wander over to your seat and the boy steals your headphones from your ears, leans like James Dean against the side of your bench, and nods along to the classic rock. His sister stares and then averts her eyes shyly. Click, click, click goes your camera.
* * *
It was when the man offered to show you horse porn on his phone that you politely declined. Maeva’s face wore the look of someone smiling through surprise and awkwardness.
“It’s okay,” you said. “I’ve already seen it.”
He was a very nice man. Sold leather bags and shoes. Crudely made products not without charm. He offered you beetle nut and tobacco, chai, and hilarious conversation which began with, “She is like half man!”
Were you not as secure as you are now, such a comment might have hurt your feelings, but you relished in your private little secret. Your gayness. Your incomprehensible lifestyle.
The man asked Maeva about her love life. She answered frankly. Out of a relationship since one year.
“Never,” you said.
“Never? Impossible.” Because you were 29 years old.
Maeva stifled her laughter. You finally let the cat out of the bag.
“Only women,” you clarify.
You only love women. You only date women. You have sex with women.
The man’s head nearly spun off. “But… how?”
How do lesbians have sex? The age-old question from men. Women never ask this question, though perhaps they may wonder.
You proceeded to demonstrate, happy to borrow a famous scene from Chasing Amy, one in which the hot blonde lesbian squishes the fist of one hand into the tight round circle of the other hand. Squish and pop! And then the fingers spread open, and the wrist twisted left to right with victory fingers.
The man, just like the actors in the movie, reeled.
“Don’t forget the scissors,” quipped Maeva.
Of course. Your scissored your first two fingers with precision, then disengaged them, and then knocked the knuckles and backs of your hands together: muff bopping.
“I don’t understand,” the man says with a grin that was slowly deflating.
How to say, Imagine having sex with a woman without the use of your penis.
“It’s not possible,” he answered.
Oh well. It didn’t matter. He was fascinated by you, your size, your strength, your masculinity. Your relations with women. But he didn’t hyperfocus on anything in particular. He stayed within polite boundaries, that is, until he offered to show you horse porn. This was after much time devoted to the subject of World’s Largest and Smallest Penises, by culture. Other subjects included tantra and average duration of heterosexual coitus.
“Fifteen, twenty minutes, something like that,” you said, and Maeva grimaced her approval. The man high-fived you. He loved to high five every time someone said something funny. A high five, or a hand shake.
“It’s true!” he said, as though proud of his own sex’s inadequacy.
* * *
A festival firecracker went off, and three hundred pigeons took flight all at once. The sky filled with bluish-grey wings flapping an escape. Like the sound of fans and flags. After some time, they returned. One by one, flap-flap-flapping up along the steep brown temple walls to roost on impossibly small ledges. The sit at all angles and wait for the bats. They chirp and chitter and sail through the twilight with far more grace. Countless miniature paragliders.
It was around that time of night. You and Maeva strolled through the dimming streets within the fort of Jailsalmer, waving dismissively at persistent hawkers.
“I need a cigarette,” she said. So you led her to the grand steps of a temple. Settled down between two large stains of pigeon shit, hugged your knees, and joined her for a smoke. A bad habit for a fitness trainer, yes. One which comes and goes in phases of travel, bringing with it softness and satisfaction of nostalgia. There on the steps, you gazed absently, as one gazes over a seashore and listens to the breaking of waves.
You spoke little, perfectly content. Calm and easy. Open.
At the foot of the staircase, a slightly built Indian man in all white approached like a swan.
“Namaste,” he said kindly. He was not like the others. He was gentle in his demeanor.
You returned the salutation, and proceeded to answer the same string of questions a foreigner must answer no fewer than twenty times per day: which country? How long in India? What you see? You like India?
And he responded with information about himself. “My name is Ba. I am farmer. I have farm in the desert, 50 kilometers from here. There is my family. I have also two hotels. You are most welcome. If you want something to drink, I have a cafe.”
You asked him about his farm, learned that it was “organic.” You wanted him to clarify. Wanted to know if he knew what organic meant. He did. He was intelligent enough, and his level of English, though struggling, was sufficient to hold your interest for the time being.
“Please, come to my cafe. You are most welcome,” he insisted, but not in that annoying, aggressive way characteristic of the typical guest house owner. You had nothing else to do, so why not?
