You Can Always Tell

Gisela Giardino
Gisela Giardino

Afterwards, I stayed in the position that Sunil had left me before he went to the bathroom. I was trying to read my body like it was a handful of bones thrown on the sheet. It was missionary that time, legs spread, arms on either side of my head with the elbows bent, palms open. Sunil had put my panty, a white lacy thing, across my stomach so it wouldn’t make that sound he hated. My belly has two folds of fat, one just under my bobbies, and another under my navel. The flat place between the fat sweats when we’re doing it, and it makes this noise, like trying to pull your foot out of thick mud. A song came from between my legs. Hmmm. If anything was slightly off it was the bobbies. I touched one and looked at the brown swelling with its large nipple like a raisin hat. Sunil barely touched them throughout the whole business. Weird. Last year, on his last night in Trinidad, I had to beg him to stop trying to suck my heart through them. He looked up at me, laughed then his pale cheeks turned red and before I knew it, he was crying and talking with webs of saliva across the cave of his mouth, “I don’t want to go, Resh. Tell your father to cash the ticket and I could stay. Me and you…blah, blah, blah… could get married… have a good life in Trinidad….” He had no land, no business, nothing and wanted to get married to woman like me. Daddy was sending him to school and planned to give him some businesses to run when he returned to Trini. That way poor Sunil from Princes Town would have more than looks and fair skin when we get married.

The water stopped falling in the shower and I looked up at the ceiling and at the walls. A single, uncovered light bulb was at the center of a stucco ceiling above the bed. Glossy white paint showed every pit and dried paint drip on the walls. Effing ugly.

“What you thinking about?” His voice was the same. Deep. I felt it in my chest. He held the towel around his waist with one hand. I closed my legs and turned to face him. The roses he had given me at the airport the night before were in a vase on the nightstand. They smelled sour and the edges of the petals were black.

“About the fock.”

“What?” He laughed and the gray eyes that caught my attention in secondary school ten years ago sparkled, like a cream soda in a glass in the sun. He got handsomer since he went away.

“You hiding from me, Sunil?” I pointed at the towel. “I done see everything so—”

“Resh, you start to give trouble already?” He smiled, retied the towel around his chest, held the knot with one hand and pursed his lips.

I sat up. “Let the towel go.”

He sucked his teeth, the sound like paper tearing.

“I want to see it. The thing Daddy send away.”

He let the towel go.

“Turn around.”

He turned his ass to me.

“No, not so…” I laughed “I want to see it from the side, to see if it hanging right.”

“Resh, you ain’t change, oui. Still crazy.” He turned and put both palms behind his head. I watched every crease. Every hair. I was wondering how he thought the sex was. But if I asked him, he might know that I cared about what he thought. Not my scene to come off like that.

“You finish?” He gyrated his hips then thrust them forward, everything swinging.

“Sunil, stop! I still looking…Ok, Ok, I done. The hair too long. Trim it like you used to have it.”

He nodded and walked around the bed to the chest of draws to get dressed.

“You going to trim it right?”

“Resh, I leaving my balls just so. I can’t even tell you how to cut your hair.” He zipped his pants up. “You not getting up to bathe?”

I was kinda annoyed about the balls comment, but couldn’t stop looking at the walls. It was like each dent was pulling me in.

“You don’t like the place?” he asked.

“No, is not…I know you don’t like to talk about money, Sunil, but… if you needed more money to live on, you could’ve told me, and I or Daddy could’ve —”

“Resh, you and your father paying for school…giving me a allowance every month. I comfortable here.”

“Is just that I thought…I thought it would’ve been nicer. We talk on the phone all the time and you never say it was like this. The area nice? At least?”

“This is Brooklyn. East Flatbush. Is a nice area.”  A line formed on his perfect forehead. “But it always have something nicer. And this place might look bad compared to …what you accustomed to, but the rent here is high, even for Brooklyn. Plus the woman who own the house, Mrs. Mannix…she from Antigua, she don’t bother me. You should hear the horror stories other people who come to this country have. Coming home and finding the landlord in your place, people making noise so you can’t study…”

While he talked, he folded his arms and, with one hand, played with his chest hairs. I looked at the fingers pulling the thick dark hairs then back to his mouth, like Shahid Kapoor’s mouth.

“….not fixing anything. And Caribbean people are the worst landlords. They just don’t get the tenant thing. They think anybody living in their house is a child even if they paying rent.” He stopped, took a t-shirt from the draw and put it on. “You don’t know, Resh. You don’t know.”

“I forget how you could go on and on when you want to make a point. I get it. You comfortable here and you don’t want we money.” I was effing vex. The idea that he would bring me to a place like this then try to justify it by making it about money. Like he ever had to think about money since we been together. I wrapped the sheet around me and got up.

“Now you hiding from me,” Sunil said.

I didn’t answer.

“You vex, Resh? Don’t be vex. You just reach. You want to stay in the hotel instead? I could stay there with you ‘till you leave.”

