I had his name from the list of participants, but he introduced himself to me and I introduced myself. “Please excuse me while I change clothing. I will be back shortly. Please wait here, don’t leave.” There was a bit of urgency in his voice as if he actually didn’t want me to leave. I promised I would wait.
He smiled and nodded at me and turned quickly to go to the locker area. It was indeed agreeable watching him walking away – tall (I realized he was only a foot taller than me, he only felt larger than life), slender, a graceful and purposeful stride, the stride of a man comfortable with his body and its abilities. He did not have that “roll” in his gait most practitioners of the martial arts have. He would have walked the same way through a garden or across the floor to meet an opponent. I found the back of him as pleasant as the front. He was causing me many sighs and head shakings.
I decided to take a quick run into the restroom to wash my face, check my hair and breath, tidy my appearance (didn’t need to refresh my perfume….he could smell and knew it was Mitsouko so no more was needed.). I smoothed my hair and studied my face: plain, small nose, deep set brown eyes, average mouth – but beautiful skin. I smiled at myself. Behind the wire frame glasses, my eyes, even when I smiled, were wistful. Nevertheless, smiling did lighten my countenance and I noticed, my smile was a sideways smile – always with lips closed, sometimes quirked. I had my father’s smile. Because I had been on a date, I had dressed in a truly cute top. Really. It was a nice top – cap sleeves, mandarin collar, deep rose cotton eyelet material, denim skirt – the pencil type, not flared. At that time, I was a cool 98 pounds and I had good legs and slender ankles. My hair was black and wavy and so long, I could sit on it. I usually wore it in a braid down the back to keep out of my way. I would have to do.
Back at the rendezvous point, I only had to wait a few moments. He came through the crowd easily, courteously excusing himself, smiling at those who spoke to him about his sword play and sincerely thanking those who appeared to be complimenting him: he was not preening himself. Modest, sincere – you could tell it was real. A duffle was draped sideways across his body instead of the usual slinging over a shoulder most Americans favored and pushed towards the back. His left hand held the case with the scabbards of the two swords. And he was a pleasurable sight seen coming towards me: black polo shirt, pressed jeans that fit him…..oh my goodness, I turned away because my cheeks were red. I took deep breaths and controlled my blushes. When I turned around, he was beside me and smiling. I had to smile back; he had that kind of smile. “May I help you with anything?” Solemnly, he handed me his swords with a bow. I took them carefully and with an equally solemn bow. “Now for tea and talk, Misosazai. I am looking forward to this,” as we walked to his car.
He drove well. The music from his cassette player was soft and to my surprise, Chopin. “Bet you thought I’d be one of those crazy Asian drivers, yes?” I gaped at him and then began laughing as I realized he was having a joke on me. “No. I didn’t. I felt if you drove the way you use a katana, I would not have been surprised if you just warp speeded to your house and the traffic parted in front of you.” He laughed at that. “I only started driving a few years ago. I spent most of time in University, then medical school in England and mainly used the Tube or a bicycle.”
A doctor. “Where did you go to medical school?” I sensed some embarrassment from him and then he said quietly, “University of London, Duke University Medical School, and University of Tennessee.” I realized he wasn’t bragging. “I grew up about three blocks away from the Duke east campus.” I told him. I pondered a moment and then guessed. “UT? Body Farm? Forensic Pathologist? ”
He pulled into his driveway and looked at me in amazement. “Yes. “ and he became silent. He looked at me oddly and I could see him puzzling this out. He turned in the seat to fully face me. Bafflement in every line of his body. “I don’t understand but I am justified. I knew you would be good conversation.” Impish twinkles in his eyes, “And you smell good.” He handed me out of the car as if I were something precious. I’ve had doors opened for me before and I’ve been offered a hand as I was stepping out. He made it a ceremony. Door opened. He stood to the side and bent at the waist and gave me his arm. I placed my hand on his arm and then he took my other hand gently pulling me up and out. Wow. Wow wow wow. His hand supported my elbow as we walked up the steps and through the door of his home.
I saw the reason for the Chopin in his tape deck: the main furnishing in his living room was a baby grand piano. Incredibly clean, sparely furnished, a peaceful room with uncurtained French doors, a futon and a low black table. On the table was a vase with a couple of stems of tuberoses. The air was rich with their scent.
