This is how I finally spoke love. With my eyes closed. That scared girl once again. But remembering the sweetness of his kiss, I drew myself up on my toes, pulled his ear to my lips and breathed the words like they were the air I needed to survive – saying what I should have told him back in that doorway at Javed's house – I love you. I've always loved you. Then back to gravity I buried my face in his chest. I breathed again.
I remember everything about that night: The hot sticky air of the train station; watching him cross the tracks, his eyes never leaving mine; the chill that ran through my body feeling his touch on my skin. How easily his hand fit mine. How safe, how whole I felt with his arm around my shoulders.
He was scared. Afraid Javed's men would come looking for us. So he took me to the police station, where I wouldn't find out until much later he had spent so many torturous hours. He only wanted to protect me. But they wanted to take me away. Send me to a safe house outside the city. I shook my head and clutched his arm tighter. He was high profile now they said, a target, the slum kid with all the money. It wasn't safe for me to be with him. I stood my ground. Jamal looked at me, no doubt remembering the stubborn girl I had always been, and gave in. We left the same we had come, together.
We walked towards the airport. I didn't care where he took me. I rested my head on his shoulder and sighed with contentment. He could have led me straight into a burning building and I wouldn't have flinched much less lifted my head. I knew he didn't want to take me to Juhu, to his slum, to his home of corrugated tin that lay beneath the noisy runaway and I sensed a change come over him as we got closer. Despite my attempts to reassure him, gently squeezing his hand, nuzzling even closer, I felt him tense beneath me. As if he thought any moment I could bolt, run away, flee at the first sight of trash littered streets or needy children loitering by the side of the road. But run to what? Back to a man who beat me? Back to a life cowering fear, wondering where the next blow would come from. Would it be a black eye or a bloody lip today? Back to a life as someone else's possession. Back to a life filled with all the comforts a girl could want – a pampered life – but no one to share it with, no one to talk to, no to unburden my secrets to, no one to hold, no one to look at me, the way he was looking at me now – full of love.
We entered the house. He dropped my hand and walked away from me.
I stood in the doorway watching his back. His shame hidden from view.
"Jamal," I whispered.
He froze and turned to face me. Panic in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, his eyes darting to the floor. "I don't have… I mean I don't have much…"
I walked to him. It was my turn to become the rescuer. Slowly, deliberately, I wrapped my arms around his waist and drew his body flush against mine, wanting him to feel it, the full meaning behind each touch, absorb each contact a sign of my devotion. I gently placed my head on his chest, resting it there as if it were a pillow, meant just for me. His heartbeat the soundtrack for the rest of my life. He hesitated, but then embraced me. His lanky arms enfolding me like a soft blanket, sweeping me up into a place I could curl up inside of, into a home I never had. We stood in silence.
I held him tighter letting the moment stretch out into minutes. I needed him to know what I didn't have the words to say. He was enough. He was more than enough. I didn't need a big house. I didn't need a five-star bed or designer clothes and a walk-in closet to put them in. I needed him. And had he guessed wrong, had he never made it to the twenty million rupee question, had living the rest of our lives in Juhu, been our destiny that would have been enough too. My final answer: kiss me. I was the girl in the dirty yellow dress. I was the rebel, the fighter, the girl who grew up right here in this slum, beneath these same tin roofs. I broke our embrace and looked up into his eyes, forcing him to see that girl standing in front of him.
He shifted uncomfortably. "I don't have anything for you to wear," he said.
I saw one of his t-shirt's lying in the corner.
"This will do," and picked it up. "Turn around now. No looking."
Even with his back to me I could feel him smile at the memory: Pure-hearted Jamal, the perfect gentleman even then, refusing to peak when he handed me a towel.
I smiled to. "You're a good man Jamal," I said. And it was true; the sweet boy had become a man, a man I feared too good for me.
I stripped off my jeans and shirt and slipped his t-shirt on. It smelled like him as I pulled it over my head. I breathed in deeply. He turned around. I blushed suddenly aware of his eyes studying me, although I knew even then it would be something I'd never tire of: watching him, watch me.
I sat down on his bed and patted the spot next to me. He smiled and came, knowing to protest was futile. I needed him next to me: Tonight. Incessantly. Always. Eternally. He stripped down to his undershirt and boxers and climbed in.
We laid on our backs, side by side in the darkness, air rising from our chests in unison. Then suddenly, without warning, the flood came. All it took was his arm brushing up against mine. Like the strike of a match its friction ignited my violent rush of tears, coming up from some reservoir, some deep well buried inside. One touch in the dark and I lost control, all my strength escaped. He sat up and pulled me to him, supporting my weight against his body, cradling me in his arms as if I were a helpless child. I was. I clung to him, soaking us both.
All my life I had been indifferent towards love. It wasn't necessary. It wasn't food or shelter or clothing. I could survive without. And I had. For the longest time, but now… now love was holding me. Now love had gone and tracked me down, scaled every obstacle between us and brought me here, into this bed, skin on skin, the scar on my cheek pressed safely against the soft fabric of his shirt. My tears were for the bitter misfortune of every moment we had been separated. My tears were for knowing because he dared to love me this much, because he went and made me the luckiest damn girl in the world, we never would have to be again.
It's hard to explain the words we spoke in our silence that night. How the minutes turned into hours and still the tears refused to yield. How his arms began to mold to the shape of my body, as if they were meant to be a part of me, another appendage, something I could never shed. He knew it was pain I needed to release, years of hurt finally departing my body in waves of grief; a wall of tears he had no hope to stop, or even slow, rather shelter he could provide. His kissed the top of my head. He rocked me gently. I stayed head down, tucked in the refuge of his arms. He was my life raft, the only thing that could pull me to dry land. I held on tighter. It was the first night of the rest of our lives. It ended in exhaustion: emotional, physical, tears run dry, asleep in each other's arms.
In the morning, I awoke to my dreams, staring into his eyes.