“No, I go stay.” I went to the bathroom.

The next day, a Thursday, after Sunil went to class, I tried to watch TV on my laptop but Daddy and my sister, Sharma, kept texting me. Sharma and me manage two stores and a nightclub, Club Space. Every text was about deliveries, workers and the band for Saturday. I texted Daddy to say that I was all right, and told Sharma to do whatever. I was on vacation for eff sake.

In the bedroom, Sunil had made the bed. The roses were bent over, trying to kiss the nightstand with their stale, red lips. I lifted the mattress. An old t-shirt and a pair of jeans lay on top of four wide planks of plywood that ran across a metal frame. There were clothes in all the draws. Not a lot. I checked the tags. Regular brands. And two pairs of shoes under the bed, some brown leather dressy business and sneakers. That’s three pairs, counting the one he was wearing. A few things in the closet. No coats. I showered, got dressed and went out.

Outside was so bright that I had to cover my eyes from the white light bouncing off the chrome of cars parked across the street. I walked up the narrow, bare concrete steps that led from Sunil’s basement apartment to the yard. Spring was teasing the yard and a few light blue flowers littered the short grass. I went up some red painted steps to the front door of the house. I didn’t notice the night before, but it was a gray brownstone. The door was varnished wood with clear glass panels. Just inside the door, I saw some flip-flops and a woman’s worn, black strappy sandals.  I pressed the white doorbell that jutted from the wall like a pimple. Nothing. Again. I heard footsteps coming toward the door.

Mrs. Mannix opened the inner door, varnished wood too, and looked out. She narrowed her small dark eyes and leaned her head to one side so I waved and pointed toward the basement. She mouthed, Oh, and opened the door.

“Hello, I’m Sunil girlfriend. Reshma Boodoo.” I shook her hand.

“Yes. He tell me you was coming, see.” Her accent sounded strange. She was fair skinned. Black and Chinese mix probably. Her gray hair was in plaits like a girl.

“I just…wanted to say hello. In case you see me in the yard and was wondering who I was.”

“Ok. You had a good flight comin’ in?”

“Yes. Smooth. I landed right?” I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. “So, Sunil ask me to pay the rent. He didn’t have any time this morning.” I took out the money. “How much, again?”

“Rent not due till next week. He payin’ early?” I saw her round shoulders move back under the shiny, yellow polyester.

“Yes. We might’nt be here next week. How much again? He forget to separate the rent money from the bills money.”

“Seven.”

I counted it out.

“Wait for a receipt.” She turned and went inside.

As I walked out of Troy Avenue onto Church Avenue, I heard the receipt crinkling in the pocket of my leather jacket and shoved it in deeper. It was just before midday, so there were few people on the street. I had been to New York many times, but never to a poor people place like this. I passed stores with racks of clothes outside that said, ‘2 for $5.’ There seemed to be a vegetable market on every corner with rows of oranges, pears, apples and other goods inside and outside. I watched a man cut the blackened, spongy ends from some carrots with a short cutlass, wrap it in plastic and Styrofoam and put it on a table with other fruits and vegetables that said, ‘50c Any one.’ In between the cheap clothes, vege-marts and beauty-stores were churches. Church of Christ. Eglise Baptiste Haitienne. They opened right on the pavement, some of them next to restaurants with only a gate to, I suppose, separate the sheep from the goats. The fanciest shoulder-high gate was in front one New Community Church. A short dark skinned man in a shining, technicolor outfit, like country come to town, was behind it. He told me good morning and asked me if God was good. And all I could think of was the receipt in my pocket and how I was searching Sunil’s place. I held my head up and walked to the train station at Nostrand Avenue. The little technicolor man started singing some hymn. The sound stayed in my head long after I could actually hear him. Even the rumbling of the subway train couldn’t drown it out.

Later that day, I heard the key slide in the lock and stood up. Then sat down and pretended to stare at the laptop.  I let Sunil call me twice before I answered. “Yeah.” You must never be eager.

“Hon, you stay inside whole day?” He was at the living room door. When I didn’t turn around, he walked over and kissed me on the cheek. He smelled like cologne plus clothes plus a slight sweaty, man smell. The lower fold of my belly pitched forward a little. Ok, a lot.

“You went out?” He put down his knapsack.

I turned around and shrugged. “No, I wear makeup to stay home.”

He smiled. “You eat something? Want me to buy some food?”

“Yeah. I kinda hungry. But…”

“But?”

“I got some things for you today.”

“O Lord, Resh.” He said it like he was fed-up or something.

My face was probably looking vexed, because he changed his tune.

“What you got?”

I ran passed him to the bedroom and pointed to the bags on the floor.

“Saks?” He sighed loudly.

“I see you don’t have any good clothes. And you need sheets for this bed. Plus I want to go out. Party.”

He sat on the bed and I reached for the first bag. “I want to go this Saturday. And I want to see where you go to school, Brock College.”

