I meet him for the first time a few hours after blood clots the size of pinto beans dislodge and detonate in Aunty Farah’s brain; a sudden and strange death. It is an unusually cold December night. He messages me a little past 3 a.m., a faceless square on the app. The air in the hospital is frigid, astringent with the smell of disease, and it is the way everything has taken on the hue of splattered insides and shimmering stitches that makes me yearn touch, say yes to him. As I drive out of the hospital, a girl – the one I had picked at SABS beauty parlor all the way in Clifton and brought to this military hospital in Malir Cantt – sits in the morgue, ripping acrylic nails off the deceased’s fingers.
On the way back I flick my eyes between the phone screen and the wind shield of the car, texting him and driving at the same time, and at any moment I could miss the dipper of an oncoming heavy-duty cargo, and its trunkful of steel sheets and metal rods could slit my throat, carry my head away – but I am bored and aroused and grieving, and tonight if I have to choose between being held and being minced on the road, I would rather die than miss an opportunity to get laid.
In moments of sudden lucidity, when I focus my eyes on the crumbling road ahead, rust colored under the streetlights, Aunty Farah’s face flashes in front of my eyes: her full lips, matte and smudged; the soft, creased puffiness around her eyes; receding hairline blurring the distinction between forehead and scalp. Aunty Farah is – was – my sister’s mother-in-law to be. Just a week ago she was sitting in this car, in the backseat, as I drove her and my sister back home from the funeral of my other sister’s mother-in-law. I am afraid of looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing her bright, wide smile, her even, chicklet shaped teeth.
At home, I avoid looking into unlit corners and mirrors, into the dark underbellies of curtains and drapes. My sisters are still at the hospital, passing glasses of chilled water to fainting guests, receiving relatives who have begun to arrive, slapping their faces, beating their chests, their wails loud and streaked with sorrow, their pain. My parents are in England. They are visiting another sister of mine, who has recently given birth, after a decade of complicated pregnancies and miscarriages. It is not lost on me that someone has had to be born and someone else has had to die to allow me the opportunity to have a stranger over.
It is late at night, I am tired, and I am not expecting much from this hookup, so I leave my jacket and sweater in a jumble on my desk chair, don’t bother wiping the film of dust from the shelves. I have imagined this moment before, have thought about putting fresh flowers in a pot, lighting candles and burning incense before a man comes over, but the thought of the effort is unbearable now. I take off my jeans and leave my long johns on. They lend credence to the curve and bulge of my dick. I open the app and there are five messages from him, three of them voice notes.
‘Listen, I can come inside, too. But you have to be serious. Do you want me to come inside Malir Cantt? Would you meet? And which block are you in?’
‘We can meet up in some park maybe?’
‘Uh, let me know soon so I take the right turn.’
The shock of his voice is unnerving, like the first drops of rain, except that it’s acid. Its timbre vacillates between intimate and violent; in its strained hoarseness it is like a man’s and in its callused music like a teenager’s. He sounds sane and sorted, educated, rich even; his is the kind of accent they perfect in private schools. He sounds like a person I can hand myself to like loose change and let him jangle me, a person I can lose my virginity to, bottom for the first time. But I am unable to attribute this voice to a face, so I ask him – again – to send me a picture. Please.
‘Listen, I am not comfortable sharing my face picture. You have my body in the display and I am decent enough. I mean, I will be there, you just have to come out and see me. Lemme know soon please, okay? So I make the right turn, because I think I am passing Cantt’s entrance.’
I open his profile again, hold it up to the light. He is Nobody. During the two years I have been on this app I have run into McDick(s) and Hard-Top(s) and Right-Now(s) and Can-Host(s), grey squares advertising their expertise in Swedish and deep tissue, their penchant for hour-long, uninterrupted anilingus, and their disdain of everyone fat and feminine. But his name carries no meaning, his bio is empty. I go through his height (6’1), weight (80 Kgs), age (29) and body type (fit) again. The only picture he has sent me is of his torso – wheatish and spackled with dark hair – against a backdrop of sky-blue bathroom titles, oxidized dirt deposited around their corners. Behind the facade of his profile, he could be a murderer, a veteran of mutilation, a few dozen teenage carcasses to his name, chopped up and fed to unsuspecting guests or shoved in burlap sacks and left in dumpsters. I send him the exact location to my house.
A car pulls up in my driveway, I go outside, trembling, and try to convince myself that it’s just the cold. As he comes closer – the contours of his face now illuminated by the refracted light in the street – I am seized by a shock so sublime that for a few seconds I am unable to move or speak; there is no other way to put it, he is the most beautiful person I have ever met off the app, and I want him with an immediacy I feel in my wrists and jugular. I worry that upon seeing me he will change his mind, get back in his car and drive off, so immediately, I ask him inside. ‘Oh, so I am approved?’ He asks, not without a smirk on his face.
