Nirav tells a story as it happened a few years ago in Goa, a traumatic experience that went deep and that he never really managed to deal with. As the ‘me too’ movement started, his story came up again in a new light where it finally can be expressed.
About 15 years now. A story I never told. A story I am supposed to have forgotten long ago.
We are in January and I am living in Goa. I have been here since early November already and I have a beautiful big room with a kitchen. A huge old banyan tree is right by my backside balcony, and the foliage is so dense that although I am on the first floor it is cool and shady all the time. The view is magnificent and the beach is just a three minutes’ walk away.
It is the small guesthouse of a dear Goan lady who is taking care of it by herself while her husband is somewhere in the Gulf working on an oil platform. I have a great life. My best friend Paul is also here for the season and he took a room on the same floor at the other corner. This guesthouse is off the beaten track and we are mostly just the two of us living here.
Underneath us is another set of four rooms, but being on the ground floor without a view, they are usually empty. Across the little sandy street is a lovely Goan house where a couple of English people live. From my bedroom upstairs I can see everything they do and we sometimes wave at each other. In the evening they usually hang out outside in the garden and drink beer, and that’s about the only thing that could possibly disturb me here.
I am in a relationship, and this year my girlfriend Anna is moving back and forth between here and Pune.
This week Anna is here with me and tonight we came back earlier than usual from the beach where we had dinner with Paul and some other friends. We are making love already. A few candles are burning and it is slowly getting hot between us.
Suddenly, in the midst of it there is a terrible noise. We both stop in complete shock. My first thought is that a massive branch from the banyan has fallen on the roof. I get up, glimpse at the clock which shows 23.12, grab a sarong and open the door.
Lying there on the stairs is my friend Paul. He is obviously in a lot of pain. “I think I broke my leg,” he says. I look at the stairs, look back at him lying there, but I can’t really understand how he could break his leg walking up a few stairs. He insists, “I fell down while running up the stairs.” Hum… Okay, but still something feels odd. Paul is a very strong and grounded guy, not the kind to make a wrong step and twist his ankle.
“Okay, let me help you here and bring you to the hospital,” I continue. By that point I remember that Anna is still in the room, I remember exactly what was happening with us as Paul fell, I remember that space of no mind I already was in. I realise that I must be in a state of shock right now.
I explain that to Paul, tell him that we were in the middle of making love, but that I will get ready in two minutes and take care of him. He is very sorry but doesn’t want to bother me any further. He wants to call another friend to bring him to the hospital. Well, it is late, the other friend is probably in bed with his girlfriend and it makes no sense to me. But Paul insists. He doesn’t want me to help. And that also feels strange. His other friend takes the call and will be here in five minutes and take him to the hospital.
I wait till he is here and I make sure that Paul is in good hands. I go back to the room. Anna is here wondering what happened. I sit on the bed. I try to put the pieces together. Something is clearly odd.
The next day I meet Paul. His leg is indeed broken and in a cast. We chat a bit. I try to understand what happened on the stairs, and he repeats what he already told me, that he had forgotten something in his room, had run up the stairs too fast and fell. When I remark that it sounds rather strange and that it doesn’t feel like him, he insists that it so happened, and that he had been stupid running so fast. He says I should forget it.
I found him unusually cool and distant. Most of all, that strange feeling in my belly didn’t go away.
In fact, to this very day, it never really went, and that’s why I am here writing this story.
I spent the next few days living my life as usual in Goa, but something had happened that night that I could not put a finger on. Something felt wrong; I felt all kinds of unusual feelings that I could not name at the time.
The night after that incident when Paul broke his leg in front of my door, I could not make love with my girlfriend. This was so unusual. Anna also wondered what was happening with me, but I didn’t know. I just felt weird. I kept seeing that scene of us in bed with each other and the sudden crushing noise. I remembered so many details, the sounds outside, the smells, the different shades of the light. I remembered the hands of the clock and their exact position. I remembered the curtains. And I kept seeing Paul on the floor, in pain, with his broken leg. Everything kept spinning inside. I could not understand why. Yes Paul had broken his leg; yes it had been a scary noise; yes we were in the middle of having sex…. But all that was fixed now, Paul’s leg was healing nicely, no one else got harmed, and sex we could have as much as we wanted.
