THE WRETCHED AND THE LOVED
By Joan Pinto
I saw her walk into the store glancing at her reflection in the glass, patting her hair in place. I adjusted my tie, my hair, tried to look older than the 22-year-old man I was. She smiled at the doorman who grinned warmly. She was a good boss, why not? She walked to the jewelry counter and checked the new designs that had come in. Only then did she walk to her little cabin at the end of the corridor. Ten minutes later she asked for coffee and croissants, one gob of butter.
It was her ritual. I always wondered how she stayed so thin. I’d always seen her eat. Even on the dates she went to - well, most of them. Of course, she didn’t know I saw her. Even at home, she ordered large pizzas with all the toppings. Once I saw her order a large sundae when she sat alone by the beach. Others would think she was strange. I thought she was an angel. My princess. When she stopped at my leather counter to ask about the new merchandise, she spoke softly, gently. I watched her finger the bags, the soft leather, touch it to her face, smell it and go, "Hmm, I love that smell." Each time I wished it were me she touched that way.
She didn’t have a boyfriend. Just one guy, who she went out with all the time. Store gossip had it that they were childhood buddies. Nothing sexual. The day I got to know, I drank up a bottle of wine in my studio loft that I’d rented across from her building and took her picture with me to bed. Yes, I had a picture of her. The one I’d taken on one of her solitary walks by the sea. She looked so lost, so beautiful. Like she need to be protected. I would, if only she’d let me. I’d keep her in a beautiful mansion and never let her leave. I’d be her butler and her cook, her lover.
I had her name etched on the inside of my arm, hidden under my sleeve. Not some boring tattoo but a burn mark I made long ago with a hot knife. She’d touched that arm once. Jane, my assistant, says it was a mistake. But I know. I know she likes me, wants me. She’s just shy like I am. But in my dreams, she tells me she loves me, leaves me soft kisses that no one knows.
She walked across the aisle to a customer. I watched her silk dress swirl about her legs. I knew what she wore under them. I’d seen her discard the pink bra for the black one as she got ready for work this morning. I daydreamed about being with her in her bedroom.
She turned and asked me to fill in an order, then smiled, "Doing a great job Darryn." I love her, I thought. I followed her perfume as she crossed the store. Then a man walked in and called her name. I watched as she turned, her eyes alive. I watched as he kissed her on the lips oblivious to any of us. I watched as she kissed him back, as she casually dropped her hand in his and left for lunch.
I knew I would go home and take the hot knife to my skin again. I would run the edge along her name and weep. How many times would I have to open the scabs before she admitted she loved me? How many?
I am a Mumbai-based freelance writer who has published non-fiction in the Times of India (India’s largest circulating newspaper), Femina and Economic Times Travel.