Once inside my room, I notice him properly. He is tall and slim, skin tan like a teacake. Languid face, limpid eyes. His lips are thin, mouth tiny, a mild stubble rises to dangerous heights on his face – enhancing, not cheapening, the architecture of bones in his jaw, his cheeks. He is wearing dark blue running shorts and a soccer shirt, undeterred by the histrionics of Karachi winters.
We make small talk, his eyes roaming. He tells me I have a pretty room, looking at the fake prints of paintings by famous artists – Moeen Faruqi, Farukh Shahab, Jamil Naqsh. He plucks a hardback from the bookshelf and struggles with its dust jacket as he sifts through the pages. His manner is jumpy, face ravaged by the kind of confusion men uncertain about themselves feel in the presence of other men, so I ask him, unthinkingly, if he is one of the straight but curious types. ‘I wouldn’t be here, like this, if I were straight,’ he says in a burst. He doesn’t send face pictures because someone somewhere down the line could use them against him. This is rhetoric I have heard before from the men I meet on the app – discreet types, professionals, men I know will block me as soon as I walk out of their homes.
He paces around the room as he talks, hands in pockets, and suddenly comes towards me with great speed, bringing his face close to mine. When I rise up to kiss him, pulled by the magnetic force of his lips, he withdraws. He does this a few times – sparking the sexual circuitry between us – before we finally kiss, and when we do, I am struck by the slickness of it, its raw open-mouthedness, like two open wounds coalescing. There is an unabashedness about it I did not expect from him, a romantic finesse only a man who knows his way around another man’s mouth is capable of. I begin kissing with my eyes open, realizing that his have been open the whole time.
‘Don’t look, I am fat,’ I tell him as I remove my shirt, turn the light off. We kiss for several minutes, the rhythmic, almost lyrical movement of his hands warming up my gelid skin. With my own fingers, I knead his crotch, and I cannot locate the hardness that my hands have learned to hold – muscle memory. Realizing that he is unable to get hard, I perform arousal, moan – all naked want, even though I am sick with nerves. ‘You are hot dude,’ he says, catching me off guard, making blood pool in my cheeks. I am not used to getting compliments from the men I meet. I return his compliment, meaning it. I tug at his shirt. He stands there, still and quiet. In the few moments of silence that transpire between us, I imagine an embryonic calculus takes place in his head, an arithmetic of thrills and risks. Then, reaching some kind of resolution, he pulls his shirt off, and we kiss again. When I touch him, his dick is still unhard, small and soft like a ball of dough. Under my long johns, I am unhard as well, so lifeless I forget I have a dick.
‘It’s not your fault,’ he says. ‘I hope you don’t feel bad. I am glad you can’t get a hard-on either because then I would be more embarrassed.’ I prop myself up on an elbow, stare into his face, his lips that take sail in the curve of an embarrassed smile. ‘This has happened to me before,’ he continues. ‘What I usually do is try to get to know a person a little, it’s not like I want a friendship, or a relationship, none of that, no, it’s just that I like to know where people are coming from, how their mind works, these things actually, I don’t know, they have an impact on me for some reason.’ All the while he is speaking, I am in a trance, buoyant and replete with desire, the nerves ebbing. ‘Of course, all these random men I met I did find them attractive. For example, I think you are amazing looking and everything, you also speak well, but it’s just, it’s your place, and I don’t know you. I am a bit self-conscious.’
As soon as he says it, gives it name, this thing that we are suffering from, together, we both know that this is not going to work anymore – that no matter what we do now, we cannot rid ourselves of it. It settles, the knowledge of this thing, like a stubborn third wheel between us. I would take him soft if I could, but I tell him it’s alright, we can just snuggle, and we do. For a long time, we remain like this, huddled, my head on his chest. My fingertips are frosty. I place them on his nipples, and they crackle from the chill. Tenderly I stroke the thin trail of hair that runs down his belly, disappears into his shorts, so soft I swear it could crumble like cigarette ash under the weight of my fingers. He asks me about what I do, how many siblings I have. I am a college student and I have five sisters. That explains it, he says, and I don’t ask him what he means. He refuses to tell me his name. He is an engineer, which is also made up, I know, but I don’t press him. He asks me if I like physical looks or personality. ‘I tend to think I like people and not types but practice hasn’t always kept up,’ I say, which is my standard, rehearsed answer to the question, plagiarized from another man I met on the app a few months ago during summer break, a Harvard graduate and a PhD student of history at Tufts, a fact that gave legitimacy to everything he said.