It was the beginning of the end. You didn’t know at the time. How could you? This sweet, welcoming man had no ill intentions. He was as his references described him: warm, generous, kind. He was not interested in money. He was interested in human connections. In sharing stories, and learning about others. You felt this, truly.
You and Maeva laughed the evening away, having found yourselves in incredible company. That’s the marvelous thing about travel. One minute you’re sitting alone, without a clue about what the next minute will bring. And then… you’re whisked into a home and wined and dined under the soft red glow of lamps. A Spaniard serves tortilla, a South African tells inspiring stories about overcoming addiction, a Camel Man smiles bright white teeth and tells you about life in the desert, and Ba… Ba asks you many questions about yourself, about your philosophy, about travel.
His English was a struggle. And you are wont to rapidly lose interest in a conversation when the communication is impaired, or when the conversation cannot progress beyond superficialities purely due to a lack of vocabulary and not a lack of volition for something more complex.
The Spaniard across the table was lively and animated, and though he, too, possessed a suffering degree of English, you could at least understand him with greater ease, listening to his mish-mash of Spanish, English, and Italianesque gesticulations. Ba remained quietly smiling. His white eyes and teeth gleamed in the moonlight as he refilled your beer glass.
You weren’t sure what to say at that point, having discussed as much as you could. You wanted to talk to someone else at the table, but everyone seemed distracted. And Ba… Ba just stared at you. “You are good person, Maria,” he said. “I feel it. This I know. I care only for human connection. You are most welcome here.”
You somehow got onto the topic of health and wellness, perhaps when he told you he did yoga. You explained you had a due date in Goa for teacher training, where you hoped to invest much time into the healing of your knee. Ba wanted to know what was wrong with it. You leaped at the opportunity for another evaluation. He stood from the table and led you to a more private corner of the rooftop terrace, where lie some cushions. You had him feel the sickening snap-crackle-pop around your joint, and he nodded.
“Lie here,” he said, gesturing to the cushions. “I will help you. I know healing. I know from my parents. They know from their parents. They teach me everything I know. And you are a healer. Perhaps you can learn from me. And then later, I can learn from you.”
It seemed fair enough. You explained to him that you were not a healer—more like a mechanic. But you let him prepare some oils and set to work on your knee, despite the underlying concern that you might end up being charged for the service, though you had no basis for this worry. Ba never mentioned money to you, and this did not seem to be his motivation. He simply wanted to help.
The massage, you dare say, was not very productive in terms of your knee. But Ba worked diligently, gently, and explained that one must begin softly before laying on any pressure. The aim of the evening was to make you relax. Relax completely. For the body cannot heal effectively when it is stressed.
Sure. That made sense.
So ten minutes or so on your knee, and then your calves, feet. And after that, your face. Scalp. He rubbed wonderful smelling oil into your hair and you must admit it was pleasant, but really, it wasn’t what you wanted. It had nothing to do with your knee. But then… you wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to age-old tradition. To the holistic approach.
“Soul here,” he said, scratching at your scalp, “Clear this chakra. Make soul open. Smile. Relax. Why not?”
So the massage went all over your face, your neck, your shoulders, arms, hands fingers. He laced his fingers into yours and worked the pressure like a someone well-acquainted with his processes. Then he took a break to speak to you about diet and digestion. Something in which you are well versed. You listened to his suggestions and confirmed them. He and you followed the exact same diet. He not for religious reasons. Simply because he followed his intuition—or his gut, really. Fats and oils make the body slow. Meat is hard to digest, and bad karma. Lots and lots of vegetables. Perfect.
You seized the opportunity to tell him all about your acid reflux. Why not?
“I will not do anything bad to you,” he said. “You trust me? I trust you. You are good person. I am good person. I am here to help.” And you let him massage your belly, your intestines. No big deal.
Being the suspicious and cynical person you are, you monitored his every movement. You kept track of his hips, his crotch, his legs, his hands as they glided from your belly to your obliques, to your spine and lower back, the tops of your glutes. But never, ever, ever did they stray to inappropriate places, and he went no place without your passive consent.
Was there a problem?
On the surface, no. But you felt that you’d somehow strayed from the realm of professionalism. This man, who proclaimed, “You are so smart, Maria. You know so much from your learning. I am just a desert man. I went to Camel College,” had no criteria for professionalism. Why should he think it inappropriate for wedge himself between the wall and your body. To cradle your head in his lap. He did not straddle you. He did not press his hips against you. But the sheer proximity of his body left you feeling ill at ease.
