The evening was cold but the city was strangely warm with the crowds of people insisting to use their collective enthusiasm to keep the traditional cold at bay. The night was a celebration of a recent holiday so the streets were crowded with drunk people and people that rarely had a reason to celebrate. While the locals tried to avoid all the tourist traps, Ali was trying to get back home and every route was choked with taxis and drunks trying to get somewhere other than here. She backtracked through less than familiar routes and finally made her way to her street. As she rounded the last corner for the final straight line to her place, she walked headfirst into a pedestrian who was trying to do the same but going in the opposite direction. Her head hit him squarely in the sternum which caused her to begin to lose her balance; as she started to fall sideways, he grabbed her forearm and righted her. She was dizzy, her head was ringing and her vision was resetting when she heard his voice. He was American or Canadian but one thing for sure, he was not from London.
"Crazy night," he smiled, "and think it is necessary to get you home."
Ali smiled and involuntarily said, "Me as well." Her head was spinning as had all the characteristics of a cartoon collision with stars and wavy lines surrounding her very cute head.
"I know," he said, "Let's get you home safe. My journey is just beginning and I have a few moments to spare to make sure you arrive home with no more collisions."
Ali smiled again and literally blushed herself into an obvious crimson rush of happiness, arousal, politeness, courtesy and relief. She had no way to control the litany of emotions that emerged from within and sent a rainbow of non-verbal happiness all over this man’s jacket but if truth be told, she might be actually suffering a valid concussion.
He looked at her but did not return any similar messages but did look at his watch and said, “It is late, you are wearing crazy shoes, it is cold and you have a propensity to run into things. Ali listened intently but was fascinated by his watch; it was an old, beat-up watch which had obviously been actively used but the sight of an old winding watch surrounded by cell phones was an odd dichotomy and worth storing away for one of her legendary extreme analysis of events past.
She stood there; fascinated and was thinking, "Who is the guy? Why the old watch? Where is he going? Where is he coming from or going to at such a late hour?"
He continued to make sure she was stable and had her purse and was not concentrating on her obvious concentrating of him. Her random thought process was misfiring because she continued to silently ask herself questions such as "How tall is he? How old is he? Does he like my shoes?" and that is when she was sure her head was going to hurt tomorrow.
“I like your watch.” She heard her voice for the first time and was slightly startled but she was now in the game.
“Thank you. It serves a purpose for me and I do not like throwing away things that are still useful. I believe in using things without tossing them to obsolescence for no reason except the latest version is now available.”
Ali could not believe that of all the things she wanted to say, she chose to compliment on his watch. Here is a total stranger that she basically head-butted who is escorting her back to her flat and all she said was that 'she liked his watch.' Ali rolled her eyes at her poor planning but kept moving at a fast pace to keep up with his long strides. He would pause politely even few thing, slowing down his gait but where he was steady, she would engage in a series of walking fast to catch up but find herself falling behind again and again.
He did not act annoyed with her literal changes of pace as he continually kept adjusting his stride to stay right next to her.
She had to find his name and felt that if she would be so abrupt about the watch question, this time she would use all her Ali charm and win back some of the conversational balance by asking the next question with more of a subtle and smooth demeanor. She waited until they were at exactly the same position and she opened her mouth.
“What is your name?”
Ali could not believe what she heard. All the preparation and strategy went out the window again with her second four-word basic question that had been asked a million times already in the city that day. She kept her facial expression polite but inquisitively stoic and literally forced the ascending blush back down into her blouse. She was not going to blush again; the last one almost forced her to find a place to sit.
“My name is Karne. Over here, they will spell it ‘G-e-o-f-f’ but luckily for everyone, it is pronounced the same. You can call me Karne or anything you want." He pointed at a large crack in the dark sidewalk and said, “Be careful, don’t catch a heel. I can likely only save you one time a night.”
She smiled genuinely and thought that here is a guy that has no obvious agenda and just wanted to get her home quickly and safely. Whether the collision gave him the opportunity to decide to do so or just because he seemed like a person that did many nice things, Ali did not care. December and January were shitty months for Ali with a bruising holiday season and many unsettled things that eventually turned to shit. She was tired of feeling tired and found that the brief walk home was energizing and a full portion of normal interaction with no agenda of ulterior motives. This Karne was nice but the point was that the world was nice and her fantasy of surrounding herself with people who cared about her welfare was likely a reality as long as she looked for the good in the acts of kindness of people, whether they were friends or strangers.
