I was going to say something to Jennie about this, but I decided not to. I didn't want to spoil the peace of the moment and its magic 'eternity' that had somehow crowded out the world we had known too much of, and the ugly reality we had seen. The unfolding peace had substituted in its place a different reality that I wanted to hold on to. I wanted this moment to remain. I wanted it to linger for all times.
When Jennie finally turned around and looked at me with a sad smile, which was so unlike her, the magic was over. But moments later the sadness vanished. Something was in the air. Did she realize what my thoughts were? She looked at herself, blushed, and stepped out of the sunshine. She went to the far side of the balcony where there was shade, and looked down onto the garden.
Strangely, at this moment I became angry with myself. I wanted to join her there. I longed for her, but couldn't move. Some hero I was! I realized that it was pure delusion when I imagined that one could simply cast to the wind the great apartheid that had divided mankind by sex since the most distant ages.
"I need you, Jennie," I heard myself whisper, but whisper was all I could do. Oh, why must the world of women be shunned out of respect, divided by marriages? Why did this apartheid exist? I needed more at this moment than it allowed. Mere survival was no longer enough in this unfolding theater of tragedy. Something had to drive the urge for survival. Survival should have felt like the most precious privilege in this torn-apart world, but it didn't suffice any longer. There is more to being alive than mere survival. Survival didn't seem precious in the face of the constant denial and self-denial that draws everything down to the lowest denominator. Why couldn't I acknowledge to myself what I felt deep inside? Why couldn't I tell her about it? I had to laugh at myself. What a hypocrite I was!
A girl named Vanessa came to mind; a stewardess I had long admired; a black African girl. She had told me how a friend of her once tried to console her in a time of a great personal crisis. This friend had said to her, "But Vanessa, I have never regarded you as a black person!" The girl nearly committed suicide over this blatant denial of the worth of her identity. And, damn, I was doing the same thing in a different way and couldn't help myself! I was saying to her, you are a wonderful friend, while I should be saying to her that I cherished her deeply as a most precious, beautiful woman, a gem from the treasure chest of our humanity. What on earth was I lying to her for with this act of silence, and subjection to apartheid? Was I even lying to myself?
Before I could find the answer, Jennie altered the situation. She came in from the balcony and sat into the living room, on the sofa across the way from me in the kitchen. There, I could see her clearly again, in her full beauty. "Would you like some tea?" I asked. I could almost kick myself. That was the least of what my thoughts were centered on. I poured the tea.
I pulled myself together as I looked for a cup. I promised myself; this time I will be honest! I started by serving the tea that I had made, and I did in a manner that allowed me to come close to her. I sat down beside her, almost trembling.
Oh how does one deal with a mythology, like marriage, that has persisted over countless centuries that shouldn't allow such closeness? I didn't know how. Apparently, neither did she. Once I had served the tea I feasted my eyes on her, unabashedly. That, apparently, was all the honesty I could muster. Naturally, it didn't escape her attention. She responded with a smile, a lovely, gentle smile. She didn't seem to mind that couldn't help myself, noticing, but neither did she come right out and talk about it. Nor did I. Thus, the silence continued, but in a more 'gentle' way, now.
Eventually, I became embarrassed by it all and escaped into the kitchen once more. My excuse, this time, was that I had forgotten the sugar. Of course, I could see her from there just the same.
Looking at her from a distance was different. Or was it? I had thought, that by retreating, the situation would become less intense. I was wrong. It remained as beautiful, as exciting, and as agonizing beyond measure, as it had been when I sat right beside her. I experienced a paradox in this that I couldn't resolve. There was a deep peace in those moments that refreshed the soul, but this peace left me exhausted as though I had run a mile in three minutes.
I filled the sugar bowl, set a small pitcher of milk beside it on a tray, and went back to her. The sugar bowl was shaped like a coconut. I had found it the night before in a cupboard. I placed some slices of lemon on a plate beside it. I did everything I could to avoid what I really wanted to do.
My heart began to pound as I came close to her again. She looked at me with a grin as if she wanted to comment. Perhaps the grin was in response to the shape of the sugar bowl. Still, she didn't say a word. God, she was as shy in her way as I was, and I was too shy to ask what in heavens' name the grin was for.
Eventually, I retreated to a chair at the dining table across the room. I knew deep within my mind that this wasn't a game. It was an exploration to find whatever had been lost through centuries of false civility, a search for something that could bridge the isolation which had kept us apart since the day we met. I feared that pushing too hard could widen the gulf, and pushing too little would cause the isolation to persist and perhaps be strengthened.
I suggested to Jennie that I should open the package of pound cake we had bought. I sliced it carefully, though still watching her out of the corner of an eye. She smiled when our eyes met. Moments later she got up and came towards the kitchen. She stopped at the doorway for a minute or two, until I had finished slicing the cake. I arranged the pieces carefully. Then she grinned at me. I responded with a grin of my own that turned quickly into a stare as she lifted her nightgown over her shoulder and pulled it off.
"Let's not play games with each other," she said to me as she folded the gown and leaned back against the doorpost. Let's stop playing games.
I stood petrified, with the plate of cake in my hand, my mouth wide open, stunned. There she was, like a beautiful dream: naked, honest, inviting, beautiful. The odd thing was that I still couldn't touch her. I began to reach out, but pulled my hand back. I held onto the plate of cake and carried it into the living room. I offered her a piece. She declined. Thank God she declined! I put the cake down. With the deepest honesty that was within me I put my arm around her and hugged her, gently. "Thanks, Jennie!" was all I could say.
I let go of her after a long time had passed, so it seemed, and sat on a nearby chair and kept on looking at her. Oh, why was she so patient with me? Was it compassion? Did she feel my great need? Or was it love? She felt soft, warm, wonderful, why did I let go of her? I valued her as a fragile remnant of a fragile world that was fast slipping away. I was frightened. What a laugh! Me, a veteran of thousands of flights, being frightened? Yes, I was. I was frightened for both of us. I knew she wasn't a dream, she was tangibly real, and the chaos in the world was real, too, but the two realities had become exclusive of one another. I also knew that none of that was cause. The cause was that I loved her.
I beheld her like a delicate butterfly, fluttering through the open balcony door where she had stood. As I saw her standing before me in the same brilliance, like the loveliest of all women, bold, free, delicate, infinitely precious, more cherishable than the most delicate butterfly, I stood up and embraced her again. "I am in love with you, Jennie," I said. "I always have been." I felt wonderfully alive. We were no longer just surviving, but living. At least I had begun to life. How absurd the denial of the past now appeared that I had wallowed in, in my thoughts before for all these years before, and even earlier, whenever I met another woman, which had blocked from me this wonderful experience of a boundless unity, of being alive as a human being.
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