“Baruch College. Bah-rook.” He lifted his small womanish chin.

“Look at you nah? Telling me how to pronounce. Fine, I want to see Baruch College and when we finish trying on clothes, I want something to eat. Nothing from around here.” I wrinkled my face. “From online.”

He seemed frozen, looking at me and at the same time looking passed me to the bathroom door.

“Sunil, you hear me?”

“Yes. Try on. Food. Party Saturday. Show she Bah-rook.”

“Ok. Try this one on first.” I picked up a bag and took out a blazer.

He was staring passed me again.

“Sunil?”

“Reshma?” he mocked.

On Saturday, my father called. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t staying with Sunil. Imagine, in this day and age Daddy trying to convince himself that his daughters are pure. Geez.

“No, Daddy. I at the hotel and Sunil coming to pick me up.” I put one finger across my lips when Sunil came out the bathroom and pointed at the phone. Then Daddy was going on about the store in San Fernando and blah, blah, blah. Then his voice got school teacherish, “Reshma, how things going with Sunil?”

“How you mean?” I changed the tone of my voice to match his.

“He alright? He going to school?”

I walked to the farthest corner of the living room. “He in school. Going to see the school next week.”

“Ok, that is all I want to know. Because people tell me not to do this thing. Not to send a next man son to school and give him business to run. The pundit and all say is not a good thing. That I lucky with girl children and not boy children. And is not…”

Sunil came into the room and spun around. He was in the Zegna pale pinkish, taupish, don’t know how to describe it, cotton pants, with the navy Zegna blazer and white shirt. Some pale Calvin sneakers to bring it down a notch.

“…because you want it—” Daddy was still talking.

“Daddy, Sunil reach. I have to go.”

“Let me talk to him, nah?”

“Next time, we runnin’ late. Call tomorrow.” I touched the red bar across the screen.

I screamed. He was looking so effing hot.

“Shhh…Resh. Mrs. Mannix.” He put his palms up, and widened his eyes. That night they were cream soda with flecks of gold.

I went to the mirror on the closet door to check myself. The girdle panty made my stomach look flat in the red Bebe mini sheath dress. My face looked like a brown Lakshmi murti, heavy black lined eyes and thin red lips. Black C L heels made good legs look model great, with long thick, dark hair to my behind. Just that alone was half of what all Indian men wanted. The other half was to know how to make sada roti from scratch. Bilnah. Ghee and Tawah. Flip it hot with one oily hand, and watch it swell like a young girl’s belly, the whole nine. But my mother died when I was in primary school so I never learned to cook. So Sunil was only getting half of a good Indian woman. Daddy never brought another woman in the house. So Sharma and me grew up on KFC and buy-food. I know Daddy has a woman. Sometimes, on the phone, I hear a woman’s voice in the background. Other times Chris, our Negro driver, is out all day. I’m home, Daddy is home, Sharma is in the store. So who is the chauffeur chauffeuring then? When I pile in the car to go out on those evenings, the backseat smells like perfume.

That night, we went to Giocare, Aniello’s club, on 50th and 9th Avenue. Aniello has a face like a Greek statue from a museum with a short compact, chiseled body to match. I met him when he came to my nightclub, Club Space, in Trinidad last year and had promised to visit his club when I was in New York. So we got the royal treatment. We were in the back in a private leather booth with Aniello’s friends and his wife, Shari, a tall, gorgeous Negro woman from Martinique with big wild hair and a vacant look in her brown eyes. The friends? Ehhh. Club flies I call them, because every popular club has them flitting around until they find a hotter place to go to. Oldish well-dressed businessmen types with some pretty, pretty, thin, thin girl on their arm that they were trying to impress. There was a glass paneled private bar with small cask whiskey, champagne, everything. Men in tight, black clothes and aprons kept bringing out platters of food with shrimp and two-color caviar, and every kind of dessert you could think of. Our table had a clear crystal bowl of coke. I snorted two fingertips worth, enough to sharpen the edges and brighten the colors. Aniello had some white pills, like coated aspirin, in his pocket. He took two after I refused him, one for me and one for him, he said.

All night, Aniello kept trying to pour Sunil’s drinks. After the pills kicked in, he got brave and ran his hands along Sunil’s thighs and commented on how soft the cotton on his pants was. But he had a thick Italian accent and soft sounded like suck. “Tha fabreek ez soooo suck.” So Sunil crossed his legs and spent most of the night away from the private booth in a chair against the wall with his face pinched, his eyes in shadow. He was too angry to notice that some of the thin, pretty girls and Shari had their doll’s eyes on him too. I danced all night with Aniello, with Shari, with the club flies, with everybody. The whole time, I felt Sunil’s eyes on me, gray laser beams that burned my legs and cut holes in my dress, like that fella from X-men. The good-looking one with the shades, who was toting it for Jean Gray. But I never looked at Sunil once. Around 3 am, the DJ played a soca and reggae mix for us and just so, Sunil was up and dancing. He was behind me wining, one arm across my chest, just under my bobbies, at the top of the girdle. I bent over and gyrated on the crotch of his suck cotton pants. My hair stuck to me, like warm, wet palms holding both cheeks. Through the corner of one eye, in the mirror near the bar, I saw us. Some tall, well-dressed man was peeing a big splotch of red paint. And I laughed, loud and crazy, like an argument just under the sound of the music. I was still giggling to myself when we got in the taxi at daybreak to go home.