An hour later, when he is putting his clothes back on, ready to leave, I ask him if we can exchange numbers, do this again sometime. He says we can’t. He will probably delete the app soon. He is not sure what he is looking for. He is not even sure why he did this. Before he leaves, he uses my bathroom, knocks over the candles, scatters aerosol sprays.
The collective screams in the Imam Bargah are a thing of real pain, real beauty. Men cry, women cry, children perform sorrow between games of tag. The air sizzles with an electric charge full of despair. Aunty Farah’s coffin rocks on a dozen shoulders. It is garlanded with roses and jasmines, rubbed with perfume. Perfectly round mounds of cotton, dipped in Vaseline and lavender oil, are stuffed in her orifices; carnelians from Najaf in the corners of her lips, her fingers wrapped around a balled-up turquoise rosary. Distant relatives declare that in death her face has shrunk, resembles a vulture’s. Others claim it radiates an angelic glow, characteristic of the most pious and god-fearing.
I imagine her body, sans coffin, levitating in the air in a perfectly straight line, moving along as if on a conveyor belt. I imagine the balance of the shoulders tipping ever so slightly, a shift in equilibrium enough to trigger an out of proportion shuffling inside, causing the body to flip-flop, breaking past the lid and tumbling on the floor like a giant dead fish. Chemical changes must have begun to deplete the collagen in the skin by now, rendering the epidermis more porous, prone to wreckage – causing, at the first sudden and shattering impact with the ground, the body to burst inside out.
Aged just a little above forty, Aunty Farah’s passing is as sudden as a dream. The mourners’ faces are swaddled by a lit-from-within gloom; bereaved family members leave tear drop shaped holes in the ground. Uncle Hassan, the new widower, looking exultant in his Army uniform, tells his fellow Brigadiers and Colonels that he has arranged for only Hiluxes and Land Cruisers for the funeral procession, a mighty farewell for his beloved, just how she would have liked it, no small cars in sight. A top Shia cleric has been flown in from Lahore to lead the prayer.
I am bad at condolences. I don’t know how to insert myself into this diorama of grief – don’t know how to hug, teach my mouth to say, I am sorry for your loss. Between funeral related chores, I keep checking the app. He is constantly online, the neon green dot on the corner of his profile bright and alive, pulsing. If he is not looking, why is he on? Who is he talking to? I google home remedies for erectile dysfunction on my phone; I am not surprised to see turmeric root at the top of the list, there is nothing in the world the spice can’t cure, from acne scars to sore throat, and now this, our bodies’ dispassionate failure. I google rigor mortis and learn that, due to their smaller muscle mass, the process is not perceivable in the corpses of children. I google how to make a straight guy like me. I help lower Aunty Farah, now wrapped in a white shroud, looking like a gunny sack full of vegetables, into the small, dark rectangle in the ground.
And it is later that day, at the Wadi-e-Hussain graveyard, that I see him again. He is standing in a row of army officers, his chest pummeled so far out as if he is holding his breath, face evasive but recognizable. He looks taller in his uniform, the camouflage print, the black boots. I stare at him for so long, indignant and desperate, that my gaze reaches out and physically solicits his, and when he finally sees me, the look on his face is one of shock, incandescent fear, as if a ghost has risen from the depths of cracked earth beneath us and has informed him it’s time to go. My desire for him calcifies, becomes a physical thing, with wings, takes flight; but seeing his childlike dread, I spare him the horror, keep my distance. If I don’t accost him now, it is entirely possible that we will never see each other again; it is a risk I am willing to take, a risk I am hoping will pay off.
That night he messages me on the app, unsolicited, and in that moment every second of my life that I have spent lonely, and aching, disappears in the spectral glow of the pixelated screen of my phone. This is what the beginning of a new life looks like, so luminous and completely unexpected it might as well be arrival of death. He tells me who he is, where he is from, for how long he is here. He is giving me explanations I did not ask for, his vulnerability throbs like a bruise on the screen. He knows I know who he is – he knows I can ruin his life, and mine, too, if I will – and this newfound dynamic has coaxed him into submission. When he gives me his name, his number, I am so happy I want to punch myself in the face.
