by Jash Sen
She looked at his last e-mail one more time. It had become an obsession with her. She marvelled at its breezy, non-committal tone. Did that mean he wanted to back out? But there it was, a faint undercurrent of excitement in the last line, she was sure of it. Holding her mobile close to her eyes, she scanned hungrily for more clues. Nothing but perfunctory politeness stared back through the typed letters.
A wave of last minute panic washed over her. Don’t get sucked in. Just turn around, walk away. Instead, she found her feet leading her towards the boarding gate, her mind momentarily blank. She was tired of living a lie. If she couldn’t get what she wanted through accepted channels, well, she would just have to try others. She stowed her overnight case in the overhead locker, keeping only her mobile with her.
There would be no internet access once the flight took off, which was just as well. She wouldn’t be embarrassingly compelled to mail him again and again about the room. But that just meant she would stare at the downloaded image for the entire duration of the flight. She let her eyes linger over it, her throat dry, snapping the lid shut as soon as she realised the flight attendant was glancing at it from over her shoulder. There was no such thing as privacy in this country.
One could only desire so much, anyway.
Once she was alone with her thoughts, there was no escaping the pangs of guilt. Her middle class upbringing ensured that any pleasure was tempered with a large dose of accompanying moral angst.
The car was waiting for her at the airport. Putting on her sunglasses, she got into it, her left hand clutching her mobile out of habit. There was no need to look at the image again, it was only a matter of minutes now. The city sped past in a blur, until she was at her destination. He was waiting at the entrance, looking impatient. Her palms felt clammy. From behind her sunglasses, she discerned a few pairs of curious eyes staring at her. ‘Let’s go,’ he said through clenched teeth.
At first her eyes could discern nothing except indistinct shapes in the darkness. As they got used to the dim light, she gasped in recognition – this was the room. And they were everywhere, thousands of books lining the walls, spilling on to the floor, hardbacks, paperbacks, leather bound, gilt edged. Her breath was shallow in her own ears.
He stretched out his palm. She dug into her purse and silently handed him the cheque. It had taken her three months to save the money. The amount would buy her twenty four hours in this room, undisturbed. In a land of banned books, her fix had become inordinately expensive.