He was kissing my stomach, and I blurted it out. “Where your coats? They not in the closet.”

“Hmmm.” He kissed my navel. “By the laundromat.”

“And your clothes? You hardly have any clothes here. And how many coats you have?” The sensation of the last kiss lingered and I pushed it from my mind and lifted my head so that I could look at him.

“Now, Resh?”

“Yeah.”

He supported himself on his arms. His head and chest swung like a hammock, casting a shadow over my middle. The valley between the folds got dark. “I don’t have much clothes cause I don’t need much. My coats are in the Golden Touch Laundromat on 45th and Church Avenue.” He pronounced each word like he was a reading the news. “I have two coats. A dark blue pea coat and a green down jacket. Since it is May, my leather jacket is warm enough. This is Dominic Kalipersad reporting for TV Six News.”

I tried to study his face.

“Sooo, we could fock now?”

I let my head drop to the bed.

He kissed my folds and worked his way down to where the hairs began. Just when I thought he was going to come back to my lips, I felt something warm and wet between my legs. I waited to see what I would feel. Something moist, like being touched with sticky hands.

“Sunil, What you doing?”

He looked up at me and pulled his tongue in. “I thought you like that?”

“No, Sunil! I never like that.”

“Resh is…”

“I like to fock, Sunil! Dick! And throwing waist. That is me. That lickin’ business is… Some girl like you to lick she, but that girl is not Reshma. Who like you to lick she?”

“How you mean?” He was supporting himself on his arms again.

“Who like you to lick she when you fock she?”

“Resh. Nobody. Is just that I wanted…to taste you. So when you go, I could remember you. Never forget you.” His face was red and his eyes had a wet sheen to them, like he was about to cry. It was like his last night in Trinidad again and I felt like a wicked woman. So I sat up, held his face in my hands and kissed him on the mouth. “Sorry, Honey. Sorry. Is just that,” I kissed one cheek. “You here and I there and,” I kissed the other cheek, “I hear all these stories about people going away and being with other people.” I kissed his mouth again. “Sorry, Sorry. Is just that the lickin’ thing is not my scene. You know?”

He was still for a moment then he kissed my mouth and went back to my stomach. When he got to the end of that stretch of land, he worked his way up to my bobbies and neck. Once he was inside, I closed my eyes and moved fast, trying to rub away the wet sticky feeling he had put between my legs. When I was near the top of my mountain, I opened my eyes and looked up at Sunil.  His eyes were like slits and there was a line in his brow, like he was trying to see something clearly. But the image wouldn’t stay in my head because my head was touching the sky.

At Baruch College, we sat together at the back of a large lecture hall that slanted downwards. A tall white-haired professor lectured at the front with a red laser pointer and PowerPoint slides. Most of the people in the Intro to Finance class were Chinese and Indians. There were a couple White people and some Negro people, mostly Africans Sunil said, who attended classes in three-piece suits. Sunil introduced me to some of his friends. There was Amadou, an African guy from somewhere I don’t remember and the rest were Indians and Negroes from Trinidad. There was another Sunil, dark, fat and hairy, not like my Sunil, his girlfriend, Nadine, a fair-skinned Indian girl who was in a hoodie and jeans with her hair piled at the top of her head, with no makeup whatsoever. And two Negro fellas, Jason and Nigel. Nigel said he was from San Fernando and that he knew me, but I didn’t know him. After class, we went to a dumpling place nearby.

The dumpling place, Pot Stickers, was a long red counter with stools against a glass wall that looked out to the street, with some black chairs and small red tables at the back. We had ordered online during the lecture, picked up and sat at one of the tables. Hairy Sunil and Nadine came with us, but took their food and left. After, Sunil was telling me how Hairy Sunil and Nadine lived together in some apartment near Baruch and wanted to open a business together. Then he started talking about how Amadou wanted to become the president of his country and that Nigel and Jason were planning to return to Trinidad to get into politics.

“Anyhow,” I said, “How come you don’t have any Indian friends?” I had my back to the door and turned around because I heard laughter and loud talking. A group of Chinese looking girls came in, all pretty faces and long, straight dark hair.

“And Sunil and Nadine are?” He stuck a fork in a dumpling and put it in his mouth.

“I mean like Indian Indian. From India. So many of them in this school and you don’t have one Indian friend?”

