I said, “No matter. I will be working on these papers, and I’d rather keep the handbag next to me.”
She thanked me and asked if I was headed to Washington.
“Yes, I live and work there. What about you?”
“I was living in Baltimore with my brother, but now I am moving to Washington.”
She spoke clearly but with an unusual accent. There was a charming lilt.
I had a thick report in my hand; she had a thin book in hers. None of us seemed faithful to the printed word.
“Do you like living in Washington?” she asked.
“Yes, I find it a pretty and lively city, with good museums and active theaters. It is no longer true to say, as John Kennedy once said, that it was southern in its culture and northern in its hospitality.”
She said, “I hope to be near a university, for I want to take some language courses. I will be doing international work and languages might help.”
I asked, “Do you know where you will live?”
“I have taken an apartment on a short lease. I will look for a permanent place once I am familiar with the city.”
I said, “You don’t sound like a native of the country. Do you feel quite accustomed to the country?”
“Not really. I am still learning the ropes. Also, I lived with my parents earlier, and with my brother for the last three years. Now I will live by myself for the first time.”
I laughed, “That should be quite an adventure.”
She mused, “I may feel a little lonely at the start.”
“Possibly, but it is unlikely. Your new work will help you know new people. There are lots of things to see and do in Washington, and you will meet a variety of people as you go around and do things.”
“I hope you are right,” she said. “Frankly, I am a little nervous. There will be quite a few things to get under my belt.”
“Don’t be. You can take your time and pick up the threads little by little. I promise you an interesting time.”
I was enjoying talking with her. She seemed bright and vivacious. She had a disarming combination of calm and candor.
We were not on an express train and could have a pleasant conversation for nearly an hour. When the train entered Union Station in Washington, I shook her dainty hand, took leave and said that I wished our paths would cross again.
Liam, my Swedish colleague, had just narrated his short, eventful train ride over the weekend. Clearly, he hadn’t been able to put the Asian co-traveler out of his mind in the last several days. A good friend, he wanted to share over coffee what weighed on his mind. It was also possible, who knows, that he wondered if another Asian could be of some help.
I had no help to offer. Only a question, “Why didn’t you ask her for a telephone number? Or an email address?”
Liam said, “I hesitated. I thought my words, even my manner, had shown a clear streak of interest. I didn’t want to push my luck. I gave her my card, but I don’t think she will ever call me.” He added morosely, “She is Asian, I believe; she will never be so forward as to call me.”
“My friend, you should have at least wheedled out of her where she was going to work. Looking for her would be like searching a needle in a haystack in this big city.”
Liam said ruefully, “I didn’t realize then how her thought would haunt me.”
He had hardly finished when there was a knock on my office door. The young Cambodian woman who had just joined my section that week came in with a file.
I was about to introduce my colleague to the fresh staff member when something strange happened. Liam jumped up and nearly dropped his coffee cup. He and my new assistant looked at each other as if they had both been electrified. At long last, she smiled demurely.
However unnecessary, I formally introduced them both. Then said, “Why don’t you two talk while I go and arrange another round of coffee for us all,” and quickly exited.
I tarried purposely. There was no hurry. None at all.