I met you briefly in the university. We took the same course and we were in the same class a few times. We spoke inconsequentially a couple of times. Then you left. I heard you were taking another course elsewhere, in another city. I did not see you for a long time.
Until two years later.
You called and reminded me that we had met in a classroom. I told you the reminder was not necessary. You had a distinctive way of talking and I remembered it. I also said I was happy to hear from you.
You asked if we could meet. I said that I lived right next to the university and you were welcome to visit me. I gave you directions and, because I lived in a gated community, instructed the guards to guide you when you came.
When I opened the door to you the next day, I was speechless for a moment. You looked different: compared to the girl I had met earlier, you looked more grown-up and self-possessed. You looked beautiful, and I felt breathless.
You smiled and I took your hand.
You mentioned a conflict with your family and said that you were now on your own. You had taken a job and intended to stay in town and finish the course. I was happy to hear it and I said so. We had tea and we talked for a long time.
When you left, I said I hoped to see you again soon. You promised me I would.
You called two days later and said that you had several questions about the course and would appreciate it if we could talk. You came early and again we talked for a long time. The talk was not all about the course. You told me about your life with your family and how sad it was that it had ended the way it had. You spoke of your dreams and the independent life you had always wanted to achieve.
In turn I told you of the kind of life I dreamed of as my university days were about to end. I wanted a life of action, but I also wanted a life of ideas. I knew the two were not easy to reconcile. I also said I have had a loving family. Going forward, I could not think of a life without some measure of love and friendship.
I remember my mother returned early that day and she invited you to stay back and have an early dinner with us. She sat you next to my father, facing me, and I sat transfixed watching you as you smiled and talked, mostly to my mother who was, I could guess, a little concerned about a young woman living alone for the first time in a big city. When you left, my mother said to me that you were a pleasant person and I should help in whatever way I could. I said I would like to.
When I saw you at the door, I was about to say how delighted I was to see you unexpectedly, when I suddenly found you in my arms. My pulse raced as I held you, your breath on my neck. I kissed your hand and asked you if you had to go back to see the professor.
“I don’t have to see anybody,” she said. “I fibbed. I came to see you.”
I scarcely believed my ears. We had a whole day and an empty apartment to ourselves. I looked at you, your glistening forehead, your quivering nose, your full lips, and my heart was in my mouth. I could not speak.
Here was the person of my dreams standing with her arms around my neck, my body sensing her uneven breathing, her fragrance enveloping, almost obliterating my whole existence. There was nothing I could have said. For a second I thought you were crying. Then you smiled, and I held you hands and kissed you.
Time must have stopped. I seemed to be holding you for a long time.
Then we stepped out on the large terrace next to the apartment. We walked aimlessly, we talked endlessly. Nothing else mattered as long as I had you next to me. I had never been happier.
When we returned to the apartment, I got you my tracksuit to wear and put up your clothes for drying.
I ordered some food from the restaurant downstairs, and we sat down to eat. You looked splendidly incongruous but radiant in my tracksuit. Just facing you made me lose my appetite. I can still see you sitting in our sun-drenched dining room, smiling and asking why I wasn’t eating, touching my hand in a reassuring gesture, and, finally, leaving the table to turn off the music and say to me, “Just sit with me, please.”
I had three full days with you. Three days of rapture and peace. I was desperately, irrecoverably in love with you.
At the end of the third day, you told me that you were betrothed to a person I knew. You were committed to marry him in six weeks.
I never saw you again.
Except twelve years later, while I was changing planes at Heathrow, I saw you, with your husband, moving toward another boarding area. Years had passed, but you looked no different to me. No different either was my reaction: I felt breathless and had to clutch my briefcase as I sat down in the first seat I could find.
The news reached me last week that cancer had claimed you as its latest victim. Those three days somehow endure in my mind as an indelible, inscrutable memory. I remain the willing victim of its tenacious grasp.