He leaned forward. “Resh, Indians from India don’t want to be friends with people like me. And they not just from India, they from all over. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Africa and all. Most of them talk Urdu, Gujrati, languages I never hear about. As soon as they realize I don’t speak the language, they cut me off.” He swiped a hand near his neck like he was cutting it off. “Plus, to them, we went to Trinidad as indentured laborers, slaves really. We from the lowest class, or caste or whatever, in their eyes. They don’t want to have anything to do with—”

“Indian is Indian, Sunil.”

“Yeah, Trini-Indians like to think that.” He shrugged his shoulders, leaned back in his chair and dropped his plastic fork.

  “Anyway, you sure you approaching these Indians, Pakistanis, or whatever in the right way?”

“Like I say, I might look like them, but we not the same. I tell one of them that my mother name Drupatee and he started laughing. He said no one in India would ever name their daughter that. You know how many Trini and Guyanese Indian girls go out with Indian fellas, in a serious relationship, thinking they going to get married, only to wake up one morning to find he unfriend them on Facebook and block their number because he in India getting married to a real Indian. Who his parents pick.”

The noisy group was in front of me. They were dragging chairs and tables so they could sit together. I had to raise my voice over the dull sound of wood scraping tile. “Sunil, I have friends. From India. Who come to Trinidad to visit me.” I leaned back in my chair too.

“So! You have money. They have money. That is what you have in common. And you are Steven Boodoo daughter.” He sounded vexed. “Don’t act you don’t know that that has something to do with it…” He looked at something behind me.

“Sunny!” A voice behind me said.

“Hey,” Sunil said when she stood next to our table.

“Padma. My girlfriend, Reshma. Visiting from Trinidad. Reshma. Padma.” He pointed at both of us. She put out her hand to shake mine and I took it. “Nice to meet you,” I said.

“Same here. Sunny talk about you all the time.” She was my complexion, with smooth skin like an airbrushed picture, and she wasn’t wearing anything but lipstick. Thick dark hair that had waves like a stale roller set. And the shape? Coke in the bottle, flat belly, small waist, hips and big, big bobbies. A cleavage, like four inches long, was showing at the front of her white t-shirt with the denim jacket over it.

“I ordered during class and just came to pick up, so—-” she began.

“You could eat with us if you want.” Sunil looked at me for confirmation.

“Yeah, bring your food.”

“Ok.” She turned to go to the counter. Big round ass in her skinny jeans.

She sat with us and talked while she ate her chicken dumplings. She was from Princes Town just like Sunil. Only people from P-town call him Sunny. (I was wondering about that too, at first.) Said she went to San Fernando Secondary one year behind me. That would make her 23, a year younger than Sunil and me. But she looked 18 or 19. Anyway, I didn’t remember her. She could have been any one of the groups of girls, a blur of pleated, brown skirts and white sneakers, who walked to the taxi-stand, rain or shine, while our driver picked us up, and Sharma and me argued over whose turn it was to choose a CD to play on the way to lessons.

She was in the same accounting class as Sunil, and came to Pot-Stickers after her English class every Wednesday. She mentioned Amadou and Nadine a few times so I guess she was part of the group. I didn’t talk on purpose because I wanted her to feel like a third wheel and leave. But Sunil kept asking her questions and looking at me while she spoke, like I was the one who wanted to know the answers. When I couldn’t take it anymore, “So, you planning to go home when you finish with your degree?” I asked.

She laughed and her bosom shook, like it was soft and light. “No. I want to stay. It don’t have nothing home for me. Where I will get a job? I don’t want to work for the public service. My parents don’t have connections. Plus I have smaller brothers and sister I have to help my parents mind.”

“Sunil going back, you know.” I hoped my eyes sparkled.

“Yeah. He tell me.” She looked at him, put the dirty napkins in the empty dumpling box, and held the box with both hands. “He have business and everything waiting for him when he go back. Sunny just lucky.”

“Yes, he is. My lucky man.” Sunil had his elbows on the table. I reached across and held one, hoping that he would extend his arm and hold mine. He didn’t so I held on to the fabric of his jacket, and rubbed the elbow underneath with one finger.

“You going to college too?” She asked.

“Me?” I laughed. “I have life experience. I running business. Business-es. Since I leave high school. I don’t need a business degree.” That was a blow she was trying to throw at me. Imagine. “Not like people like you, who don’t have business in their blood and have to go to school to learn about it.”

She moved the box closer to her and moved back in her chair.

I held on to Sunil’s other elbow and he stretched out his hands so that they lay on mine. She got up. “Well. Nice to meet you, Reshma. Sunil. See you in class next week, if not before.” She smiled, turned and I watched Sunil follow her out with a shadow across his gray eyes. When he looked at me, I said, “Country coolie have some big bottom, boy!”

“Resh!” Sunil opened both palms like I was naked and he was trying to cover me then whispered, “You mustn’t say them kinda things. That is racist.”

“But I am a Indian. If I call another Indian a coolie, how that could be racist? Plus she ass real big. Like a Negro. You sure she not mix?”

