Between junior and senior years in college, I had just turned 20 and was home for the summer. My summer job hadn't started yet, and I slipped into the habit of staying up late and sleeping even later. To make up for my languor, I did random chores for my mom—took clothes to the dry cleaners, picked up a print she had framed, things like that.
On errands, I was friendly enough, chatting with staff at the bakery or the florist: "How about this smog?" "Can you believe it's over 100 degrees?!" But it was different when I went to the frame shop. There was a new owner, an older man I hadn't met. His name was Auyar. He had a subtle accent and a precise but lyrical way of speaking English. He was somber and watchful, with elegant long fingers that nimbly showed me my mother's framed print. The matting was a pale bruised peach color that I knew my mother would never have chosen by herself. Auyar must have guided her, finding the color that had perfectly highlighted the pastel graphics of the print.
I looked over the framed art on the walls; there were vivid intricate geometric mosaics, as well as ivories painted with miniature figures of turbaned men on horseback.
"Hindu?" I asked.
"Persian," he said.
He told me that ancient Persia was modern-day Iran—this was well before the hostage crisis of 1979, before most Iranians in exile were discomfited by saying Iran and when Americans didn't know the difference between Iraq and Iran.
My image of a Middle Eastern man was shrewd and hairy, with an aggressive arrogance that was both enticing and obnoxious. I was attracted to self-confidence; I was repelled by sexism. Auyar seemed neither aggressive nor arrogant, but he was definitely intelligent and hairy–I could see graying chest hairs peeking above his collar. And then I laughed at myself for noticing. This man was old enough to be my grandfather. Perhaps even my great-grandfather. What was I thinking?
His eyes watched my eyes and he smiled when I blushed.
The shop was cool and shadowy, though there were bright lights above the framing table. Auyar invited me into the back workroom and served me tea. Tea in a glass. Exotic and sophisticated.
And so began my daily visits to Auyar's shop. We discussed history, literature, current events, everything and nothing. He was a good listener. I felt appreciated for my mind, although I was aware of my firm and voluptuous youth, and I know he was aware of it too. But for weeks, all we did was talk and drink tea and talk some more. He had been a college professor in Iran, and I was a good listener, too.
My summer job started, and I fell into friendly entanglements with men younger and more age appropriate, but still I was drawn to visit Auyar on my days off. One time he quoted me poetry in Farsi, "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." I was completely charmed.
Auyar showed me other painted miniatures on ivories that he had in the back room: women, men, naked bodies, dark eyes, erotic couplings (and triplings) in myriad positions. He watched me, but he never made a move. It was I who first touched his hand, tracing the outline of his long fingers with my own. I know it sounds like a cliché, but our touch was electric. Hairs tingled on the back of my neck.
He turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED and locked the shop. We walked in silence back to my parents' house, blissfully empty with both my folks at work. Auyar led me into the bathroom, where he carefully removed my clothing and placed me in the bathtub. He didn't join me, he just knelt by the side of the tub and washed me all over. He then helped me out of the tub and dried me off and, god help me, we fell onto my parents' bed.
Watching him watch me was one of the most erotic experiences I've ever had. While I knew I'd have other lovers, my whole life ahead of me (or so I hoped), he was 75. I might very well be the last woman he touched. It was a feeling of tremendous power. I felt like a goddess.
His skin had the papery quality of age, while I was like a juicy peach. I never felt bruised, just worshipped. I learned that stamina isn't everything, and that the sex I'd had with college boys hadn't yet begun to unlock my sensuality and passion.
September came and before I returned to college, I went to see him. Auyar and I never discussed a future, just as we'd never discussed our present. He gave me a framed ivory miniature of the chaste variety, his elegant fingers adroitly wrapping the piece in brown paper. Merely watching his fingers made me aroused.
I never returned to the framing shop, and now many years later, it's my skin that is turning papery, but age hasn't dulled the memory of that summer.