Your smell was trapped in the warm black ringlets of your hair and in the cotton of your t-shirts. Not an altogether unclean smell, but still the kind of smell that others might have washed and scrubbed away in jets of hot water and foamy soap. It reminded me of the pulpy coconuts left out in the afternoon sun, the milky flesh turned creamy and wet. I wanted to bury myself in it.
At night, when your hands were full with plates and cups and glass green bottles and you would squeeze past me to serve the next table, I’d breathe it in in silent waves. The candlelight would catch your eyes, shiny with work, and I’d want to stand in your way, take the plates from your arms and pull you to me. Instead, we stole fractions of glimpses and I’d barely smile as you loaded our table with buttery naans and steaming rice, the heat making my face damp as dough. Customers would shake your hands as they left, heaping on praise and asking about cooking classes and rooms at the guesthouse as they dawdled along the oil lamped path.
Later, when everyone was gone, I’d wait for you to wash the spice from your hands, your fingers oily and slippery under the cold trickle from the outside tap. You’d unravel your headscarf and spiraled curls would tumble out and hang in springs at the hot skin of your neck, loaded and fat. Your scent was everywhere. At the bar, under the thickness of the night and in the smoke of cheap Indian cigarettes, we would gather with your friends and drink beer from cracked teacups, idly squatting mosquitos as they hummed near our ears.
It was as though you were made from the sandy soil of the cliff. The reds and greens of the Tibetan stalls were trapped behind your eyes and when I rested my head against your chest I could only hear the sound of waves. You became my place on a map. I gave you the me with no make up, sea-salted hair and wind whipped tan skin. You gave me a beach, an ocean, a winding cliff, Malayalam words, a garden, a tree house, the swing of hammocks and the taste of papaya in my mouth. You gave it to me in sunshine days and humid, humming nights. A whole place. A location. A chapter of a guidebook and scratched out squares on a calendar, pages in a journal and flashes and flashes of memory from my trip. I want them back. I want it all back.
Before you gave me the pearl and turquoise bracelet and slid it onto my sea-damp wrist. Before you started waiting for me to appear on the balcony before breakfast, rubbing sleep from eyes and squinting up at the Indian sun. Before you made us a bonfire in the shade of the ash trees on November 5th and before you kissed me while everyone else was outside, waiting for the dolphins. I want the time when I bounced along the sandy lane, waving at the black haired children and tripping over my flip-flops, fanning my hair away and tasting the salt on the breeze. I want the waking up without thinking about you, and the sunbathing without daydreams, and the nights when I don’t even know you’re in the bar.
Untangling you from that trip, from that place, from me, is like picking at a knot in a necklace. Clawing at the memories with a nail, tugging them apart from the twisted links, dissecting and pulling until the hard chain ball is free. The butterflies in my stomach die in the process.