“You are thinking hard about something,” he said.
“What do you mean?” you replied.
“Your eyes. They are open. You stare out. Hard expression.”
Yes, well. Yes. Of course. Yes! You were fucking thinking. Thinking about the weirdness of the situation. Of the amount of time you’d been absent from the party. About the amount of time he was investing in this “free” massage (you’d been warned about this). You didn’t want the massage anymore, even if it felt nice. You wanted the “healing session” to end. You wanted to rejoin the group. You wanted so many things that were not this little man rubbing tenderly at all your body parts.
It was half past midnight when you extricated yourself from his considerate hands. You practically had to pry yourself away. “No. I want to go to sleep. It’s late.”
“Sleep here!” he said. “It is too late now. Everything is closed. Where is your hotel?”
“It’s okay. Really. I can walk. It’s not far. Maeva!” you called to her. “It’s time to go!”
She’d been busy chatting the night away with a boy—or should you say, a Spanish man. And had lost track of time. The Spanish man, like Ba, implored the two of your to stay. “Just take one of the rooms here! Why you want go all the way to your hotel?”
Maybe because all of your stuff was there. Because you needed to check out from that sub-optimal hotel at a decent hour. Because you wanted a shower and some fresh clothes. In the two hours Ba massaged you, he’d basically doused you in oil. It was all over your clothes. Your hair was slick with the stuff, nappy and tangled from the scalp massage. The last thing you wanted to was sleep with that shit all over you.
Maeva, too, insisted that she wanted to go “home.” So you left. Ba opened the gate and let you out, and you promised to return in the morning and stay with him, since your current hotel manager, having first been overly generous, had become somewhat passive aggressive after he copped onto the fact that you had no intention of purchasing his camel safari.
“How do you feel, Maria?” Maeva asked as you skated down the smooth cobblestones leading away from the Jailsalmer fort.
“I… don’t… know….” you said. “Oh my god. I have no idea how I feel.”
What the fuck had just happened?
“Another hotel manager is in love with you,” she said.
“God, I hope not.” The last thing you needed was another Manou. Another staggering, starry-eyed simpleton boring holes into you with his eyes. Waiting on your hand and foot. Leaving you awkward and speechless.
Each of your went on at length about your evenings. You, about Ba, the massage that went past the boundaries of professionalism in the most respectful way possible; Maeva, about her conversations with the Spaniard and his sweet affinity for her. You laughed about men in general and thanked each other for being women and washed your hands of it all.
“You sure you want to move into there tomorrow?” Maeva asked.
You sighed. “Why not? I don’t like our current room. Ba is very sweet.” The guy was even on Couchsurfing!
The two of you wandered aimlessly through dark streets, sidestepping packs of sleeping dogs and cows munching on plastic. Clouds of moths, crickets, beetles, and god-knows-every-other-kind of insect swarmed in the lamplight outside your locked hotel. You whistled and banged at the door until your foggy-headed manager staggered out of his room to let you in. You hoarsely whispered your apologies and made haste to your sweltering room with tricky electricity, inconsistent water, and a toilet that smelled like sewage.
* * *
“Do you think we should have a… safe word?” Maeva asked, slowly pronouncing the concept in a foreign language.
She meant in case either of you found yourself in a situation and needed a wingman to facilitate escape.
You laughed and said, “How about CACAO.” It was a joke from Portlandia. You explained it to her, but halfway through the story, lost steam, realizing it was way more funny on TV than in your rendition. But after hearing CACAO no fewer than 100 times, she understood.
“Just…” you began, “…don’t leave me alone with Ba for too long. I just don’t think I can handle it. This safe word business is just a joke. If I’m fed up, I’ll just tell you in French. But yeah… I just don’t want to be alone with him too long. Things just get awkward. He smiles at me too much.” Just like Manou.
* * *
Your room at Ba’s guest house was an improvement over the last. The men greeted you and Maeva with enthusiasm, and Ba made an awkward show of trying to unencumber you from you bag. You smiled and nodded and thanked him out of the room, shut the door, and turned to your travel partner with foreboding eyes.
