Read Part 1 here
We had been spending hours of the week together for some months, and still not made much physical progress with each other. It was not for a lack of desire. It was clear to us both that we were attracted to each other. In the rare moments that our hands touched, we wanted more. When we sat thigh against thigh, we wanted more.
Motorcycle rides were torment for me. I rode behind him, our bodies close, sometimes needing to hold onto him as he navigated the pot-holed streets in the darkness we often met in. At those times especially, I wondered what he was waiting for. Why didn’t we express these pent up desires in some way more fulfilling than deep talks, of which we had plenty? Don’t get me wrong – I loved our talks! He really got me, all my worries, my deep thinking, my questioning mind. Our talks were relaxing and invigorating. But not like sex!
One night, riding along our usual route, my body pressed against his, we went over a speed breaker and the bike swerved in a dip in the road. As usual, my hands fell onto his thighs to gain balance. Suddenly I reached further around him, and let my hands fall between his legs. I was not surprised to feel him hard, straining against his jeans. I propped my head on his shoulder, my cheek pressed against his helmet, and held him through his jeans. I heard his breath catch.
Suddenly he swerved the bike from our usual route, and it wasn’t long before we parked in the garage of a high-rise apartment complex with darkened windows. I realized he had finally brought me home.
I was not a virgin. Not only had I messed around with college mates in the PG where I had stayed, I had even been with a girl once to see if I was somehow mistaken about what I was attracted to. But these experiences had been fleeting, secretive, short-lived. Within minutes of being with John in his dark flat, I realized he was no virgin either, nor had he been oblivious to the tension that had been growing between us all of these months. He took control as soon as the door was closed behind us.
His lips pulled at mine as his hands removed my clothes. When he pressed my body to his chest, I fit perfectly against him as if made for only him. He sat down on the couch, his hands loosely around my wrists, and looked up at me. I pulled free and slowly began to undress him. For once I was not worried about what I looked like, if I would do something wrong, if I would please my partner or not. In his eyes, I saw no expectations, only passion and longing.
That moment when our bare bodies finally touched is indelible in my mind, duplicated thousands of times over the years we would be together, but never quite like that first time. Our passion started out as if we were two bodies yearning to be one. And every time we laid together, we achieved that unity – mind, body and soul.
It’s been four hours now. A nurse tried to tell me to rest. I cannot rest until I know he will be okay. My hands are gripping the arms of the chair where I sit. I need something to hold on to, but this chair is not what I need.
“I needed to know you were ready.” That’s what John told me when I asked him why he had waited so long before making our relationship physical. “And when you finally touched me, I knew you were ready. I was ready the first night we met. But I am not in this for a short walk. I’m in it for the long run.”
Lately, I had been having what months ago I would have called dangerous thoughts. I was thinking I should tell my family that I didn’t want the bride they were planning for me. That I didn’t want the life they were planning for me, with or without the bride. I had done as they had expected from practically day one. I had lost sleep and lost weight slaving over exams for as long as I could remember, until finally I had landed the IT job they had charted for me on their long list of expectations. I was 25 now, and the long list continued: In my personal world, they expected a bride from a suitable family and at least two children – a boy and a girl if god was willing. In my career, they expected me to climb the corporate ladder until maybe one day I was the director of an IT company somewhere. Money, status, reputation. These were the constant ingredients expected for each and every milestone in the life they had decided for me.
What I really wanted was John. A job for basic needs. Maybe to travel. No kids, no corporate stress, no worries over money, status and reputation.
John never told me I should tell my family about him, about what I really wanted in life. But I knew he had told his family. They had disowned him, of course. They had thrown him physically from their home into the streets at the age of 16 when he had decided to confide in them. Then he had no home, no security, no money, no future. He could have gone back and denied what he had shared. He knew that was what his family had hoped he would do.
But he had not. John never told me all that he had been through to come from that distant city as a 16 year old to now, 28 and living comfortably. But I knew the journey had been hard.
But somehow, John had made it through without becoming hard himself. He was strong and confident of himself. But still vulnerable enough to confess his love for me while we laid in the dark, our arms and legs tangled, his lips in my hair, his words falling like bougainvillea flowers into my heart.
I can’t believe it’s been over five hours now since that terrible screech of tires, that scream of metal against metal, that clash of machines, bodies and road. I had been thrown from the bike as soon as John had tried to brake to avoid the oncoming lorry. I landed with minimal scraps in the bushes along the road, somehow managing to not crack my head on the curb.
