Tiger Balm

Last year I went to a music conference in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). For seven nights, I sat wrapped in a shawl, bleary-eyed and blissful, listening to some of the greatest performers of Indian classical music. Between items, people left the auditorium to drink tea and stretch.

After one incredible performance, I stood in a big crowd, music still ringing in my ears. He appeared out of nowhere, standing two feet away—dark, tall, eyes aflame. I pretended to look away but in fact saw only him, laughing out loud and smoking cigarettes, eyes like a watchful tiger.

The next afternoon I was north of the city, leaving a subway station. There he was, walking in. We glimpsed each other through a pushing stream of commuters. We smiled.

Miss: The artwork for the original series “Sex and Lies” was created for an exhibit at the gallery Le Lys in Paris. More of this art can be viewed at mirkoilic.com.
Artwork by Mirko Ilic´
Miss: The artwork for the original series “Sex and Lies” was created for an exhibit at the gallery Le Lys in Paris. More of this art can be viewed at mirkoilic.com.

For two weeks, in the chaotic jungle of Kolkata I ran into him everywhere—on the street, at concerts, in a bookshop. Though we would smile about the recurring coincidence we never stopped to speak except once when we mumbled our names. Words, it seemed, would only mess things up.

But then he vanished. I didn't know a damn thing about him and here I was scanning for him everywhere. After three weeks I felt like a fool. Beautiful strangers fade away, I told myself. Move on.

Five months later I flew to New York from India for a job interview. When it was over I decided to stay, to attend an all-night Indian concert in a church uptown. I wondered how I was going to stay awake. I was so jet-lagged from my journey that I felt like I was floating, barely held down by my feet.

By 3 a.m., every note lulling me further into dreams, I decided fresh air might help. Outside, I half-listened to a friend's chatter, feeling listless and worn out. Then I heard the spark of a Zippo. I looked over and froze.

Those tiger-eyes. That vanished stranger. I was suddenly wide awake.

He walked over and we stared in disbelief. I went to his place a week later. We tried to converse but finally it was all too much and the tiger pounced. He kissed me hard, gently touching me everywhere. We undressed each other shyly, not quite believing this was real. I wanted him so badly—our eyes connected and we lunged forward, hungrily searching, exploring, connecting with force.

Later, words came easier than ever before. Within months we moved in together. We're still together. I'm still amazed by how it went.

 
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