His eyes did it; how brown they were. A lighter, softer, more liquid shade compared to her deeper chocolate ones. A sadness in them; like a homing beacon to her own longing. She walked in late to a meeting that he was chairing, and thought that she had successfully blended into the background, but he stopped mid sentence to address her.
“I don’t believe we’ve met?”
His accent just as foreign as his skin tone; same destabilizing power as those eyes.
She was glad that the surprising jolt she felt didn’t manifest in her own voice when she replied without thinking, “Please don’t mind me. I am nobody.”
The people in the room found that funny. Small chuckles here and there. He would have none of it.
“I’d like to know what your name is.”
Friendliness in his tone. Yet the sense that it annoyed him not to have things done a certain way. Something else in his eyes…
“Nice to meet you, Lilly Nobody.”
A tight smile from him. That thing in his eyes. More chuckles around the room. He went back to his meeting. She stuck her nose into her notebook and worried that he would have her fired. She was just an errand girl for this project.
For four days after that, he didn’t look at her or speak to her again although she was always around him and the crew: taking notes, fetching coffees, being useful on set. In the back of her mind, worrying about her bills, the general shitty script that her life was following, and what it was that she had seen in his eyes. Why it mattered to her.
She was haunted all week. She hated that she had nothing to wear that would impress someone like him. Then laughed at herself because in what world would someone like him see her? She watched how he spoke. There seemed to be an almost exhausting energy about him when he worked. He lost himself in the project. He didn’t eat while they worked. He had the gentlest laugh, breezy, sort of. He averted his eyes and looked at the ground when he laughed. His manner belied a shyness he had learned how to mask. She found him so beautiful to watch. She wanted so much, to belong to him.
It wasn’t surprising to her that she ended up in his bed. It was everything else.
She arrived late that day, but only because she didn’t think she was needed. The director was waiting for her in the room where they all kept their bags.
“I need you to help me with Allen today.”
Lilly blinked. The director sighed. “The Brit consultant?”
She knew who he was. “I am just supposed to help out with social media not directly…”
“Yes but, the person who was supposed to interview him is unavailable and Sophie says you have a decent speaking voice so you are it for today. Go get mic-ed up.”
She sat on the interview couch begging her stomach not to empty the solo banana she had eaten that morning. She thought he would see her and throw a fit. Maybe have the director fired even. He didn’t throw a fit. He sat opposite her waiting for his mic. Looking at her. Through her. He was gracious through the list of questions Lilly had been given, engaging even. When it was all over and the mics and cameras were removed and everyone scurried towards the lunch table, Lilly started walking towards the garden, desperate for air.
He had moved to where she had been sitting. She looked at him, reminding herself to breathe.
“Would you mind if I asked you some questions too?”
“Um…well Sophie is really the one in charge and I am just…”
“Let me guess. You’re just nobody?”
Brief flustered silence. “Well…yes.”
He smiled. It creased the corners of his eyes and made his liquid light brown irises glisten.
“The questions I have, Sophie cannot answer because they’re about you. Please come and sit.”
She approached the chair he had been in.
“Sit next to me.”
She didn’t understand how a voice could be so soft and yet hold so much authority.
She could smell him now. His deodorant. His skin. It seemed that the world had suddenly condensed into this little couch.
She stared at her hands, then his. They were shaking. Both sets.
“Look at me.” He said.
There it was…that thing in his eyes. Up close she saw that it looked like sadness. Her kind of sadness. The kind of sadness she was forever running from, but always fell into no matter how hard she tried to escape.
“Why do you think you are nobody, Lilly?”
It was strange. How all of a sudden she wanted him to know everything about her.
“That’s how I feel. Like I don’t matter.”
“Because of your job?”
“Because of my life.”
“And what would make you feel differently about yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you mind having dinner with me later?”
Not a beat. “No. I wouldn’t mind.
He asked her if she was happy. From that hidden place came her tears. She waited for the awkward reaction. Instead he cradled her head against his neck. Instead he held her and soothed her with the same affection as one receives from a familiar lover.
He whispered, “Tonight you matter.”
The tenderness. It unraveled her completely.
She wanted to know everything about him, but he said he didn’t want to tell her anything because theirs was a brief interaction. It hurt to hear this truth. But it also strangely made her happy that he, unlike her, had boundaries that he stuck to no matter how weak he got.
He was hungry for touch though, and so was she. And when they started touching it lasted hours. The way he spoke to her. The way his hands demanded without force. Reminded her skin of lovers former; some she’d sooner forget…others not so easily discarded. The way he kept interlocking his fingers into hers; his skin such a stark vanilla against her coffee. A worship, almost, of souls that sparked in the most unlikely of ways. The way he would stop, hands at her nape and huskily tell her, “Look at me, Lilly,” like he understood how hungry her spirit was for intimacy. His kisses… at first hesitant, coaxing her to give in to him. How he sounded when he moaned; as drunk with lust as she was. She was like a wet blanket and he wrung the loneliness out of her.
She was so used to being a tool for lust, never a participant. She was used to squeezing her eyes shut waiting for the end and that gnawing feeling of insatiatiablity that plagued her as she lay beside a sleeping lover. But he wanted her to be there, aching, arching with him. How they spun around that bed. It was like making music from an initial uncertain note into a heavenly crescendo.
Afterwards she waited for his demeanor to change. For him to suggest that she leave, roll over, sleep. He didn’t. He held her with that same strange sweet reverence. Even when they were not intertwined somehow their bodies found ways to touch-fingers in hair, arm against arm, feet against feet.
“You will find tenderness one day if that’s what you really want,” he said as she sobbed into his neck again, and you should remember this night. And don’t delete it.”
It was the first night she had been naked with a man and felt entirely sated. This is what was missing for her, who had grown weary of sex. No matter how good a lover she never climaxed. They always got there before her and she always pretended that she did too. Yet this man whose words were as soft as his kisses managed to touch where she had never been touched. This man, who gave her his maroon t-shirt to wear home, who would soon forget his brief African tryst and go back to his life, his country, his continent.
To his wife.
And so this is how it ends…With Lilly, and nobody else.
She tells the world that she is sick today so she can allow herself to mourn without audience. And save, for eternity the knowledge that soul mates exist, and one day hers will find her. She shuts her bedroom door, draws the curtains and lies on the bed dressed in the only medicine needed for the day; a maroon t-shirt, size small. Its fabric soaked in their scents. His deodorant, her perfume, his tenderness, her longing, his love for cooking with spices, her love for eating them. She inhales, eyes squeezed shut, hearing his voice through her bitter-sweet tears.
“Be good to yourself,” he says “Whatever that means to you.”
And so today she is sick to her bones.
Tomorrow she won’t be.
Tomorrow, she will be good to herself.