The cat walks across the table, looking casually side to side, until some unknown criteria has been met and then unceremoniously thuds down on her side. A little squirm to get comfortable and a turn of the head; she stares at me as if I am some visiting museum piece, an oddity, to be examined but eventually forgotten. Her tail slowly whipsawing inches above the kitchen table. It doesn’t help that her chosen place of rest is in the middle of the Wall Street Journal…which I am reading.
I like cats like I like sunsets and long walks in the park…meaning that they’re nice when they happen but I don’t plan my life around them. I certainly don’t plan my life around my cat although she would argue, vehemently and loudly in the dark hours of the morning, that I’m fooling myself. I look at the now owner-occupied Journal, breathe a small exasperated sigh and give up; it’s no use fighting nature so I head back upstairs to finish dressing for work.
It’s wet outside from a vicious rain the night before. I’m buttoning my sleeves and from my bedroom window I look down to the street and can see leafy puddles on the walk in front of the brownstone, bits of tree branches and mud collecting in low spots. The walk to the train won’t be a clean one, I think, or dry.
I work in the city in some unnamed building deep in the screaming depths of the financial district, slogging away day after day on something meaningless and repetitious. I’m not exactly sure what it is that I do but I have to assume that it’s important to someone there in the bowels of Franklin Smith & Co. because the paycheck shows up every other Friday like clockwork. Because I rarely actually see or speak to anyone and the fact that I haven’t a clue who it is I report to, I spend a lot of my days staring at the computer screen thinking of Nika.
Really, not much more than that.
I’ve taken one vacation in my entire worrisome little life and that was 2 weeks in Greece 3 years earlier. To be painfully honest, it was such a blur that I don’t even remember the city I was in or the island I was on but I quite clearly and distinctly remember Nika.
I saw her first on a clichéd cobblestone street amidst equally clichéd whitewashed buildings, all huddling close and peering down at me from the sides of stony hills. Their arched eyes fluttering linen lids in the small breeze. I had to shake my head because I truly thought I had fallen through some rip in reality and had landed in a television commercial for some expensive woman’s hair product. Everything was perfection; the entire world seemingly staged specifically for the purpose of framing Nika in the perfect shot, with the perfect lighting, the perfect pose. Her long dark hair flowed like black mercury, rippling, undulating with every movement of her head. I looked around expecting a camera crew but could only see pathetic tourists, like me, shuffling goods and mumbling about among the open shop doors.
Nika was a waitress in a café along the street, moving easily among several tables with brightly colored clothes scattered under equally colorful cotton umbrellas. Tall dark wood framed windows into the restaurant sat on either side of the wide open door, sand colored tiles leading into the dark cool depths. I don’t remember the food, I don’t remember the wine, I only remember Nika.
I went every day to see her, always sitting as far away from the door as possible, to give Nika as much distance as possible to come toward me. To allow as much time as possible to watch her simply walk, her inky black hair like a single thing, the sail of her ship flowing with the wind and her movements. I spoke little, pointing to things on the menu, using eyes and face to indicate need and want. She was equally as vocal, occasionally saying yes or no but otherwise silent and smiling.
This went on for the entire two weeks; I don’t remember anything else about Greece, the flights, the hotel…nothing. I remember Nika.
The night before my departure I had a little more wine than normal, was a little looser, felt relaxed and comfortable in the shifting night air. Nika was as beautiful as always, her hair shimmering and dancing as she walked from table to table. Something happened inside me, some pressure building from years of suppression, some feeling moving, circulating through me. I felt strong and tall and handsome and sure of myself. I don’t know if it was the wine, the sparkling Aegean, the totality of the scene but some man inside was reaching up through the hard shell of my nothingness, my carefully constructed wall of anonymity, and forcing me to think and…act.
Nika swirled by on her way to a table past me and I reached out and slightly grabbed her elbow, the first time I had touched her, and redirected her to my table. She was surprised but a smile stayed in place as she turned to me. “Yes?” Nika said. A million cascading thoughts in my head all fought for dominance and passage out, elbowing and scrambling to get in the lead. My face, I hoped, betrayed none of this.
“Nika, I just want to thank you for being such a lovely hostess and taking care of me these past weeks. You’ve been very attentive and caring and for that I am very appreciative.” I started, she looked at me with slightly wider eyes, an upturned smile, “My name is Patrick, by the way, and I live and work in New York City in America, I work in the financial sector and have an office on the 18th floor of a large building downtown.” I was on a roll, these were the most words I have ever spoken to a woman in my life…and I was speaking confidently, smiling…I continued, “I have a small apartment in the village, er, sorry, that’s Greenwich Village, that has plenty of room as there is only me and a cat named Fiona.” It was unbelievable, the words just naturally flowed, something that has never happened to me before, thoughts and sentences magically formed in my mind and came out intact, amazing, I went on, “Fiona likes to think she is the owner but I have yet to see her pay a bill so I claim dominance as far as that’s concerned. The street where I live is very quaint with cafes and restaurants, much like this one, scattered up and down the block. I think you would find it nice there, I think you would like it a lot there…” What was I doing? Where was I heading with this? Other diners were starting to take notice.
“In fact, I think you would love it there and, I know this sounds just mad and insane really, but would you like to come home with me? Would you like to move to America and live with me in New York?” My eyes were wild! What the hell was I saying? I was mad with confidence and understanding of the universe. I felt like I was plugged into some magical reality-socket and that I could see it all; the past flowing through the now and further into the tomorrow.
But before Nika could answer, or say anything, really, I jumped back in, “I know it sounds crazy but there is something about you, something about right now that it makes it all seem perfectly normal and sane. There is something happening in the universe that I just have to abide by and follow and that is that you are destined to come back with me to New York, that my life will change instantly, that my career will take off and I will never ever be alone and waiting again!” I ended on an up note, slightly panting from the exertion, looking with bright eyes and a wide smile at Nika. A fat question mark hanging in the empty space between us.
Nika stood there smiling, slightly shaking her head upwards a degree or two, down another degree but she said nothing. I waited and she stood smiling, holding two empty wine glasses in one hand, the other resting on her hip. I looked back with imploring eyes, trying to mentally pull words from her. minutes went by, then…
…a black thought seeped into my consciousness, spread quickly across and eventually infected all of my thoughts. My wide smile slowly sprung back to my usual grim façade, my eyes once bright were embers slowly fading, “Nika, you don’t speak English, do you?”
Nika said no.