I waited for the traffic light to turn green. 101 was swarmed with cars, typical of the Bay Area evening traffic. An accident brought the highway to a standstill. I tuned in to my radio station. The Weekend's Blinding lights streamed from my speakers. I stared at the streaks of orange in the sky, merged with pink. It would soon turn black, and the sky would twinkle with the night gems. Just then, I heard a familiar tune. I sat up straight as the remix of Rasputin streamed in. I felt a throbbing pain in my heart. The traffic became a blur, and the headlights faded away into the realm of my tear-filled eyes. What a rage this song was in the discos back in the 70s.
James requested the song because I asked for it. Because we could both shake our heads, tap our feet, and forget our woes in Boney M's Rasputin. It wasn't so hard to surrender to the beats. My hand gradually released the glass of swirling cocktail, beaming with the reflections of the shiny disco lights. Red, purple, blue. Red, purple, blue. Like the bruises on my back for a few days when my father hit me. For daring to date a man outside of my religion. The stench of whiskey oozed from his breath while he cussed. So blasphemous, he'd say. The wagging tongues of the neighbors caused him to hang his head in shame. This is what becomes of a motherless twenty-year-old girl with no siblings to keep her company. What's she doing roaming around with that good-for-nothing orphaned aspiring musician? They'd pass snide remarks about my dark mascara or red lipstick. All because a Hindu girl was dating a Christian boy.
James dismissed it as malice gossip. Unhappy souls, he'd shrug his broad shoulders. The same broad shoulders that enveloped me in a passionate embrace when we danced for the first time. The same broad shoulders where the guitar rested. The same broad shoulders I longed to caress and feel that skin beneath that tight-fitting T-shirt. The first time James asked me to dance at a friend's party, I was standing in a corner, brooding over my mother's death. Beneath the flashy lights, he held my hand while I sobbed. Later we walked by the beach, where the sand tickled our feet. I submerged myself in his arms the second time he asked me to dance. For several months, we spent time at the discos, swaying our heads to Rasputin and drumming our feet on the floor until they turned sore.
Not as sore as the insults when my father mocked James's musical aspirations. Not as sore as the time when my face turned red after receiving several stinging slaps. Yet those red marks did not stop me from pressing my lips against James's under the star-lit sky on a deserted beach, a night after the disco. It did not stop me from sliding my fingers beneath that shirt and running my hands over his smooth, unruffled skin. He initially resisted but succumbed to my surging passion while the waves crashed on the shore. The sand caressed us while our bodies moved in a harmonious rhythm.
It was the last night I saw James. He didn't show up when I waited for him on the dance floor the following weekend. The lights flashed, the beats reverberated across the dance floor, and couples were lost in each other. I stood on the side, hoping to see his chiseled face, brown eyes, and his mop of black hair amidst the flurry of lights. I stood there, inhaling the musk scent of perfumes and smoke. He never showed up. I went home and waited for the phone to ring. Hoping he'd call and shower me with apologies. He never called. A week later, the letter arrived. It wouldn't work out, he'd written. An aspiring musician like him couldn't battle against the barriers of religion or my father's wrath manifesting in sending goons to his house. He was beaten black and blue. Black, blue. Black, blue, he reiterated. It is for the best he left the city. And just like that, he was gone.
I never went back to the discos. I never listened to Rasputin again. I eventually married the man my father chose for me. A gentle computer engineer who listened to me patiently when I confessed about James over a bottle of wine. A man who never judged me but wrapped me in a comforting embrace. He did not have broad shoulders or a chiseled face. He had a kind heart and a thick mustache. He took me to the other side of the world, where I worked in a research lab and raised two children and their children. Even as social media surged, I never dared to search for James. Did he marry? Did he live his musical dream? Did I really want to know after these forty years?
The light turned green. The cars slowly began to move. I stared at the sun disappearing behind the clouds. It would be daylight in some other part of the world. My phone buzzed. My husband called to check every time I was delayed from my errands. As I drove along the highway, I watched vehicles overtaking one another and loud remix numbers emanating from some. The world was in a hurry to rush some to someplace. My phone buzzed again as I stopped at another signal. This time it was my daughter asking if I could babysit her five-year-old daughter. While she and her husband attended a concert. My phone buzzed again with a photo of a poster. I squinted and peered closely. A gasp escaped my lips. Those broad tattooed shoulders cradled a guitar. Long sporting hair. Not so chiseled face with a goatee. He went by the name ‘The Mad Monk’ now.