A Story by Paris Kim

the strangers you always see but never bother to notice or wonder about.


            It was the third day of the week. Wednesday. This time, Alan wanted to see what the big deal was. He met his coworker Sergio down at the Peet’s coffee on Fillmore Street, then it was time. Taking the 31 all the way down to Embarcadero, they walked across an overpass for the Embarcadero Shopping Center, green iron tables and benches shaded by steel umbrellas jotting from the centers, strewn along mosaic tiling from one street end to the other and into more levels of outdoor shops. Sergio was long finished with his cup of Americano, while Alan was ensconced in his chair slowly drinking a latte. They waited, looking out beyond the bridge where they sat, staring down the streets towards busy Market in the distance, clouded by big skyscrapers that seemed more like massive mirrors reflecting back all around it the other competitors for the skies.

            “It’s usually around this time,” Serge was assuring his friend, looking down at his Fossil watch.

            Alan sighed. “She’s probably not that great looking,” he said flatly. The Italian turned quickly to him, a look of horror in his green eyes.

            “No, you’re wrong,” he spat at him in a soft Italian accent, shaking his head. “I tell you, she’s something. Along this stretch, walking from the theater up there.” He pointed to the other side of the bridge where up a flight of wide steps loomed the glass encasing of what was the indie theater Landmark Cinema. “You’ll see her. It’s always before a four o’clock showing, a bright blue coat, and heels. Always high heels, and the wildest kinds!”

            “Blonde?” Alan asked.

            “No, brunette.”

            “What if she’s with someone?”

            Serge shook his head confidently. “No, there never is someone. Just her. The lone Madama.” Alan started laughing, tossing the rest of his latte out of the cup over the ledge.

            “Jesus, you’re a f*****g creeper! Giving her a name, spying on her every month practically,” he laid out to his co-worker. The only person in sight was an older gentleman in corduroy pants and a fleece burgundy zip-up coming down those flights of stairs.

“It’s only once a month! If I didn’t have to drop off the stationery to the law office out here that day, I never would have seen her,” Serge explained, never once turning his head from the direction of the cinema. “She saw me too"it was gorgeous. Her eyes, blue, and bright red lips. Not in a tacky sense too, it all fit perfectly.” They waited another fifteen minutes. The Fossil watch’s hand struck 4:22 P.M.

Alan was growing restless, almost standing up and ready to shake Serge’s hand when she appeared. A small, young girl of a beautiful mixture between Asian and some Anglo in traces of her wide face was descending the stairs before their eyes. Her blue eyes supported heavy heaps of mascara-laced lashes that flickered when her long straight hair brushed against her brows as the wind danced through the plaza. Her mini pouty lips were glowing red. The bright blue trench coat she wore touched perfectly at the knees of her denim skinny jeans, the sounds of her blush-colored pumps kicking quickly and musically on the mosaic. Both hands were in the pockets of the coat as she looked onward, fresh and unemotional.

Alan stayed silent as she passed by swiftly where they sat. Her eyes quickly glanced their way suspiciously, and she picked up her pace. Serge was beaming.

“I told you!” he said happily. “Sweet Madama! Always the third Wednesday, off to the movies! Oh man, she gives me joy.” They started walking in the opposite direction after watching her disappear into the corridors of the shops, but they kept trying to look back in case she was not fully out of view.

“You’ve never bothered to approach her?” Alan was asking.

“Would you ever interrupt a lion during its hunt of a zebra?” Serge retorted, turning to Alan. “The same reason I don’t want to go up to her.”

“You weird Italians! I’m just saying, you like her so much, ask her out. What you’ve got to lose?”

Serge stopped in his tracks as they just got off the escalator going down onto the main street. Pulling Alan’s sleeve, he urged him to follow, where they stopped in front of a glossy chocolate store window front that showed their reflections almost opaque and perfectly. “We’ve got all this to lose. Twenty-something year olds just out of college. We got nothing, besides working at a god-damn copy store, and if rejected by some cute little thing what dignity do we have left?”

Alan studied his image: tall, pale, and short uncombed hair with a protruding Cesar-like nose from thick brows. Compared to his friend, dark and shorter but more pleasing in the face, Alan seemed to have less dignity than Serge who at least had his looks. “You sure man?” he asked Serge, who was now fixing his light messy hair in the window. “I don’t know what you’re bitching about, you’re the stylish one.”

“You know women, they’re peculiar creatures! They want more intuitive things than damn style.”

“Might be right.”
            “I am right for a fact. Besides, if something were to happen,” they kept on walking back towards Market through the back streets of the Financial District, “I’d get to know her, learn her tastes, favorite music, where she goes out to dinner, what she likes and dislikes"the masterpiece is ruined. I just love the look of the girl, I’m afraid everything will shatter if I even learn her name.”

“But, what if,” Alan began, raising his index finger in doubt, “her name actually is Madama?”

Serge smiled, shaking his head and replied, “That’d be too perfect of this world then.”

“She’s nice to look at for sure, man, but it’s nothing too weird? I mean, she’ll start to notice eventually. Remember that book you let me borrow, Lolita? Yeah, pretty much.”

