His lashes sweep the air, declaring the urgency of things he says. His face seems untouchable; I guess that a bit of makeup might be concealed in the brown of his cheeks. We’ve fooled around for an hour; it’s mutually pleasurable. Because I’m attracted to him, there are no switches to be turned on and off. He licks the knobs of my ankles and swipes the whole length of his tongue onto the back of my knees. My legs tangle and untangle around him. There are moments when he slaps me back into awareness, with a remark or just his voice posturing me back into reality.
“When we were younger, you know my whole family was in the UK. Not London or anywhere fancy — some place out of the city where my school was full of black kids and no one gave a shit. Dad sometimes came home with this thing called a Wispa — it’s a candy bar with little holes in it. Squishy, but not like jelly,” he says, gesturing with his fingers.
“He would break it into three pieces. For my brother, my sister and I. Always – and I mean always – my piece would be much bigger than the other two. But I think only my dad and I knew it. And right now, all I want is a fucking Wispa.” Then he asks if I’ve ever had my toes licked, and proceeds to. It makes me laugh.
We met on Grindr a few weeks back; his profile picture was of an obedient Husky. Much later he tells me he doesn’t own a Husky or any pets, though when he was younger he found a dog tied to a garden-post in the neighbour’s house. The people who lived there had ran out and left the place. The inside of the house still looked lived-in, as if it was expecting its owners to return soon. They left their dog, and Rasyid untied its leash before running away from it; afraid the dog and the empty house would want to call themselves his.
The first time we met, he was timid, and unintentionally came in my mouth. I spat it into his face, thinking it would be funny, but he looked like he was going to cry. Quickly, I cleaned it with tissues and gently kissed parts of his face as an apology.
Another day we’re at Starbucks and he brings me a cup of Earl Grey tea. I ask him if he’s ever wondered what Earl Grey really is. “You ask funny questions,” he replies, smiling.
“You read right?” he asks. “You have to check out this dude, Josh Lanyon. Gay erotica. He writes the most ridiculous shit. It’ll be about an old house in the woods that no one can find, a murderer hiding. And some beefy cop wanting to solve it. Old-school mystery, nothing too smart. In the middle of it, he always has this huge and awkward sex scene.
“I guess erotica is meant to be fantasy, you know? Real life — real life sex isn’t mind blowing. His main character is always a bottom. Always. Do you think all men just want to be fucked? Maybe that’s why we go to gyms and use facial toners, and order fucking Earl Grey instead of the fun shit like a mocha frappuccino.”
I’ve learned to observe him from afar; you can’t trail his words and expect to find meaning at the end of his lines. He’s shaky and distracted, like a boy with a new toy. He’ll love it completely for a few days, then he’ll look for something new. You can’t be serious about him because he isn’t serious about anything, but at least he’s found a way to be. I’m sure he has to deal with paying bills and punctured tires and dates who don’t show up, but I can’t imagine any of it having a real effect on him. He’s easy, in a way I’ve long tried to be.
“What happened to Haris? The guy you told me about.” I’m surprised he remembers.
“He’s somewhere, just not here. I’m sure he’s okay. He always finds someone who wants to take care of him. People look at him and think he’s innocent and wounded, when he’s not.”
“What is he then?”
“He’s just like me. He’s nothing special.”
That night, I sleep at his place. Rasyid has his legs on the pillow so he’s sleeping upside down. He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this. I hug his legs and tuck myself into him this way, falling asleep with his big toe in my mouth.
I walk into a building with a red dome in the middle of it. Thick pillars guard a huge sunlit foyer. Hanif still hasn’t called, so I go to the restroom to check my tie. It’s been a long time since I had to wear one. “Come formal, but not funny formal,” he had texted me a few days back.
I borrow one of Haris’s shirts; it has a stiff collar that scrapes my neck. Buttons everywhere and my wrists cuffed to breathlessness. A toilet flushes and a man steps out. He observes me from where he stands. “You look sexier in your profile, with everything off,” he says. His hands are on the knot of my tie. “It looks like you did this by watching a YouTube video.” He takes it off, unfurls it, ties it back on.
