He – Dan – met her at a bar the morning he’d been jilted at the altar. She was wearing an air hostess’s uniform in a way that made it clear she wasn’t actually an air hostess. She’d ripped the sleeves off, for one thing.
She was sitting right up at the bar, drinking tea with a soft expression, as if intoxicated by it. A Japanese girl with a little row of enamelled violet stars fixed to her skin somehow. They sparkled down from the corner of her eye to the top of her cheekbone, like a tear of joy. She smiled at him. ‘I like your suit,’ she said. He offered to buy her a drink, but she shook her head and tugged her teacup closer.
He bought himself three shots of absinthe, located the darkest corner of the bar and pointed it out to her. ‘Let’s go over there,’ he said.
She looked a bit concerned. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Just a drink, that’s all,’ he said, wondering if he seemed dangerous. ‘I just want to be somewhere quiet.’
‘Dark doesn’t necessarily mean quiet,’ the girl answered. Not girl, she was a woman. The ones who interested him always got so pissed off when they caught him thinking of them as girls.
He didn’t contradict her, just went and sat at the table he’d chosen. After a moment she came over, cradling the saucer in her palm, curling her hand around the cup as if it was a flame she was trying to protect from the wind. She looked behind her several times, with virtually every step she took towards him.
‘Watching the door?’ he asked.
‘I meant, are you expecting someone?’
She checked her watch. ‘Maybe.’
He found a teaspoon in his pocket and began dosing himself with absinthe. She looked up when he started drinking; she looked at him for a long time, then nodded, just once, and bit her lip thoughtfully. He found another teaspoon – ornate ones came in pairs, it seemed – and offered it to her, but she seemed not to see it.
His phone rang – he rejected the call without checking who it was from.
‘Let’s talk. I went to a fortune teller yesterday,’ she announced. ‘Oh, yes?’ Dan said, obligingly. ‘What did she say?’
His phone rang again and again, vibrating wildly on the tabletop. He reached for it, but she got there first, laying one french-manicured hand across the screen and switching it off with the other.
‘Thank you,’ he said, uneasily, knowing that thanking her could set a precedent for similar (or worse) interventions in the future. He imagined walking down the street with her, talking. Then he imagined them being joined by one or other of his more garrulous friends. Then he imagined her clamping a hand over the chatty friend’s mouth without a flicker of warning.
‘He,’ she said. This was cryptic to him until he remembered she was still talking about her fortune teller. In her mind there had been absolutely no interruption. ‘He said I’m going to have a short life.’ She seemed satisfied with the prediction. ‘A really short life,’ she stressed.
‘I suppose you should make the most of it,’ he said. He loosened his tie. The teaspoon he was using was the smallest you could get. Yet the absinthe was going so fast! He must have been dosing himself more rapidly than he’d thought.
‘Don’t you recognize me?’ she asked abruptly. When he looked at her, she smiled encouragingly. ‘From school. Maybe you’re not used to my eyes. Most of the time I was bent over a book – like this.’ She lowered her head so that all he could see was the glossy crown of her head and a column of black hair hanging down. ‘Remember?’ she asked. ‘Remember?’
He didn't remember her at all. He was absolutely sure he’d never seen her before. ‘Ah, yes,' he said, and drank a little more liquor. He saw the church congregation in his mind – just a flash, a lot of starched shirts and swishy dresses and flowers and embarrassed, pitying faces. He talked to keep the image away. ‘Ah, yes – long time ago, school. But now I remember . . .’
‘Natsuha,’ she prompted him.
‘Natsuha. You were a quiet one.’
‘I was, wasn’t I? I didn’t have a single friend. Not one. At lunchtime I locked myself into a toilet cubicle and ate my sandwiches in there. Oh, the good old days at Felix Fidelis.’
‘Felix Fidelis?’ Dan said. ‘I didn’t go to Felix Fidelis. I went to Bellingham Wood.’
‘Oh. My mistake.’ She picked a mint leaf out of her cup and began shredding it back into the water with a studied look of innocence. ‘What’s your name, then?’
He told her, adding: ‘Is your name really Natsuha?’
She pulled out her passport and showed him the photo page: her name was Jennifer Sato. Unexpectedly, and without being able to explain why it happened just then, Dan began to cry.
Jennifer looked sympathetic, but not surprised. ‘Lost a Jennifer recently?’ she enquired. ‘A Jennifer very dear to you? Close to your heart?’ Dan shook his head. ‘Not even that. Must be the absinthe. I’m not used to this...’ Jennifer winked.
‘Honestly, I don’t usually do this.’
She winked again, he laughed, and she said, ‘That’s better.’ ‘Perhaps I should explain . . .’ he began, but she waved her hands until he stopped.
'No no no,’ she said. ‘No explaining. Don’t think about bad things.’ She ordered more tea.
‘Going anywhere nice?’ he asked.
She gave him a quick, impatient look, as if he was speaking a foreign language he knew very well she didn’t understand. ‘What?’
‘Your passport. You’ve got your passport with you,’ he said, slowly and clearly.
‘Dan, you’re getting me down.’ She gave the table-top an emphatic tap. ‘Why are you talking like this? “Make the most of it”, “Going anywhere nice?” Don’t be silly. That’s how cardboard people talk.’
‘You’re not easy to talk to,’ he said, after a moment. ‘And I’m a bit – ’
‘No explaining.’ She checked her watch again. ‘I always carry my passport, in case I want to go anywhere. And so do you, isn’t that right?’
‘Well – yes,’ he admitted. Was that normal or not? He’d never checked with anyone, had just assumed that it wasn’t something a lot of people did.
‘Also – you asked if I was expecting anyone ...’
‘And I am.’ She lowered her voice. ‘Dan, I’m going to be kidnapped today. By two experts. They’ve pulled off nine kidnappings in the Niger Delta region alone. And they’re women, too. Women of purpose and guile. So I feel very connected to them. At noon they’re going to burst in here with fake guns and drive me to the airport. On the way there, we’re going to post a ransom note and a lock of my hair to my mother. Then we’re going to Cappadocia. I always wanted to see the fairy chimneys.’
Violet Stars Happy Hunting! continues in One for the Trouble: Book Slam Volume One, available to download from Amazon Kindle or iBooks.