“Please, this way to the back porch. Or would you like to call your roommate first to let her know where you are?” I thanked him for this consideration and did call Jo. I told her I was having conversation with someone at his house. Through the phone, I could hear the venom. “Not that wretched Daniel? Maybe…..here’s a thought, a human?” “No to number one, yes to number two. Don’t know yet to number three.” She didn’t ask but I knew she was dying to know – will you be home anytime in the next couple of days?
Through the dining room and kitchen to the back porch. Like most kitchens in the Fan District, the kitchen was long, narrow and led to a back porch or patio area. It was early evening but full dark. The night was warm and smelled of newly mown grass, honeysuckle from a neighboring fence, and oddly, of water. We established ourselves on the back steps. “Excuse me please. I will prepare tea and while it is brewing, I need to take a brief shower and change into other clothes.” He smelled fine to me – whiff of sandalwood, light, clean sweat, and mint. But if he felt he was dirty I was not going to argue. If this was “needing” to shower, I could hardly wait. I sat on the steps and listened to neighborhood sounds; dogs barking, cars passing by, a door opening and shutting, low laughter from several yards away, and again, an oddness: the sound of tinkling of water. I looked for wind chimes hanging on the porch and saw none.
It was pleasant sitting there after the events of the day. I sat, dreamed, and wondered about what was to come next. Soft sounds from the kitchen and then footsteps through the house and up the stairs. A light from the bedroom glimmered on the ground in front of me. A brief time later, the light blinked out, steps down the stairs, more soft sounds from the kitchen. The door opened behind me and I stood and turned. I almost fell to my knees. Wet, black hair brushed back and straight past his collar bones, soft grey cotton kimono tied about his waist. And he was natural that way; no sense of being in costume or trying to impress. He was in what I would call “my comfies”. The kimono was folded modestly against his throat….I didn’t get a glimpse of what I knew would be a great chest, but his arms were smooth and well muscled, some scars, and a few fresh nicks. Swords are sharp.
“Sit, please.” I sat on the top step and he placed the tray between us on the floor of the porch. Simple white teapot with small white tea cups, no handles, no saucers. A small bowl with natural sugar crystals and spoons, a bamboo tea strainer, some small round buns on a yellow plate, paper napkins neatly folded. He poured and handed me a cup. I’d like to say our fingers brushed and we were thrown into a frenzy of desire, but no, that didn’t happen. I took the cup and inhaled. “That is very nice.” And sipped. “What am I to call you? By your surname?” “Just call me Ken. Shorter, easier. Or, you can call me Dr.” Low laugh. “Just joking. Please call me Ken. However, I’m not related to or dating Barbie. I’d rather be here with you. This is nice. I am babbling like a boy. I’ll be quiet now. No, I’ll babble. How in the world did you determine that I am a forensic pathologist. I could be a cardiologist or pediatrician? Never before has anyone guessed. Tell me please.”
And for some reason, he truly was babbling. This elegant (and I later learned his name means ‘elegant’), handsome, professional, intelligent man was babbling. “Honestly?” He nodded. “I deduced. Based on the schools and the progression, I figured it would lead you into what type of doctor you are. I know several few forensic types, have worked with them, know about UT. In my wild young days, I was on a rotation to take autopsy photos as well. I learned a lot about schools for forensics, people who teach, taught, practice. I just threw it out there,” and continued sipping my tea. Ken shook his head and just looked at me. “You are very perceptive, very……sensing. Wrong word but you know what I mean.”
He sipped and began asking me questions. I answered; longer answers, short answers, no answers. He liked that my major in college had been Cultural Anthropology with concentration in indigenous people, minor in physical anthropology. He fairly beamed when I told him my favorite piece of art of Hokusai’s Great Wave. I told him how I had been on a school field trip to Smithsonian and ran away from the gaggles of kids and discovered the Freer Gallery and then……Great Wave. “The east Asian art captured me but when I saw that, I was transformed. I determined then to find out all I could about Japan. I still know very little but what I know, I feel….very,” and I hesitated, “comfortable with. I have visited several times. Ryoan-ji is my heart home.” I began asking him questions. I asked him questions. He responded – brief, long, funny, sad.
