Weaving through taxis, rickshaws, tourists, policemen and motorcycles of Mcloud Ganj square I made it to the dirt and concrete rubble short cut to Darhmkot. I passed the few remaining shops and cafes before the steep incline. An Indian boy, wearing black jeans, a dress shirt and dress shoes was hovering on the side of the road. He said, “Namaste.”
“Namaste,” I said, bowing slightly.
He started to walk next to me. He was slight frame, light skinned, lacking in luster. I had this flash of Colin, the boy in the Secret Garden, who was sickly, and thought to be crippled, until he started going outside in the garden and made a friend.
This boy reached for my hand. Instinctively I took it. Maybe he needed a moma. He asked me my name, where I was from, my age and if I was married. I had grown very accustomed to these questions from young Indian men. I switched into alert mode. I didn’t answer.
He said, “It’s okay?” nodding to our handholding.
My insides knew he was hitting on me, but my mind found it incomprehensible. He was a boy, without muscles, with soft, long, weak fingers, awkward and shy. I asked him what his intentions were.
He said quickly, “Just friends.”
That term brought me back to my twenties. How many times I used it and heard it and how often it wasn’t true. I dropped his hand and moved away from him. I was having a hard time registering what was happening.
Then two large monkeys appeared on the path, then a baby monkey. I stopped. A few days before, I had walked up the same road with a woman I had just met and a monkey bit her leg. On our retreat, before I was afraid of them, I attempted to shoo one away, and it lunged at me with open mouth, wide eyes and hissing sound. I screamed, breaking the silence, and escaped. Two other women from the retreat were not so lucky. They ended up with bites and rabies shots. I knew never to get between a moma and her baby.
The boy took this opportunity to be the brave protector. He offered to walk between the monkeys and me. I cautiously continued up the mountain with my backpack shielding my legs, as the boy attempted to put his arm around my back. I moved away from him as well.
Once past, the boy asked me for my phone number. I asked why.
He said, “Just friends.”
I said, “No.”
He asked me to come to his house. He was as persistent as the street vendors. I said, “Why would I come to your house? I don’t know you.”
I stopped talking to him and sped up my pace. As soon as I could I took an alternative route up the steepest hill, which meant traveling through the tall trees that were the homes of monkeys. Half way up I looked down where I left him. He was still there, slowly pacing, looking up at me, and into the distance; shoulders slumped, hands wringing.
There were no young Indian girls or women walking on streets alone, unaccompanied by men. Never. The only Indian women I ever saw on their own, were the older women, in their sixties, who swept the streets, hunched over, with short straw brooms, or who wore aprons and walked, slowly home from work, at eleven o’clock in the morning. I almost never saw Indian girls between the ages of eight and twenty. I don’t know where they were.