"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Part-time Lover–Who Said That A Man Can’t Love Three Women?

Paul Hardy loved his wife of thirty-five years.  If the blush had gone from the bloom of the rose, no matter.  Longevity counted for something but not everything; and there was no dismissing the comfortable, convenient, secure and sure love of marriage.  At the same time, as Hardy well knew, there were all kinds of love in the world.  From incidental, happy, passing affairs after late night rum punches on the verandah of the Oloffson, to something more serious – a young girl taken with an older man’s savoir faire, experience, and patience; an older woman delighted to have attention after the long indifference of a vacant husband; and the chance coincidence of two very like travelers from different parts of the world, as like as Abelard and Heloise – the permutations of love were infinite.

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Hardy had had all kinds of such affairs – sudden, unexpected, and all with possibilities – but he never, until now, had ever thought that there was room in his life for a wife and two others.  For years dalliances were extra-curricular liaisons which were never intended to amount to much, to be led, ended, and remembered fondly but never to last, and here he found himself in a strange triad, one only possible by dint of distance and circumstance.  Usha, an Indian Muslim accountant whom he had met at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi on one of his World Bank missions was a beautiful, spiritual, and infinitely demanding lover; and Birgit, a Danish mathematician who, after years in the straits of a prosaic marriage and laboratory job in Copenhagen, had moved to Port-au-Prince, to follow a young Haitian lover but who had tired quickly of his machismo coverup and African superstitions.

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Foreign travel, the necessity and obligation of everyone working for the World Bank, was seen by those who travelled to unpleasant places in the Third World for over fifty-percent of their time as an ugly but inescapable part of the job.  Only by tending to loans in the worst shitholes of the world and by suffering the fly-specked, malarial, pestilential, unholy places of Africa would Project Officers have any chance of rising to executive rank.  Yet for Hardy, it was an opportunity, a convenient, acceptable, and justifiable cover for his infidelity; and he made the most of it.  Four and five week missions to Angola, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea could only be regarded as penitential service; and no one, let alone Hardy’s wife would ever expect anything untoward or questionable.  Yet the opposite was true.  Both countries had oil and oil, and while drawing Texas dummies and Exxon Mobil suits, also brought bright young accountants, marketing interns, and public relations impresarios – women for the most part who, like Hardy had signed up for promotion but also for adventure.

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And so it was that Hardy met Usha Ismail, a CPA from the London School of Economics, an adviser to British Petroleum and recently repatriated to India from Africa after a series of coups had forced her parent company to rethink energy investments and to plow profits into Canadian oil shale and fracking-enabled gas exploitation in the American Gulf.  The relationship was quickly made, consensual, and exciting.  For all of Usha’s international savvy and experience, her sexual relations had been few but selective with subcontinental Khans and Kashmiri Brahmans.  She was delighted at Hardy’s white skin, his light eyes and hair, and his cultural difference.  There was nothing subcontinentally traditional or historical about his past – no funeral pyres, no pujas, no hajj, no Mecca, no recitations of sacred texts – and this beautiful Sunni Muslim, herself free from cant and untethered from obligation, was as happy as could be with this lovely, beautiful, American man.

Birgit had labored long and hard at the Danish Institute of Higher Mathematics (Det Danske Institut for Højere Matematik) in Copenhagen; and despite particularly unique and insightful proofs of heretofore unproved theorems,  had never managed to rise higher than Associate Professor, a frustration which had led her to give it all up, if only temporarily, and travel.  She met Claude, a Haitian mulatto, son of one the most important families of Petionville, proud of his African origins but a lay- about living off his family’s trans-America illicit trade.  The affair was quick and exciting but after only a few months she left him on the curb, bored with his African pretentions and bourgeois aspirations.

She met Hardy on the verandah of the Oloffson, the redoubt of sophisticated Americans where Petit Pierre still plied those expatriates who braved Haiti during the end-game of the Duvaliers with strong rum punches and stories of the Tonton Macoutes.  It is not hard to meet people on the verandah, and easy sexual camaraderie is the stock-in-trade of international consultants, but the connection between Hardy and Birgit was special. He had never met a ‘real’ intellectual – a woman who had not just dabbled in math and science but was a luminary – and she had never met an American so sure of himself sexually and so blissfully confident; and so their liaison was indeed the best of all possible worlds. 

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Neither of these affairs was remarkable in and of themselves.  This kind of serendipitous love happens all the time, everywhere, and on all circuits.  The only thing to note was the fact that Hardy maintained his love for both of them…and his wife… for years.  What he had with each of them was singular, irreplaceable, and unique.  He and Birgit never talked about number theory or trans-logical equations; nor did he discuss energy, geo-politics, or post-colonialism with Usha.  A combined sexual world is possible and desirable exactly because of an intellectual-emotional truce.  Hardy could not have been attracted to Birgit if it had not been for her sense of abstraction; nor to Usha if not for her practical worldliness; but the heady mix of their insistent purpose and his philosophical diffidence set off fireworks.  Not only do opposites attract, but diametric opposites attract irresistibly.

All of which leaves Hardy’s wife, for whom Hardy had a sincere affection.  Gone was the initial flush of sexual attraction and mutual romance and the excitement of first love and optimism, but something more than friendship although less than love remained.  Their marriage was fundamental to them both, without which they would have been ships sailing without a port.  For her it was hearth, home, and tradition.  For him it was the focal point from which he could sally and return.  She knew of his dalliances, but never called him out.  He felt negligent at times, but knew that life was short.

Did Hardy love all three women? Yes.  Did he love them all equally? Yes again, but differently.  Had he lost any one of them, he would have been sad, but not disconsolate.  The enabling factor in loving many women was distance – or selfishness, or arrogance, or male privilege, depending on the observer – but whatever the underlying reason, Hardy’s life was more complete than any of his colleagues or friends.  He had organized and managed his life well, gauging risk and reward like a bookie, extending his allure until the pasture gate was closed, never promising more than he could deliver, and ready for all that might come down the pike.

Granted, none of this would have been possible without the largesse of the World Bank and the need for hands-on supervision of its projects in the Third World; but other colleagues travelled as much as Hardy and were content just with positive loan performance.  He performed well and lived well.  He dined well, slept well, and bedded well.  And none of the three women in his life knew about or wanted to know about the others. They were content with what they had and what they shared, and none wanted to take more than their fair share, their due, or their pound of flesh.  The conditions were right for the the longevity of the triad; but this does not take away the essential point – love can be shared and shared equally.  It takes women for whom exclusivity means little and men for whom control is alien; but most of all beings who understand that love, affection, sexual satisfaction, allure, and desire are what make us human.  Not the Lawrentian epiphanic love, the love that opens spiritual doors, but a love which is indeed at the heart of the matter.

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