Posted by Zubier Abdullah on 16-02-2020
Sometimes it felt like her virginity had grown back. Karin found herself greeting this odd thought, more like confronting it, at different parts of her day as she went about doing the things that constitute living.
While working out, while her abdominal muscles were contorted and mindlessly screaming, she would be greeted with this thought. While she was waiting on the phone for her mother to wake her father, while his consciousness rose up from the black hinterlands of dream and he calmly farted, loud enough for the sound to be picked up, amidst embarrassment, she would be greeted by this thought. Each time, it would surface with a renewed vigour and she would picture, in a place where only a few men had gone before, a legion of her body’s soldiers tirelessly working towards building a wall that would make Donald Trump proud.
Over the past several months, she would picture them working on building the ‘Wall’. When a man who bumped into her on the subway told her how beautiful she was, when that elicited a smile from her and he proceeded to try to convert her to a cult, she pictured them gathering the requisite materials. When a colleague told her of his long standing crush on her and demanded that they start dating, when her attempts to gently rebuff him were met with a fusillade of tears, she could feel her soldiers being replaced by Chinese workers and the process accelerating. When she met a man in a risqué club who promised to give her the best orgasm of her life but couldn’t get it up without a picture of his ex- girlfriend and a small stuffed animal, the wall was complete.
The world was full of weirdoes and it was her bad luck that she seemed to attract them all. It was unfair – she was a healthy young adult, living in one of the nicest cities in the world, in an age of élan and freedom that granted her the right to exercise her most human of passions. She was not unpretty by any standards – she took more than the basic amount of effort to take care of herself. However, she didn’t have the luck to make an effort to meet someone worthwhile and had to settle for the dregs of the dating world.
These days, she turned to her silicone friends, whose product descriptions made her feel as though some seriously significant engineering talent found themselves working at the product development departments of some interesting companies. She wondered if the proud parents of those proud engineers ever extolled to their neighbours and well-wishers that their son, MIT graduate, brain the size of a planet, made space age vibrators.
She didn’t think so.
Her personal favourite was, as the manual termed it, the only friend with benefits you will ever need. With its ten different pulse functions, its ergonomic handle and being completely designed to be waterproof, it more than lived up to its name and while she simultaneously loved its company, it disturbed her to realize how much she did.
She was waiting at a coffee shop, trying to make some progress with this giant brick of a book she had to review. So far the only opinion she had of it was that the writer wouldn’t know what a plot point was unless it hit him in the face.
She eyed a man sitting at the corner - white guy with short hair, open Macbook in front of him, logo strategically placed for her to see and infer that he was well established. He wasn’t bad looking but could have used some exercise.
She saw him flick his wrist away from himself, a swatting gesture that served to send a flash of shine towards her, no doubt coming from the expensive gold watch on his wrist.
She observed how the cod pieces of the days of yore had been replaced by other, classier but no less subtle indicators of a man’s virility and stature.
For the last ten minutes, her attention had evaporated from the book lying in front of her and she made surreptitious glances to indicate that she was kinda sorta interested in him and to see if he would take the bait. She wasn’t really – just bored enough and feeling insecure enough to wonder why he hadn’t made his move yet.
So far no luck.
He looked at her, at his laptop, back at her, typed, took out his cellphone (another not so subtle indicator) fiddled with that and then started the circuit again from the beginning. It had a sad periodicity about it and she wondered why some men were so ineffectual at talking to girls and had to reduce to elaborate simian posturing and gesturing when it really all came down to just going up to them and saying hi.
Normally she wouldn’t go for this kind of guy but that wall of hers was demanding to be torn down, Mr. Gorbachev.
She envisioned a future where he would come up to her, not try a cheesy one liner, perhaps instead of remarking about her looks (Is it hot in here or is it just you?) or about the Brobdingnagian book in front of her (What’s a girl like you doing with a book like that) or perhaps the old (Have I died, because I must be in heaven and you must be an angel), just come up to her, introduce himself and ask her if she would like some company. Doing it with a bit of style, he would actually, for real, talk to her without subtly bragging about how important his job was or namedropping about how many influential companies he has consulted for (Bonus points if he mentions Apple, Microsoft, Facebook) and actually listen for a change.
None of the previous examples, she realized, were untrue and they had all happened to her over the past few months. So often that she had become thoroughly repelled by the idea of sex.
In such moments, while the subject talked about his new car, she would flash forward into the future and imagine the two of them in bed together. He on top of her –it was never the other way around. The kind of guy that she lately attracted was not the kind of guy who would let you go on top. Sex with such creatures generally amounted to, as they said, lying on your back and thinking of England.
The absolute worst was this guy she met who had shown some promise. He looked good. She was drunk. A recipe for success. They retired to his apartment from a bar on Queen St and after foreplay that lasted less than a minute, he proceeded to cum the moment she had touched him. After that she had to take the subway home in the bitter cold nursing a pair of blue ovaries. She swore off men after that incident.
A bell rang from the direction of the door – a new customer had entered but she didn’t bother looking. Thinking these thoughts brought forth from within her a not inconsiderable sum of self-loathing that quite rightly occupied her attention.
She checked the time. Almost four o clock. Her coffee had gotten cold but she was the strange kind of person who preferred to drink tepid coffee which alienated her from a large chunk of the human race. It had actually turned into one of her litmus tests for deciding whether someone was worth getting to know better. During a date she would invariably ask that they get coffee. It was a way of exploring further, letting her coffee cool down while she heard her potential lover talk and deciding if she wanted to end the night there.
