It wasn’t your surprising memory for my tastes. That I loved that particular iced tea, served neon orange in small plastic bags with enough sweetened condensed milk to provoke teeth to rot. It wasn’t that you quickly sleuthed out the hunger beneath my crankiness—the mixed-up manifestation of even adult emotions—and chased down a vendor selling wooden-skewered sausages in the aisles. It wasn’t that you went looking for that vendor again, after we took one bite and tasted the pungent ginger shards laced into the meat, after we agreed it was the best thing we’d ever eaten. And it wasn’t your bleary-eyed face as you watched the morning mists unveil the dense jungle, your unabashed look of awe at a natural secret revealed. It wasn’t any of that.
We’d gotten a pair of the last seats on the train, so when it chugged out of the station we felt a self-congratulatory sense of accomplishment, like we were exactly where we were supposed to be. Of course, this was deep in the period when we only wanted to get places and didn’t care how we got there, when we read messages on the bottoms of beer caps like fortunes and entertained only the faintest doubts as to our presumed invincibility. We were still relatively new to one another, examining every gesture or expression with an agnostic’s zeal to find proof of the worthiness of faith.
The tracks unspooled out of the city by some logic unknown to us; the train labored for hours simply to reach the outskirts. We fidgeted side-by-side on our plastic bench, realizing quite quickly that it was customary to buy two seats a person to stretch out comfortably for the overnight journey. We made small talk with the revolving set of passengers who sat opposite, until night fell and the carriage cleared out so we could curl up across from each other like fireside cats. Outside, a glorious full moon admired its reflection in the watery mirrors of rice paddies. The shimmering humidity gave way to evening chill, and we discovered the windows would not close, that we were stuck with the dampness that formed a filmy layer underneath our skin. The scheduled time of arrival came and went and we were nowhere near our destination, at least as far as we could make out in the uninterrupted darkness.
In light of all that, it was this: we took turns napping to be sure we didn’t miss our stop (if and when it arrived) and in the thick of this interminable limbo, I watched you sleeping. During the haunting hour, under flickering fluorescents that never turned off, your body at last uninhabited by daytime spirits— armorless, guileless—stripped of artifice, the roles we are assigned by life or required to assume. Only a thin ribbon of your body covered by my threadbare scarf, your chest proudly displaying its vulnerability, the rise and fall of every breath. I listened to your warbling snores, I saw your fists ball up and tuck protectively underneath your head, I grew to recognize the steady cadence of your lip-wobbling exhales. I felt a sudden, unfamiliar swelling of tenderness, like the moon had finally pulled in a tide to tuck me in every night. I watched you until the train sped around a sharp curve and jolted you awake, at which point you passed me my scarf and a backpack for a makeshift pillow, a wordless and seamless exchange of turns. And I felt that this was more than enough certainty, to know that were I given the chance to live this and every preceding moment again, I would take it.
About the Author: Nina Sudhakar is a writer and lawyer currently based in Indianapolis. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Arcturus, The Airgonaut and Miracle Monocle; for more, find her at www.ninasudhakar.com or @ninasudhakar.
Story Song: “Into the Light” by J.Views (ft. Wild Cub)
Note: The title of this piece comes from a line in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese.”