Hanoi. Inside a tourist bus hired by the university. I sat next to a student volunteer. Dressed in a pristine white uniform. Young and radiating health. She told me about her family. Her father was a doctor. Wasn’t he? Not sure. Could have been an engineer or an accountant. But certainly not a pilot or a restaurant owner. We were silent for a while, watching through the window roadside shops, simple folks walking their way back home. We passed by an aged woman with a shoulder yoke. She could have reminded her of her grandparents. The girl suddenly turned towards me and asked, “Do you have grandchildren?” I must have been pretty old then. But I have grown even older with time. How old is she today? Don’t know her name. That nameless Vietnamese girl may still be in Hanoi. If you see an attractive girl there with a lovely smile, that’s she.
Hong Kong. I was walking down a long, steep stairway leading down the hill from my home to my office in the university. To my left stood the colossal shopping mall, Festival Walk. It began to rain and I prepared to get soaked. When a smallish Chinese girl emerged out of the huge mall. She briskly approached me and offered shelter under her open umbrella. We chatted as we went towards our common destination. She was an undergraduate student and spoke about the courses she was taking. Once inside the university building, she took leave and went her way. I never saw her again. Did I ask her name? Can’t recall anymore. Probably not. She should not be more than thirty five now. If you come across her do tell her that I can’t get her out of my mind even though I don’t remember her face. I wonder where she lives now. Her kindness has remained stuck to me like the empty smile of eternity.
New York city. Afternoon, fifty years ago. Avenue of the Americas. Pavement in front of Radio City Music Hall. I was walking aimlessly, when a girl in a green dress rushed up and confronted me. To my total surprise, she said, “I love you.” Her intonation was strange. I thought I heard her saying, “Love you?” I didn’t know her at all and stared at her dumbfounded for a moment. Then I tried to smile. I said, “You do?” “Yes,” she said and stood blocking my way, as though she was waiting for a response. Her eyes looked sad as she stared at me and her face wore an expression that I couldn’t decipher. The sadness in her eyes was too deep for her age and the manner of her voice was vaguely painful. I managed to skirt around her and briskly walk away. I had probably assumed her to be a drug addict, even though, on hindsight, she didn’t resemble one.
Like the other two, I never saw this girl again, but those sad eyes and the puzzling countenance continue to live and the enigmatic words she had uttered keep ringing in my ears. Was she asserting or interrogating me about herself? I wish I had bought her coffee and spent a few minutes with her. Instead, and as always, I didn’t even ask her name. Somewhere, now, she is a very old woman. She will not recognize me. It’s best to leave her alone.