In the library of the ashram is a brown and brittle copy of Summer Rain by Marguerite Duras, which I read every day between 10 and 11. I’d read a number of her short novels, but never this one, which seems to me the loveliest of them all. Today as I read, a workman came to wash the windows. Above the tattered brown edge of my book, I spied the dense black hair on his dark legs and glanced up to see his short broad-shouldered frame, his lungi tucked up for work, and his shirt the color of red dirt, but with shiny bits sewn in to outline a shape like the petals of a giant flower, and I felt longing burst through my body, the way an old house catches fire all at once.
The workman came and sat on the bench beside the window nearest me, not five feet away, and, though he was washing the window and I was reading Duras, it didn’t seem that either of us were doing much besides sneaking looks at each other. From the casual way that he sat, one furry leg tucked beneath him, I could see his delectable regions clad in dark blue briefs. A tent rose in my holy pants, which I sort of pretended to hide, but didn’t. He stared into my eyes, then reached down to tug on his big toe, and I was absolutely certain that he was sending me a message.
Not thirty seconds had passed. Already I was all the way porno. What a terrifying person, I thought. Sex addict. So far gone that in less than a minute he’s ready to attack the guy washing windows in the library! I fastened my eyes on the pages of Summer Rain and didn’t look up once. I don’t believe in casual reading. I always take notes. Only on page 105 does Duras supply names for all the children -- and by then they don’t need names.
I am someone who is really far gone, I noted with both horror and wonder. Hardly different from a drug addict really. And in an ashram library! Certainly this was not the first time I had learned that holy flowing pants require more constrictive underwear.
I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was the workman. He looked into my eyes and held out a pale green fruit. An unripe rose water apple, or chambakka. More or less the shape of a pear, but smaller. They grow wild everywhere here.
The man was my age, his gray hair cropped short around his skull, and every part of him looked as rugged and as solid as the sacred hill itself. What about the Sanskrit aisle? I wondered. No one would catch us there.
I gnawed at the small green fruit. It had almost no taste -- like a teaspoon of lemon in a cool glass of water -- and still it was juicy and pleasant to eat. When I had eaten all that I could I held the core and stem in my hand and went on diligently reading. I didn’t want to be someone terrible, someone out of control. A bony pious foreigner had come to share my table. He stood and read silently from the Srimad Bhagavatam. There was little question but that he had long since transcended random boners. Meanwhile, in Summer Rain, the teenaged brother and sister had fallen passionately in love and no one seemed concerned about it, not even their parents.
Another tap on my shoulder. The workman wanted to take the remains of the fruit from my hand. The window was open. I gestured as if I would throw them out myself. He didn’t want me to do that. I felt his calloused fingers brush my palm, rough and moist, like the tongue of a cat.
He moved on then to wash other windows. I went on reading Duras, while also attempting, in a corner of my mind, to calculate the degree and intensity of my delusion and madness. I had been so entirely certain we were about to have sex. And now it seemed to me that we had.