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In Concert, No Touching

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Baby Love by Carellin Brooks          

It was when I returned to Pakistan soon after college that a woman
introduced me to the pleasures of sweat.

    

The scene was a religiously inspired, eternally ongoing Sufi dance/ trance event. For the uninitiated reader, I would liken this to an open-air rave, but with free admission, and music generated solely by hand drums and bells on the anklets of long-haired male dancers, some of whom were in drag.

    

As with any rave, the audience included the sick in search of healing, couples desperate for fertility and not a few pot smokers puffing on joints that flavored the air like wands of tuberose.

    

I had come at ten-thirty because this was when Papu Sain unleashed the kinds of rhythms many believed could take you closer to God.

    

I was in need of sensual indulgence. At home, a combination of tradition, respect and limited penetration of contraceptives meant that a young man
returning from college abroad might find himself self-reliant in the act
of love to a degree unknown since his dimly recollected boys’ school past.

    

In my case it would be more honest to blame shyness and bumbling ineptitude. But whatever the cause, I found female companionship limited in those days to my family and the girlfriends of my more fortunate friends. This lack in my life was compounded by a general concealment of the female form itself, Lahore lagging behind New Jersey in the display of skin. Satellite television and imported magazines, with images of women for the most part physically rather unlike those around me, created an ache with no obvious cure in the region.

    

So I adapted. I developed a taste for subtlety, for the microripples which are the tsunamis of a reduced-stimulus
environment.

    

I learned to appreciate a smile, a brush of the hand. I studied eyes. I chose my words carefully and savored those I was given.

    

And it was with this, the heightened
sensitivity born of necessity, that I found myself standing at Baba Shah Jamal only three feet from a woman my age. Her veil covered her throat and the rear hemisphere of her head like a motorcycle helmet with the visor up. Her clothing was as loose as love, enough to make a full body slim and a slender one curve. It swelled at her chest and hips.

    

I watched her pick her nose delicately with her thumb. She noticed my gaze, and we both turned to look ahead with the self-conscious expression of people whose attention is centered in their
peripheral vision.

    

It was hot.

    

And together, we sweated.

    

I felt myself shiver as my pores opened, gaping fish mouths on a desert beach. Warmth issued from my body. Perspiration gathered in the close-cropped hair at the bottom of my scalp.

    

The unexpected fingernail of a trickle followed my spine and my guts tightened, a quick exhalation at the shock. Her face had begun to shine. She wiped her mouth with her wrist. I felt another caress along my ribs, touching the damp flesh of my flank. My thoughts expanded into the air and condensed on her skin. A slow lick descended from my armpit.

    

Together, we surrendered to it, the wet stroking of our bodies building as we stood quietly apart. Beneath us men whirled in ecstasy. Shutting her eyes and looking up, she displayed the underside of her jaw in a mating dance as old as time, a peahen glancing coyly at the hip-flashing merengue of a peacock.

    

Thick, coagulated drops slid down my belly like errant salmon roe.

    

I risked a smile at her with my eyes fixed on the scene below. A sly glance
only half-blocked by my nose revealed the side of her mouth responding, stretching out towards me in languorous recline.

    

There is a simple code about these things: Your intentions must be honorable. To go any further, you should have love on your mind. We didn’t, so we didn’t.

    

But we sweated, and when she left without a word, I was not ungrateful.




©2001
Mohsin Hamid and Nerve.com
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