A short half-hour later, you found yourselves on the rooftop terrace, served steaming cups of chai. The Spaniard broke into hand gestures, shoulder shrugs, and rolling r’s of conversation with Maeva. Ba smiled warmly at you.
You were a fool for allowing the massage thing to happen again. But context is everything. Maeva was present. So was the Spaniard. It was bright, in the middle of the day. Ba seemed only to focus on your knee, and not before long, Maeva was squirming in mock jealousy. “I want a foot massage!” she declared, seeing Ba’s hands working on your feet.
You seized the opportunity instinctively. In your head, you decided that a massage chain was “innocent.” That Maeva’s feet and calves would be a worthwhile distraction from the asymmetrical dedication coming from Ba. If you could focus on Maeva, you wouldn’t have to think about your weird gut feeling about Ba.
The cushions were placed at awkward angles, and you found yourself practically split in half, reaching to the left for Maeva as Ba tugged one of your legs to the right. You squirmed for a better position, and he squirmed for ownership. You ignored him. Focused on your work. Talked with Maeva.
It was pure jealously. No other way to explain it. Without words, Ba did everything in his power to distract you, interrupt you, steal you away from Maeva. And you grappled to keep her leg in your hands, held it like a life raft, stared into her eyes pleadingly, desperate, like a castaway yearning for land.
Keep this girl with you.
Because if she left, you would be lost.
Ba’s powers of interruption prevailed, and you were lying passively like a dead fish, at the mercy of his “healing” hands that no longer massaged with any particular calculated order. No. He was grabbing at your appendages in any manner he could, pressing lovingly, tenderly, appreciatively. Maeva left to pee.
Dear god, why!
When she came back, she was smirking, trying not to show her desire to laugh at loud and point at your situation. Instead, she raised her camera a snapped a picture. Ba was crouched, holding your head in his hands, massaging your face; he held you like a mother holds her infant. He coddled you. “So nice, Maria. Must make calm. All the stress go away. Are you happy? Are you relaxed?”
Were you relaxed?
If someone took your vitals, they would not have detected any physiological signs of stress. But your thoughts ground persistently. This guy needs to stop. This is not therapeutic. This is downright stupid.
You tolerated his touch for several more minutes and then made him stop. Practically pried yourself from his fingers. “I should teach you something,” you said. “Exchange.” Yes. Exchange. No more massage for you. You needed to end it. You needed to diffuse the situation and make things seem like they were supposed to seem: that he and you were simply exchanging modalities. Then you could snuff out the feelings of ickiness.
The moment you began to stretch Ba, Maeva announced that she was headed downstairs to receive her own massage from the Spaniard. You raised your eyebrow in surprised inquiry, but decided not to examine the matter in greater detail. If she wanted a massage from a nice man very much her senior and brimming with affinity, in his bedroom, that was her business. But every woman on the planet knows one thing: said situation = adult intentions.
She left you alone with Ba.
No big deal, right? You were in your element. You gave that skinny Indian a nice stretch with your greatest attention, marveled at his slightness—his teeny rib cage and waist—and he seemed that he would be eternally grateful. And when all was done, you politely backed your way off the terrace, “I am going to go to my room now. Shower, read. Stuff like that.” Ba’s smiled after.
You dead-bolted the door and heaved a sighed. You looked forward to Maeva’s return. To that female solidarity. You needed only to wait.
And she never came.
Ba knocked on your door. “Maria? Would you like to take a walk to my other house. See the sunset?”
“Oh! Yeah… umm… errr… it’s just that, I need to wait for Maeva.” Because she was still shut into that room with the Spaniard. Because you had no idea whether her intentions were aligned with his, you thought it better to hang back—not leave the hotel—lest she need a wingman.
You waited longer. But she didn’t come. You decided to knock on the Spaniard’s door, and tell her that you were leaving—if only to check on her. She opened it, fully clothed, and you felt relieved, but still confused.
“Ba wants to take a walk, to see the sunset and stuff,” you said.
A thick cloud of awkward misunderstanding hung between you. She could not determine if you were comfortable being alone with Ba. You could not determine if she was comfortable in her own situation. You wanted to tell her to please come with you, that you couldn’t handle Ba’s puppy dog eyes any longer, but instead, you said nothing. Because Ba stood at the end of the hallway, observing all, eavesdropping.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” you said.
“Okay….” she said.
You nodded. “Right.”
