"Do you remember me? I'm Reiko. You must be Ako-san, right?"
It was a chilly early evening at the café "Salt and Pepper"at Davis Square. When I sat down at the corner there with a cup of coffee and a book to read, Reiko found me. We hardly knew each other. I met her once at my friend's house. Reiko, in dark-blue jacket and gray skirt, with well-balanced makeup, sat in front of me even without asking. Feeling like a slob with uncombed hair and in an old sweater, I closed the book with a smile and said,
"How have you been? You look nice."
Reiko, who looked like she was in her late 20's, faced toward me, but her eyes were seeing somewhere behind my back.
"I am going back to Japan next week. I finished my Master's program", she said. "Congratulations. That's really great", I said, and smiled again. Reiko looked at my eyes once, and again somewhere behind my back. "Thanks."
Then Reiko looked around the café for a while. It was very quiet. A waitress was busy taking care of her manicured nails. It started to become darker outside. My coffee was becoming colder.
Reiko mumbled, "You have a green card, right? I remember you said you were once married to an American." The air around me became a little heavier. "Again", I thought. I met many foreigners in the States who do not have much sensibility concerning with my broken marriage. Because of their strong desire for a green card, they often think that I have a good deal to own one. It's true that I have more options in life, maybe more than this Japanese woman sitting in front of me. But I also wanted to have a good marriage. Maybe much more than a privilege to work in the US.
"What are you planning to do in Japan?"
I asked without touching this green card issue, which might have irritated me. Reiko, sat back in her chair and said in a high-pitched voice,
"I will go back to my hometown. I know somebody who owns a clothing company there so I might become his secretary." With a Master's degree from a major school in Boston, she would become a secretary in a little fishing town in Japan.
When I was working in Tokyo in the mid-90's, it was very popular for young unmarried women to study at schools in the States. The mass media usually explained it in this way: women who find jobs in Japanese corporations immediately lose their interests in their work realizing that there is no hope for women to do important jobs. They used to get married and quit their jobs. Now they don't find it very charming to become housewives and stay at home, so instead they quit their jobs and come to schools in the US looking for something challenging and something glittering. I asked Reiko, "What did you study here?"She replied without enthusiasm, "Education."
Then Reiko told me, "I believe women become ugly once they get to be 35 years old. I have to find someone before 35 and get married. Don't you agree? "
"What does she want to say to me?"I thought. I am 34 years old, and I' m going to look uglier from next year on? Why do I have to spend my time with a woman who says such a thing? Feeling offended, I said to her,
"Ugh… I don't know. I have never thought that way. I just wonder what makes you think that way. "
Reiko, now looking at the corner of the table between us, was silent for a while. Then in an almost whispering voice,
"My father left my mother when I was a kid. My mother raised me all by herself as a waitress. She is very strong. "With a big sigh she continued,
"My mother kept saying to me that finding a stable man and getting married to him is all that counts in a woman's life. Can you believe it? It's almost the end of 20th century but she firmly believes it. "Reiko was still looking at the corner of the table. "I did anything against what my mother had wanted me to do. I came all the way here, studied hard and got a Master's degree. Then what? I don't know where to go now. I am going to be 30 next year". Reiko lifted her face. I could see that her makeup was not that perfect. I could see her split hair here and there.
She looked straight at my eyes for the first time.
"Don't you feel scared sometimes? Is it all right to feel scared? "
I almost jumped in my chair and said to her,
"Of course it's OK! I 'm scared every minute of my life."
Reiko kept looking at me and smiled. A beautiful smile.
"Sorry, did I disturb you?"Reiko said.
"No, no, not the least. "I drank up my cold coffee.
Reiko said she had someplace to go, and left me. It was already completely dark outside. The waitress was still working on her nails. I could see Reiko's figure moving towards Porter Square through the glass window. Then she disappeared. I would not see her again. Her hometown is so far away from the places I usually visit or stay in Japan. I thought about her name Reiko. It means a graceful child. I always liked the name Reiko. I thought about reading the book I brought, but changed my mind. I decided to go home alone to cook for myself. When I was married at least I always had someone to eat with, I thought, and left the table.