When we text, I take several minutes before replying. A few times, I read some of my other chats, self-plagiarize witty things I have said to other people in the past. I mention Alexander McQueen and the Met Gala at one point, crab ravioli and Perrier at another. He often has no idea what I am talking about and that makes me feel powerful. I find him on Facebook, where we are not – cannot – be friends, and save his pictures on my phone. There are two pictures of him I like looking at the most. In one he is wearing a dark blue polo, black chinos, brown moccasins; exuding the defiant air of a classic Islamabad fuck boy. He is perched on a white Mercedes, the sun reflected in his black aviators. The caption reads: Poor rich boy. And the other, where he is wearing his uniform, two parallel black lines painted on each cheek, an emblem of the Pakistani flag in the background. It is his pose – sagging shoulders and the nonsensical thumbs up – that turns my heart to custard. It is captioned: Dirt for makeup, Gunpowder for perfume. My favorite perfume is Issey Miyake, I tell him one night. ‘Oh, you are fancy,’ he replies.
After a few days he tells me he comes from an army family; his father is a major-general, a batchmate of Uncle Hassan’s from the military academy, and there are roads dedicated to his grandfather – an awardee of Sitara-e-Jurat – in cantonments all over the country. I think of musty studies and cigar rooms, national secrets tucked in creaky drawers in his house, nuclear launch codes and coordinates of submarines strategically submerged in the Arabian sea. He is currently stationed in Khuzdar, closer to me than he is to his family, who live in Islamabad. All day at work, on the field, he has no cellular service – he is not even online, I check – and disappears for hours on end. At night, surrounded by roommates, he cannot video call me or send me shirtless selfies. After dinner, he takes long walks, calls his mother, who discusses with him the photos of possible brides she sends him every week. One night, after weeks of mild, moderate and mediated texting he calls me, too.
It’s a Wednesday night, my sisters are at home. ‘I can’t hear you,’ he replies to my whispered ‘Hello.’ I clear my throat, dial up the volume a little bit, hoping the blanket I am sweating under will muffle some of the noise. ‘How was the sushi?’ he asks me. I tell him it was alright; the daal chawal I had for dinner curdles in my belly. His mother’s been blowing on knots to get him to come home, meet a family she has shortlisted. ‘You are quite the eligible bachelor,’ I tell him, and he laughs. But it’s true. He is not an engineer, but close, an engineer of the body, a doctor, in the army no less.
We talk for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and midway through the conversation I start to feel bored and sleepy. As his mysteries slowly turn into definitions, and those definitions turn into disappointments, I feel my interest dissipating. My favorite part about being on the app is chasing boys who are out of my league. Expats visiting home for the holidays, working at Barclays in London or reading Law at Cambridge, running design studios in Stockholm with their parents’ money. I enjoy the slow buildup to convincing them to meet me, just once, and when they do, I fall in love with them, with the idea of how unattainable they are, and then I reveal to them such a desperate and debased version of myself that they almost never meet me again. I love the delicious pain this brings me, the writhing a slug must feel when sprinkled with salt. Most of these boys live on the other side of the bridge in Karachi, in the posh neighborhood of Defense. I drive an hour, get stuck in traffic on Shahra-e-Faisal for another, to meet them – sometimes to merely be told in person that I am not their type, or if I am, my nerves don’t let me get it up, if they want me to top, or I freak out the last moment when they insert the tips of their dicks in my ass, if they want me to bottom. I take care to dress up on these dates, clean underwear in case I get lucky. I douse myself in deodorant and aftershave. I always chew gum. I go to these meet ups by bunking classes at school. My parents know all my friends, where they live, when and where I hang out with them. My sex life is formed from endless strings of these crisscrossing contradictions.
‘I swear to God I have been trying to put off Islamabad for so long,’ he says. ‘You believe in God?’ I ask him. ‘You don’t?’ he asks back. I tell him no, trying to be cool, but fearing a divine reprimand, picturing myself falling off the staircase and breaking a leg, or the gas stove exploding in my face one unsuspecting day. ‘That’s interesting,’ he says, laughs. ‘But hey, when I do visit my family, I will be driving to Karachi and taking a flight from there. Maybe we can meet.’ ‘Oh,’ I whisper, fantasies of meeting him again surfacing in my mind, fully formed. I am scared of promises being made to me, because they are rarely seen to fruition. But it is a promise he makes nonetheless, and one he keeps.
The air is soft and incandescent with the smell of honeysuckles as I drive to pick him up from the airport. His flight is delayed by an hour, I wait in the parking lot. The car heats up if I run the AC while it’s stationary, so I sit in the muggy heat, the tinted windows rolled up, providing cover.
