THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXTRACT FROM OUR RECENTLY PUBLISHED NOVEL THE LAST SUMMER OF HAIR.
Now that he is back in town, he turns his attention to practicalities. He makes appointments – agent, work, accountant – and steels himself for the inevitable reunion with Aneetha Jharavindra.
They agree to meet in the city. At a steampunk café they both love; an airy, old world space in a converted factory overlooking an alleyway. The room in which they shared their first kiss. He would have chosen somewhere else, but she has insisted, thereby telegraphing her intent.
Though he could easily refuse, he acknowledges her need for a scene, for the ritual of it, and he allows the young woman her moment. It is, after all, only fair.
Nevertheless, as he sits on the tram, he pictures dainty white knickers and golden brown thighs. And the curl of her toes. He conjures the urgent press of her unleashed desire, its weight and warmth upon him, even though he is determined not to go there, and is equally certain she will have locked the gates.
This is what you get for running away, he tells himself.
Therefore, if he must bear witness to her scorn, he will do so with grace and politeness and allow her the last word.
She is waiting outside when he arrives and her beauty smashes him on sight. Her shape, her smell, the fire in her eyes.
The way she refuses touch.
He follows her up the stairs and over to a sturdy timber table. That he is the oldest in the room does not escape his attention. The rest could be in his class. Groovy, earnest undergrads borrowing the nostalgia of dead generations, somehow at home amidst the pre-TV industrial kitsch of the room. For them, he realises, (for people Aneetha’s age), the past is an aesthetic, an academic curio and fashion statement.
For Tony, it is more like memory. More like an object his mother once held in her hands. Something once touched.
Like the gorgeous Indian girl piercing him with the iron of her gaze. The one whose sweat he has worn. Whose lust he has tasted.
‘I don’t think we will see each other after today,’ she tells him flatly, as if reading out the findings of an inquiry. ‘I have transferred to another school and I will delete your number as soon as we finish here.’
He nods, lets her know he understands. Does not offer argument or defence. ‘So, can I ask, do you regret it? Us, I mean.’
She ponders for a beat before answering. ‘I’m upset, I’m angry at you, disappointed in myself; but I’m glad I know what I know.’
‘Which is what?’
‘What you taught me.’
Tony laughs, impressed. ‘That is a wonderful answer,’ he says, and does not push her further. Does not need to. Her tone, her body language…they are enough to signify the nature of her discovery, which is not so far removed from plain disappointment.
- The shine coming off.
- The fallibility of humans.
- The inevitable cost of loving.
‘And what about you?’ she wonders.
He contemplates the simplicity of plausible evasion – finishes his lukewarm coffee to buy time – but decides instead to say what he truly feels. ‘In my experience, what begins as regret often ends in forgiveness, if not acceptance.’
Aneetha’s eyes spark. ‘What have you to forgive me for?’
‘It’s not you I’m forgiving.’
This intrigues her. ‘Does that mean you think what happened was wrong?’
‘Not so much wrong, Aneetha…more like the same old pattern repeating. Dreaming the same dream and waking up in the same bed. The same bed I’ve been making forever.’
‘So…was it a mistake?’
‘Only if you assume that all repetition is automatically a mistake,’ he replies. ‘Anyway, is it a mistake to want to be close to someone? Is it wrong to risk heartbreak for the possibility of love?’
‘No, maybe not,’ she concedes. ‘Maybe just stupid.’
When he reflects upon this later – after the diplomatic farewells and other gestures of conciliation – what strikes him most is the absence of self-pity.
The alluded stupidity, he guesses, is his; and a small note of concern is duly lodged.
PS: Grab your copy of The Last Summer of Hair by Paul Ransom right here.
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