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Loneliness | By Swathi Desai

Loneliness didn’t come knocking, or greet me at my window. She didn’t make an appointment, or call to chat about the weather. One day I discovered her right next to me in bed. You could say that I woke up to Loneliness. She seemed to know who I was. She told me that she had grown tired of waiting for me, so she decided to take a nap in my bed.

Oh, I thought. Even Loneliness gets tired. She didn’t help me make the bed even though she had slept in it. She just watched me. Loneliness can be lazy. After I noticed her in my bed, I saw her everywhere. At the dry cleaner’s, at the gas station. She sat in the passenger seat of my car on my way to work. She preferred no radio in the morning, but I insisted. She just turned and looked out the window at the distant hills. I drank my coffee and listened to the morning show.

She was fond of traveling with me on business trips. She encouraged me to eat at restaurants by myself instead of ordering room service. She waited with me in the airport lounges, somberly following me down the gangway into the airplane. She sat quietly next to me in my cubicle while I worked on my computer. I offered her magazines while she waited for me, but she declined. She stared at the ceiling. She counted the acoustic tiles. She would have looked out the window, except my cubicle was without one, so I bought a framed poster of an ocean view to hang there. It was the first personal item I had ever brought to work. I didn’t want my co-workers looking at my family photos, but now that I had Loneliness with me, I thought it only proper that she should have something to look at while she waited.

She was my frequent dinner guest while my husband worked late hours at the office. She was a good guest, in my opinion, because she never asked for anything. Only she never helped with the dishes, either. She stayed up with me to watch television, but she didn’t think much of the shows that I watched. She preferred instead to look out the window above the television even though it was dark out. I once asked her why, but she just shrugged her shoulders and said that she connected more to the night sky than anything else. But you can’t really see anything out there, I pointed out. She shrugged again, not explaining any further. She wasn’t much of a talker.

When my husband started sleeping in the guest bedroom, I asked Loneliness to come sleep with me. It was the first time I had asked anything of her. She didn’t ask why her, why now. She just nodded her head, got into bed on my husband’s side and closed her eyes. On that first night, I couldn’t tell if she was sleeping or not, so I very quietly asked her if she was awake. She turned over toward me and said that she was. Oh, I said. She didn’t seem angry with me for disturbing her. Now that I had her attention, I didn’t know what to say. I resorted to small talk. I asked her about her plans for the future. She asked me why I wanted to know about her plans. Thinking that she was offended by my question, possibly because she thought I wanted her to leave, I quickly added that I was in no hurry for her to leave. No? she asked. No, I said. I surprised myself. I told her that I had gotten used to her presence. She smiled when she heard that. It was the first time I had seen her smile. I knew she was smiling because I saw her white teeth glowing in the dark. That’s good, she said, because she needed to stay awhile longer. I was a little confused by her answer, but maybe she needed time to collect herself. She didn’t seem to have any marketable skills.

The next morning, my husband called me from work, which he never does, to ask me to meet him at a restaurant, which we never frequent. All day long, I saw Loneliness looking at me out of the corner of her eye. I was too preoccupied to ask her why. I wondered why my husband couldn’t just come home and then we could change together and drive over in one car. I looked in the mirror to check my makeup one more time, but I noticed I didn’t see Loneliness watching me as she usually did. I shrugged my shoulders. I was going to be late if I didn’t leave now.

I got into the car and drove to the restaurant. Halfway there, I noticed Loneliness wasn’t beside me. It was too late now to go back for her. Oh, well, I thought. Maybe she’s got more important places to go to tonight. I had to drive around the block several times to find parking. Had I just used the restaurant’s valet service, I could have been on time, but I remembered that my husband frowns upon valet service as a waste of money and an unnecessary indulgence. Finally I found parking and started half-running, half-walking to the restaurant. My husband hated it when I was late! When I got there, my face was hot because of all the rushing I had to do to be on time. The hostess walked me over to my husband while I caught my breath. He, of course, had been on time and was waiting for me. The hostess pulled the chair out for me. I told him that I had difficulty finding parking and stammered something about going as fast as I could in high heels. He looked at my flushed face and asked me why I didn’t just use the valet service. At that moment I wished Loneliness could have heard him. She would have raised her eyebrows, I know. I pushed his remark aside and decided to focus on the menu.

We ate our meal and I managed to enjoy it. I kept looking around the restaurant for Loneliness, but there was no sign of her. I focused again on my husband, because he seemed to be looking at me and saying something, but it was difficult to hear him. I saw his lips moving, but the few words I understood were not making any sense. He was talking about how I would be fine. I nodded, yes, of course, I would be fine, but what was he saying? He said that he had made provisions for me. Provisions? Like in the army? Or was that rations? Soon, everything was moving in slow motion like when you’re trying to run under water.

He said that he had been very lonely and needed more. These words I heard. These words I knew. He said Lonely! I knew Loneliness. I said this to him. I must have said it to him because he looked at me oddly, as if I had developed a sudden speech impediment. Lonely! I said again. He leaned toward me and whispered for me to calm down. I told him I was calm. I had to make him understand! I wanted him to know that I knew Loneliness, too. And if he knew her, then maybe we had something more in common than just our marriage. He shook his head. I could see that he had been practicing. This was a speech that he had been practicing. Maybe even in front of a mirror. He continued to shake his head and say something about how it was more than loneliness. It was a, it was a . . . he kept stumbling on this last sentence. Just what was it? I asked him. He looked embarrassed by my question. He looked around the room and said that things sometimes happen. I looked behind me, half-expecting something to happen as if on cue. People we never expected sometimes come into our lives, he said. Sometimes the timing is just not right, but we have to take risks. Be open to possibilities.

I lifted my glass to my lips and took a cool drink of water and felt it move down my throat into my chest. I understood now. I set down my glass on the white linen tablecloth and looked up at my husband. Yes, I said, nodding. Sometimes people do come into our lives and we just have to make room for them. Sometimes whether we want to or not. At this last remark he looked shocked, and then relieved. His lips started moving again, and he stammered, “So you do understand! I just didn’t expect you to, oh, I . . .”

I got up from the table and put my napkin down. As I gathered my belongings from the chair, I caught a glimmer of someone out of the corner of my eye. There she was standing at the door, waiting for me. I looked one more time at the lonely man sitting across the table from me. “I have to go now. Someone’s waiting for me,” I said as I walked toward the exit.

Loneliness | by Swathi Desai

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Illustration by Susan Sanford.

 

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