On the Man Writing in Chinese on a Napkin in Starbucks
His napkin collects under the drag of his pen. A flimsy thing, thin and fragile, caving under blue ballpoint lines. It wears his stories, his napkin. Chinese characters form with each motion—slow, deliberate, each drag with meaning. Lines as mindfully sketched as the etches in his cheeks, heavy with story as the skin under his eyes. Slow, thoughtful—bears its years.
I imagine a year with each drag. One character, one life. He draws and I can see—his youth in a fishing village, art inherited from his father, a veteran fisherman. I smell the salmon seeped into his clothes; he carries his village. His fishing line, pull and tug, is a novice etching. He watches his father and repeats, his line digging into his palm as though carving the practice into his skin. It becomes callus, he becomes veteran, and he teaches his son, as his father, him. One character, one life.
I see his glances to the woman selling jams at the market, years ago. Those fleeting eyes, tentative, quiet eyes. He sells his fish, and she, her jams—and he prays his glances won’t catch in her jars. Each glance, he etches her into his mind: Her wide, dark eyes; her sun-browned skin; her black hair collected at the base of her neck, a perfect knot covered by patterned cloth. He tried her jams once, an elderberry gel, as dark as her eyes. She sold, he bought, and does she remember? He relished the jam, kept the jar, collected her eyes. The jar a relic for her eyes. It sits in his closet now, and he draws.
One character, one life. A coffee shop napkin etched with his stories.