The city was lit bright. Not twinkling, a steady white glow, punctuated by flashes of the camera photographing cars jumping lights.
But up here, on the upside-down rock, it was all darkness. I felt the chill as he lifted my t-shirt, but it was instantly warm when my belly touched his. Finger tips pressed against each other, lips barely touching, his breath swirling up in a mist and filling my nostrils with his jackfruit smell.
“The first star is out in the sky,” I said. And as he turned his face to look skyward, his beard brushed against my cheek and gave me shivers in my toes. I don’t know where I had picked up the habit of wishing on the first star in the sky. Human beings always find excuses to wish. There’s always so much to wish for.
I don’t know what he wished for. I will never know. So I asked him.
“What do you want for your birthday?” I whispered. There was no one around for miles to hear but somehow the sound of silence around us made it almost wrong to speak up. And so we whispered, to blend into the silence.
“What do you want for your birthday?”
And at that moment I knew that I was going to give It to him.
When I was 13 years old I took a religious studies class. Hinduism, the religion I had been born into, had already stopped making sense to me. Islam and Judaism were too extremist. Christianity too fractured. And so I found refuge in Buddhism. For a year, with the obsession of a teenager in an identity crisis, I chanted and meditated and tried walking down the Four Fold Path to Nirvana.
During this time my mother spotted a 2 centimeter tall iron ore statue of the Buddha in an antique store and got it for me, almost to humour me, knowing that my religious obsession would wear off before that statue had been polished to shine. Mother’s know best and sure enough, in a year, I had realised institutionalised religion was too rigid, did not accommodate my individualism and therefore would not gain me Nirvana.
I discarded my meditation mat, my book of chants and incense sticks; but I kept that statue. I told myself that I was keeping it for its aesthetic value, preserving it as a work of art, for its sentimental value as a gift from my mother, and gave myself other such excuses. And over the years, this metal blob, that I could squeeze between my thumb and index, became my warm fuzzy.
I carried it with me on first dates, first day of high school, rubbing it between my thumb and index finger the entire while. I used to sleep with it at night when I first started living alone. Every family feud, every friend lost, every heart broken and love lost, I would lie on the floor like the Vitruvian woman, clutching the Buddha in my fist, rubbing it between my fingers till my sobs ceased. And somehow, they always did. With my Buddha clutched in my palm, it was always okay at end.
“What do you want for your birthday?”
So that’s what I gave him, nestled in cotton, in a lavender box with a silver ribbon. The Buddha- an eternal symbol of wisdom, my Buddha.
And almost from the day I lost it, I missed it. When my mother cried to me on a Skype call, when an estranged lover cursed me unhappiness, when I let down my girl who had trusted me with her life, when she ran away, I missed the cool of the iron between my thumb and index finger. I lay on the floor and held onto a pencil stub, a piece of brownie, a dried flower, a tampon, and yet nothing became okay.
But I never regretted giving it away. Because all these times I needed my Buddha, and the pencil or the cookie didn’t help, I had him to hold on to, and that made everything okay. My face would fit into his neck like pieces of a jigsaw, and the jackfruit scent would make me smile. He would hold me so tight that all entire world disappeared around me, and then he would pull me in even closer until my spine cracked, and the world was sugar and cinnamon and wild flowers all over again.