He greets me by complaining that he has been waiting for ten minutes, why was I not answering my phone? I apologize for the bad cellular service at airports, hurry him to my car. He looks defeated and fed up – unkempt beard, everything about him prickly and rough at the edges. He is returning from Islamabad, having spent a couple weeks with his family. ‘So, what do you want to do, where do you want to go?’ I ask him, excited. ‘To the bus station please, I need to catch this bus back to Khuzdar at any cost.’ He really wants to hang out, he explains as the death of a smile deflates my face, but he can’t. I shrug. I ask him about his trip, his journey. His replies are perfunctory, he is constantly on his phone, looking up bus schedules. ‘Can you hurry up, please?’ He is panicking in a way I am sure they warn against in the military academy. I drive him to the bus stand, as fast as I can, trying my best not to kill us, and when we get there the last bus of the day has already left. I allow myself to feel happy, triumph glows somewhere in my chest like a quartz.
We are at the intersection of a busy road. Hawkers line the stretch, selling kitchen utensils made from colorful cheap plastic, clay pots, and rotting fruits injected with chemicals for lasting plumpness. The air is thick with the smell of days’ old still water, smog from the packed local buses in our faces. Here, too, I can be seen by someone I know, and I am trying to hide behind him as he rushes from one lorry to the other – trying to convince someone to take him to Khuzdar – and it just annoys him even more. I go and stand behind my car, agitated now. Everything about this evening has taken the color of red-hot shame. I am embarrassed for him and myself. I want to laugh, and I want to cry, I want to punch this man child in the face and abandon him and just go back home. Finally, I break it to him that no rickshaw will drive six hours out of the city, and even if someone agrees, he is more likely to get robbed and be left cut up on the highway than reach his destination safely and on time. His face crumples with frustration, and reluctantly, he eases back into the car; it fills with the gasoline smell of his damp feet in leather boots.
‘What now? I ask him. ‘If I get back to work late, I can kiss my next holiday goodbye.’ He says he needs to make a few calls and I begin to drive because even though I hate him right now I don’t want either of us to get mugged. I can hear the yelling on the other end of the call, this colonel or that, his bosses, as he makes excuses and apologizes and confesses his embarrassment for the lack of planning and for the out of his control emergency of a delayed flight. At one point, when I try to comfort him and tell him it will be fine, he almost yells at me, face dark and puckered. His anger is urgent and virulent and brings me much satisfaction; I have often drummed up fantasies before sleep where I piss him off – by doing this or that – and he slaps me, and I have to beg and plead with him for forgiveness, and in these fantasies, in the middle of our fights, we always end up kissing and fucking passionately, both our dicks hard and ferocious, grinding against one another. In the end he asks me to take him to this army guest house inside Malir Cantt where he can literally walk in and demand a room for free, complimentary breakfast et al. At the guest house, too, he leaves me in the parked car for almost an hour as he makes more calls and goes into the lobby to make the reservation and by the time he comes back to get his luggage and me, it is almost time for me to go back home, missed calls from my parents on my phone. When I tell him I need to leave, he is angry all over again. He wants me to stay. ‘Are you sure you can’t spend the night? I was so excited we could finally be together. What will I do by myself all night?’ Embarrassed at having to explain to him the concept of curfew, I tell him I have a preplanned family dinner, one that I cannot miss. I assure him I will take him to the bus stand in the morning, that I will be back, cheery and ardent and wanting.
I arrive at 7.30 a.m., supposedly meeting some friends at school for a group revision before an early morning exam. The drive from my place to the guest house is short, no effort. The sun slowly yanks the fog out of the thick air. Middle-aged women, and a few old ones, too – all of them clad in orange-colored saris, the municipal uniform – raise clouds of dust on the road with their brooms. He texts me he has left the door unlocked, I should just walk in, and when I do, I notice that the room is large and cheaply lit; the bright white light sifts and becomes a luminous darkness in the center of my eyes. He raises the edge of the blanket, inviting, and I am surprised to find him fully naked. The hair on his chest is in the shape of a bird’s wings, now rising in a circular arc on his pecs, now dipping in a sweep. His nipples are the dark brown of dried figs. I get in next to him, the bed warm like a freshly baked loaf of bread. His body, too, is feverish and insistent – tender, having been mellowed by a night’s sleep. Algae colored crunkles cling to his lashes, syrupy rheum drips from the corner of his eyes. He is still half asleep. I am nervous to kiss his mouth, to find it sour and acidic, but when I do, it is so soft and odorless and still, I might as well be kissing a puppet.
