By Eugene Datta
“I’m scared as hell,” Adah said when I called.
We lived more than eight thousand miles apart, and called each other frequently. We were desperately in love.
“There’s a storm outside and the windows are rattling like crazy,” she said.
Adah Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew born in Bombay – fashion designer, married to an Irish-American Catholic, a doctor at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Big time.
Adah the beautiful adulteress, I called her. As postmodern as a Bombay Sassoon could ever get, she ate vegetarian and lived on Mozart. Successful, sophisticated, and profoundly uninhibited.
“What’s the matter, Adah? You’re never this scared.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But... there have been a few break-ins and a rape in the neighborhood recently. And the weather is terrible today.”
“When is Steve back?” I asked her. I was worried.
“Not before three in the morning. There’s an emergency at the hospital.”
I was into advertising, owned a small agency in Calcutta and made enough to afford a few luxuries. Allan Solly clothes, drinks at The Grand a few nights a week, dinner dates at The Taj. And these calls. They cost an arm and a leg, but I had to hear her voice as often as I could. I had been married once and was happily divorced now, saw a few women for conversation and sex, nothing serious. Adah knew that.
“Anyone can break into this house if they want to, you know,” Adah said. “Our security system is down. Hurricane Georges messed it up last month.”
“You should’ve asked Karen and her husband over.”
“Yes, I know. But it’s too late now.”
Continents drifted under our feet.
“Yes I am. Just a little nervous, that’s all.”
I was getting ready for work. Midnight in Atlanta, Georgia.
We were in Paris last winter. She had a show and I’d taken a few days off. We shacked up in a friend’s pigeonhole of an apartment on rue Henry Barbusse. Adah sacrificed paid-for five-star comfort because I liked the place.
A week, that was all we had.
Long walks along the Seine. Jardin des Tuileries. Sidewalk cafes in the cold. Champagne at Hotel de Ville. We made love until we were sore.
“Where do you think this will lead us?” Adah asked me one day after sex. It was ten in the morning or thereabouts. The sky was dove-gray. Parisian roofs huddled in a light rain.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“You know what I mean.” She was serious. “The future.”
“What about it?”
“That’s what I’m asking,” she said. “What about it?”
I didn’t know.
We had been meeting now and then, at addresses flung across distant lands. It was never her city, never mine. Love struggled forever with itineraries and absences.
“Well,” I asked after a pause.
“I’ll be there for you. Always.”
“I know. But that’s not the point.”
“The point is we’ll never be married, right?”
“Right,” she said.
“Do you know what that means?” I asked her.
“Yes. Paris, Amsterdam, Bombay and New York a few times a year. Until all we can do is talk on the phone.”
“And write letters.”
“And love each other from our separate continents. Our lives forever locked in distant time zones. Even when we meet, our worlds won’t.”
She was rueful.
I was quiet.
It rained on.
“I just wish the wind would stop howling,” Adah said. There was an edge to her voice. “I can’t handle it.”
“But even if the wind stopped you’d be alone almost all night.”
“Yes, I know. But don’t worry, I’ll get the gun out.
“I guess I never told you this, but I have a gun. It’s a .357 Magnum.”
“Did you buy it?”
“Well, no. I got it from a guy I used to date in school. He was a junkie and a gun-freak, and almost blew his own brains out.”
“He was a psychopath. One time he stuck two bullets in the chamber right in front of me, and put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Russian Roulette, you know? Anyway, I managed to talk him into handing me the gun that day, and never saw him again. It’s been here with me ever since.
“Do you know how to use it?” I asked.
“I’m the only one in the house who does.”
“Really?” I was impressed. And, to my surprise, a little relieved, too.
“I have exactly five bullets in my jewelry box, and I stick them into the gun whenever I’m alone at night,” she said. “Big city America, you know.”
“I’ll take it to bed tonight.”
“Looks like you don’t have a choice.”
“I’ll be OK. Don’t worry.”
“Please be careful, Adah,” I said.
Paris. Seven days was too little time to waste talking shop. Besides, I didn’t know enough about couture, and advertising bored her. So we remained lost in ourselves.
One evening we went to Le Violon Dingue, an English pub near Ecole Polytechnique. We sat at the bar, drank Guinness and talked about us as the crowd thickened toward midnight.
“In case you haven’t realized it already, your beautiful adulteress doesn’t believe in promiscuity. Never did,” Adah said at one point.
“I know,” I said.
“No, you don’t.”
“I’m the one who’s promiscuous, Adah.”
“I don’t care. But it’s important for me to know that you don’t think I sleep around. I don’t know sex beyond the two men I love. I don’t believe in poly-amorous lifestyles.”
“Except, you’re in love with two men,” I said, laughing.
“So I am bi-amorous, OK? Not poly.” She laughed back.
“Anyway. What I am trying to say is, Steve and you are about as much as I can handle. Both emotionally and otherwise. And the idea of mindless, loveless sex repels me.”
“I don’t like it either,” I said. “Although... uh... I indulge in it sometimes.”
She was silent. The loudspeakers thrummed with Seventies’ rock.
“Well, I mean... I sleep with others because we are not together. And you know that, don’t you?”
“I guess,” she said. She looked down at the dark brew in her half-finished glass. The sparkle gone from her eyes.
They played The Eagles.
“Adah?” She looked up. “Are you in love with both of us?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. Well, no. Not really. I mean... I love Steve, and I’m in love with you. There’s a difference.”
“You decide,” she said.
“What if there’s another lucky guy somewhere?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“As if the two of you weren’t pain enough,” she said, making a face.
I kissed her. She smiled.
The crowd got louder with “Hotel California.”
The phone rang almost as soon as I got back home that evening.
“Hello?” It was Steve Bennett, Adah’s husband. He knew me as one of his wife’s “Indian friends” – if he had suspected I was more than that, he never let us know. We had talked on the phone several times.
“Hi, Steve, what’s up?” I said.
“Look, we’re in a situation here.” He sounded unusually grave.
“Are you guys all right?”
“Yes, we are. But... Adah shot someone last night.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Who was it?”
“Well, a guy called Anand Mathur, an Indian Ph.D. student from Georgia Tech.”
“Oh my god!”
“She said she’d been seeing this guy for a while. And he showed up last night.”
“I don’t understand...is he dead?”
“No, thank god. It caught him in the arm, near his right shoulder.”
“But how did it happen?”
“Well, he said he was passing through and the weather was bad so he thought he would stop by. I don’t know. That’s what he said to the police. Anyway, he rang the bell a few times before getting in. Apparently, Adah had given him a set of keys to our apartment.”
“Anyway,” Steve continued. “She was too scared to answer the door because she wasn’t expecting anyone. And she knew it wasn’t me. So when she heard the door being opened, she freaked and pulled out the gun from under her pillow and fired.”
“How’s the guy doing now?”
“He’s out of danger.”
“What about Adah?”
“Well, she’s... uh... still a little out of it, you know. The double trauma of firing a gun and hurting a... a friend. But she’s OK otherwise. In fact, she insisted I call to let you know she’s OK.” Steve’s voice was clinical and dispassionate.
“I’ll try to talk to her tomorrow,” I said.
I thanked Steve for the call and hung up.
The night thickened around me.
It had been months since Paris. Months since Adah and I were together last.
Suddenly, eight thousand seven hundred and fifty-two miles seemed like a huge distance.
QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002