12/19/2012

Meeting

I saw her again after all those years. I walked into the coffee shop and there she was, a few people in front of me, ordering her coffee. From where I stood I could only see her dark curls cascading down her back, much longer than I ever saw them, but her voice was the same. No, it wasn't the same, there was a curious iciness that threatened to cover it all.

I studied her from the back. The same height - well, she couldn't have grown any more, and she was rather small; still slender, almost stick-thin. I noticed she still drank her coffee the same way: a shot of espresso in a cup full of hot, frothy milk; a teaspoon of sugar.

She paid and picked up her coffee and some bun. Then she turned around and saw me; our eyes met and time stopped. I wondered if she had recognized me and time began to move again. I half-raised my hand to wave to her, although we were close enough to talk. She smiled slowly (but she didn't light up), nodded in the direction of a table nearby, and sat down.

When I joined her, she was half-way through her breakfast. In a hurry, as usual. I suddenly didn't remember what it was normal to say, under the circumstances, so I smiled and studied her. She had always looked younger than her age, and though this was still true, she seemed... harder. The edges of her face weren't rounded or blurred, as before; she had new freckles; the patch under her eye had become darker.

Was she happy to see me again? I couldn't tell. She was polite enough, but her smile never reached her eyes; indeed, if I hadn't met her before, I would have doubted she ever smiled. Her eyes troubled me. All those years ago they were merry, ready to laugh at anything. Now they kept scanning me and darting all over the coffeeshop, the other patrons, her hands. And there was a wall that was not a wall. Perhaps it was more like a ditch, a deep ditch full of stagnant waters where one could drown without ever finding out what was behind them. I avoided her eyes after that.

She drank her coffee in small sips, asking me all the polite questions one asks a person one hasn't seen in 10 years. What did you do when we went back? How is your wife? Do you have children? But she avoided other questions, precisely the ones I dreaded but wanted to answer. Why had I left her? No, why had I left her like that? Should I tell her, even if she didn't ask? The ditch in her eyes told me not to risk it; I had caused too much pain already and it wouldn't be wise to relive it. Once is enough, for pain of that kind.

A few minutes later she had finished her coffee and bun, and apparently, the conversation as well. She stood up, putting on coats and scarves I hadn't noticed. She picked up an enormous bag, a few books she had on the table, her gloves. "It has been really nice to see you again." She smiled, and for the first time today I saw a flicker of her old smile, the happy one. She turned around and left the coffeeshop.

I sat there wondering what had happened to her. I sat for a long time until I understood: I had happened to her.



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