Skin Hunger

Saying yes to a steamy affair in Nepal

When I want to get out of bed at 2 am and walk down to the bar because I can hear music from the band that is still playing, the sounds drifting across the flat surface of the lake and into the window, he says, Yes.

I sail my bare feet over the edge of the bed to hit the floor and then shuffle around to find my flip-flops in the darkness. He rises from the warm sheets and blankets and the slumber of strangers sharing a space, and his feet find their footing to follow mine. He takes my hand and smiles.

He says yes because that is our thing. He says yes because that is where we meet. Because I say yes and yes and yes. I deny him nothing. He says yes to me also because his wife says no.

His wife says no because she is tired. And no, because of the kids. And no, because he is always traveling and she is left alone with the responsibilities of their life together. No has slowly, over time, become her mantra. And now, her mantra fuels the fire of mine. I give him everything he asks for, and so he takes me dancing at 2 am.

I have never been a wife. I can imagine that it is both wonderful and difficult, and that passing years and children make it all the more gratifying and all the more complicated. I wear the term mistress like a necklace. I know this to be a game, of sorts; being a mistress is easy. I have no real skin in the game. My skin is the game.

We meet at a bar in Pokhara, which is nestled into a lush valley in the mountains of Nepal. He tells me he visits around this time every year, from his home in Switzerland. I have been traveling alone for six months in the cold winter of the Himalayas, and now, I find myself in a village at the edge of a lake, and the air is ripe with springtime blossoming full and soft and fragrant, and my skin is hungry for touch.

I am playing pool when he steps into my line of sight and sits down to watch. He challenges me to the next game and sets the stakes: the loser buys the next round. He lets me win. I let him buy me a drink. Later, my skin is damp from the humidity of the night where his finger touches my shoulder to slide the strap of my dress aside. This is not a new story.

We spend the week together, and when at last we have to return to the city for our separate departures, he hires a car. The driver is an old friend of his, and we pile into the backseat, where we tangle together and watch the beautiful country unfold outside the window. The countryside is lush and shining, and the heat rushes fiercely past.

We spin along old, winding mountain roads with no guardrails. The driver pushes a tape into the tape deck and cranks the volume, and Whitney Houston’s ballad “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” bellows from the aged speakers. And in the suspended space of the afternoon, I feel as if we might almost have it all. Almost. The spell breaks slightly when I remember that I am the type of woman who is sitting on the lap of someone else’s husband.

On our last morning together, we walk the crowded streets of Kathmandu’s old city. He holds my hand and pulls me close as we navigate the busy marketplace. We shop for gifts for his children. He shows me a picture of his family from his phone, two small sons and a blonde woman smiling out from the square screen. His arm is slung low around her waist. She rests her head on his shoulder. She’s pretty, I think and then give the phone back. I choose a red plastic sword for his younger son.

Later, after we say goodbye, I move into the hotel garden and order a pot of tea, and when the waiter brings it out, I change my mind and ask for a vodka martini.

• • •

Years later, in my own country, a man I love will cheat on me. When I find out, I will feel gutted. It will feel like a bad dream, like getting up from the table at a dinner party and returning to find someone else seated in my place. Seated in my life. The woman he sleeps with will be a person I know. They will stay together for a few months and then go their separate ways.

I will be fractured and vulnerable. I will have a new understanding of the ways in which I am fragile. There will be fault lines.

I will remember the photograph from Nepal of the blonde woman with brown eyes and two boys. The blonde woman and I will have two things in common. The first one will have been her husband; the second will be having given our love to men who were casual with it. I’m sorry, I will say into an empty room. Maybe I am saying it to her, or maybe just to hear myself say it. But I will mean it. I will be sorry.

About the Author

Anne Royan

Anne Royan is a graduate of Savannah College of Art & Design (MFA), Brown University (BA) and the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University. After leaving a job in the fashion department at Harper’s Bazaar in New York City, she spent many months traveling solo through the Himalayas.

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