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Sajani is Sick

She was carrying a basket of books and the magazine I was working for. I liked that, liked that she was a reader.

Sajani was Indian. She was wearing baggy white cotton pants and small white t-shirt. Her hair was very long and tied into thick braids that hung down near her ass. On her skinny arms she had large silver bracelets that contrasted nicely against her dark brown skin.
We were both standing in the current affairs section of the magazine stand.

"What are you reading?" I asked her.

She was surprised. "Oh. Just…some…you know…books." She laughed nervously.

"You read?" I asked.

"I try." There was an awkward silence.

"My name is Barukh."

"Barukh…Barukh…What is that name?…Wait, Barukh the writer?"

She put down the basket and picked up the copy of the magazine from her basket. I had the cover story that week, about transsexual prostitutes. She opened it and found my article.

"Shalev…. That's you? I just read this. You are fucking crazy," she said, laughing. I liked hearing her swear. She had an unplaceable accent, slightly British, slightly Indian; a rounded, slushy kind of way of talking. I wondered what she looked like naked.

"What books are you buying?"

She leaned against the magazine stand and exhaled loudly. "They"re health books, about natural healing…"

I chuckled out loud. "You believe in that shit?"

"Well…yeah, pretty much. I have to. I have H.I.V."

Sajani was from New York City, where she worked as an organizer for a far left political group. Every year, for 8 weeks she would come to Hawaii. She felt the natural environment slowed the onset of full blown A.I.D.S.

She took no medicine for her affliction; her health regimen consisted solely of yoga, "naturopathic healing," and eating vegetarian food.

I asked her to sit with me and talk. We bought tea. I wanted her to tell me everything; I had never had a conversation with someone who had H.I.V.

"I got it in West Africa …In Benin," she told me.

"How?" I asked.

"From a boy. We used condoms but…you know. After a while…we were together 5 months, you kind of stop. He was just too cute." She laughed.

"Local dude, right?" I asked. "African guy?" She nodded. "How did you find out?"

"I took a test…and it came back positive…"

"What did you do?"

"I cried at first…then accepted it. Made a health plan." She sipped her tea. "I e-mailed him but I guess he already knew." I shook my head. "It's not that bad," she said, laughing. "There are medicines, you can live a long time. It"s not that bad," she said, with finality, looking away from me.

"Fuck that shit. Are you trying to convince me or yourself?" I asked, immediately regretting it. She looked hurt, turning her head away from me. "Hey, wait. I"m sorry. I didn"t mean it like that. It's just that… shit man. You know?" I shrugged.

"What?" she asked angrily. "Do I know what?"

"You are gonna…I mean…eventually, you"re going to get sick. You're going to die."

"So are you," she said.

She called me the next afternoon, after her yoga session. She was staying upcountry, on a communal farm in Haiku.

"Me and some girlfriends of mine are going out tonight dancing. You should come…Charlie's has a thing tonight, a DJ thing. House music."

"I don't dance and besides, I'm not trying to get caught up hanging out with a bunch of fuckin' chicks listening to wack techno music." I told her.

"Oh, chill out…you'll have fun. I got some weed…If you don't like it there, we can leave."

I wanted to see her again.

I arrived in Haiku and went into the house. It was a hippy place. The room was small, square and hot. On the walls were posters for music groups. In the corner a computer was set up to play music; they were playing Pink Floyd. In the living room there were several scowling men who looked my age. They were there to fuck the women. Boys don't hang out with girls for fun.

We understood our roles, shaking hands, greeting each other with grunts. We didn't want to know each other. We were just there for girls. Nobody said a thing.

I was drinking a forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor from a brown paper bag. I heard Sajani's laugh come from the back room. I walked back and found them making bead necklaces, fucking with their hair, doing girl shit. The room was smokey with weed. She was with three other girls, dumb hippie girls, naïve and annoying.

Sajani hugged me, introduced me to her friends and passed me the pipe. They knew my name from the paper. I had written critical things about new age spirituality and they disliked me.

I went outside and sat on a hammock. Sajani came out sat on the hammock next to me, almost on top of me. We began to swing.

"What's wrong? My friends think you're an asshole." She looked me over and laughed. She was high. "Chhh…You look like a hooligan."

"I am a hooligan."

"Come on," she said, getting up. "I told them we would meet them there. We can take the rental car."

I remembered her rental. "I wanna drive it…" I was halfway drunk.

Charlie's is a bar in Pa'ia owned by Willie Nelson. That's what everyone says, "It's owned by Willie Nelson." It is decked out to look like a "Western Saloon." They serve overpriced food to tourists. At night the young and beautiful of Maui go and hang out there, drinking and dancing.

The parking lot was crowded with Maui kids, the "Maui Scene." The music could be heard in the gravel parking lot outside.

Maui is a transitory place, full of young good looking people away from home. There are artists and surfers there; casual sex is common. Places like Charlie's have this energy, this expectancy of action. People find easy sex in places like Pa'ia.