And again, you were separated.
The walk itself was brief. Ba led you to his second house, up to the terrace, from which you could view the tops of many elaborately-decorated temples. The sky dimmed, and clouds obscured the sunset. But there was a table between you, and you felt much more easy. Physical barriers—people, walls, doors, tables had become very important to you.
“What you thinking?” he said, for you were avoiding his eyes.
You told him about your concern for Maeva. That what she did was none of your business—that is, if she was doing anything, because you really didn’t know—but nonetheless, it occupied your thoughts.
Ba waved his hand dismissively. “This is okay. This is just feelings. This is same feelings. Someone has a feelings. Someone else has a feelings. There is trust. Same feelings. Thing can happen. Why not?”
You furrowed. “No, Ba. Not the same feeling.”
“Yes! Same feeling!”
Head shake, “No. Not same feeling. She already tell me.” You’d resorted to simplifying your English for him.
He told you a story about a time he… did something… or did he…? The English was so broken, you weren’t sure at the end of the story. But it was something with a German girl, in the desert, with a condom. “Why not?” he concluded. “Same feeling.” You dropped the matter all together.
You felt bored and frustrated. You didn’t want to be alone with him—his smirk—his affectionate gaze. You strained for topics of conversation. You fell back on your ability to fill silence with words, even if he wouldn’t understand them. You talked about agriculture, organics, philosophy, diet, the cyclical rhythm of the universe, about humanity, goodness, sharing, and more.
Ba was one hundred percent in accord. He understood far more than he could speak, and he became drunk on your words, like someone who’d just found his spiritual soul mate.
You went on about the life of travel. About the connections and separations. That it’s just part of life. “I don’t hold onto people. I let them go. You cannot hold everyone you meet. You must accept change. I care about the people that I meet, but I don’t hold on to them. I don’t keep them. I just value the connection when it comes.”
“Life is all about the human,” he said. “I meet you on the street and I know you are good person. Soft heart. Hard outside, like wall. But so good in heart. You have such good heart, Maria. This I see. This I know. And I trust. You have trust with me. It is so beautiful. So human. So happy. I am so, so happy to meet you. I am so, so happy you stay in my guest house.”
What could you do? Smile. “Thank you.”
You made him take you back to the guest house. You prayed that the door to the Spaniard’s room would be open. But it wasn’t. The lights were still on. But there was no way to see in. You heard nothing. You wanted to check in with Maeva.
But Ba seized your hand. “No. Do not disturb them. They are having good time. Come.” He led you up the stairs. To the terrace. To what felt like your death. His hand held yours and would not let go, despite the narrow doorways and steep steps, the awkward maneuvers required by shoddy Indian architecture. He finally did release your hand, and you wiped it on your pants as someone wipes away cobwebs.
Ba made a bed on the terrace, made you lie down, and then sat cross-legged next to you, proceeded to fan you with a menu. You felt indignant. Please stop. Go away. Do something else. But he fanned you. Then offered you a drink.
“No thank you,” you said dryly, wanting nothing from the man.
You argued about the merits of plain old bottled water. He insisted on a tea. You settled for mint tea. He left to prepare it, and you thought about throwing yourself off the roof.
When he returned, you saw that he had a large bottle of beer for himself, and you cringed inwardly. You did not want him to become drunk. He’d offered you alcohol on several occasions that day, and every time you’d declined. He sipped at his beer, you at your tea, and in order to fill the silence, you decided to read his guest book references out loud to him… the ones in English and French.
Ba is so kind, so warm, so amazing, so gentle. A good human. A person who is kind. So hospitable. So caring. It’s not about money. It’s about connection. Thank you so much Ba. Ba, you’re the man. Ba, you’re so great. Ba! Ba! Ba!
Not a bad thing written. No warnings. Nothing.
You wondered if you were being unfair. He had done nothing inappropriate. He had not touched you in a bad way. He wanted to heal you, host you, connect with you, talk with you, and smile at you. What was wrong with that?
To describe a situation is not to experience it. The whole time, you felt the asymmetry of his affinity for you, and to you, he was just another little brown man with poor English. You began to despise him. Really.
And then he took your hand, slipped a ring on your finger.
“Oh…” you said. “A ring!” It was a piece of cheap street shit. “It is your mother’s ring? Grandmother’s?”