“Shhh, Resh.” He looked around. The noisy group was leaving so tables and chairs scraped the tile as they were put back.

“Nobody studying we in here. You acting like you never say that. You used to call your own family coolie and laugh. You only here a year and you pick up all them American ways. Every thing is about racism to them. Some Indians are coolies. Plus you didn’t hear when she try to insult me first, asking if—-”

“We in a public place, Resh. People might get offended. Let we talk about it when we go home, nah. Please.” He let out a long breath and his eyes darted around the restaurant, like I was some child misbehaving in public.

I felt like my heart was boiling in my chest. “I tired of this effing shit.” I got up and went out the door. I walked toward the sound of cars then stopped to read the street signs because nothing looked familiar in the fading day.

I heard Sunil’s voice behind me, calm like none of it happened. “Not that way. Park is this way. You have your Metrocard ready?”

“Yes,” my mouth said against my will.

“Home then.”

We were getting dressed to go to the Botanic Gardens. Sunil put on the Zegna Jacket over a t-shirt and jeans, and opened the door.

“Where you going?” I was in front the mirror, trying to put my hair in a ponytail.

“To pay the rent. Be right back.”

He was gone. The bright day with its car sounds and whistling birds took his place in the doorway. My head throbbed where the black elastic band held it. I took the band out, but the throbbing stayed. I listened between the sounds on Troy Avenue to see if I could hear the exchange between Sunil and the landlady. I thought I was hearing something then a car playing loud music swallowed all the sounds. Barrington Levy’s Living Dangerously filled up the apartment. It was the remix with Bounty Killer, and Bounty’s deep base rounded out Levy’s sweetness, warning about all the things that were going to happen to the girl who was living bad. I felt like I wanted to shit and went to the toilet, but nothing happened. I stayed there with the yellow floral dress around my waist and my panties around my ankles until I heard Sunil come back.

“Resh?” he called.

“In here. Coming out now.” I got up and flushed.

“You ready?” he asked when I came out. “The ponytail was looking good.”

“Yeah, I ready. I was just thinking that the ponytail would be a nice change too.” I put my hair up and we left.

“How Mrs. Mannix?” I walked a little behind him along Troy.

“She wasn’t home.”

I caught up and we held hands. I tried to read the way his hand held mine, how firmly he was holding it, how many fingers were touching me. I studied the pulse in his temple under the skinny gold arm of his aviators. I couldn’t read him. He was like a closed fridge. He lifted our hands and touched my cheek with the back of his hand. “Let’s take a two-dollar cab to the train station. Ok?”

I nodded, feeling like it was years ago and we were fourteen, going out for the first time. At the corner, he flung out his other arm with a finger pointed, and a dark green Cutlass stopped in front of us.

I had never been to the Brooklyn Gardens. There was some blossom event going on so the place smelled like one big flower and the gardens were separated according to theme like fragrance, herbs, and things like that. The place was crowded, but not so bad that we couldn’t walk or anything. There were mostly old White couples who walked and talked slow, and young White families that all looked the same in bright colored expensive clothes that were made to look old, and heavy leather shoes. The moms knelt near the two children to teach at every opportunity, while the dads waited with both hands on the empty double stroller. There were a couple Negro people, young couples on dates and Negro nannies with White kids in strollers.

Sunil went to the bathroom before we left to get lunch at Tom’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue. He had left his phone in the bag from the Garden’s gift shop and it rang. It was a number from Trinidad so I thought it might be important.

“Hello, this is Sunil phone.”

“Hello.” His mother had a high-pitched voice.

“Hello, Sunil Mommy.”

“Padma?” She asked.

“Mrs. Suinarine, is me…” I was about to say my own name. “Yes, is me, Padma.”

“How you? You taking care a Sunny for me?”

“Yes.” I put my finger in my other ear to muffle the sounds of the garden.

“How school? You studying hard? Sunny tell me you bright in school.”

“Yeah. School going good.”

“Good. Good. Where he is? Let me talk to him.”

“Oh…He gone out.”

“He gone to class?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok. You tell he to call me when he come back.”

“Yes. I go tell him.”

She paused and I heard the TV and people talking in the background. “…He not with she…,” she said to someone in the background. “….Padma, I—” I touched the red bar to silence her. Sunil came back just as I ended the call.

“Who call?”

“Your mother.”

“I should call she back. Ma don’t ever call for nothing.” He stepped into the shade to make the call.

“Sunil?”

He looked at me and his eyebrows made a V. “What?” He showed me the phone as in; can’t you see I’m doing something?

“How much is your rent?” I had both hands on my hips.

“You know how much it is. You pay it.” Lines formed on his forehead.

“I thought you say Mrs. Mannix wasn’t home?”

“I thought I could leave my girlfriend in my place and she wouldn’t start a CSI investigation?”

“Sunil, you get five thousand a month. You have a set of old clothes. The rent is seven. What you doing with the rest?”

