I don't welcome the morning light anymore. Before I open my eyes I use all my senses to determine my location. I listen for the familiar traffic pattern outside my Bowery apartment. I don't hear it. I hear only silence. I taste—pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth. What lingers there? The stale taste of beer? I touch. Where am I waking? Is it the same place that I laid down? Am I alone? My hands wander blindly until they touch warm flesh. I smell. The scent brings an image to mind. One that I long for, but avoid out of fear and caution. A warm hand takes mine. It is small, smooth, soft. The fingers are long and thin. This hand guides mine over a body whose typography I remember.
"It's okay to open your eyes. It's me,” she whispers.
I am thankful it is Noor. So many times in these past weeks it hasn't been. I am thankful, but I don't open my eyes, instead I pull her in tight. It doesn't escape me that we are both naked. That her skin, warm from sleep, touches mine and creates a seal between her and me.
"How long have I been here?"
"You only came last night."
I sigh, bundling the silk of her hair in my hands and burying my face in it. "How did I get here?"
"I think you walked. You called up to let me know you were here."
I clench my teeth, acutely aware of the controversy that may have arisen if her husband had been home. "I'm sorry."
"Why do you apologize?"
"I don't mean to bring trouble to your door—“
"Trouble lives at my door, Joaquin."
"What do you mean?"
"He already knows of my dealings with you. He found me out weeks ago. He was delighted. Now he can divorce me without giving me any of his money."
"Don't be so dramatic, Joaquin," she snaps, as she sits up and leans over me. Her long, silky hair creates a curtain around us. "It's really a very amicable split. He's letting me keep this apartment. Of course, I know that it's because he already has another one with her, but that doesn't matter."
"Her?" I repeat with a frown.
"He's been cheating on me for years with this or that woman. What do you think all those business trips are about?" Noor's face and eyes are hard to read. I can't tell if she is upset or relieved.
"You said my comings and goings...?"
"The doorman finally told him. And do you know what Mr. Singh said to me when he confronted me?" She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "He said...what took you so long?"
Slowly but surely the tears that I knew were there, break through the surface. I try to wipe them away, but she stays my hand.
"I don't weep for him or this dead marriage. I weep for myself and my youth and all this wasted time. I should have found the courage to leave a long time ago. I should have left when I was still young and beautiful."
"Noor..." I take her in my arms, shifting positions with her so that she is under me. "Mi amor...you are still young. You are still beautiful." I kiss her and she fills my mouth with the sweet breath of her sighs.
"If you find me young and beautiful, why won't you make love to me?" she whispers on my lips.
I clench my teeth and pull away from her. I can’t have this conversation. She is so ripe and tempting that I can’t resist if she pleads with me.
"Don't run away, Joaquin," she begs softly, as I get out of her bed and begin to get dressed.
"I wouldn't have to if you would just listen to me."
"I would listen if you didn't speak so foolishly."
"I've told you a million times, I can't do that. I won't do that. I will ruin you, Noor. In the end you will be thankful that I haven't."
"Then why do you come here? Why do you come in the night with your pretty words and your sweet kisses? Why do you undress me and bring me to the brink of insanity and then pull away? Why do you come here, Joaquin?"
She’s right. What I’m doing is worse than any violation I would commit by actually making love to her. "I can’t argue with that," I agree, as I gather my keys, my messenger bag. "I won't come back, again."
I turn and open her bedroom door to leave. She’s on her feet quickly, chasing at my heels.
"No, Joaquin that's not what I meant—”
"If the Other shows up or calls you, just send him away. I can control my actions, but he seems to do what he wants, so—”
"Joaquin, don't do this." She curls her arms around my neck, pulling me into her. I can't help but embrace her. Her soft skin calls to every cell in my body.
"I'm sorry. Don't leave like this," she begs softly.
"No, you're right, Noor. I can't be all you need. I’m a broken man. I'm trying to find the pieces but, they are so scattered that I don't know where to look. You've wasted too much time already. Don't waste time on me." I push her away abruptly and step into the hallway where I know her modesty won't let her follow.