He shook his head sweetly. “I give to you, because you are so kind.”
“Oh… a gift!” Sigh. “Thank you Ba. That is very sweet.”
He was chuffed with himself.
Then he took your hand. Held it with great emotion, up to his heart. “Maria,” he began, “I am so happy you are here. Of all the travelers that I know, you are the kindest. You have the biggest heart. You help me. You heal me. You are so good. I can see into your heart. There is trust. You trust Ba. And I trust you. You are home here, now. You are not a guest. You are home. You are not company.”
“Not company! No. Like family.”
You nodded slowly, painfully. “Oh. Okay. Like family.”
“Yes, this place is your home. I am so happy you are here. Now I am not alone. I can do anything with you here. I feel so strong with you. This feeling in my heart is so strong. But you are stronger than me. I trust you. Keep my heart. Not like what you said on the other terrace. Keep my heart! Always hold it. You keep my heart?”
What the fuck is he talking about?!
You throat felt constricted. “Okay,” you said. “I’ll keep it for you, if you need me to.”
“Yes! Keep my heart, because you are stronger than I am.” As he said this, he leaned in. Sentence after sentence, declaration by declaration, emotional spillage. He leaned in so close, still holding your hand in his against his heart. And his little black head was jammed under your chin, as he pressed his cheek against your… bosom.
You wanted to scream. You wanted to shake him off, but you couldn’t. You were utterly petrified. Frozen. Unable to reject him. Unable to say anything, because you really just couldn’t be sure what he meant.
“Wow, Ba,” you said. “You have a lot of feelings.”
“This is… uh… hard for me. You see. I’m not used to this. No one man has ever asked me to keep their heart for them.”
“Keep my heart!”
“It’s just that, um… I’m not sure what you mean. You care about me. It sounds like you have love in your heart.”
“Yes! I do! I love you, Maria! You are my maharani–” my queen “–Maria, my maharani. I love you.”
He wrapped his other arm around your back, drawing even tighter against your body. You circled your free arm around his back, in order to… well… fuck, you have no idea! You thought about two boxers, hugging each other. It was a defensive position. It was easier to hold him that to have his face against your chest.
“I love you,” he repeated.
Your mouth hung open, wordless for a long moment. Then, “It’s just different for me, Ba. You see… I…. love… women.”
“Love women. I love you.”
“I love women,” you repeated.
“I love you.”
For fuck’s sake!
“Thank you,” you said, in defeat. You could only think of Garth, from Wayne’s World. Just say thank you. You bro-patted his back. Made superficial tight circle rubs on his angular shoulder blades.
How to get out of this?
You began to pull away, stiffly, and as you did, his face turned to yours with a drunken expression. Eyelids half open, dreamy. His mouth sought yours–
–and you recoiled! Waggled a finger in front of his face and turned yours away. “Ah… ah!” you said.
He looked surprised, but he didn’t miss a beat. You suggested that the two of you make dinner, because this could not continue. You needed Maeva.
Now! God damn it! Maeva! What the fuck!
You were freaked out. Pissed. Emotional. You wanted to scream. You wanted to cry. You thought about fleeing to your room and packing your shit and pissing off. So long Maeva. You’re on your own, kid. Sorry to abandon you. No. You didn’t want that. You had to stay, because you didn’t know what she was doing in that room. No, you would stay. You just wanted to throw Ba off the roof. Seize his frail little body and lift him over your head and chuck him like a rugby ball. Away with him!
Instead, you went downstairs because “with you, I am strong. I can make dinner. I can do anything. Because I have you.”
You felt sick and dizzy. Too long without food. The Spaniard’s door was closed. You tried to check on them, but Ba cautioned you. “No! Do not disturb them. They are having good time.”
He didn’t want other people to spoil his little heart-to-heart with you. In fact, every time you sought Maeva, you met with his manipulative jealous offense against her.
And the door was still fucking closed!
The situation, you realized, would never have progressed so far if you hadn’t felt the obligation to your travel partner. You had to be her wingman. And yet, she was supposed to be yours. And because you literally had no idea if she was presently engaged in adult behavior, you were too afraid to disturb her.
In the kitchen, Ba was high on love. He smiled and head bobbled and you wavered weakly. You couldn’t speak. The tears of frustration had your throat in a vice. You felt weak. Ba pointed to some pictures on the wall. “Do you know this god?”
