September 6, 2013 by The Citron Review
Twenty-five years ago, Harjit from India and I met on a guided tour of France, and she stood between me and a mute man’s longing, and I stood between her and her countryman’s lust.
A man on the tour, who was thirty or forty, could not speak and always had an unreadable expression on his face. But he was cunning. Breaking away from his mother, he would hide in crowds on narrow hotel stairways or ferry ramps. Then I would feel an assured hand resting on my thigh or bare upper arm. He seemed to be lifting something out of me or infusing something into me.
I did not tell his mother, who must have longed for a more typical son. I did not touch him back, although forceful fingernails, penetrating his flesh, would have probably stopped him. I learned always to walk with a wall on one side of me and Harjit on the other.
At the French border, guards dismantled an Indian man’s briefcase containing only a change of underwear. No one trusts a man who carries little from home. They searched his body cavities but found nothing. That night, inexplicably, he came to Harjit’s door and demanded admittance. Rejected, he (we later learned) sought out a prostitute.
Afterwards, Harjit never left her room without me. Back in India, she had a secret boyfriend of twenty years who was of another religion. Should she wait to marry until her parents were dead? She longed to have children. She was in her late thirties twenty-five years ago. I wonder if she longs still.
April Selley teaches Creative Writing and American Literature at Union College in Schenectady, New York. She has published travel essays, literary criticism, short stories, microfiction, and over forty poems in literary magazines. Her chapbook, In and Out of Eden, won the 2001 Permafrost Chapbook Award.