We talked for hours, until dawn and drank tea (“try the tea buns. I made them”). We laughed, giggled, shared secrets and dreams. A lifetime was talked about between us and we still only made a ripple on the surface. When it became dawn, in the grey light, mysteries were solved. A koi pond in part of the yard with a small waterfall over rocks – the smell and sound of water. I looked around his yard and gasped. A small garden of gravel and boulders took up more room.
He stood and went into the kitchen and came out with a bowl of chopped lettuce leaves. “Let us feed the nishikigoi. Princess Greedy will ignore you because I am the love of her life. Do not be insulted.” He winked at me. As we walked closer, I saw the water begin to roil. By the time we were at the edge, fish were breaking the surface and one had lifted itself until its eyes and mouth was above the surface, Princess Greedy, I presumed. He hunkered down with me beside him and began to hold lettuce above the water. One by one they took the pieces from his fingers. I took pieces and did the same.
We looked at each other and smiled deeply. Deep crinkle lines at his eyes and those small brackets beside his mouth. What a beautiful mouth he had. “Sometimes I tell them if they misbehave, I will make sashimi of them. But they know better.” I put my finger out and was most startled when one wrapped its round mouth around my finger. I held my hand still and then in my other hand held a piece of lettuce. It looked at the lettuce, let go, and made for the lettuce. “I am having too much fun. I just love these fish, Ken. I really do. I think they like me, except for Princess of course, but that is fine.”
Then we turned. I stood and looked at the placement of the rocks and the flow of lines in the gravel. I clasped my hands to my chest and just looked and looked, noting every little detail. Before I could breathe another breath, I felt tears sliding down my cheeks. In my mind I said “home.” In my heart, I said “peace.” He looked down at me and turned my face up so he could see. With a delicate finger, he touched the tears and then touched his finger to his lips. “Oh Misosazai,” and became silent. We stood that way and then it was his turn to sigh deeply.
“Come. I must take you home or your roommate I think, may come to find me.” I followed behind him and wiped the tears off my cheeks. He picked up the tray and went into the kitchen, me still behind. It had been wonderful. It was over. It was something I could hug to myself when I became lonely. I was grateful. He changed back into jeans and have mercy on me, a white tee shirt.
I gave him directions to home. He parked and I turned to him. “Thank you for everything, Ken. It is not every day one can have tea and talk with a real live samurai.” He actually blushed. We both hesitated. Impulsively, I said, “Would you like to come into Crazy Land and have coffee?”
He put both hands on the steering and turned to me, “I was afraid you were not going to ask. Yes, please. Coffee with you and Jo and the cats. Please yes!”
We went into the house straight through to the back. Jo, in usual form was sitting on the back steps, huge mug of coffee in hand, puffing on a cigarette with the Sunday papers spread all around her, hair sticking straight up. “Jo, this is Ken…..Dr.Ken…”. In her east Tennessee twang, she welcomed him and sat back down. He was my company and my responsibility to entertain. He sat down beside her and this time, I brought the tray. Mugs of strong coffee, sugar dish, cream pitcher, spoons, toast and ginger marmalade (it’s good, I made it).
We sat and then Jo left for brunch with a group of her “lesbee friends”. Ken and I spent the day together. He teased the cats (your house doesn’t smell of cats. I like that.”) while I showered and changed.
I introduced him to southern fried chicken, homemade biscuits, and peach cobbler for Sunday Dinner. I explained to him that “dinner” in the South was usually “lunch”. He smeared one of my homemade biscuits with butter, took a bite and whimpered. “I am in love Misosazi. Truly. I have never tasted real southern food and I am in love. The cobbler you say is your father’s recipe? It is…amazing.”
When he left later, Jo said, to me, “You are already halfway in love with him, aren’t you?”
I was silent, and then, “He must never know. We are good friends now. I don’t want to lose him. I’m afraid if he knows, he’ll run away.” She nodded. She knew that. “Well Munchkin, he’ll never hear it from me. I like him too. He’s good people.” I thought of his fingers on my cheek, touching the tears and then touching them to his lips. I felt shaken, stirred, overcome. My heart opened wide and refused to close back again.
The samurai held out his hand and the wren flew down and nestled in his palm.