About a week later, the English lady living in the house across us called me over. She wanted to tell me something but was not sure how to do it. She wondered if I would prefer a beer or a coffee. I opted for a cup of tea and sat down.
“Your friend didn’t fall down while climbing the stairs,” she started.
“What? Paul? How do you know?”
“Well,” she explained, “turn around and look!”
I turned around, puzzled, and looked up to my room. I had never come here before, and indeed the view to the staircase leading to my room was clear and open. They had a full view of everything that was happening up there.
“Your friend had climbed the wall leading to your bedroom’s window, and was hanging up there. He had climbed on that window ledge before, because we had noticed him there a few times already, looking through your window, usually in the evenings. That’s from where he fell.”
My eyes must have widened in shock and disbelief, but everything suddenly started to make sense. Paul had been spying on me in my most intimate moments, more than once. And last week he had fallen about three meters down onto the stairs.
We chatted a bit, but really there was not much else to say. I finished my cup of tea and left. I walked to my room, carefully visualising the scene: Paul slowly coming up the stairs, gently climbing the wall, getting to the window, maybe pulling the curtain lightly and peeping in my room in the semi darkness. I recalled the space Anna and I shared in those moments, the intimacy, the tenderness, the passion, the heat. I imagined how the movements of the naked bodies looked like from the window. I tried to picture those two lovers entangled in a space too sacred to make sense, and then going wild on this large Indian bed. I tried to recollect the sounds that we made, the words that we spoke, and the silences that infused the space between us. And how that could be perceived from the window.
I could sense the initial shock dissipate; anger and rage were now coming up. I was mad. I felt completely invaded, violated, betrayed.
For the first time in my life I got a sense of what rape is about.
I had to meet Paul right now and challenge him.
During the next days and weeks and years, this happening apparently ordinary would sink deeper and deeper inside. I was encouraged to forget it. Paul, when confronted, did apologise and almost convinced me that it was no big deal, that so many of his friends had done similar things out of fun and curiosity, and that it would be sad if this affected our friendship. He suggested I must be oversensitive. I had to drop it.
I tried so hard to forget it, to forgive him, to be friends again, to bring this to the therapy room, to meditate, to give it time.
Later on, when anger, resentment and feelings of betrayal kept coming up, it was obvious that I had not dealt with it. Many times I got in conflict with Paul as I tried to talk again about what happened. He grew more and more pissed off with me; for him it was an old and closed story. What was wrong with me!? He had apologised and paid a very high price already by breaking his leg. More recently he threatened to smash my head if I ever brought his name on social media.
When the ‘me too’ movement started, and each time I was confronted with the stupendous numbers of sexual abuse victims in the world, my story would come up again and again, and I would see so many similarities.
The few times I considered bringing my testimony into the open were always met by fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of being shamed, fear of being stigmatized and isolated.
As I finally write this story and ask a close friend for feedback, I am again met with a “Well, I think you would do better forgiving him, forgetting it and laughing about it!”
I keep wondering how women manage to go public with their abuse, when it is such a challenge for me to simply write my little story, making it about me only without exposing anyone.
My intention here is not to compare my story with any of the stories of people who actually got sexually abused. I never got raped and I am very sure that it can’t be compared.
At the most I got a sense, a little smell, a taster … and that’s enough not only to bring sadness, but also much needed compassion into my heart.
Nirav grew up in France, studied Sinology in Berlin and then Bengali at R. Tagore’s Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India. After a few wild hippy years touring the world in the late 80’s, he based himself in Pune where he spent 21 years absorbing the rainbow of Osho’s vision. Today Nirav is living in Provence and experiencing his first winter in almost 30 years. He is reflecting on his journey. philippenirav.wordpress.com