“We are at my building, said Ali. She pointed at the stairs and she shook her keychain as a sign of seriousness. Karne smiled and said, “It was nice meeting you. Please head in and lock the door.” Ali smiled again hoping for some debonair comment about getting together or how nice it was to meet each other but when this fantasy began to dissipate, a nice guy walked her about three blocks out of his way to her apartment. Chivalry was not dead; it was not even sick.
She walked up the stairs and said, “Thanks again.” Ali unlocked the door and closed it behind her. She looked at him through the glass and gave a cute wave and Karne waved back. She knew they would meet again; there was no doubt about that event. It was going to happen and once her head stopped spinning, she was going to find him again.
Two weeks later, she arrived exactly fifteen minutes late and walked in to see her future, high-potential boyfriend stuffing several Chinese dumplings into his mouth with no regard to social graces or consumption time ratios. The meeting was a pre-date as Ali spent several phone calls positioning a social invitation but it was mutually agreed to meet and get to know each other face to face. Ali assumed he had arrived famished and once the official start of the date began, he felt within his rights to order some food as an ice-breaker. Ali also hypothesized he saw himself in a no-lose situation; either she arrived with the food and he would be looked upon as an effective planner and one who could be relied on to take one critical initiatives or she would arrive after the food and he would begin the date with a cool demeanor which always accompanies a content and quiet stomach.
"Hello, Karne" said Ali.
"Hello Ali, said Jeff. "May I ask you question?"
What troubled Ali was not the face full of dumplings but his aggressive nature to place them all in his mouth at once. When she sat down, he slowed his pace and sincerely offered the lone surviving dumpling as a sign of mutual respect but when she had reached over with the still-clean chopsticks to spear it from the now-cloudy plum sauce; she could sense his disappointment with her decision.
“What’s with the face?” thought Ali. “There certainly has to dumplings be more of them in the kitchen.” While she ate the dumpling in several bites, an alternative not likely used by her potential boyfriend, she thanked him and waited for some other gallant gesture to come forth but none seems to rise to the occasion. He did not ask if she wanted more dumplings (she certainly did), a drink (which she certainly needed) or a menu, he just stared at the ever-shrinking bolus in her freshly lip-sticked mouth with the look of lost opportunity and sadness.
"You said you had question?" said Ali. She did like him but he was proving to not be easy to figure out. "This date isn’t going too well," she thought, "I am glad I didn’t wear my stupid shoes… that would have been the final indignity.”
"I had one question, but now I have two," said Jeff.
"Why do you call me 'Karne" and do you not feel something warm on your elbow?"
As he asked the question, she was picking up some heat and texture sensations coming up from her left elbow.She looked down and saw that her elbow was resting amongst the second plate of dumplings; he look of disappointment was likely more created by surprise than dumpling sharing but she had no idea why she could not use her senses in a normal way when around him. She was fifteen minutes late and she started to remember that he was coming from a day in which he was missing lunch so he ordering of dumplings was motivation by standard hunger, not due to sloth. And why she was oblivious to a second plate of dumpling being placed directly in front of her was another mystery. She was wondering how embarrassing the second question was going to be.
"I feel it now," said Ali as she recoiled back from the dumplings and cleaned her (luckily) bare elbow with the napkin provided.
"What was the first question again?" said Ali. She felt like a total oddball.
"Why do you call me 'Karne?'"
"Because that is your name. You told me at our first meeting."
"I did tell you my name and I even shared how the English spelled it. He looked at her and said, " “My name is Jeff. Over here, they will spell it ‘G-e-o-f-f’ but luckily for everyone, it is pronounced the same. You can call me Jeff or anything you want."
Ali's eyes popped open. That was correct: why did she call him Karne? Why was she jumping to conclusions about his consuming dumplings as he waited for her? Why was he so nice to order another serving? Why was she so judgmental? Maybe it was time for her to stop waiting to talk and begin to listen and validate facts as they appear.
It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
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