Jody Madala

You never think it is going to happen to you. You know what I mean. Those things you didnít expect, when they happen to you, you think, ďI canít believe this is happening to me!Ē Most mornings, you wake up and maybe spend a few minutes thinking about how the day is going to unwind. Unwind and be kind. Some mornings you dawdle in bed, eyes just opened, enjoying the warmth of your pillow, enjoying the perfect cocoon your body has created in the night. Even on days when you wake up by yourself, in the days and years when you donít have a lover, you just enjoy that waking-up moment of plain stillness. It is another day. And you get to live it.

You go through what seems an insurmountable time living with your parents, then maybe go off to college and attend the perfunctory booze sessions at the fraternity houses, throwing up in the bushes afterwards. You donít like doing these things but you do them anyway. All those things you do just to fit in, even though youíd rather have just stayed home and watched TV or played board games with your roommate. You do those things because this is how you are expected to have fun when youíre young. Itís how you meet boys and put yourself out there. Putting yourself out there is very important. Sure, it is a meat market, but it is a life lesson because this is how we all go through life Ė putting ourselves out there on display for others to consider.

Youíll probably make a move to a Big City at some point. After college you may do this, maybe for your first low-paying job. It is awesome, you will think, the late-night clubs, the bars with the red ropes that you in your skinny top and tight brand-name jeans just cruise on into. You are a bouncerís dream girl Ė all legs and long hair, sexy smile and bright eyes.

Inside, you are smart enough to realize that all these places are the same. They have the same pulsing music whether itís the Bee Gees or J. Lo or Beyoncť. You know all the songs, even the slow ones that theyíve funkified into disco beats. The drinks are overpriced but you donít care because you get some cute guy to buy one for you. This is what itís all about, free cherry martini for a little sexy flirting. No harm in that. You chat him up, thinking he could be the one. But you know better. In the back of your mind, you know this isnít how the game works out. Itís how itís played, but it isnít how it works out.

You grow a few years older, hitting your late 20ís, early 30ís, doing the same old shit. You may still be cute but now you measure your nights out against couch time with the television and a slice of pizza. Oftentimes, the pizza wins and though you wonder how you will ever meet someone, with this attitude, you know it is what makes you happy. You do it because life is short. Thatís what they all say, right? Thatís what September 11th taught us, right? Life is short so if you want to stay at home on Friday night eating pizza, chow down, baby girl.

Then you meet him. Itís the second time in your entire life that you find yourself on a park bench with an almost-stranger in the wee hours of the morning in a foreign town. The first time, you were 16 and you were bowled over, unable to describe what you felt. Later in life you learned the words to describe what you were feeling back then. Sixteen was too young to describe the taste of horse smell in the air, the aching from the park bench under your ass, the press of his lips against yours when there are no sounds.

This time, the second time, it is a different guy you are sitting with. But the moment is dťjŗ vu even though you are now almost 35 and he only just turned 20 a couple of months ago. Yet, you talk for hours about books and travel and the power of words. Your voice gets raspy from all the talking and you eventually resign yourself to the fact that he is either just too nervous to kiss you or maybe he feels the situation is just too Mrs. Robinson for him. So you lean forward, physically preparing yourself to leave, resting your palms on the bench in a move to stand up. But you still donít want to give up. You turn to look at him and he is looking directly at you for the first time since you both met. He is looking at you so plainly, without a shadow in his eyes. You freeze and feel sick to your stomach. He says, ďYou should write a story.Ē

A million thoughts run through your head, through those liquid blue eyes of his:

- Chimaltenango is a town in Guatemala where a weary desperation sets in as you near the bend in the road.

- A local tells you the verb ďchimarĒ means ďto fuck.Ē

- Another local tells you not to waste your time studying Spanish but to instead spend time at the nude beach.

Then he kisses you. He kisses you with the insistency of a teenager, pressing his hands into your shoulders. You find your mouth is struggling to keep up with his. Itís awkward, this nighttime grappling, sitting side by side on a park bench. You think back to the first time like it was yesterday. Those first moments when you felt desire but didnít know there was a name for it. And here you are now, after so much time passing, so many years of meaningless kissing and screwing, you feel something again with this clumsy boy. It reminds you what it feels like to be alive.

He pulls away for a minute so you can both catch your breath. It is now, in these moments apart, when his lips have left yours, that the reality appears. After you leave the country you know you will never hear from him again. You are Worlds Apart, as all the stories tend to go. You are desperate for his fresh-faced youth, like a man emerging from the desert with cracked, broken lips who sees a giant tub of Vaseline within reach. The only thing you have in common with him is this moment. In another 15 years, he would just be opening the door to the world of handsome. For you, the story is much different. But you donít dwell on that right now. For right now, for this moment, you are here and you are sharing this moment with him.

Together you meander through the disheveled streets of almost-morning, to your hotel room which you share with a friend. You know there is no chance of spending the night together but you also donít really want to. You kiss and kiss, until you need that desert manís Vaseline for your own chapped lips. You feel reckless and rumpled. He keeps kissing you and you finally tell him he needs to leave because it is almost dawn and this is not a safe town, even for spry 20-year-olds.

As he walks away there is such carefree abandon to him. He does not linger, as he has already moved on to the next thing, the next moment in his young life. You want to scream at him, to yell at him, ďI have cancer! I have cancer!Ē But you know that will scare him and make you sound like a lunatic on this barren-street night.

He has given you something. He kissed you like you were brand-spanking new. You want to open the door again and beg him to come back but you donít. Instead, you make your way to your room and make the most of remembering your night of teenage bliss. You are wondering if he is also thinking of you. The sun will shine soon enough and with it another day that takes you not to a future but to an end. The sun will come until there are no more suns for you to see. But that is not this day. On this day, lying in the cool dim room in this far-off place, you can ignore the 15-year gap in ages and the giant cancer bubble that ambles around inside you like a squid. You can rest your eyes with a smile on your face, rolled up as within a cocoon, a young butterfly about to emerge.

Jody Madala: "I have lived and worked in NYC since 1996. I've dabbled with writing here and there, even taking some of Gotham Writers' Workshop's classes which really got me more focused on actually finishing pieces.... This will be my first published story and it's actually a great lesson in identifying when something is finished enough. I think you can spend forever on tweaking and never actually show anyone else what it is you've written! To pay the bills, I currently work as a hospital credit analyst, evaluating hospitals throughout the US on fundamental financial and operational performance and making recommendations to investors as to whether a particular hospital is a good or bad investment. I've always liked the fact that this type of work gives me a hand in the healthcare world without actually having to train to be a medical care professional. It was really the healthcare part that interested me first, the finance part I fell into. I did my undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins (I was a science major but took a handful of classes in their writing seminars department as well) and did my master's at NYU in health policy and management. Otherwise, I love to travel and just recently came back from a trip to Cambodia and Thailand. The more off the beaten, the better, so long as I'm not risking getting kidnapped by guerrillas.... I spend a lot of time with my parents and younger sister in New Jersey, which is where I grew up, about an hour's drive away from NYC. I am also very comfortable with Spanish now, and take an ongoing course at the Spanish Institute here in NY to keep it fresh since I actually have little opportunity to speak it daily. Lately, I've taken to reading Spanish fiction which has been an eye opener, given the lyrical quality of the words that would just get lost in any translation. I also play tennis and go to the gym when the mood is right!"

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