tagRomanceVolunteer Work

Volunteer Work


Two years ago I’d just gotten out of a relationship with a guy named Tommy. Well, I guess “relationship” is not exactly the most accurate term. I wished it was a relationship, but it was more of a fuck-buddies setup and it was leaving me increasingly unsatisfied.

Tommy was a motorcycle riding, commitment-phobic, checkered-past-having walking cliché, but I was hooked on him despite that – or perhaps because of it. I’d been seeing him off and on since I was a barely-experienced teenager and by the time I was twenty-four, I realized that what I’d thought was cool non-conformity was really just laziness.

I’d had some difficulties to overcome in my life too, but I had goals. I worked hard, got my own place, and took college classes at night. Somewhere I’d gotten the idea that college kids take a trip to Europe, so I saved up, bought a backpack and spent three months traveling around. When I got back, Tommy was delivering pizza and thinking about maybe becoming a musician.

Tommy didn’t strive for more than what was easy to get. He liked the freedom to stay up late and do what he pleased, and he took sketchy temporary jobs that allowed him to do just that. He liked sex, but he liked it with a lot of different women and didn’t want to put any work into other aspects of a relationship. F

inally, after one more morning slinking home alone in a disheveled, skimpy outfit, I realized that the thrill had begun to wear off and I was forced to admit to myself that Tommy and I would never be a real couple. I think now that he only liked me because I was his type physically, with my slender body, light brown skin, full lips, and long dark hair.

Even after I decided to stop seeing him, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tommy. I knew I could call him at any time and have a couple of hours of physical intimacy, if not the emotional variety. I was constantly tempted. Whatever Tommy may have lacked in motivation or goals, he made up for it in sexual imagination. But I knew that for my own sake, I had to get my mind off him.

I went for a walk alone one evening and it was not helping me stop thinking about Tommy at all. But then it occurred to me that, since I love to travel so much, a trip would help me forget him, or at the very least, keep me from calling him and making a mistake. I couldn’t go somewhere romantic, I reasoned, or I’d just feel lonelier, but maybe someplace less suggestive of lovers – and far, far away from New York City. As I was pondering this question, I passed a bookstore and decided to step in and check out their travel section for some ideas.

Three hours later, I left the bookstore with a biography of Mother Theresa and a copy of Lonely Planet’s India guidebook. Ever impulsive, I had decided to go to Calcutta and volunteer for the Sisters of Charity for a few months. I figured Mother Theresa was a great role model – she probably had no problems resisting booty-calls from exes. Not to mention that the poor of Calcutta probably had a lot more important things to think about as well.

My friends and family were alarmed at the thought of me going to India alone, as but they’d been alarmed at each of the solo trips I’d taken over the past few years, I’d learned to smile and ignore it. And any secret hopes I had that Tommy would realize he had made a mistake were dashed when his reaction to my announcement was simply, “Hey, that’s a cool idea. Have a good time.”

By the end of the month, I’d sublet my apartment, quit my job and was on a plane to Calcutta with a backpack full of clothes I hoped were modest enough not to offend Indian sensibilities.

Calcutta was an excellent distraction. I got a dorm bed in a hostel on Sudder Street, where the tourists and volunteers stay, and started to get to know the city. The first thing I learned was that it was hot. Painfully hot. I copied the locals and began to carry around a handkerchief to periodically wipe the sweat from my face as I went about my business. With all the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes to experience, not to mention the constant sweating, I had little time to pine for Tommy.

I met Kurt my first night at the hostel, and even went to dinner with him in the company of a dozen other hostellers. In such a big group I didn’t get the chance to speak with him and, although he had classic good looks, he didn’t stand out in any remarkable way, so I didn’t even notice him in particular.

On my third day in Calcutta I went to the large, high ceilinged, and relatively cool common room to read. Kurt was there, lying on one of the couches, reading a thick volume of Goethe in German and smoking cheap Indian cigarettes called Captains. His dark brown hair was hanging over his eyes, so in order to read and smoke, he had to tip his head back a bit and squint through it. This gave him a contemplative look that made me develop the first tingles of a crush.

I smiled at him as I sat down and opened my own book, a paperback copy of City of Joy, purchased at one of the many bookstalls along Mirza Ghalib Street.

“That’s a good book,” he said.

