Rumaan Alam

I knew this guy, such a nice guy, a barrage of jokes and drinks-on-me, who was once married to a girl—we were all friends, the three of us—who I liked quite a bit even if I never truly knew her, but does anyone ever know anyone, and they divorced after a year or two, I can't remember, anyway it wasn't a surprise because I knew them both and liked them both but thought them ill-matched and even though you never know what goes on inside a marriage, you can guess, and I guessed correctly and the divorce was hard as divorces are but the thing is she threw herself into her work and so did he, and they separately became quite successful, though how do you measure success really, well they made some money and were good people to boot so that's success right?

Anyway she met someone and so did he, and I guess it's no surprise that she met this other man at work and he this other woman at work, because honestly, how does anyone in this society know anyone else, I have no idea how I would contrive to meet someone outside a professional context, anyway she met this guy who is handsome and tall and curious about the world and he met this woman who is lovely and curvaceous and has a big sarcastic laugh, and in this one very real sense it's a happy end, or it's like one of those old ballroom dances, maybe a minuet is what I mean, where you begin with one person but end with another person and somehow it's all in fun and you get to listen to J.S. Bach.

Then it happens I ran into him, mister jokes, mister good times, on the bus, when I was on my way home from work and he was on his way to a restaurant to meet his new wife, well, she's not new, anymore, but his wife, and he hugged me warmly and I said how are you and he told me that his wife was pregnant but what he said was We're pregnant even though we all know that's a solo activity, and I said congratulations and squeezed his bicep and it was that way that it is when you see an old friend, someone you knew years ago, by which I mean it wasn't me in bifocals or him with little lines by the sides of his mouth but it was our selves at twenty which were perfect in this way that we took quite for granted which is I guess what people mean about youth being wasted on the young, our healthy, strong bodies, which we abused by drinking terrible beer and wandering around until three in the morning then eating scrambled eggs.

Since we were old friends catching up on the bus, I said, oh I saw your ex-wife, because it amused me, you know, to be thirty-seven, on a bus, talking about someone's ex-wife, to use the noun ex-wife, it felt so adult in this delicious way like when you spend eighty dollars on a bottle of wine because you're an adult and you can and he said how is she and I said well, she's ok, but I was not telling the truth because she was not good, or was but there was a sadness there because it turned out her new guy not only didn't want to marry her he didn't want to have children and she was a thirty-eight year old woman and she kind of wanted that stuff and was reckoning, I guess, with the fact that the life she had made for herself wouldn't after all contain what she'd thought it might when she was a little girl and even though I still don't know her well she just confessed all this stuff to me so it must have been weighing on her.

And the bus kind of rounded this corner so our bodies shifted because of some law of physics and his chest kind of pressed into mine and it was like we were going to kiss or something just for a minute but we're of a generation of men that's at ease with that kind of intimacy or proximity between men, like we don't need to couch it in football, we don't need sports as an excuse to touch one another, because a body needs to be touched and my friend was going to meet his pregnant wife and there I was with news of his ex-wife who we both knew would never be pregnant because that window closes, eventually, as windows do, and suddenly this reunion seemed sad or something, and I had this feeling that I wouldn't see this old friend or his ex-wife for a long time or maybe ever again and in that moment, it was like I was inside his mind, and I knew he was remembering an affection for that first wife that he had maybe forgotten until I brought up her name, and I saw the joy of the fact that he had a new wife, a new life, and soon, a new baby, I saw that joy disappear, I saw that something changed, a little light went out in his eyes, because he realized in that moment we can't touch someone's body, someone's life, without affecting it, and there's no going back in time, and you never stop loving or feeling, really, and then it was time for me to get off the bus and I walked home and took a hot shower.

Rumaan Alam is the author of a novel, RICH AND PRETTY. He lives in Brooklyn.

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