Mittenwald, German Alps, 1885
I find him on a train. It is the last one out of town. He is standing next to the exit. Raindrops dancing off his face. My letter clutched to his heart. We kiss and make out before a wistful old lady who has clouded irises, but is well aware of the ways of desperate souls. She plays the violin and speaks of her lover from her youth, unmindful of our hot breath clouding the car’s chilled window panes as another steam train whistles by. We escape our feuding families, our conflicting pasts, but we never make it beyond the fjord.
Brooklyn, New York, 1917-18
I find him at a party at Joe’s. He asks me my name, and we slow dance. It is New Year’s Eve. A few whiskey shots, some risqué talk, and a round of parlor games later, we sneak out through the balcony, to the rooftop, and kiss the skyline to shame. The next day, he sails off to France, to fight. No exchange of telephone numbers or forwarding addresses. Or hair locks or commitment rings. I can’t write to him, like my roommate can to her fiancé. I can’t send him care packs or pictures of myself. He becomes a repressed memory, something to toy with in the dark, when all the lights go out and I sneak up to the rooftop to look at the stars. For a while I see someone new. Joe. We work at the same shoe factory. He’s nice, polite, and safe. But it doesn’t last. When the city falls to the great epidemic, I look out the window, at the shrinking sky, and wonder what could have been.
Setagaya, Tokyo Metropolis, 1956
I run into him before the government building, on a crowded street, in a metro, before war memorials and landmarks long gone. He in cheap suits and square glasses, his hair graying; always a briefcase in hand. We stare at each other, across bustling platforms, blooming rose gardens, massive Godzilla posters, steaming soup bowls. Our hands touch as we reach for the soy sauce at the ramen stall at the same time. He has a wedding band on his ring finger. He smiles at me, politely, and I smile back. I follow him across the market, through the station, on the metro to Setagaya, till his stop arrives and he gets off and catches the connecting tram to his home. A small two-story house in the suburbs. I watch him hug his wife, plant a kiss on her cheek, give her a happy smile. I watch him bounce his daughter around the living room and play catch with his son in the nearby park. I move to another city soon after, settle down, and don’t see him again till another life.
Weymouth Beach, Dorset, 2011
He swims off the desolate beach, and I can’t take my eyes off him. His arms make fluid angles with the sea. I want to touch him, run my fingers through his wet hair, along his sharp outline. But I don’t know how to swim. I follow him out to the sea nevertheless, wading in knee deep water, looking out at the horizon where he is. The sky turns a foreboding gray, and the waves lash at my legs, smash over me. I lose my footing and start to sink. I can’t breathe. I think I’m drowning. The salt water stinging my eyes, my lungs. But a hand wraps around my waist and steadies me; pulls me out on to warm sand. The sky clears up and I am safe, snug in his arms. There’s a tinkling nearby, and I look up. And the old lady from the train is back, stooping. This time she is a vagabond, her eyes as clear as the blue in the sky, though her dressing sense has not benefited from her sight. She sells us some trinkets, conch key rings and a comb made of shell. She reads palms, too, she says, for a quid, and gets a sad, faraway look in her eyes when she does. This is not the time for you, she says softly, and walks off humming an old Nordic song. The vacation ends. We drive home. He gets an offer in the big city that he can’t refuse. His dreams are too big for the small town we live in, and I’ve got a sick mother to care for. He can’t rescue me from this life. So we part ways. As friends. On good terms. And that old lady’s words haunt me for the rest of my life.
V & VI/VI
House No. 43, Nice Suburb Somewhere in the World, 2056
In this life, I am a Cocker Spaniel, his pet. The one he’s had since he was a young boy. He found me in a shelter, scrawny, little, growling at the cage. He calls me Crazy, but I don’t mind. I love it when he plays with me, talks to me, rubs my coat, my ears. He takes me for long walks, introduces me to all his friends. Tells me all his secrets, even lets me hog his bed. We are pals, best buds, till he finds a girlfriend and I get passed on to his little sister, who loves braiding my hair.
In the next, I am a fly. He’s all grown up now, and he swats me to nothing but pulp, carefully wiping me off his crisp, new-smelling business suit before leaving for an interview at some prestigious law firm.
I am not even born in his next.
New Delhi, Mars, 2156
The world’s a changed place, strung together with invisible gadgets and a never-ending relay of bytes and binary codes and programs that let you access the unknown parts of your brain and data on everyone supposedly ever born. But for all the technology, the information accessible at a blink, we have never met. Our only connect this VRT (Virtual Regressive Therapy) pod. We go through schools, jobs, relationships, heartbreaks, loss alone. We grow old, wise but lonely, accomplished but soul-less. We struggle alone, never knowing where the other is, but always yearning. Always looking. Yet that face in the crowd, across space, that makes it all worthwhile eludes us both. It doesn’t help that mankind has colonized both Moon and Mars. And that there are more people on Earth than ever before. Till one day, without looking, I find him. He swings open the front gate of my “1980s themed” pad on the and walks up the garden path to hand me some letters. The post-mac had mixed up our addresses, he laughs. Sent my letters down his chute. Who even sends letters by chutes these days? I say. Yes, indeed, who? he chuckles. I mock invite him to tea, for a laugh. But he takes me on the offer. He’s just moved in next door, he says. Used to live a street down from here when he was a kid, before his dad got posted elsewhere. We count the number of times we could have met but never did. The number of times we had taken the same bus to school, gone to the same shoe store, eaten at the same restaurant. Kismat, I shrug, remembering an old lady’s words from before. People meet, things fall in place when the time is right. He cocks his head and studies me for a while. Well, he’s here to stay for good, he says. He’s been a nomad for way too long.