The first test was how they reacted to her not drinking her coffee immediately. The second was how they reacted to how much sugar and milk that she put it and what they said about that. For reasons unfathomable, the men that she met were disproportionately interested in talking about the intricacies of coffee, of its production and preparation – one guy even went so far as to explain to her about the entire lifecycle of the coffee plant. She thought that perhaps it was an unspoken test of masculinity - that they were signalling to her that they were knowledgeable and quite capable of complex analytical thought.
Almost all of them reached the conclusion that she was wrong in how she enjoyed her coffee and would get quite excited in trying to ‘fix’ her. They would get her another cup, invariably not how she liked it and would sometimes pressure her into drinking the fuming hellbroth in front of them.
Needless to say, the only sexual comfort that they received was the self-inflicted kind. She put the book in her backpack, drank the lukewarm remains in the cup and rose up to leave. For a moment, she was struck with a sudden realization of monumental change – different city, different country yet she still felt very much the same girl from Dhaka who once cried in class because her teacher had made her sit next to a boy who was known throughout the school as He-Who-Ate-His-Own-Boogers.
It made her realize that she had never stopped being the same young girl and that only her fears were now different. She was scared about doing her taxes and her parents dying and she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to make rent that month because her job as a freelance book reviewer wasn’t exactly one you bragged about to your friends. She was scared that the few friends that she had managed to keep after moving twelve thousand kilometers away were meeting up without her (which happened sometimes because of scheduling conflicts and the fact that her friends would like to eat at the expensive places in town which she couldn’t afford) and that they were happier without her presence.
On long dark coffee breaks of the soul, when sleep is effusive, she wonders if they do it intentionally.
She was also filled with the very real fear that, despite all of the work that she put into her body, the men that she chose to warm the nights with were only interested in her because of that. That there was something inherently unlovable about her and the guys that she fell for found something wrong about her and left.
Thoughts of her ‘Wall’ were pushed out and replaced with these errant contenders for things-to-make-her-feel-bad-about-herself.
It was snowing outside – light microscopic particles of ice falling all over Toronto like a sprinkling of icing sugar.
The sun was setting. She didn’t look forward to the subway ride back home, the sweaty (not in a good way) bodies packed together, evenly smattered with a normally distributed pack of creeps, like a sprinkling of pepper amidst a large vial of salt. She found out, after moving to Canada that the overall number of creepy men in any given population did not change that much but the severity of their creepiness factor was something which did.
Different societies tolerated different things from the creeps in their population. The men here, while disconcerting in the way they looked at you as though they would devour you, stuck to only that. Back in Bangladesh, an average jaunt outside would lead her to being catcalled, people attempting to grope her and some mild mannered stalking. On late nights, she would get calls with nothing but the sound of heavy breathing.
A darting glance and a shuffle of movement from the corner told her that her admirer was now going to make his move. She didn’t wait for it though – fuck it. I am done being sought after by these dime store Lotharios, she said inwardly.
“HithereIcouldn’thelp butnoticethat... youwere.... readingThomasErdogian…. andwaswonderingifIcould..ask youwhat………youthoughtaboutit.”
He said it like that and that earnest expression on his face and the fact that he was completely not the guy that she had spent the better part of the last hour surreptitiously observing him surreptitiously observing her, made her almost gasp in surprise. This was someone new –hair the color of coal, his body built like a rocket. He looked younger than the normally mid twenty-ish guy that she would like herself to be seen with. He dressed different – his clothes reeked of a lack of pretension.
“Hi there. I’m sorry come again.” She replied.
“That book. I was wondering what you thought about it is all. I’ve been trying to read that for a long time now and I haven’t had the balls. Oh shit. Sorry……I shouldn’t have said balls. I’ve said it again now haven’t i?”
He was different –clumsy, not the kind of person that she would normally be attracted to but she found herself, warming up to him. Sometimes Karin wondered how much of a self-sabotaging person she was. She wanted to leave but forced herself to stay.
In his clumsy-just-learning-the-rules-of-the-game-way, with his enthusiasm making up for his inexperience, she let him talk her into having another cup of coffee. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the blond guy with his Macbook leave in disgust.
It was surprising when she found that an hour and a half had passed. She talked mostly - about her job, her family. He didn’t – he listened to such an extent that for a moment, she had the strange feeling that he had an ulterior motive. Chronically shy said one train of thought, possible serial killer said another. He was in university, about her age, played polo and did photography in his free time. His name was Rick.
When she made her second exodus of the day from that coffee shop on Bloor, she felt a warm feeling envelop her heart, a feeling of hope and promise. They walked to the Spadina subway station.
He left and before he did, they shared numbers. She didn’t want him to go, a reaction that both amused and frightened her.
They promised to meet again soon. On the way back, despite her attempts to try and read Pynchon again, she couldn’t. Her mind drifted back to the smell of aftershave and smoke that came off him like a promise, the one curl that sat on his forehead like a quotation mark and how the mere presence of him around her made her feel safe.
There was something different about him – unlike all of the other guys she had met in the past few months.
By the time she had gotten home, he had left a text for her, one which other women, more jaded than her might construe as being needy but which she greeted with a welcome sense of romanticism.
“I know that I shouldn’t text now but I wanted to hear your voice. Call me back maybe?” he had said.
With a smile she thought, maybe I will. Perhaps, Mr. Gorbachev, the wall would be coming down sooner than expected