“You and your father want to give me money and tell me how to spend it too? This is some control bullshit. You want receipts? You want pictures of groceries?”

  People started to look at us and made big circles as they passed.

“And who really is this Padma? Your …” I made quotation marks in the air, “Friend. As you say. Your mother—-”

“She is my…” He made quotations too. “Friend.” And put the phone in his jacket pocket.

“Sunil. On the phone just now, your mother thought I was Padma and ask she if she was taking care of you. Like if Padma is your woman. I look like a ass to you? I know now Padma is the girl who like you to lick she—”

“Lord.” He looked around and held me by one elbow. “It have little children here. Let—-”

“Don’t focking touch me!” I walked away.

Outside the metal gates with the leaf pattern, Eastern Parkway was in front of me. I was sweating so I put the handbag on the ground to take off my jacket, and Sunil picked it up.

“Resh. Calm down. Things not how they look.”

“How they look, Sunil? I go tell you. You focking that girl and saving my family money to be with she and stay here. Why else you would be saving money? And your mother and them know about it.”

“Resh? You—”

“Let me tell you something. If I find out that you and that girl focking, I will fock she up! Because she getting involved in things that don’t concern she. Things that in motion long before she bring she big fat coolie ass around.” I wanted to tell him that he was mine. But I didn’t want to seem hungry.

“Look. You want to go home?”

“Home? I not going back to that place. I going to the hotel where the walls smooth and the windows not covered with dirt. I was forgetting who I was, Sunil, but I remember now.”

A couple was getting out of one of those green taxicabs. When they were out, I got in and told the driver I was going to the Soho Grand. I looked back at Sunil, but he was on his phone. Either talking to his mother or who ever. I didn’t care. I lay back on the cool seat and tried to think of nothing.

Daddy’s friend in the bank said that each month Sunil drew out the money in $500, $500, $500, everyday until it’s done. The account had $1002.17, just to keep it open, and to avoid fees. Daddy wasn’t checking the statements, because checking up on Sunil was like checking up on me. I didn’t tell Daddy about Padma, but after he told me about the withdrawals, he wanted to know why I wanted to know. “No reason,” I said. “Was just wondering.”

“You sure everything alright?” Daddy asked.

“Yes. Just wondering.” What I was really wondering was if Padma had a bank account. But if I asked that favor, they will call Mr. Boodoo and he might get wise and pull the plug. This was my business and I wanted to handle it. I just had to confirm that he was effing that girl. And I could take it from there. So the Monday after the gardens, I texted him and asked him to come over so we could talk.

He came right after class and said how he loved me and that he would never horn me. How I was overacting from stress and that Padma was only a friend. When he mentioned her, I gave him a cut eye and he went back to saying he was sorry and how he wanted to marry me when he returned to Trinidad. I smiled a little bit and said that I loved him too. And he started making Indian dance neck movements, while singing to the tune of Radica, this soca chutney love song I hated, but he replaced Radica’s name with mine, “Love is a secret we have to unravel. If you not with me, I am in trouble.  Reshma, why you leave and go? Oooooh, Reshma, why you leave and go…” He could be so nice sometimes.

Later, he was doing the usual and I said, “I want to try what you was trying the last time?”

“What?” He looked a little scared.

I pointed at the place between my legs. “Eat some.”

Apparently, he was really, really, really sorry, because he had to wait till I stopped bucking against the bed, until I came back from a strange new place to the calm beige décor with him in it. Then he cupped my flat ass and tuned me over to hit and bite it a few times. Like it was another ass. Kisses covered my body and when he got to my chest, his eyes were closed. He sighed and seemed far away as he rubbed his face against the plain between my bobbies, like if the space between them was soft and fleshy. When he was inside, he moved in odd patterns, not even hearing the noise my belly was making. He gasped from somewhere deep in his chest, like he never did with me, then fell with his face against my neck. He turned onto his back.

“Hmmm. So that is how Padma like to fock?”

His brow seemed to come down over his eyes, like a lintel on an old house. His nostrils flared. He looked at me like he was trying to think of something to say. “Resh…”

“Don’t Resh me. I know, you know. You wasn’t focking me. You was focking she. Get up and get out.”

He rolled onto his stomach. “I don’t know what you talking about. You crazy, oui. I tell you I not—-“

“You hear me. Get to fock out!”

He stayed where he was then reached for me with one hand, a smile on his lips. At the same moment, my cell phone rang on the nightstand, a thunderclap in the silent room, and I saw his ass cheeks clench, making an indent at the side and a dimple or two in the smooth pale flesh. I picked up the phone to decline the call then I got on my knees and started hitting Sunil with the flat part of the phone. I hit him in the head and started punching him in the back. He got on his knees and held my hands above my head. He kept saying, “Shhh. Shhh. The people will come to the room.” I was screaming and only heard myself then. “Get out,” I screamed. “Get Ouuuuuut!”