“I’m getting divorced today. I just need you to be…” he scratches his chin, “…a friend.”
“Don’t you have any friends?”
“Not for this.”
Outside, some people have gathered in the foyer. Among them is a tall woman in a hijab — it’s fashioned too perfectly. “It’ll be done soon,” a friend of hers whispers. We head upstairs and go into a room where couples face a judge together.
A lot of times it’s only the woman who shows up. She stands alone before the judge; behind her we’re all quietly embarrassed. “He knows he’s meant to be here. I told him everyday for the past month. He knows it.” Even so, the judge says he must postpone the case by weeks or months. He gives a new date, hopes the man will be there this time.
Hanif and his wife go up. After a few minutes, we’re all done and out in the hallway. “Do you want a hug?” I ask Hanif.
We stay clasped to each other for a while. After that everyone in the group moves around — the woman who used to be Hanif’s wife comes up to me. “Thanks for coming, I know Hanif appreciates it.” I nod. “I haven’t seen you before, how do you know him?” I let the question linger, not knowing what to say, and we both settle on the same thing.
“Just stay with him a bit longer,” she says, softer this time. “I know it doesn’t work that way, but just until the end of the day. He doesn’t have anyone else.”
“As long as I can take this tie off.”
Later I ask Hanif if he wants to get a drink. He looks quizzically at me, going through the risks and possibilities in his head, and motions for us to go. “Unless you want to go back and fuck.” I say, regretting it immediately.
“We can do that, if you want to. What do you wanna do?” he asks.
“Lets get a drink, then you can finger me in the bathroom.” He chuckles. We take a cab to a bar nearby.
“The worst thing in the world is to be with someone and not love them,” he says. He takes big gulps from a bottle of Heineken, sloppily sucking its top. “The first year with her, I used to tell her I loved her all the time. All the time, even if there was no reason for it. That was just how I felt. Even after we had a huge fight, or in the middle of the night and I find her sleeping, or in a text in the middle of a workday, I would tell her I loved her.
“Then it became harder to say it. I came to a place where I felt like saying it would expose some kind of weakness. We wouldn’t fight anymore. I think because we didn’t know how to, so we were always just at each other but not fighting. And to tell her I loved her was to tell her to stop, because — well, because I loved her.”
“Was she a total bitch?” I ask.
“Sometimes. This one time she was really pissed, and we had relatives over for Raya. She just became this… woman, like she wouldn’t explicitly say anything, but she acted in a way so people thought I had done something terrible to her. Like maybe I beat her up or stole her money or cheated on her, it could’ve been anything. They took one look at her and believed it.” He paused. “She made people think of me differently.
“But I was the monster too. One time, for a few months, I just didn’t have sex with her, and I knew she’d never push for it so I just let it be that way. She started skipping breakfast, followed her friend Aida to yoga, she woke up early to go for walks. Said it helped her think and sort things out, but we both knew why.
“Power is dangerous, power you give and the kind you’re given. I’m glad to be free of all of that. I just want to think about myself for a while. I don’t think anyone else is anyway.”
I knew Hanif was getting personal, and I didn’t want to be a coward. “I loved someone, didn’t go anywhere either.”
I think of Haris, how happy it made me to see him once. I smile and laugh to myself when I think about him. It used to be the thought of seeing him later in the day, it made me come alive from the inside. Like a bulb in a dark room, shedding light on all the good things that live within me.
It makes me happy to be able to tell Haris that I love him, even if I don’t, so new and liberating to be this vulnerable. But I wonder about what Haris would say, if love is succeeded by power or if they’re the same thing.
That night, alone in the apartment, I send a text to Haris. “Please call me, I need you.” I fall asleep, something inside me feeling wretched and twisty.
Feature image by Jehan Aziz.