“Yeah… I’m learning a lot.”

“Have you yet read Freedom at Midnight? LaPierre wrote that one too, with someone else.”

“No, not yet, but I plan to.”

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“New York. You?”

“Just near Vienna.”

Kurt’s English was excellent and he spoke with the charming and half-familiar but somehow elusive accent of a European who has learned British English; I found out he had spent a year studying in England during high school. I also found out that he’d finished his compulsory military service about six months ago, and hadn’t cut his hair since—wouldn’t, in fact, be cutting it again until he started at Oxford next year. This meant that he was a lot younger than I’d realized.

“How old are you?” I asked curiously.

“I am twenty-one.”

“Twenty-one? You’re only twenty-one?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Um, I don’t know. I just thought you seemed older, that’s all.”

Looking closer, I could see the youth in his face, but when Kurt expounded on philosophy, he seemed as mature as I’d originally thought him to be. But as much as I normally enjoy a good intellectual discussion, when Kurt talked passionately about something, I occasionally found myself listening more to the sound of his warm voice with its sexy accent than to his words themselves. But mostly I listened to his words. His idealism made me realize how cynical I’d become. And he’d been volunteering for months; he was so very different from Tommy.

It took a couple of weeks for anything to happen between Kurt and me. In the meantime, I started my volunteer work at a school. I started to feel somewhat at home weaving through the crowds of people in exotic (to my eyes) saris and lunghis, and the beggars, some of whom were distressingly disfigured, and some of whom were tiny children. I learned to politely rebuff the persistent touts offering everything from hotel accommodations “Very cheap, very cheap,” to fortune telling, to guide services, the rickshaw-wallahs constantly calling out to me. I chose a favorite of the chai-wallahs set up on every corner, selling tiny cups of sweet, milky tea. I began to act blasé when my path was cut off by a dozen goats being herded through the streets to be sacrificed at Kali temple.

Kurt and I talked every day – but then I talked to a lot of the other volunteers every day. I wasn’t sure if he returned my interest, so I was shy with him. I was beginning to think nothing was going to come of my little crush.

The hostel turned the common room lights out at eleven p.m., but people often stayed there anyway, talking by candlelight. One night Kurt and I were the last ones left – I had been determined to say as long as he did, hoping for just such an occurrence; perhaps he was too. I don’t even remember what we talked about. Indian politics, our respective countries, travel stories, something like that, probably, but we sat up long after the cheap little candles had guttered out. Kurt was full of idealism and ideas and he was interesting to talk to, but that night I barely listened. I just kept telling myself that surely he was interested in me or he wouldn’t still be out here and when is he going to kiss me?

I don’t remember how it happened, but he ended up giving me a massage. After lusting after him for two weeks, feeling his hands rubbing my back made me weak. Perhaps it was the long anticipation, or the exotic location, but I had never had a more sensual massage. Normally I hate it when someone turns a massage into something sexual, but this wasn’t a sleazy guy thinking he was tricking me, it was a boy too shy to make a bolder move, and it charmed me. It didn’t hurt that he was actually good at what he was doing.

“Where did you learn how to do that?” I asked him.

“I didn’t learn,” he answered. “I just do it.”

“Well it’s really, really nice. Do you want me to do you too?”

“Do I want you to do me?” Kurt laughed.

“You know what I mean,” I said, blushing. “You certainly have a good grasp of idiomatic English.”

When it was time to return the favor, I surreptitiously breathed in his scent as I put my hands gently on his shoulders. He smelled soapy and faintly of sweat. He was thin, but his shoulders, back, and arms felt hard and muscular in an understated, intellectual way.

In the dark, in the anonyminity of a foreign country, I felt bolder than usual. After massaging Kurt’s shoulders for a while, I slid my arms around his waist and rubbed his chest, leaning closer to him at the same time. When his arms circled mine, I was reassured, and brushed my suddenly hard nipples against his back, my lips centimeters from his neck, breathing him in. I heard him gasp slightly and he seemed to pull me closer. Hearing him react to me almost made me moan out loud, but I restrained myself, barely.

