His arms. Besides his eyes, deep and dramatic like a night without stars, his arms are the first thing I notice when we finally meet again. The ravages mapped on them detail a story that no one in an ideal world should experience. They tell me of hesitant needles looking for veins to feed, of the weakness of the human body under siege, and a future paved with uncertainty.
Javier is thirty-one-year-old. I met him for the first time early one afternoon, over two years ago, outside Café Nero on Old Compton Street. I was sitting at a table by the door. I remember the moment he caught my eye and the daring curiosity with which I stared as he stood by the door. He was six feet of perfect proportions, looking at a cloudy sky in a mood for rain.
The word “inevitable” sprang to mind when his gaze moved from the sky and into my eyes, where it remained. Finality is something I have learned not to fight, the way I no longer suppress my erratic thoughts in need of an outlet. I allow my ideas to flourish regardless of how inappropriate they sound when released into the world. “Let’s go watch the rain from my bed. It’s the perfect day for these kinds of activities,” I said to him, responding to desire when it was clear we had locked eyes. Heart racing, I managed a straight face. Then I smiled. I always smile when I should run and hide in shame instead. Next, we were walking towards Piccadilly Circus to catch a bus.
What follows is a recollection of images in my mind, a short movie I put together, like an editor working on a mess of footage. The final cut would start with us rubbing our legs against each other, sitting together on the upper deck. I casually rest my hand on his right knee while looking out of the window at the London Eye as we ride over Westminster Bridge. How intoxicating to feel the heat travelling from his body to mine. When we made it to the right stop, we got off the bus, crossed the road, entered my building, and had a snog on the lift to my floor.
Once at home, we kiss-walked to my bedroom. The next scene sees us in bed. We are both looking at the sky from the very same perspective, framed by my bedroom window. “I wish my heart were double-glazed like the windows in my flat,” I thought that day as I fell asleep in his arms. I never know how to give context to my fragilities. We messaged a few times. Then, I didn’t hear from him until recently. Now I’m staring at his arms, embarrassed at my predictable assumptions on his disappearance from my world. I feel inadequate at the factual nature of reality. I have no words. I picture myself stuck inside a lift full of strangers when all I do is stare in mid-air, pretending to process deep thoughts and counting down floors as if my life depended on it. I find proximity lethal.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch. Soon after we met, I developed skin cancer. I’ve had six sessions of chemo. I was in remission, but then it came back. Here I am, after another ten sessions of chemotherapy. Now I must wait and live in hope.” He pauses, silence filling my living room, along with the early evening shadows stretching across the walls. I can only muster to look at his arms. The deep purple marks running the roadmap of his veins are living potholes, disfiguring the canvas of his delicate skin. “I feel so unattractive,” he adds. I look at his face, breathtakingly beautiful even after enduring the solitude of chemo.
He didn’t want his family in Spain to know and anguish about him. I understand his point. As a migrant, I never tell my family back home how I am doing. I am forever fine in their eyes. The urgency of life forces me to live in the present as if each moment could be the last. Therefore, I kiss him. I have been craving him for over two years. Later, lying in bed, both looking at the same stretch of sky framed in my window, I came to appreciate how silent and peaceful my bedroom could be. “I wish my heart were double-glazed like the windows in my flat,” I think in a deja-vu moment, exhaling in the dark as I listen to him breathing softly behind me. Then, I fall asleep in his arms.