Four years after I break his heart, we meet again. We are twenty, and we could, if we wanted. A decade of friendship bonds us but our words stiffen and there’s something that hasn’t been said, will probably not in fact ever be acknowledged. He is so like his dad that I wonder how he can look in the mirror without weeping but maybe there’s only so much grief that can be released before it solidifies, becoming a part of your body, and I want to ask him if this is true but I don’t want to split something open that I’m not going to fix, not again, so instead I suggest a drink. We drink until words flow like rivers and we might drown in the past as we sit beside each other legs pressing and when he turns his head to talk I kiss him, his stubble brushing my skin. His mouth is warm and this time he wants to go further and I could so easily let him, but I hold back.
At sixteen his father dies suddenly. I am the first friend to see him after the news. Pain twists itself around him like an itch that he can’t reach and it’s reflected back in me, an invisible mirror. We hang out in the park and he pushes me on the swing and I hold him whilst he weeps and his breath is sweet and our actions replace words and I don’t have to second guess anymore because I’ve learnt now, how to read this, like a deck of cards or a palm. I can stop his pain because this is all consuming and anything else will be gone. He puts his hand over mine, stopping my fingers from unbuttoning. Not yet, he says. Let’s wait.
We are twelve when we first feel it. It’s the heavy days before monsoon when the air lays across Kathmandu like a damp blanket and dust cakes the ground before it turns to mud. His parents throw the best parties. We leave our flip flops at the door. I can still feel cold marble against hot feet. We hang out in the movie room whilst the adults drink and laugh and dance their way through the evening, checking on us less. The chug chug of the air con chills us and we pull blankets over our bare legs. She is there again, on his other side, laughing louder, talking more, her bare feet next to his. He’s told me he doesn’t like her in that way but it’s hard to believe. We drink Kool-Aid and are candy high and it’s 2am but no-one’s going home and I’m pretending to watch Jackie Chan even though I don’t like Kung Fu movies. He lays his hand on my leg beneath the blanket and moves it up to the bare skin of my waist where my t-shirt rides up and it’s the beginning of something that for us may last forever or perhaps will never even get started.
Hannah Persaud writes poetry, short stories and novels. Her debut novel “The Codes of Love” is being published in print and digital edition by Muswell Press and in audio by Bolinda, in February 2020. Hannah has shortlisted, been highly commended in, and won various short story competitions. Hannah is working on her second novel and is represented by Laura Macdougall of United Agents. Tweets from @Hpersaud | website: hannahpersaud.com.