Her golden sari graced her body like wild flowers on rolling hills. Nearly six feet tall, she towered over most of her Mumbai sisters and brothers, even in her sandals. Although people rushed past her, there seemed to be an invisible wall separating her from them. Car horns honked and bicycle bells trilled, yet she appeared engulfed in a serene silence.
This was my last night traveling in India before returning to school in the States. I had been part of a carefully planned group tour, herded by day to popular tourist sites and deposited to our hotel in the evening for dinner, where the curry was tempered and the food familiar. I sought adventure, although my timid soul feared breaking from the safety of the group.
Still, I decided to take a chance and walk the streets on my own, the first thing I did by myself in the past ten days.
Uncommonly hot and humid, even for Mumbai, steam rose from the pavement as in a Bollywood movie. I had nowhere in particular to go, planning little more than an evening stroll before returning to my hotel room to pack for my flight home. But something about the graceful way the woman in the gold sari maneuvered through the crowded streets enchanted me, as if she were performing a carefully choreographed ballet.
I watched her stop and nod to a street vendor. He ran a huge stalk of sugar cane, nearly seven feet long, twice through a juicer, poured the sweet nectar over ice, added a squeeze of lemon juice, and handed it to her. She gave the man a few coins, and after a slow, eyes-closed sip, offered a slight nod.
I ached for a taste of her drink, but I feared ingesting a street vendor’s melted ice.
She turned in my direction. My first reaction was to hang my head, embarrassed that she had caught me spying. But when I looked up, I saw the same nod of approval she had offered the vendor.
I followed. I knew it was crazy to trail after her but I felt drawn, as if I lacked a will of my own. I traced her steps through darkening streets. People stared at the foreigner following a local woman into the night. A young man smiled brazenly, but the others made their disapproval clear, their dark eyes stabbing into mine. A stray dog barked threateningly, but I continued following her through a maze of side streets and brick buildings. The commotion I had grown accustomed to decreased, until I could hear the sound of her sandals sliding along the Shahbad stone footpath.
I wanted to head back to the safety of my hotel, but something deep within urged me to continue following my fantasy woman.
I had no idea where I was when she stopped and turned in my direction. She offered no change in expression except for her mysterious, reassuring nod. Unlocking a basement apartment, she left the door slightly ajar. I stood in the heavily shadowed doorway, my heart pounding, and peered through the space left by the open door. She lit candles, and in the flickering luminescence, I watched her unravel her sari until she stood completely naked. I felt my eyes bulge as I stared, afraid to even blink.
With long, sensual fingers, she motioned to me.
I entered, half expecting a man with a knife to jump out from the doorway.
I followed her to a tiny bedroom, containing nothing more than a dresser and a bed. In my mind, I calculated how much local currency I had in my pocket, more than willing to give her whatever I owned. But she didn’t ask for money.
Without saying a word, she unbuttoned my shirt, each button releasing a layer of fear and anxiety. As she unbuckled my pants, it was as if my brain had been turned and my body came alive to the sensuality of the moment.
We made love in silence. When I tried to speak, she placed a delicate finger on my lips.
Afterwards, she padded in bare feet to an immaculate kitchen. She gestured for me to sit at the small table beside a window, and offered me strong tea while she prepared scrambled eggs. I watched her add a combination of spices. For the first time since arriving in India, I felt no fear of the unfamiliar.
She set two plates between us and divided the food. Next to my plate, she placed a shiny fork. She ate her eggs with her fingers, licking at the yellow-white morsels with quick flicks of her pink tongue. When we finished, she carried the plates to the sink and walked me to the door.
I still had no idea what her voice sounded like.
Her deep brown eyes displayed neither happiness nor regret. I whispered goodbye. She nodded, ever-so-slightly, and closed the door, barely making a sound.
I walked in what I thought was the direction of my hotel, unafraid.
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net. His work has appeared in print and online in a variety of publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, Eclectica, flashquake and The Internet Review of Books. Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, is available at Thumbscrews Press.