The sensation of a tongue on your asshole can be anything you want it to be. He is going at it in large strokes, warm and wet and eager to please; the first time someone has done this to me. It is all muscle, nerve endings and blood flow, he might as well be licking my elbows or the tip of my nose. Maybe this is what pleasure is, I think, as I lay there like a corpse, his tongue jabbing my hole, firing from his mouth again and again as if being released by a piston; this is why some people find pleasure in sucking toes or licking armpits or shoving their fists into other people’s anal cavities. It is not the act itself, but the intimation of it – that is the source of pleasure. And there is in fact something so cherished about his tongue lapping at the most private and abysmal part of my body, teasing and stretching me out, that it solicits a feeling the shape and size of pleasure in me.
This is how people in love ought to exist, I am thinking, with one’s mouth fastened to the other’s ass; it is rimming, not kissing, I decide in this moment, that is the ultimate expression of intimacy. I want to stitch his mouth to my behind, keep him there forever, eternally tethering on the cusp of ecstasy; with his tongue excavating my bottom, the world spreads open, hallucinogenic and full of glimmering possibilities.
Suddenly, without preamble or warning, he shoves a dry finger in my ass. A sharp pain shoots up, taking hold of my whole body, that all too familiar and uncomfortable feeling that I am on the verge of shitting myself. I immediately retract myself from his finger. ‘What happened,’ he asks, ‘don’t you like it?’ I want him to install himself inside of me – yes – and vacuum any feelings of personhood I feel, so utterly I want to belong to him; but I am bad at sex, have always been bad at sex, am being bad at sex right now, and would always go on being bad at sex; but that is not the whole truth either, because the only sex I have had so far is the half-aborted sex, the too scared to go all the way sex, the sex that ends before it starts – all of which might as well be no sex at all.
I tell him I am not ready. He says we can try, and if I don’t like it, we can stop, but that is a road I have gone down with other boys before, and it’s a road at once dark and winding. I tell him I can suck him off instead – reluctantly, he agrees. I suck him for a long time, but he cannot get hard. When I come up for air and make to kiss him, he pinches his face and says, ‘Eww.’ He tells me to go gargle and rinse my mouth if I want to kiss him. I do as I am told, but when I come back from the bathroom, instead of kissing him, I ask, ‘So you would never suck my dick, like ever?’ All serious now, he says, no, that is disgusting, he is a Top, and he doesn’t like to do that. I smile mildly in response, even though I want to laugh at the fact that minutes ago his face was anchored to my asshole – the part of my body from which not more than a couple hours ago a steady stream of excrements had fallen – but he finds putting his mouth to my dick filthy. However fucked up his logic, I am not surprised. He is a merely a londaybaaz, I realize, a straight-acting man, too masculine and too full of pride, whereas in his eyes I am a gandoo, a real faggot, too ‘feminine’ and too abject, worthy of being fucked, and fucked open, over and over again.
He asks me if he can rub his dick on my ass and cum on it. I tell him, sure, he can. He flips me around and mounts my ass, still slick from his mouth. He humps me for a long time, unable to get hard. I turn my head around and ask him if he is not aroused. He takes out his phone, pulls up porn. He asks me to hold the phone for him so he can see it while he pseudo fucks me. In the video a man is pouring the entire length of his ten-inch cock down a woman’s throat, making her gag. He tells me that’s what he is into, a man fucking a woman’s throat like an animal.
A few minutes into the video he asks, ‘Can I be a little rough with you?’ Something akin to fear settles in my body, making me sink my raised ass into the mattress. ‘Don’t worry, I will stop if you tell me to.’ ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Can we have a safe word though?’ He does not know what that is, and I explain it to him. Then, getting in character, he tells me he does not want to see my fucking face. Obediently I drown it in the pillow and smell the residual oil from his hair. ‘Good boy, good boy,’ he says, in a manner so theatrical it makes me chuckle. Speaking aggressive nothings into my ears, he grows between my ass cheeks. Soon he begins rocking rhythmically, satisfied and aching, as if this was the moment we were always destined to arrive at. He keeps tightening his grip around my neck, making me cough, and this seems to make him crash into me harder. Then, for a moment he breaks character, unclasps his arm. My adams apple bobs outward like a compressed spring being released. More air than I can handle right now is drawn into my body. ‘Are you okay?’ he asks. ‘Is this fine?’ Coming from a person who does not know what a safe word is, this is deeply satisfying, but I wish he hadn’t stopped suddenly. I make an exasperated sound in response, exhibit my disappointment. Then he resumes his motion, harder this time, propelled and aggravated by consent, and soon he shudders and falls on my back. He tells me to stay in place as he gets off me. He picks up his T-shirt from the ground and cleans me up. He does it with such care, the scrupulosity of his fingers; he mops up all the gummy tendrils from between my ass cheeks and tosses the T-shirt into his luggage.
