I like to be cold. It reminds me of you and your cold hands -- you and what you’ve done to me. You always liked winter, and now I do too. Summers are cluttered and hot, but winters are high and lonely and crystalline, like you.
When we first met I did not like you. You were stubborn and sometimes cruel, but that wasn’t it. It was because I felt myself falling in love with you -- your auburn hair, your sly, slow smile, your winking eyes and unexpected laughter.
When we first met, we shook hands and smiled. Lindsey Gupta, head of accounting, introduced us at a conference, when we were both new to the company. I remember your strong handshake, powerful, like a cabinet minister’s -- your hand was strong but so cold. I was surprised.
You wore a grey skirt hemmed just above the knee. I liked that skirt but I never saw you wear it ever again.
When you left, I knew it was because of me. It was my fault. I hurt you. I hurt us both.
You said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Malhotra,” and then told me I was too short to work in marketing. I was caught by your cruel bluntness, and by my inability to disagree.
I said, “Call me Pradeep,” as Lindsey walked away, smiling.
When we parted, my face was hot, and my heart had left me. You walked out of the crowded conference room that warm October evening and my heart followed. I like to be cold, because it reminds me of your cold hands, how we touched, and how I was never the same.
I like to be afraid. It reminds me of your childhood -- that day when a monsoon flood roared through Chennai and we were trapped inside and so afraid, and you told stories. When we first got the warning it was too late; Lindsey Gupta locked the doors downstairs and those who were not atheist prayed for any in the flood’s path.
You took your shoes off and we all watched you. When you took off your jacket and put your feet on your desk and said, “Might as well get comfortable -- might be a while,” we all relaxed. I studied you. You were totally at ease, ready to meet death if it were death that came, ready to calm anyone who panicked. Your cold hands folded in your lap and you closed your eyes.
Then you opened your mouth and we all listened as you told stories of your childhood in Oklahoma and Texas -- so far away. You told us about the time the cattle panicked and a flash flood came through and you saved your older brother from drowning. You told us about the droughts and tornadoes and flash floods that made you strong. You talked about fear and how it was a beautiful thing. You said you were always afraid, and was grateful for it. I was afraid. I was afraid of you and for you. You were Indian like us but so far from home.
Watching you speak about being afraid made me forget I was afraid.
I’m afraid now. I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.
Will you come back to me?
When they gave the all-clear we went home, but I remember that moment. That afternoon you picked your way barefoot through the wet streets toward the metro station, shoulders back and head high. I like to be afraid, for it reminds me of you, always afraid and never afraid.
I like to be tired. It reminds me of our love six months after our wedding. Ours was a quick and intense love, full of zest and passion and pain and when it was gone it was something very easy to miss.
When you left it was like a small supernova, contained in my heart. When you left, you took my heart with you forever. The office feels so small without you, so warm without your cold, beautiful hands, so unfriendly without your crystalline smile.
In the evenings I ride the metro home. It used to be our apartment; now it’s mine. I open the door, smell the good spicy smell of your mother’s garam masala recipe, and put away my shoes and bag and keys.
I eat at our wooden table, always garam masala, because it’s your mother’s recipe and you made it when I turned thirty-one and it was the best thing I'd ever tasted. I like it with strawberry yogurt, to balance out the curry powder. I eat opposite an empty chair.
I merely rinse my dish because I’ll use it again tomorrow. I change to pajamas, an old shirt, and watch TV on our creaky couch until I’m too tired to absorb the gaudy flashing changing screens. You used to wake me up and push me into bed by you. But the bed is cold and frightening without you. I am afraid of the monsters you teased me about.
The first night you left, I didn’t sleep at all. I lay rigid on the couch, wanting you next to me so badly my whole body was sore the next morning. I pushed you to leaving. It was my fault.
I can’t fix this. I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of loving someone I’ll never see again. But I can’t help it -- it’s impossible to stop loving you. I’m trying. I’m trying. Please come back to me.
I fall asleep on our creaky couch instead. I wake up pressed against the lined upholstery and go to work still tired, with sleep-scars on my face. You were a morning person. You’d laugh at me stumbling out of bed on a cool Chennai morning needing coffee, and I’d laugh back. It wasn’t too long before our laughter grew tired and we discovered that we had nothing in common besides the cold, fear, and our mutual exhaustion.
It was a mistake to let you go. It was a mistake to love you in the first place.
I couldn’t have helped either, but now I’m trying to make it up to you. Can you hear me? Can you, so far away? Come home.
Won’t you? Please?
Sometimes, half-asleep and half-dead as Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai blares, I wonder where you are, if you dance among the supernovas as tired as I am. But I like to be tired. It reminds me of you and the tireless, dying, tired love we had for so short, so perfect a time.
I like to be lonely. It reminds me of the few months where neither of us were lonely, or cold, or afraid, or tired. We had ourselves, our wood table, all the garam masala we could eat, the splintered apartment windows, your grey skirt, everything. We had the world in our hands. But now I’m lonely. I do not think you are -- you have a mother who loves you, your grey skirt, and Mr. Shenoy’s sunflower seeds. I have only a recipe, a memory, and dry potting soil that you left behind.
But I don’t feel envious. You brought things into my life I’d never had before -- love, garam masala, cold handshakes, fear. I had nothing to give you in return, just my heart. I’m afraid I’ll never get that back.
The thing I do not like to be is unhappy. The office is unhappy without you. All of Chennai is unhappy without you. You always had to duck under the doorway to enter and each time you’d nearly miss and have to catch yourself before you hit your head. We’d see and smile and be relieved with you.
We loved your stories of America. None of us have ever left Chennai, much less India. You brought color to the office. Without you, we are silent and unhappy. A fat white man has taken your desk and he eats Pringles all day. Your desk smells like Pringles now, where you put your sunflower seeds and your lamps shaped like flowers and the pictures of your mother making garam masala. I watch him eat tubes of chips and miss you until it aches. I wonder where you are now?
Are you dancing, as you and I danced around the wood table?
Are you splashing through foaming water, barefoot?
Are you walking through dry, tall doorways, meeting people who do not love you?
Please come back to me. I need you. I’m sorry.
Now that you are gone, I am alone again, but still tired, and cold, and afraid. Lonely.
But I like to be lonely, for it reminds me of what I’ve lost, and I smile when I think of you.