The Very Thought of You
The day had come, as I knew it would, when I was no longer welcome in the Patel compound. The old man who had opened the ornate gate to me so many times over the years shook his head sadly, a pitying smile on his lips as he turned me away.
I stood there for a moment, my body merging with the sultry air already heavy with the oncoming monsoon season. The gates were fastened tightly now, judging me the foreigner, the outsider, the unchosen as I had always been.
Disappointment clung to me as tears blurred my sight. Despite years of convincing myself that I didn’t care about the inevitability, I cared. Perhaps it had been last month when Raj and I sat in a café sipping frothy cappuccinos that left white mustaches above our lips, debating the literary merit of Thomas Hardy, when we had both laughed at the increasing silliness of the argument, that we looked into each other’s eyes and knew that at some point friendship had progressed into more.
And here I stood, half-willing him to abandon his family and the woman they’d chosen for him. But the gates didn’t reopen. He didn’t appear and I returned to the American consulate.
“Maybe now you’ll think about grad school,” my father said.
“I’ve been thinking of taking a year off to travel.” Travel was the one thing my diplomat father definitely understood the value of.
He frowned, however. “I don’t think this is a good time.”
I understood this tone in his voice. “Why is that?”
He shrugged. I knew. The doors sometimes have eyes and the walls ears even after a technology sweep.
“You could go home to the States, stay with your mother.”
If I had been thinking clearly, staying with my mother in her DC high-rise penthouse would have been the last thing I would have considered.
But there I was, watching jagged fingers of lightning dip toward the Potomac as my mother’s brittle laughter rose above Bobby Short’s voice. The little black dress my mother demanded I wear felt like a girdle, or at least how I imagined one would feel, constraining and tight, much like the atmosphere at this cocktail party of hers.
“Lydia, you’re being rude. Please return to my party and my guests,” Mother said from the doorway of the guest room. She didn’t have a room just for me. She’d never had room for me.
My mother was an antiques dealer, but she always seemed to entertain far more than she actually seemed to sell. “That’s part of my panache,” she once said to me. “One must glitter before anyone buys gold.”
And this was why I was a constant disappointment to her. She attended symphonies and the opera and shook her head that I only enjoyed La Bohème. La Bohème, artists falling in ill-fated love, romantic, beautiful, sad. “Such fantasy, just like your father.” Her tone suggested that my father was the last person I should want to emulate.
I pasted a smile on my face, listened to the strait-jacketed thoughts of upper crust DC conservatives until my cheeks ached from the effort. My father had taught me well: smile through unbearable odds.
As the evening wore on Bobby Short shifted to Frank Sinatra and I found myself reaching for another glass of champagne, the one temptation this party yielded when the words “the mere idea of you, the mere longing here for you” of that old song with its romantic poetry and the sensual phrasing halted the glass before it could touch my lips. I thought of Raj, his smile, laughter, the gentle way his hand would take my elbow, a touch, but not really.
I saw him in my mind that last day at the café, his teasing voice. And then suddenly I saw him before me, travel worn, dark circles under his eyes, wan complexion. His white linen shirt was crumpled, his khakis creased.
“Who is this man, Lydia? He demanded to see you. I told him I would call security. Why that awful man allowed him up—”
“Lydia, I couldn’t…”
With shaking fingers, I set the champagne flute aside and then threw myself into his arms. The only arms I’ve ever longed for.