Later, he eats my ass again while I jerk myself off laying on my back. When I cum, with my legs tightly wrapped around his head, his mouth shoved into my asshole, I spasm and spray all over myself, the sinewy, opalescent jet reaching as far as my chin. He raises his head from between my legs exultantly, he knows he’s pleasured me well and he takes pride in it. ‘You really have the potential to be a bottom, look at all this mess you made,’ he says, dipping his fingers into it, swirling it on my chest. ‘Next time we meet, we are definitely fucking.’
Afterwards, he stands in front of the mirror in the bathroom, completely naked, the door wide open. The sun from the back window lights up his frame. Dust motes catch light and simmer all around him. I could, if I wanted to, take a picture of him on my phone. The splashes of water midair, soapy lather on his face. His dick dangling between his legs like a tiny bird sentenced to death, dangling from a noose. I could send it to the army headquarters, or to his mother, post it on the internet for all to see. But I don’t. After his face, he washes his dick in the sink. He brushes his teeth. He puts on new clothes, and I take him to the bus stand.
I meet him for the last time a year later in Islamabad. My mother and I are visiting my sister who lives in Rawalpindi. By this time, we haven’t spoken in months; our conversations have diminished, his commitment to them has unraveled. The last eight or nine messages in the chat are all right-justified blue bubbles, but when I tell him I am in Islamabad for a few days and want to meet, he replies, eventually gives me an address.
When I see him, the words fall without friction from my lips: ‘I have missed you.’ He shrugs, looking desolate, and walks me into an apartment that is boyish and mercurial, cigarette smoke and high school trophies, overflowing laundry baskets. None of the pictures on the walls are his own. I don’t ask him questions about the logistics, grateful that he has even agreed to meet me. He is unusually quiet as he rolls a joint – which is a surprise for me, his drug use, and his reticence, too – and I watch him affectionately, using his fingers and his tongue with much care. He lights it, takes a drag, passes it to me; knowing that it will make me dreadfully nauseous later, I take it from him. ‘This is a nice apartment,’ I finally say in the tone of a question, and he carefully sidesteps it, refusing the blunt as I hand it back to him, saying, ‘It’s all yours.’ The smoke tingles my spine every time I inhale it. From under the bed, he retrieves a flattened foil of aluminum, a straw, a lighter. He heats the base of the aluminum foil with the lighter and the small solid mass on top of it turns into a honey-colored liquid. He inhales it with the straw. I rejoice in his showmanship. When he says, ‘You know what this is, right?’ I pretend I do. I fear him offering it to me, but he doesn’t. After a few minutes, when he misplaces the straw, ‘You won’t die if you get off your ass and help me find it,’ he says, and it’s true; when I retrieve the straw from under the nightstand, now slightly coated in dust, I am still alive.
‘Take off your shirt,’ I finally tell him, aroused and impatient. He laughs and nods dramatically. ‘All in good time, little spoon,’ he says. ‘I will take off my pants, too, don’t worry.’ He wraps his arms all around me, presses his nose into my neck. Then he whispers into my ear, ‘I dare you to leave this room today without getting fucked. Are you ready?’
Before coming here, I spent half an hour douching, inserting objects into my openings and flushing them out. I showered and shaved my ass, exfoliated the cheeks with a paste of brown sugar, honey and powered walnut shells. I dabbed perfume on my wrists and behind my earlobes, rinsed my mouth with saltwater and baking soda – preparing my body as if not for sex but for burial. I thrust my ass into his bony pelvis; it is a gesture that says I am as ready as I have ever been.
He spends a long time softening me, opening me up with his tongue – that sweet, unctuous pleasure – and when he gets on top of me and bends my legs over my shoulders, breaking my body in half, ready to fuck, I look into his eyes, milky and aswirl from the crack, and tell him I saw his engagement photos.
They appeared one day on my Facebook feed, randomly, like those pictures of castor oil and activated charcoal topping seconds later you discuss balding with your friends on WhatsApp. He never uploaded them; they were posted to a page titled ‘Yalghar’, dedicated to celebrating the heroes of the armed forces. It took me a few seconds to register his face, thinking at first, I was seeing a picture of a celebrity I had long forgotten, and then his features came into focus. I can say things like my heart tweaked and twitched, that an abyss of sadness opened up in my chest, but none of that is true. He was dressed in a navy-blue army prince suit, brocaded with golden belts and medals, red flaps with rank stars on the shoulders. The girl leaning into his arms wore a pistachio green and tea-pink lehenga, embroidered and frilled. The caption said: #ArmyCoupleGoals.