My John had not been so lucky. Though the lorry had not run over him, it had collided with him, slamming him from the bike which it then crushed. A nearby tea walla had seen it all and had acted fast, calling an ambulance service on his mobile before rushing to try to help us. I had been dazed, my head ringing, my mouth forming a scream that never quite came out as I dragged myself in the pouring rain to John’s bloodied body. The lorry driver ran away. The tea walla tried to stop me from touching John; by then I was crying and calling his name. But he neither answered, nor opened those brown eyes.
There was no sign of life in him at all.
I started lying to my family, trying to figure out how I could balance what they wanted with what I wanted. I had never thought in my wildest dreams that I would meet someone like John. I guess if I had thought about it at all, I would have married whoever my parents found for me and continued to have fleeting, secretive meetings with other men trapped like me in marriages and lives they had never designed.
At first, they believed my lies that a late customer call had made me spend the night in the office’s sleep room, when in reality I was staying with John. But the more I wanted to be with him night and day, the more irritable and moody I became at home. And rather than discussing it with me, they decided that they just needed to find me a bride even sooner.
“How did you tell your family?” I asked John one night as we lay under the fan in his bedroom.
“I just … told them.” His voice was low. “I knew what they had planned for me, and I couldn’t do that to me, to any woman they made me marry, to them even. I knew what they planned would make me unhappy, bitter, even suicidal. I wanted free.”
“Were you free?” I asked softly, tracing with my finger the outline of his hand on my thigh. “After you told them, did you feel free?”
John was silent for some time, perhaps remembering all he had been through after he had been kicked out of his family’s life. “Sachin,” he said at length. “When I left my family, I had no one. But you have me. Whatever you plan, whatever happens, you always have me.”
Of course I kissed him for that. Who wouldn’t? He was always saying these sorts of things, but better than that, he always meant them. I wondered if he meant this one too.
Days later I told my family. I screwed up courage I didn’t even know I had, I sat them down, I told them I was gay, had known I was gay all my life, that I didn’t want a bride, that I didn’t want the life they had planned. I didn’t tell them about John. I wanted them to know this was me talking, my decision.
Their reactions were inevitable: They ran the gauntlet of anger, disappointment, disbelief, horror and back to anger. Deep and hateful anger. We like to think that the people who are our families would never hate us, but things like this somehow trigger hatred in some. I know there are people out there whose families accept them. Here and in other countries too. But my family made the choice to not be part of those statistics.
When I stood on the street outside John’s flat, what few possessions I had cared to bring with me when my parents told me to leave packed in a bag, I did feel free. I really did. I had no idea what the future held. But I was free.
Somewhere behind those swinging doors, I can hear someone crying loudly. I wonder if it’s a family member or someone waiting to be operated on. Or someone waking from an operation. I wonder if it’s going to be me soon, crying over someone who didn’t wake up.
When John opened the door for me that evening, he knew right away that something big had happened. He shut the door after I stepped inside, and watched me, not saying anything. I was shaking from the adrenaline of standing up for myself, from fear of what I had just done, from the sheer exhaustion of trying to live two different lives all these months: one with John, one for my family.
I collapsed on the couch while he made tea. He still didn’t talk as I finished the tea. Later, he led me to the bedroom and we sat in the dark. Suddenly, he pulled me against his chest tightly and whispered, “Thank you! Thank you!” like a mantra.
It was not until that moment that I realized how much he had stood to lose if I had not found courage. I realized for the first time how much he had wanted me to do this, but that he had respected my right to choose.
It was the first time in my entire life that I had truly felt needed.
I got up and walked onto the balcony, feeling all the emotions of the day. He followed and stood behind me. His body fit along mine as if we were interlocking puzzle pieces. I could feel the entire length of his body holding me, his arms around my chest, his neck against mine, his cheek against my cheek, his breath my breath. “What do you feel, Sachin?” he whispered. “What do you feel?”
I clasped his arms with mine as I answered, “Something to hold on to.”
We have been together now for over 13 years. We have seen our first grey hairs in the mirror together. We have shared the death of family members from afar, still not allowed to come home. We have seen the country’s attitude change, though not as much as it needs to. We have seen the stares of others when we kiss in public, but we do not care. We have united our bodies in passion countless times and still feel like it’s the first time. I cannot imagine life without him.
The doctor has come now. He looks grim and tired. I taste my heart in my throat. But he is telling me John has made it out alive! He is saying that the injuries were severe, and that they had almost lost him on the table. He is saying that John has a strong will to live because somehow, against all odds, he survived. He is saying John will need a lot of time and help to recover. They are leading me to his bed, trying to prepare me for all the tubes and repairs they have made.
But in my mind I know whatever I see will not be as terrifying as the thought of facing this world without him. And whatever medicine they give him, whatever therapy he will need, I know what I can be for him. That which he has always been for me:
Something to hold on to.