I paid our cover and we went inside. I wasn't well liked in Maui and had very few friends. I would often write controversial things and publish them in a popular alt-weekly paper. People would stare hard at me. I always expected a fight.

Inside the bar it was hot and sticky, people dancing, trying to look cool and detached. Sajani had a nose ring. I hadn't noticed it before.
I bought us drinks and we sat down.

Her friends arrived, three girls and four guys. They put their shit down next to me and disappeared into the dancing throng of adult children.

I wanted to leave this place. It was hot.

They were playing a Indian flavoured dance song by a one-hit wonder called Punjabi MC. I looked for Sajani in the crowd; I wanted to see how she moved. She was dancing a classical Indian dance that looked out of place in the bar. I liked watching her dance; her tall body would move in these serpentine, lithe movements. She looked smooth.

She sat back down, sweating. She touched my face, looking at me.

"Where did you get that scar?" she asked.

"I got stabbed. I'll tell you later."

She kissed my face where the scar was then traced it with her painted fingernail. "I like it," she said. She was drinking something called a Cosmopolitan out of a silly looking glass.

"Let me try that shit," I asked.

She laughed. "You want to try?" she sounded very British. "This? No, no, no. This is a drink for girls."

"What the fuck is that? A "drink for girls." I can drink whatever I want."

She was smirking and looking at me, shaking her head. "You're such a… guy."

"I'll fuckin…buy one."

"I dare you," she had a look in her eyes I liked.

I went to the bar and ordered a Cosmopolitan. "Yo…Lemmie get what she got," I said, pointing my thumb at Sajani. She was covering her mouth and laughing.

The bartender was a woman. "You want…that? You want a Cosmopolitan?" She said it with disdain.

"Why can't I have a Cosmopolitan if I want one? What? It's against the law now to have a Cosmopolitan?" She shrugged. I looked in the mirror and saw Sajani telling her friends we were leaving. I wondered what would happen with her.

I paid for my drink and sat down with Sajani.

"I'm gonna drink it now," I warned.

"Do it." She challenged, playfully.

It tasted like paint thinner. I once had a girlfriend who on every Thursday would have her friends over to watch "Sex in the City." They would make these same drinks, Cosmopolitans.

"It tastes like piss."

She laughed. She kissed me on the cheek; I could smell the booze on her breath. Her laugh turned into a cough. She patted her chest and looked away from me. Her coughing got harder, then subsided. Her sickness was showing; it scared me, reminded me of my own mortality.

We left Charlie's and went to a school yard in Makawao. It was after midnight . The school was painted in garish, bright colours. Each door was red, green, or yellow. The walls were orange.

"This reminds me of my grade school in Calcutta," she said. We walked to the playground, sat on the slide and talked. There was a view of Maui from where we stood. "This is where I need to be, here in Maui," she said, surveying.


"Because I feel healthy. They caught the H.I.V. late so my count was low. They say I had been infected for at least two years."

The stars were bright in the sky.

"Your family knows?"

"My sister does. She guessed it. My sister is this amazing, beautiful person. She is in India now." Sajani always said things were "amazing."

She looked at the ground.

"I can"t tell my parents. It would kill them…" her voice trailed off.

I looked at her and tried to picture her dying, on a death bed in the throes of sickness, surrounded by family. I couldn't do it. She looked healthy.

She put her hand in my jacket pocket, touching my hand. I kissed her and she kissed me back hard. I wondered if I would die.

We walked back to her maroon rental car. It had started to rain.
We stood and kissed for a minute. She was a good kisser. I wondered how far it would go.

I turned her around, collected her hair into my hand, and pulled her head back. I kissed her neck and put my hand down her pants. Her thighs were wet. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing hard. I took my hand from her pants and grabbed her face. Her mouth was open and I put my finger to her lips; she licked it greedily and lifted her shirt up, touching her nipples. We started to talk dirty and she arched her back, pushing her ass toward me. Things were moving too fast.

"Why don't you just fuck me," she hissed.

I didn't know what to say. "Because I am afraid of what you have. Because I am afraid of dying." I said. I felt like an asshole.

She was hurt but she understood.
"I don't want you to die," I told her and she took my hand and kissed it. We hugged again and I could feel tears on the side of her face.

"I don't want to die either," she said, pulling me tighter.
I could feel her heartbeat.
Nobody wants to die.

Several weeks later, Sajani returned to New York.

From time to time I would recieve e-mails from her, updates on life,
forwarded articles, mass e-mails to family and friends. In the last
one she told me she was going to upstate New York, to "have her mind blown by mother earth and the smell of forest moss, oxygen."

"Come close," she invited me, "and whisper to me sweet nothings about creating the new world together."

The message closed with a poem by "the inimitable" Alice Walker:

"This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
what's scarce."



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