As I was leaving the post office I ran into L. When I had spent the week here in June 1968 which cemented our futures together (See p. 95 of “Cheesesteak,” available for $25, from Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley 94709), we had out poignant parting dinner before I returned to Chicago at the Chinese restaurant L owned on Shattuck Avenue. When I had my office in Berkeley, I ate chicken chow fun there, usually once a week.
Following her divorce, L sold the restaurant. I’d seen her a few time since but not in several years. We kissed cheeks, discussed arthritis (hers), cardio problems (mine), dry rot (mutual), and six grandchildren (also hers). Then we parted, having, I suspect, making each of us feel better that here we both still were.
I had barely resumed my seat at the café when a woman entered whom I also thought I recognized. For a brief time, in the late nineties or early oughts, I saw her as another customer in the back room or, even more briefly, working the register of what-I-call-in-my-writings (See, for instance, “Fully Armed,” available from www.theboblevin.com) “Café Frenzy.” She was Mexican, maybe a Berkeley City College student, and strikingly attractive, with thick, below-shoulder-length black hair. She never acknowledged my stares. I never spoke to her beyond, when she was at the register, “Short double espresso” and “Thank you.”
She was putting a top on her to-go cup when I said, “Excuse me, but…”
She was surprised – and pleased – to be remembered. “How are you?” she said, even though she could not have remembered me. “I have a 10-year-old son.”
I recalled her hair. “And then you cut it.”
“Oh,” she said, “I cut it so short.”
“Bob,” I said, extending my hand.
“R,” she said.
Her grip was firm.
Later I thought about her mention of her son. I thought who she may have been at 20, being stared at by men in back rooms, not knowing where her future would lead. This son, I thought, signified a pride and self-assurance and attainment she could not have been sure would ever be hers.
I was glad I had spoken