I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about Surya.
I went to a party. Some were complaining about Modi while looking sexy. Others were discussing a recent terrorist incident while looking intellectual. Everyone slightly left-leaning. Everyone with little, but expensive clothes on. All of it in English. All of it while drinking Chandon. A lot of Chandon.
At some point, still early, I left. I blamed it on the jetlag. I found a taxi.The driver unlocked the front door to the seat next to him. I tried to open the door behind, so I could have some privacy. But the back door was closed, and he didn’t open it.
I get in next to him. It’s uncomfortable to be so close and not speak. I look out through the side window without really seeing what’s there. At one point, I hear him singing to himself. Maybe he does that sometimes. When he’s by himself. When he feels lonely perhaps – even with passengers there. Then, after a while, he pulls over.
“Ek minute, sir,” he says.
He gets out of the car. He probably needs to take a piss.
“Peshab?” I ask when he gets back in.
He opens his hand: some hashish. I look at him; he’s handsome. I’m sure many men would want to have sex with him. I wonder if he does. For the extra money maybe. He asks me something. Do I smoke? Or is it, do I want to smoke? I tell him that I don’t. Stumbling along in my foreigner Hindi, I ask him about the hashish. The quality. The price. Small talk. He tells me that this is enough for ten joints. He smokes one every night before he goes to bed. It gives him energy, he tells me. His Hindi is excellent. I ask where he’s from.
We’re talking now, that is, it’s mostly him talking. I pick up words here and there and try to understand from the context and his body language. In a way, it’s good my Hindi is so bad; it levels out the relationship. And I don’t feel embarrassed either. No matter how I say the few things that I do, he doesn’t laugh at me. I still wish my Hindi were better, though. I want to understand more of what he’s telling me.
He comes from a village. His parents and younger sister are still there. It’s difficult, he tells me, his voice cracking a little. He hasn’t been back to see them since he moved here three years ago. I ask him where in the city he stays. He sleeps in the back of the car, he tells me. I glance over at him while he’s driving and talking. He’s wearing a clean, white shirt; it’s almost shining against his skin. For a moment, I wonder if I’m invading his privacy, but then I keep asking. Where does he shower and clean? And then: what is his dream? God, why did I do that? It’s like some kitschy film thing. But why not? Everyone has dreams. He wants to help his parents and younger sister. I wonder if he doesn’t also want something more for himself. No, only helping them, he tells me. Suddenly, a Neruda line lands in my mind: I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees. And I realise I don’t even know his name.
“Aapkaa naam kyaa hai?”
His name is Surya. The sun. He asks for mine.
“Nice,” he says.
I feel more related to him after the exchange of names, both Indian. I want to share something more with him from my life.Where I’m from.What life is like there.
I start talking about how the sun is slowly disappearing there now. During winter there is hardly any sun, only white snow and dark skies. We live like that for many months. It’s difficult, I tell him. But then comes spring and summer.
“Hameshaa surya. 24 hours.”
“Ha,” he says.
He’s heard about the midnight sun. He smiles. And when Surya smiles, his eyes light up. I’m attracted to him. But I don’t think it’s sexual. I don’t know. Somehow he feels more like a brother to me.
“Yahaa left,” I say.
Surya turns left and continues talking. But I have to interrupt again.
It’s coming to an end. It has to. What would it have been like if I smoked a joint with him?
“Ye mera hotel hai,” I say.
I’m a little embarrassed about the hotel – it’s quite nice – but he doesn’t seem to notice. I look at the meter: 275 rupees. I find a 1000 note in my pocket and give it to him.
“Rest is for you.”
No, brother, too much, he says. He tries to give it back to me, his hands on mine. Suddenly, I have tears in my eyes. I don’t know why. In a way, this is so degrading, me giving him this money. In a way, he’s so beautiful for refusing to take it. Maybe it’s also him calling me brother instead of sir that makes me so sentimental. Maybe it’s the Chandon I drank at the party and the jetlag kicking in. Regardless of the reason, I have tears in my eyes now, and Surya takes the money. He asks if I have an Indian number. I don’t. He says that maybe we’ll meet again anyway. I take his hand, and we look at each other. Then I open the door and leave.
It’s late now. Surya has probably finished his joint and is sleeping. I try thinking about one of the guys from the party instead. I remember a random guy with a lean, muscular body and nice smile. I imagine us having sex, I come, and finally I fall asleep.