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No One Even Knows Your Name Here

Against a dark background, the side profile of a woman. Her eyes are closed and her complexion is dark.

“No one even knows your name here.”

There’s a pregnant pause as he fumbles for his keys, and I, for a definitive answer. Packaged as an innocuous statement, there hangs a question between us: No one even knows your name here, in this remote corner of the antiquated town we’ve found ourselves in. And yet, we’re in front of a door, planning to know so much more.

“Are you in or are you out?” you might as well have asked.

My heels are gnawing at my ankles and I have the beginnings of a wine headache. No one knows my name here, and I know his, and maybe that, really, is all I need.

Breaking the silence is the single creak of the door while it swings open, two pairs of shoes shuffling across the threshold, mutely wondering.

While shucking in stuff for a three-day workshop on (hold your breath) ‘Rectal Prolapse: Recent Advances, Treatment Modalities and Prognostication’, it never once occurred to me to think about chiggy time. Preparing presentations on sagging assholes of middle-aged men doesn’t really leave you with much time to think about YOUR ladybits. There’s no contemplating the old Waxing vs.Shaving debate. You don’t sift through your drawers for the lacy lingerie; you just throw in your greying boy-shorts and a fresh razor if you have one, and haul your desi middle-class ass to an exhausting three-star hotel convention amidst your mother’s numerous “Be careful”s and “Don’t do anything stupid”s.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I ruminate this odd joy of being in a stranger’s room. What is it with the delicious unexpectedness of finding a body you actually want to touch, when you least expect it? It’s almost as if putting some distance between yourself and your hometown takes you miles away from yourself as well. There’s so much expectation out of strange, foreign cities and their strangers. Men too meek to approach their neighbourhood crush back in whats-its-face-pur suddenly grow a pair and pursue scores of women in Goa because “everybody knows everything flies when you’re on vacation.” By that logic, it’s not so odd if a bored doctor finds herself in the room of a man she’s known for some seven hours, right?

You come out of the bathroom, wiping your jaw, contemplating the tactic needed to change my geography from edge of the bed to sprawled across it.

You go for the jugular: “You got a condom?”

When I was working at the office of a prominent medical aid organisation many years ago, I used their washroom on the first day and was pleasantly surprised to find a box of condoms next to the sink with a message along the lines of “Everybody has sex and sex is awesome but please, this is a health organisation so have safe sex!”

I remember giving a derisive snort and picking one up as a gag, chuckling to myself as to how I’d never need it, given my self-imposed celibacy. I remember finding that pack in the middle of my Radiology textbook months later, flattened and derelict.

I don’t have a condom, but I know why you’re asking. You don’t want to beat around the bush; the fact that I’m in this room means that I want this, you rationalise. It’s vaguely irritating. Something that’s mutually enjoyable shouldn’t need a power play.

Really, if only you could’ve just asked me if I’m in or if I’m out.

Nevertheless, your tongue is down my throat as I keep thinking “Hormones bahut haraami cheez hai yaar” (Hormones are such buggers, man). This feels good, this is good. I’m slightly reassured about my decision for a second, even if I haven’t verbaliszed it yet. We pause for breath.

“Muslim women always taste spicier somehow, I’ve noticed,” you whisper against my cheek, fetishizing my heritage.

In the split second while I try to reel back my plummeting desire, I am also aware there is a conspicuous decrease in the layers of clothes between us.

I don’t know if I’m in or out.

When I was younger and we were planning a family trip to Thailand, I remember bawling in my room, impulsively buying three kilos of bulk laxatives off the Internet. Thailand meant swimsuits and swimsuits meant everyone in the world would be exposed to my “horrifying” cheesecake thighs.

In Thailand, women rock bikinis, men rock balanitis, but I rocked bulimia.

There’s some physics involved; we’ve switched positions somehow, and I feel a pinch and a chuckle.

“You know you’re the first large woman I’ll be sleeping with.” Another playful pinch.

There are women out there who might be flattered to be the first L-sized notch on this gent’s bedpost, but I am not that woman.

Before you’re in, I’m out.

You’re in disbelief, and then in exasperation. I’m out of this character I’m trying to play, and out of the room. The irony of this anticlimactic turn isn’t lost on me. But I was more focussed on realising that just because I haven’t said no doesn’t mean I said yes.

As I realised, travel was a brilliant means to escape my mundane existence, but it took me years of introspection and rehashing to identify that with this escape came a queasy pressure on me to ‘try it all’. And traveller’s diarrhoea wasn’t the worst consequence of this pressure. Even our sexual choices bear the brunt of this pressure ever so often. In cases such as mine, (and I speak for many of the other cis-gendered Indian women in their early twenties out there) we have some notions of what it means to be sex-positive, but not much clarity on how to go about it. And travelling itself presents you with so many blurred lines; mutual consent, too, becomes assumptive, and not imperative.

Over time, you realise the distinction between sexual encounters that make your hair stand on end in the good way, and those that do so in the exact opposite way, and how saying yes to the former doesn’t merit a half-assed yes to the latter.

Image Credit: Robert Moran on Flickr