We sit at opposite ends of an old storefront—in its current incarnation as a neighborhood bistro. He is an elderly man who looks like he will never be accustomed to the blue jeans he wears. He makes me think about a book I read with an old man with an imaginary best friend. The book is one of my favorites and my face relaxes into a gentle smile at the recollection.
His own companion is quite real, but to me he exists as a gold-threaded voice reflecting off the opposite wall. The old man cocks his head to listen and together they drink hibiscus tea, red and steaming. They talk, as friends. They talk as allies when words do not come as quickly as they should.
“Rita Bullock is a remarkable woman,” he says. He is resolute in his statement, and the words stay perched for a moment before he continues. She is a music professor from Florida. She is woman who made it on her own working in Germany. The man’s friend makes a comment about money.
I busy myself rustling through old receipts with half-illustrated alphabets, not wanting to seem like I am paying too much attention. But my focus is constant— I want to be called a remarkable woman.
Soon, I realize these words are familiar. Someone already has spoken these words to me: An old man, an architect. A good friend.
Quickly, silently, I feel the heat on my face, the saltwater stains on paper.