My Stranger

There is something oddly comforting about sleeping next to a stranger. It is perhaps because his body isn’t really mine, but open to be explored, touched, kissed, caressed. I trust him in that moment. I sleep next to him, sharing a space, a connection that gives me a break from loneliness. The space isn’t significant—a bedroom, a hotel room, a couch in the living room. And the words exchanged aren’t much, but soft affirmations of what feels good, and what doesn’t, of what I want, and what he wants. It’s an exchange of whispers in the light, in the dark, under a blanket or above. Sometimes we stop speaking, but I listen with my body and it’s a relief to not have to rely on words.
He wraps his arm around my neck, heavy, but comforting. He is my stranger—I wake up to his smell, the leftover cologne that sinks into my hair and skin. He doesn’t open his eyes, doesn’t see my quick glance at his face whose features I had forgotten. He doesn’t think about me; he is asleep. But his body recognizes mine, while his mind is elsewhere.
I hear a train moving on the bridge across the street, and the rattling reminds me that it is time to get up. I untangle myself from my stranger’s arm but he unconsciously pulls me back into his chest. I push myself forward and free myself. This time, my stranger turns his body away from me.
My dress is resting on a chair near the window. I slip it on; it feels cold and unfamiliar. The room begins to fill with sunlight, and for a moment, I am bathed in warmth. Before I go, I take a last look at my sleeping stranger. I slide my fingers through his downy hair, and rest my fingertips briefly on the back of his neck. His freckled skin feels warm.
I step lightly on the uncarpeted floor as I make my way down the dark hallway, to the front door. Outside, everyone is moving, a mother pushes a stroller, a man arranges fruits outside his shop, a boy pedals on his bike, a young woman runs to catch the train. Everyone is moving. I stand at a corner to take a moment of stillness, and something within me aches, hurts, and the initial comfort of the past few hours dissipates. I face the world alone once I leave my stranger’s bed. I can’t expect to be remembered, wanted or defined, and this is the part that hurts.
I walk toward the staircase that leads to the train and force my stranger’s face from my thoughts.

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