No. But it was a hybrid of a man and a woman. Two halves of a whole. And then Ba embraced you again. Squeezed you tightly, head nestled just under your chin.
This is ridiculous!
He went for the kiss again. You averted his mouth. Pulled away. “I’m really hungry!” you rasped,and got a chapati out of the fridge. Started stuffing bites of it into your mouth. You slid your back down the stone wall, sat in a defensive little ball, and blinked through tears, fearing they might begin to fall.
The dinner was made. You had nothing left. As you passed down the hallway, by the Spaniard’s closed door you cried, “CACAO!” Sharp. Loud.
Please hear it!
And oh thank goodness, after 10 minutes of additional imprisonment on the terrace in that man’s company, Maeva finally appeared. “Hi everyone. How’s it going?”
“Cacao,” shot to her like a dart from a gun.
She halted. “Really?”
Your eyes were like two menacing drill bits. “Cacao,” repeated. “Ca-cao,” enunciated.
She understood immediately, found a way to make Ba go back down the stairs to fetch her some dinner, and then you burst into tears. Frenetic, desperate. You couldn’t stop crying.
“What can I do?” she said after you relayed as much information as you could. “What do you want me to do.”
“Don’t leave me!” you rasped. She hugged you, and you sobbed like a stupid baby and then pulled away and flapped your hands and dried your eyes and dabbed at your face and then burst into tears all over again. “I need to stop crying before he gets back.”
“How did this happen?” She seemed confused. “I thought you were okay. You seemed okay when we spoke before your walk.”
“Ba was watching me! What could I say? No, I’m not okay.”
What had this little man done to you> You’d been unable to dismiss him. Reject him. To hurt his feelings. He’s bled his heart out to you, invested so much into you. He thought you felt the same way. He thought you guys had a fucking moment!
“I’m not sure if I ust agreed to marry him,” you whined, “I have no idea what he thinks I said. I don’t understand the language he’s using.”
Ba returned with a tray. Then nestled his body between your legs and put his head in your lap, “Maria, my maharani,” he said blissfully. He rubbed at your legs, and then pulled one of them over his body like a blanket.
Maeva’s eyes popped, suddenly seeing with her own eyes the severity of your situation.
This is what happens when women are passive.
* * *
You’d gone to bed that night, finally, after recoiling from Ba’s affectionate touches at least two dozen times. You kept shaking your head, waggling your finger, and saying “Shanti, shanti.” But he didn’t get the message.
The Spaniard had even taken Ba aside and had tried to explain that you were a lesbian. That you didn’t like men. That you loved women.
“He no understand,” the Spaniard said. “He really no understand lesbie.”
But you thanked him for trying. Maeva locked the door. You swapped stories, learned that Maeva, for all those fucking hours locked in the Spaniard’s room, had only received a massage and conversation. She felt terrible for leaving you alone. “I didn’t understand. When you spoke to my before you went on your walk, I tried to determine if everything was okay. You seemed fine. But I was thinking about if you were okay.”
You weren’t mad at her. Not at all. Even your wild fantasies of ditching her and fleeing the hotel were not from spite. Just desperation. You explained to her that you’re the kind of person who cringes at the thought of asking for help. The if you’d known each other better, each of you would have understood how to better navigate the situation. And besides, it wasn’t her fault. It was yours. Because you are far too permissive.
The next morning, you heard Ba calling your name.
Maeva went to the door and told him you were sleeping. She returned with chai. Ba had made you a chai literally twice as big as the one he made for Maeva. You wanted to throw the fucking chai against the wall, along with that cheap ring. But it was too tasty.
Ba came back, “Maria! Maria!”
You stifled you shriek, literally rolled sideways off your mattress, and crash landed on the tile floor. Then scrambled under the bed. As if that would help. Maeva peered down at you. “What should I do?”
You hid your face. You didn’t know. Ba was knocking at the door. You army crawled out from under the bed and fled to the bathroom. Maeva opened the door.
You began splashing buckets of water all over the bathroom.
You heard bits and pieces of Maeva’s conversation. “…in the bathroom.” Splash. “Taking a shower–” Splash. “In a little while.” Splash, splash.
You’d been reduced to faking showers and sleep in order to avoid yet another guest house manager. The end of the story could only be one way: painfully awkward.