As soon as I say it, there is a look in his eyes, one of anger and resentment, that reminds me of the placid faced boy in middle school who once rammed my face in the urinal, then peed on me and walked out of the restroom, and, having been exposed to this kind of power and pleasure, came back for it again and again, following me to the restroom every day. He reminds me of the ferocity of that boy now, even though he looks like a featherless bird stranded in the rain. He gets off me and lies down on his back, face turned towards the window as if seeking nourishment from the sun to abate his shame. I excuse myself to use the bathroom. It smells of shaving cream and mouth wash and the remnant fumes of an early morning shit. I sit on the pot and cry.
This is living, this is loving, I think, exposing yourself to another, tearing down the walls, block by chipped block, until there is nothing left of you but a threadbare skeleton of private failures and embarrassments. It makes him dearer to me, the exhibition of his patheticness. I want to hold him and make him soluble in my arms, wear his leftover sheen on my skin forever. And to do that, there are sacrifices to be made. All sex is about letting go, I tell myself, and it is about time I do.
I hold the Muslim shower under my ass, the sharp jet of water shooting over and up into my hole. I wipe my ass with toilet paper, and it comes clean. Then, I climb up on the sink, my pants at the ankles, the belt buckle making fluttering noises. I turn around and crouch, my ass toward the mirror, bobbing in the air. I peer at myself from under and between my legs. I stretch my ass cheeks apart. My asshole looks like a band of rubber turned in on itself over and over, a bundle of knots and nodules. It protrudes in a few places and dips in others and is the color of scabs. I circle my finger around it, enraptured by the warmth it radiates. It feels nebulous and wobbly to the touch, and almost celestial; I can will all of my focus into making it twitch, opening like the fragile mouth of a worm, ready for receiving.
When I come out of the bathroom, he is curled in bed, shriveled like an overcooked shrimp. ‘You shouldn’t have said that,’ he says when I get in next to him. ‘I have fucked up my life and now you have ruined this, too.’ He does look ruined in some way now, yes, he does, the watery film in his eyes, the doleful puckering of his lower lip. He breathes precisely, emitting airy gurgles from his blocked nose. ‘It was my mother’s last wish, the engagement,’ he says after a deep pause. The substance he has inhaled is doing things to his eyes, the calligraphic arrangement of rods and cones. He mentions cancer, and after a jeremiad about chemo and remission, ‘In the end it was everywhere,’ he says, ‘her ovaries, her uterus.’ Sadness bleeds from his voice, pools in his face. He turns away from me; his perfectly arched back, speckled with hair and a multitude of tiny black and brown moles. A nucleus of desire splits somewhere inside of me. I am overcome by the urge to hug and comfort him. I take hold of his body and roll him over completely, ass cocked in the air. When I get on top of him, he sinks into the mattress with relief. I knead his shoulders and take his arms and fasten them behind his back. I caress the loneliness of his wrists, raising goosepimples on his arms. Ribbons of pale dead skin spill from the mauve beds of his cuticles. His hair has leaked away from his scalp, a baroque, brooding bald patch in the center of his head – and elsewhere, too, there is the shock of a few strands of white hair; in a year he has aged.
Outside the window, the sun is brilliant, and it makes his remaining hair shine. In the balconies of neighboring apartment buildings assorted garments sway on clotheslines. Crows loiter on electricity wires, their unbridled screams domineering over the distant cacophony of traffic. This is the life I want to live, I think, tangled with another being, away from my family, the sun outside, life churning around us as usual, unencumbered by the solitude and pain of two bodies delicately folding into each other in an ordinary room.
In a few moments I will be gone, leaving him forever, never to see him or hear from him again. Though he will always be a part of my life, I will never forget him. ‘It’s okay, it’s okay,’ I say, pressing his face into the soft pillow where his tears are forming wet splotches on the cottony surface. I attune myself to the change that has occurred in him. I wish to make him a guest in his own room, though in this apartment, which may or may not be his own, we are both guests; but I want to lay claim to it, to him, I want to make him a stranger to himself, to his own body. I take the hair at the back of his head, ball it up in my fist, and yank. He lets out a satisfied moan. I turn his head around, gather a gob of saliva in my mouth, spit on his face. My dick swells and throbs above the crack of his ass. His skin is unblemished, devoid of cellulite and acne scars. I spread his ass cheeks, shove my face between them, draw in a big, deep and satisfying breath. I spit on his hole – whorled, and the pink of delicate organs. He weeps softly, grabs my arm and fastens it like a seatbelt across his throat. I lean into him, his warmth and his angular curves, and whisper in his ear, ‘Tell me what you want.’
‘Open me,’ he says.
And I do.
Image © Judith Jackson