One warm Friday evening, I was finishing up a client dinner meeting at the Tadich Grill in downtown San Francisco. The client, pleased with our discussion, already said his goodbyes and left while I was waiting for an adjustment to the bill (they miscounted the drinks, assuming I had two; all I had was water).
Among the “school cafeteria” din of the restaurant, I noticed a feminine voice floating in the air above me. “Xum?”
I looked up. Standing before my table was a cute Japanese woman that I should have recognized immediately, but didn’t. She was as dressed down as I was dressed up: an oversized thin fleece sweater, jeans, sneakers, a simple handbag, and glasses. It must have been the glasses; that Clark Kent convention actually worked with her. She removed them and used a pinch of her sleeve cuff to wipe a smudge from the lens, and that’s when I saw her eyes.
Those rich chocolate eyes.
She smiled warmly. “I thought it was you, Xum. Hold on.” She pulled back a strand of her long straight hair – which, liberated from her clasp, fell beautifully over her shoulders – to put her glasses back on. She then turned toward the door, waving to two departing women who must have been her company for the evening. “Mind if I join you?”
“Please.” I responded, rising to my feet to offer her a chair.
“Still the gentleman, I see.”
The waiter arrived with the corrected bill; he would have to take it back to include two extra drinks.
As the drinks arrived, Namiko and I were already engaged in idle chatter, each informing the other of our current state of employment (she was working at a different tech firm and had recently made Vice President; good for her). She also apologized for my not getting a callback from the interview where we last met, but of course that wasn’t her call. I reassured her that everything seemed to work out fine, regardless.
After a few sips of her drink, she admitted, “You know, I came across your business card the other week and was actually tempted to call you… but I didn’t want you to think I was some kind of psycho hose beast.”
I blinked, stunned.
“Oh, you’ve probably never seen Wayne’s World, have you?”
“Actually, I have. I just haven’t heard that phrase since I did.” I sipped some water. “But isn’t a ‘psycho hose beast’ supposed to be an obsessive ex-girlfriend?” I asked cheekily.
She tossed me a look, which was quickly averted as she feigned interest in the plant cascading over the partition wall beside the table. “Well, I meant an obsessive stalker, which I am not.” She started to sound a little bolder, that calm confidence she had during our brief interview several months back -- and that’s when it hit me. The Namiko I had met during those 45 minutes was… well, I wouldn’t say icy, but “strictly professional.” Seeing her here, with her hair down (figuratively and literally) was…
“What is it?”
“Hmm?” I saw that Namiko had her head cocked to one side, as if trying to fathom the look I didn’t realize I was giving her. “Oh, it’s just that, when we last talked, you were ‘all business.’ It’s nice to see your, um…” (My mind struggled to find the right word.) “…softer side.” (That wasn’t it.)
She looked at me intently. “You thought I was a hard@ss?”
I was taken aback by the word, yet coming from Namiko it sounded… natural. “Um… Let’s just say there is a hard streak in you. It probably got you where you are today.”
It was only after I said that when I realized I was quoting a line from a book I was reading at the time: Stephen King’s The Stand, when Wayne Stukey was describing the character of Larry Underwood. Namiko caught the reference too. She glowered at me. “Oh, so I am like ‘biting on tinfoil,’ am I?”
I could feel hot blood rushing to my face. Obviously this conversation was going in a dangerous direction. Namiko let me squirm for a few more agonizing seconds before releasing me with a puckish grin.
“’Whatever it takes to make success, [I] got it,’” she said, continuing the quote. She smiled with approval. “That’s me all right, the ‘Tinfoil Girl.’ And you, Xum, I bet you…” she stopped herself, her eyes seemed to be pondering some wicked thought in the right lobe of her brain, then she burst out in a giggle that left me curious (at least for a little while).
With her moment of mock-aggressiveness abated, I decided to take control of the conversation. “So… you wanted to call me?”
Namiko’s eyes wandered to her drink, her slender finger was slowly circling the rim of the glass. “Oh. Yes, well… I must admit I found you to be very… fascinating when I met you…” her voice trailed off, as if ashamed of the thought.