Travel time moves so much faster than regular time that it seemed I’d been waiting to touch Kurt forever. The mere pressure of my body against his was causing my heart to beat faster and my head to feel cloudy. I went back to massaging Kurt’s neck. After a while he turned to face me, and somehow, finally, finally, we were kissing. Kurt’s lips were full and firm and warm. When his tongue touched mine, gently, almost questioningly, I finally did moan aloud, causing him to kiss me more confidently.

“I’ve been wanting you to do that forever,” I said when we paused in our kissing.

“I thought maybe it was so,” he replied. “I thought so when you found out my age and you seemed upset.”

“You could tell?”

“Of course I could tell.”

“Well I was upset, but only because I thought you wouldn’t be interested. I mean, really, three years is nothing.”

“Yes, really it’s nothing.”

Kurt kissed me hungrily, and I could feel myself getting wetter and my limbs feeling more languid. Then he stopped kissing my mouth and began urgently but gently kissing my neck, while his right hand slid up my waist, only to stop just under my breast.

“Please,” I gasped. “Please…”

I put my hand on top of Kurt’s and slid it up over my breast, at the same time arching up into his hand. When he squeezed my nipple, my vaginal muscles contracted in response and I cried out in pleasure, forgetting for a moment the dorm rooms opening out of the common area. I ran my hands through his hair, found it soft, and twined my fingers through it, pulling him closer. Then he was on top of me and I could feel his erection pressing against me through my long, culturally correct modest skirt, and my tiny, lacy thong.

We lay kissing in the cool, dark quiet for some time. The room was not air conditioned, and the high ceiling and stone floor only kept it cool enough for sitting still, so eventually our activity caused our skin to film with sweat. When I ran my tongue up Kurt’s neck it tasted salty. I wanted desperately to taste him everywhere, to kiss his smooth body and feel his skin against mine. I had never felt so aroused in my life. I felt soft all over and my body was trembling. My hips involuntarily moved against Kurt’s.

The way Kurt was moving against me and the feeling of his breath on my neck sent tingles of electricity zinging around my body. All I wanted in the world at that point was to feel Kurt’s cock sliding into me. I had just begun to undo the button on his jeans when heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway.

Kurt and I sat up quickly and moved away from each other, trying to breathe normally and look innocent as the hostel’s night guard peered into the doorway. Seeing that nothing untoward was going on, the guard left to continue his rounds.

We could clearly hear his footsteps going up the stairs and when they reached the top, we were back where we had been, Kurt on top of me, his hands in my hair.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered, barely coherently.

“What do you mean?” Kurt mumbled, before returning his mouth to my neck.

“We can’t… we can’t… I mean…” I trailed off as Kurt moved his hand under my shirt and, cupping his hand over my sheer bra, squeezed my nipple again. “Oh, God…”

Kurt groaned into my neck as he realized our problem. We had nowhere to go. We each slept in a strictly non-coed dorm room with eight other people and the common room was way too central to afford any privacy, even at that time of night.

“Maybe we can get a room,” he said, in a tight, strained voice. There were a few double rooms in our hostel, occupied by couples.

“Mmm,” was all I could manage in reply.

“Do you want to?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes, I want to. I want you…” Kurt’s hands gripping my hips and his fingers caressing my stomach made me feel reckless. “I want to… to… feel you inside me.”

I had never said anything like that before and I could feel my face flush afterwards, but it seemed to arouse Kurt all the more, and his hips began to press against mine rhythmically, driving his erection against me over and over again. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell by the way he squeezed his eyes shut and groaned as he buried his face in my hair that he wanted me as much as I wanted him.

Eventually had no choice but to stop, although we were both aching with desire. It was hard to walk away with Kurt standing there looking so sexy with his hair disheveled and his erection clearly outlined in his jeans, but I had to. Neither of us wanted something quick and dirty in one of the hostel bathrooms and at that point, there was no other option.

My small dorm room was hotter than the common room, even with the ceiling fan whirring around and stirring the air a bit. I changed into a tank top and boxers, got into my narrow bed with its thin, hard mattress and lay there sweating, too hot to cover myself with the sheet. My body throbbed with frustration. I knew that between the heat and the mosquitoes, no one slept very soundly, so I couldn’t even take the chance of touching myself. I squeezed my thighs together and finally fell asleep, still thinking of Kurt’s hands.