“I going, I going…” He put on his pants and shoes, and left with his shirt and knapsack in one hand. After he left, I cried with my head resting on knees I had drawn toward my chest. I couldn’t stop. My head felt like it would crack open and my stomach hurt. Sobs scraping out of my throat sounded foreign to my ears. It had been a long time. Maybe since my mother died. The shape of Sunil was still on the crisp, white sheets. And I thought about what it would be like to live with only the shape of him, and not him him. Sunil was the only man I was ever with. Since I was fourteen. “Him, him, him…” I shouted to the empty room. Then I lay on the shape that Sunil had left. I remember crying some more, but I don’t remember falling asleep.

On Wednesday, I waited across the street from Pot Stickers, when I knew her class let out. I waited till she and Nadine came out and I crossed the street just as they turned onto the street from the exit. I wrapped my hand in her hair, yanked her head back and slapped her across the face. She screamed, turned around, tried to push me then tried to take her hair out of my hands. Her bag of dumplings and her tote bag of books and papers fell on the ground, the papers blowing all over. Nadine tried to push me away with one hand, the food in the other. “This is none of your focking business!” I palmed her face as I said it and she stepped back. Then Miss Padma got brave and started to push me and tried to grab my hair, but it was tied up under my hat, so I bent her head back till she lost her balance and kicked her in the back of the knees and she fell in a kneeling position. People started to stop and look, some took out their phones. “What the fock you looking at? Don’t feel sorry for she. This coolie bitch focking other people man.” I went close to her ear, “You know who you focking with?” I slapped her. “Eh cunt, you know?” I did it again. She nodded. “Answer me, your mother cunt!” I pulled her head back, closer to her heels. Her Adam’s apple trembled on her exposed neck as she struggled to breathe.

“Yes,” she whispered. Tears fell along the sides of her face and made puddles in her ears.

“No! You don’t mother cunt know.  Because if you did know, you wouldn’t be focking my man. You would know to leave him the fock alone. So let me make you wise.” I whispered now, “I am Steven Boodoo daughter and if you come near my focking man again, they will just find your cunt dead in New York,” I snapped the fingers on one hand. “And we will wipe out your whole coolie clan in Princes Town. You understand?” I hit her in the face and spread the blood on her cheek from where my ring had cut her. “Answer, Cunt!”

“Yes.” The place where her neck met her head beat like a frightened mouse in a sack of brown skin.

“Now, how much money you and Sunil save?”

She widened her eyes.

“How much?” I punched her in the head.

“Thirty.” She croaked. “Thirty thou’ sah.”

“That is my focking money. Draw it out, write a check to me and mail it to Sunil. I know you know where he live. Do it today! You hear me?”

“Yes. My neck.”

“Your neck? Your mother cunt!” I let her go. She tried to stand up, one knee on the ground. “This focking coolie girl, playing up in things that don’t concern she.” I opened my arms and made as if I was going to lunge at her and a small scream escaped her throat.  “That is what I thought! Focking Coolie Mother Cunt!”

The students lined the street in small groups. As I walked passed, some lowered their phones and stepped back. When I was clear of them, I hurried to the 6 train on Park.

I was supposed to be in New York for 21 days, but I extended it for another 4 weeks to make all the arrangements. Sunil moved to a nice apartment building near the school, where I could pay the rent with a credit card. And I told Daddy to let me give Sunil his allowance. I cut it to $2000, so he could at least have some cash every month. The day he moved in, I saw Miss Padma by the Jamba Juice. She held her head straight, like she didn’t know us. I checked. Sunil didn’t even move an eyelash in her direction.

It was the end of June by the time I had to go back. The day before I left, Sunil said he missed home, so I bought a ticket for him and we went back together. In Trinidad, it was just like it was before he left. He stayed with his parents in Princes Town and would sometimes help out in one of the stores then meet me at Club Space on evenings. On Saturdays we partied till late and did Maracas Beach or Tobago on Sundays. One night at the club, the DJ played this boss soca mix with all my favorite songs then Sunil got on the mic and asked me to get married. I said yes and there was a party for us afterwards. Sunil bought a small Astor cut diamond in white gold (I get a bigger one in ten years, of course) with the Padma money.

Me. I gave it to him.

Now everything is in order. In August, after Sunil goes back to New York, I will visit him twice a year and he will visit me. And now that we’re engaged, when he visits, he could stay at the mansion in Curepe and nobody will bat an eye. When he’s done with the business degree and he’s up to scratch, we will get married and he will run a store and probably a club in Central Trinidad, because the nightlife seriously dry in Central. I know what you’re thinking. But I have that in check too. If Sunil had a feeling of a feeling that he wanted to try something, the doorman to the building watching everything and will tell me. Plus three years will go by fast and we will be married, a big wedding with gold threads in my sari, the pictures will take up the whole middle section of the Trinidad Sunday Guardian. Now that Sunil and me engaged, and even more so when we get married, any woman he’s with will be on the outside. But me, I will always be on the inside.