Sometimes I marvel at how easily I stalk these streets. New York isn't my home, but it seems as if should have been. It's the type of city you walk through, not drive. If you were to drive through New York you would miss all the juicy details. Details that now litter the pages of my journal. Not really writing, just pretty garbage to pass the time. Mostly I write of her—of our past and the future that will never be.
I don't really feel like writing tonight. I just feel like walking. I wander through the Village, the Eastside, making my way up to Chelsea. Once I’m in Chelsea, I weave my way from 16th to 27th street—peering into gallery storefronts, feeding my mind and eyes with the inspiration I will later use to cultivate my creativity. I search every face that passes me, hoping to find them friendly, but only find stares as cold and empty as my own. Women with smiles that don’t reach their eyes.
I wander until I can feel the cold creeping up through the bottom of my boots and the two layers of socks that I’m wearing. I wander until my hands are cold and cramped in my gloves. When I am tired of wandering, I duck into the first bar I happen upon. This being Chelsea, I encounter a little more of an intellectual and progressive crowd. I am glad of that, even though I am horribly out of place in my pea coat, skullcap and Timberland Boots. I step right up to the first free bar stool and make myself comfortable, peeling off all my layers before I start to sweat.
"What can I get for you?" the bartender asks.
"Cuervo black and coke."
My subconscious chides me. It’s been a week since that confusing episode with that pale, vampire-girl, Dana, but I’ve already come to the conclusion that drinking in excess is what caused it. I made a vow to myself to never get that drunk again but, quitting cold turkey is not an option.
"You won’t be writing this evening?"
I direct my attention to a gorgeous Indian woman sitting to my immediate right. She’s a perfect little princess—all silky, dark hair and pretty hazel eyes.
She turns to me, a smirk in the corner of her pretty mouth."Well, every other time I've seen you in here you're scribbling away in a little, leather notebook. I just noticed you didn't have it with you tonight."
I frown and look around. I’ve never been to this bar before. I rarely come up to Chelsea. I was only wandering tonight and happened on this place by chance. “I think you must have me confused with someone else."
Her pretty mouth pulls up into a sly smile as she reaches inside my jacket for my battered journal. "I don't think so, Joaquin," she says as she tosses it onto the bar.
I stare at her as she sips her drink—squinting as if that will help me place her face. "I'm sorry. I just can't seem to remember you."
"If I wasn't slightly buzzed I think I might take offense to that." She leans forward on her elbows on the bar. "We met here about two months ago. You'd been coming in here for a while. Scribbling away in that notepad like all this bar noise wasn't going on around you. Finally, after seeing you here a few times I worked up the courage to say something to you." She takes another sip from her drink and licks her top lip.
"What did you say?"
"You seriously don't remember?"
I give her a look that says I’m not kidding.
"Well, I simply asked you what you were writing. And you said, without even looking up, a poem. Then you read it off to me."
I shake my head."That couldn't have been me. I never share my work with strangers."
"Well, you did with me. It was really beautiful, too. I wish I could remember it. Something about skin the color of cognac...Anyway, we sat in the booth back there and talked for hours about everything. Love, sex, religion, your work... we talked until the bar closed."
I can't believe this is happening again. So the Dana thing isn’t an isolated case. How often am I having these blackouts?
The bartender brings my drink over, but I refuse it. I’m terrified of what might happen if I do drink it. "I know this is going to seem like a ridiculous question, but...did we have sex?"
She laughs nervously, but then shakes her head. "No, I'm married," she says with a flash of her ring, "So did you get in a car accident or something? Is that why you lost your memory?"
“You know, I'm starting to wonder if something did happen to me and I just don't remember."
"What do you mean? Something traumatic?"
"I don't know."
She reminds me that her name is Noor Singh and with Noor I do something that I never do. I make her my confessor. I tell her about Dana and the mounting fear that I may be losing my mind. I even tell her about the one whose name I can't utter without feeling that icy stab under my ribs. To which she replies, "You sound like a lost soul, Joaquin. Almost as lost as me."
Noor speaks with the distinct accent of the privileged, though her voice is sultry and smooth. She wears traditional Indian dress--all except her shoes, which bare the signature red soles fashioned by Christian Louboutin.
"My one indulgence," she confesses.
She tells me that despite her southern Indian heritage, she is a native New Yorker. But then she tells me that, even as a U.S. citizen, there are things about her culture that she can’t escape. Her marriage was arranged and is loveless and lonely. Her husband travels a lot for business, which is why she spends most of her nights in this bar.
"At least I find interesting people to talk to," she says with a shy shrug.
She invites me back to her fifth avenue apartment—an invitation that I politely decline. I told her that I didn't feel comfortable going home with her knowing that she has a husband. She smiles a sad smile, but it is one of understanding. We exchange numbers and promise to meet again.
"I would love to join you on your wanderings some night," she says and then gives me a feathery soft kiss on the cheek.
She smells like night blooming jasmine.
As I backtrack through dark New York streets, I think about Noor's invitation and wonder how the other Joaquin might have handled it. Would he be in her bed right now, instead of walking down these subway stairs?
On the train ride home, I wonder how many nights I have slept away from home. Are these two women the first of many?
Once inside my apartment, I pull off my coat and boots then fall into bed with all my clothes on. As I slip into sleep, I take some solace in the fact that at least the quality of the encounters is improving. Right before sleep claims me I wonder how many women I have met, but still end up lying here alone dreaming of her.