I had some trouble concentrating on the kids during my volunteer work the next day and after my shift was over, I rushed straight back to the hostel instead of sticking around chatting with the other volunteers as I usually did. As soon as I got back, I scrubbed off the day’s accumulation of sweat and dust under the cold-water-only shower. After I got dressed, I practically ran out to the common room.

Kurt was there, talking with some other people. My heart jumped when I saw him, and I stopped short in the doorway, unsure of what to do next. I took a step forward, hesitated, compulsively reached up to tug at my hair, and was about to turn and leave again when Kurt looked up and saw me. He smiled immediately and, saying a few words to the people around him, got up and walked towards me.

“How are you?” he asked me.

“Good. And you?”

“Fine. Do you… want to go somewhere? Get a lassi?”

“That would be great.”

The afternoon was still pretty hot as we stepped out the hostel gate, but I felt refreshed from my cold shower and I didn’t mind.

“How was your day?” Kurt asked me, momentarily coming closer to me to avoid stepping on the shoe repair-wallah’s tools and spare parts, spread out before him on the cracked sidewalk.

“It was pretty good,” I replied. “The kids— no, thanks,” I said as an aggressive rickshaw puller leaped in front of me, trying to interest us in his vehicle, causing me to dodge around him. “The kids are great, I mean, really amazing. You know what they—thank you, I don’t need any. No, really. Thank you, but no. I know they’re cheap, but what would I do with them?” I pulled away from the grasp of a zealous seller of handmade brooms. “The kids, I love the kids. You know what they like most? When I draw stars on their assignments with magic marker. It’s very sweet.”

“I’m glad you like your work so much.” Kurt and I were separated momentarily as we each went a different way around a man squatting on the sidewalk cutting the tops off green coconuts so people could buy them and drink the coconut water inside. There was a giant heap of empty coconut shells by the curb, which we also had to circumnavigate before we could walk beside each other again.

“This street is a lot quieter,” said Kurt, as we turned the corner.

“Yes, this is much better. Sometimes the crowds can be overwhelming.”

Kurt, a head taller than me, looked down at me with a grin. “I finally meet a nice girl and it’s in a place where I can’t even put my arm around her.”

I blushed, but ignored the part of the statement I’d liked the most. “Yeah,” I said. “You sometimes see tourists holding hands, but never Indian couples.”

We ducked into a nearly empty restaurant, which although it was close to the hostel, was not frequented by the other volunteers. We would have some privacy.

When the Sikh proprietor brought us our lassis, thick, sweet yogurt drinks, we fell silent momentarily.

“And what about your day?” I finally asked. “How was the hospital?”

“It was okay. No one died today.”

“It must be a hard place to work. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve taken the easy way out, working with the cute little kids instead of the dying.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kurt said in his charming mixed accent. “Look at it this way: if you had not come to Calcutta, you would not have been able to work with the dying or the children.”

“I guess that’s true,” I mused. “Thank you.”

Our eyes met. Then Kurt finally addressed what had been in the back of my mind the whole time. “What do you think about what happened?”

I must have turned bright red because my face felt hot. I couldn’t think of what to say. Could I just tell him I thought he was amazing and his body had been on my mind all day, sending shivers down my body at the most inappropriate moments?

“I don’t know,” I dodged, lamely. “What do you think?”

“I think it was nice,” he said. “I like you.”

I tried not to grin like an idiot and only half-succeeded. “Me too. I thought it was nice too,” I said, and bent my head over my straw.

“So…,” Kurt prompted.

“So.” He’d been direct. So could I, now that he’d gone first. “So… are we going to get a room?”

“I think I would like that,” Kurt replied.

“We might not be able to get one right away,” I warned. Turnover, especially of the few private rooms, was low at the hostel, as most of the people staying there were long-term volunteers.

“Anyway, it might be good to wait some days. I don’t want to spoil anything,” Kurt said sincerely.

“Sure. Waiting is good.” If he could wait then I could, but it would be difficult.

For the next few days, the routine was the same. Every morning I’d ask about rooms and the deskman would grumble, “No empty rooms. Soon, I think.” In the afternoons, I rushed home from volunteering, took a shower, and then Kurt and I would talk for a while and then have dinner, sometimes just the two of us and sometimes with other people from the hostel. Afterwards we’d go for a walk along the edge of the Maidan, or around some of the narrow, twisted side streets.

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