“Fascinating? Me?” I suppressed a smile. I was honestly startled by her statement, but I must admit that I was also enjoying it. It’s not every day a beautiful woman finds me fascinating. It was hardly any day, in fact. Not since I was 16.
“Well, all the places you’ve lived. The work you had done…” she looked wistfully toward me.
“You still haven’t taken any travels? Go farther than Colorado, at least?” I asked.
“Did I tell you about that? I don’t remember…” She paused. “But you do.” Her eyes seemed to widen at the realization. I also realized that I could remember quite a number of details from our first meeting (as you well know). Namiko must have made quite an impression on me then.
She was also making quite an impression on me now. I was feeling that same sense of immediate comfort and familiarity with Namiko at that restaurant table as I did with my dear friend Dan back in that London-area library. My heart ached a little at the brief reminder, as well as at the possibility that this feeling I had may be attributed less to the stunning woman talking with me and more to a faint desperation stemmed from being too long alone.
Namiko continued. “But no, no. I haven’t ‘taken any travels.’ Especially now that… well, never mind.” There was a lukewarm tone to her voice, but there was… something else. Almost a flicker of pride in her eyes. I could tell this mysterious reason for her entrenchment was at least a good one.
“Oh, God. I have to go. Thank you for this.” She pushed her unfinished drink a few inches toward me before grabbing her handbag that lay on the empty chair beside her.
She was already on her feet before I could stand. “Do you need a lift?” I offered. “I drove in from Daly City. Just give me a few minutes to settle the bill…”
“No. it’s okay. Stay.” She eyed my untouched cocktail. “Finish your drink. BART and Caltrain are my friends.”
“I don’t drink, actually, I just…” I paused, unsure as to how to explain the second drink on the table.
She eyed me suspiciously. “Um…” she started, “it’s okay. Really. It… was good seeing you again.”
“Call me,” I said, realizing that this line actually sounded better in movies and on TV than in real life.
“Um… you can call me, if you’d like. The number on my card is my mobile. It’s still good.”
“Ah,” she replied. She smiled faintly. “Well, goodbye.”
I stood in awkward silence for a moment after her hasty departure. Then I sat down, deflated. Yukinori, you have been too long alone.
I was signing the credit card receipt when my mobile rang. The number was “unknown”, but something told me I should pick up.
“Okay, maybe I was a little rude,” Namiko’s lovely voice began, amid the phone static and whirring clatter as her BART train hurtled underground.
Hope started to flicker in my heart. She had my old business card on her person. “No. You were in a hurry. And besides, I must have looked like quite the…”
“Psycho?” she finished, almost slyly. “Was that second drink for me? Trying to get me liquored up and…”
I gasped at the notion. “Oh, no. No. I’m not that kind of…” I stopped to collect the right words. I had a second chance and didn’t want to blow it. “Namiko, I do not drink alcohol. At all. I don’t see the need for it. But I had found that, in social situations, my refusal to drink usually makes other people… uncomfortable with having their own… Well, I have no right to spoil their…” I paused, still not sure how to explain it. Fortunately, the relaxed laugh over the mobile indicated that she had caught my meaning.
“Always the gentleman, aren’t you? Still, that’s an expensive way to be polite.” Her tone suddenly became very serious. “You don’t have to waste good money and good booze like that on my account, okay?”
“Okay,” I replied with relief. Hope was burning stronger now. “Do you have any plans for tomorrow? It’s supposed to be great weather for kite flying in the Marina. And I can take you to this great ice cream place in Richmond…”
“Perish the thought. It’s called Joe’s… but it’s run by this cute elderly Japanese couple. You’ll love it.”
“Sounds great, but… um… I can’t do it this weekend. How about next? Weather permitting?”
“Works for me. Where shall I pick you up?”
“I’m in Mountain View, but why don’t you pick me up at the Caltrain station at Castro. I’ll call you next week to confirm the time.”
“That sounds good.” I exhaled with excitement. “Namiko?”
“It was good to see you again, too.”
I clicked my mobile closed and sat back in the chair. The hope in my heart was ablaze. I had a date.
A date with a tinfoil girl.
To be continued.