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The Flirt

July 9, 2012

Marie liked walking in the park. For the first time in her life, she had found an exercise routine that suited her. She looked forward to the end of the day when the heat was no longer unbearable and the sun hung low in the sky. Maybe it was the lack of sunlight available in her tiny apartment with its stingy windows. Maybe it was all the young men who also showed up around that time to walk and run. Maybe it was all the good memories she had of times with her kids in that park. Whatever it was, it made her happy and she tried to get in three laps around the walking trail every day.

One day , she was turning the corner around the basketball court, busy with its daily game and approaching the tennis courts when her eye landed on a tall, dark handsome man playing tennis. She looked his way, enjoying the view and he caught her eye. The next time around she looked his way again and he looked at her again. She smiled and put her head down. This little morsel of attention from a stranger was enough to leave her smiling coyly as she walked the rest of the loop and approached the court again. By the third lap he was gone.

The next day he was there again with the same older, shorter man. It was clear they were of the same nationality, though she couldn’t be sure what that was. Indian or Pakistani maybe? What’s with you and foreign men, Marie asked herself. She was only a few days away from the finalization of her divorce from a Chinese American after twenty years of marriage. Her first post-divorce date had been with a Syrian and had gone nowhere. Though she was wise enough to know it was too early to think about dating anyone seriously, she craved male attention and recognized the restorative possibilities of a good rebound dating experience.

She walked past him again and they were in the middle of play when he caught a glimpse of her and missed his attempt at returning a serve. He looked embarrassed as he looked her way and she smiled and put her head down. At 43 Marie was hardly a shy girl but she found herself feeling a bit shy and reserved in the face of this guy’s attentions. When she came around the path again, they were walking to their car. She looked at him. He caught her eye. She passed him up then turned around and walked backward for a few steps and they watched each other for a minute before she turned back around and kept walking.

This went on for a several days. Sometimes he wasn’t there. Sometimes she didn’t go for her walk. When Marie was out with her fellow-divorcing friends that weekend she told them about the cute guy who smiles at her at the park. “How do you go from smiling at each other to exchanging names or numbers?” she asked. They were full of suggestions. Leave a note. Bring a tennis racket with you and go ask him for lessons. Take your shirt off. Call out your phone number when you walk by. They came up with a nickname for him, Tennis Bashir.

That Sunday evening he and his usual partner were playing doubles with a young man and woman. Marie looked his way as usual and he looked at her and smiled. The next time around he was about to serve. She watched him as he served the ball and it smashed hard into the net. He looked straight at her when this happened and she smiled and turned away again. She starting texting her buddies: He just messed up a serve as a walked by. That’s a sure sign of love at first sight, right? The next time she came around they were at a stopping point in the game. Someone was about to serve. She saw him gesture towards her with his head and make a hand gesture towards the others and no one did anything until she had walked past the court. They were all just standing there waiting for her to pass. Marie felt giddy and self-conscious. They were trying to inconspicuously wait for her to pass but it was obvious to her that he didn’t want to play in front of her. She found this adorable.

She was midway through her last lap. Her hair was soaked. What little makeup she had on had long sense been wiped away. Walking in July in Lafayette, Louisiana is like trying to do jumping jacks in a sauna. She was listening to music, feeling happy and girlish and wondering if he would still be there when she got back to the tennis court. She was on a part of the path that runs along a short one-way street. She looked beside her and there was a car driving slowly next to her and Tennis Bashir was in the passenger seat. She smiled and laughed as she realized he and his friend had gone out of their way to find her on the path.

The stalker becomes the stalked, she laughed to herself. He must be really shy. Marie called her friend to tell her of this momentous gesture. “Write a note in chalk on the tennis court,” she suggested. “No,” Marie said, “This is perfect. I’ll just keeping walking past and smiling and he’ll keep smiling back and missing his serves and we’ll leave it at that.”

“You’re right,” her friend agreed. “Then you don’t have to find out he’s a douchebag.”

“Yeah,” Marie said, “You know he’s just going to be disappointing in some way. Maybe he’s really young or has a high-pitched voice or doesn’t speak English. Or is married. This is better.”

The next day she was back at the park at the usual time. On her first lap she rounded the corner looking for the tell tale signs of her tennis man. The bright yellow ball going back and forth. The shape of his broad shoulders in the distance. Nothing. He wasn’t there. On her second lap she got a phone call from an old friend who had lost her number some six months ago. “How’ve you been,” she asked Marie. She didn’t know where to start. Marie thought about all the things she had gone through in six months. That was a lifetime ago. Her life was so full of turmoil and change, a week seemed like a year, sometimes. She was trying to find the structure of story-telling that would allow her to catch her friend up on everything she had been through as she rounded the basketball court again. Distracted, she hadn’t looked up at the tennis courts. As she came around the parked cars that blocked her view, she saw him. He was sitting on the bench right before the tennis court. He wasn’t wearing tennis playing clothes. He was dressed in jeans and a nice shirt. He was waiting for her. Marie caught her breath and said into the little white microphone of her iphone earbuds, “I have to go. I think I have a situation here.”

“A bad situation,” her friend asked, concerned. “No,” Marie replied. “A good one.” She took her earbuds out of her ears and slowed her pace and walked over to him. He nervously got up and shook her hand and said, “Hi,” and introduced himself.

One of Marie’s favorite movie scenes is from the Keira Knightley and Mathew McFadyen version of Pride and Prejudice. Miss Elizabeth is walking out in the garden at dawn. She looks over and there in the mist, Mr. Darcy is marching across the moor to her. He’s coming to see her. She gasps at the site of him. It’s one of the most romantic scenes ever filmed. Girard Park on a hot, Louisiana, July evening is not a misty, English moor at dawn, but dammit, it was the closest thing Marie had ever gotten to being the heroine in a scene like that.

“I’m surprised to see you,” she said and she was. He said he had been wanting to meet her for days and decided to go and wait for her at the time he knew she would be there. “That was brave of you,” she told him. He sat up a little taller and made a funny face, as if saying to himself, Brave, OK, I like the sound of that. He asked for her number. They chatted a bit and exchanged basic information. He was 28. She didn’t mention her age but said, “I’m not 28.” He was 15 years her junior. After talking for a little while, he promised to call her and left her to her walk. Marie finished her walk as if floating on a cloud. Wow. He had come for her. No one had ever made that kind of gesture for her before.

When they finally met for coffee that weekend, he told her that he had been attracted to her smile. He had been working on a paper at a coffee shop when he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He couldn’t concentrate on his work. He had to meet her. So he waited until 6:30pm when he knew she would be there and gone to see her. Do men like this really exist, Marie thought. She had never met a man who not only thought these things, acted upon them but admited to them openly.

Another night they met for drinks and kissed a little at his apartment. Once again Marie found herself crushing on someone she’d just met.

Soon after, he left for Chicago to visit friends. On the day of his planned return he texted her that there was a problem with his visa and he had to go to India for a couple of weeks. Wow. Really?

Marie tried to file him away in the back of her mind and move on to other interests. She might never see him again. Who knew if he was even telling the truth. She didn’t even know this person. It didn’t matter. That day at the park, that moment when she came around the corner and he was there waiting for her is something she will never forget.

Two down. What’s next?

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From → Rantings

One Comment
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