I’m getting old, and I thought I was incapable of feelings I enjoyed back in the day. Like love at first sight. I last experienced it in my early twenties, but here I was again, with a few strands of gray in my beard, falling in love with a girl the first time I see her.
It happened while I was in Iowa, towards the end of my IWP residency. I had been in the US for over ten weeks, and still held this stereotype that Americans don’t like bright, colorful clothes, at least that’s what Hollywood made me believe. They prefer shades of gray, blue, white, and black. University of Iowa had a lot of yellow as it is the school color, so much yellow that it sometimes hurt the eyes. And there was red in the cornfields, all their barns are painted red while the farm houses are white, but hardly did I see anyone wearing a red piece of cloth.
Then, one day in the middle of October, there was rain. The ground was wet and mirrored everything. I didn’t like it; it felt like refrigerated water falling from the sky. I had just finished a panel about reading, and was walking to the Prairie Lights bookshop with a bunch of other writers, my eyes on the pavement, which looked like a sheet of ice. Then I saw the reflection of something strange, a red sweater, a red umbrella. I frowned. I looked up, and saw a woman was smiling underneath that umbrella, maybe at some happy thoughts, maybe at sweet memories. She had this faraway look in her eyes – I never knew the meaning of that phrase until I saw her – as if she was dreaming happy dreams as she walked in the rain. And I fell in love.
In my yesteryears, I might have had the courage to do something about it. Now that I’m wiser and disillusioned about love and such fantasies, I simply stored the image away, thinking of a romance novella that would open with this scene: An African in the US, unhappy because people wear clothes with very dull colors, meets a smiling girl with a red umbrella – maybe it turns out like Singing in the Rain and they start dancing.
I hurried on to Prairie Lights and was soon sipping wine, when I see her walk in. I bit my lips hard and gathered up enough courage and walked up to her and said, “I saw you smiling in the rain a few moments ago.” And she said, “Really?” And she gave me that smile — of a person who seems to be forever dreaming happy thoughts — and I felt warm inside me. We talked for a long time, maybe thirty minutes, maybe an hour. She is a writer too, and we both have one thing, which we call ‘mild schizophrenia’, though she envied me because I often have lucid dreams. She told me that while walking in the rain, she had been listening to one of her characters…..
We had to stop talking because she had a movie date. We haven’t talked much since. I think it’s better that way, better to dream sweet dreams of what it might have turned out to be, than awake to the music of a sad and broken reality.
After that, I started to notice people in red, as if my eyes had developed some kind of magnetism to the color. I’d see it over a mile away, nearly obscured by all the dreary colors. Then, I went to New York, which was darkening with winter, low clouds swirling above sky scrappers, making everything bleak and dreary. Chaotic masses of human beings bustled about wrapped up in dullness, but I saw red much more often than in other places. I’d look up a street and see just one red piece of cloth standing out amidst all the dulls. My camera got busy. I love street photography, and in New York capturing moments of people in red became my favorite pass time.