“You must think I’m very strange since I’m foreign. It’s just a wonderful idea, of such a person wandering the streets freely. Coming to San Francisco, I knew there’d be cool and pretty friendly people, but they haven’t got the look. I mean, some try too hard to be outgoing and different. Madama seems effortless, like she’s unaware that what she does is different. Perfectly out of the ordinary.”

“Ha! You may think it’s wonderful, but once she catches you it’ll be the police and Chris Hansen to deal with.”

Serge looked crossly at him. “Chris who?’

They were both scheduled to work the next Friday afternoon, the FedEx Kinkos along Van Ness Avenue. It was slow, thanks to the masses producing their own photos and printings via web or at home on refined Macbooks; Serge was up to something, having been at the computer for almost an hour. Alan was just staring out the window, waiting for a person to walk through the doors, but giving up he turned to Serge and started investigating his friend’s fixation.

“Don’t judge,” Serge instantly blurted, “it’s something I would want to give Madama.”

“You’re really making something for her?” Alan said with amusement in his voice.

“Sure! I mean, perhaps I will give it to her one day, and we could go for coffee, a dinner"work something out. It’s only a card. Letter press and everything. Here, come look!” Eagerly he moved off his seat and beckoned Alan over to the screen. It would be a small note card, soft blue, nearly the same as Madama’s coat, with the words To A Lonely Girl in scribbled font, white ink. He printed the work, and the result was simple but beautiful; sturdy and smooth albeit the letter pressed wording, and another scribbled message inside that concluded I think of you.

Alan grew hot. He wished Serge wasn’t so romantic and idealistic; it made Alan realize how he himself was so empty inside. Sure, he wanted to meet a woman like the one that walked gracefully along those steps in a blue coat and petite pumps, but the bigger picture proved these things weren’t in store for simple and plain Alan, having not been with anyone since he graduated college two years ago. Picking up the card and examining the thin fragment in his hand, Serge asked him confidently, “What do you think? Perfect for her? Imagine the day she gets this little surprise. The world will stop turning, or at least hers will. And mine shall start and never end! If, she accepts it.”

“Yeah, if,” Alan snapped straight away. “I think it’s a waste, Serge. It’s nice without a doubt"keep it for another date or a relative at that.”

Serge’s jaw dropped. “I don’t, well what are you saying? I want it only for her.”

Alan glared back, straight-faced. “C’mon, we got work to do. We shouldn’t"you shouldn’t"get carried away with girls who are probably b*****s after all. I’m just watching out for you, man.”

Serge sighed, slouching over at the desk, his eyes leveled with the card he had just produced. “You’re right. I am a freak. A strange foreigner who’s only amusement is dreaming of a person who he’ll never know. F**k this!” he tore the card perfectly down the fold and threw it to the floor. “I know, I know we have to organize the back room. I got carried away with this f*****g note. I can see how stupid ideas can get me behind in what really matters.” And being the good-natured young man he was, he shrugged and marched towards the back of the store, Alan amazed at how easy his coworker could get over trifle musings like a card for a nameless woman.

But he could not. He took the two bits of Serge’s card home, rather than throw it out, and stared at the pieces in his hand. Perhaps she wasn’t a cold person she seemed to be, the Madama. And he was growing dull of his ill notions about people and their interactions. Seeing her started a spark in him, something he hadn’t felt in quite some time. Serge was right, something else Alan hated.

He decided next month. Maybe he would try.

Third Wednesday of March. Spring was coming, clear blue skies compared to the dull gray of the last encounter. Alan waited, more dressed than before, in his best dark jeans and warmest but fine-looking knitted cream zip-up. The colors would fairly contrast hers as she passed. He was there alone, and grateful for Serge having given up on the Madama. He sat straight against the green chair, almost too stiff. He noticed this odd posture and was just readjusting when she came out. It was just like before, she was, but her shoes were knee-high gray boots, and in her ears were a set of headphones. Her iPod clearly distracted her attention, as she walked slowly but casually by Alan with no glance.

In another attempt, feeling he neglected her in his attention the first time, he followed her. He did want to know more, about what she did, where she was off to"he wasn’t afraid to risk ruining the simple masterpiece. And where she went, past the shops and across the Embarcadero with its bold palm trees and skateboarders and lined tents of art vendors, was straight into the Ferry Building. Inside the sunshine flooded the long walk of shops on the ground level. It was crowded with shoppers and cooks looking for exquisite gourmet ingredients in the individual specialty stalls, but Alan never lost sight of the girl. He followed her past the open Japanese tea room and turned the corner at the fresh seafood to where she went into the miniature Italian grocer on the other end. He went in as well, hiding himself behind a steel rack pelted with packaged rosemary and pastas with bottled vinaigrette. With the shop now growing large in customers, Alan concluded that this would be the closest he could get in an attempt to give her the note; he quickly grabbed a small paper package of salami and stole the spot right behind Madama. Her scent of citrus, more like orange, gave the young man a passionate sensation that felt surreal, but calming, almost lively. He looked over her shoulder to see what it was she was buying: a glass bottle of green Italian soda and a plump jar of raisins. Just as she was looking down into her purse on the left to reach for her wallet, he swooped his arm on the right to place the note, in a crisp white envelope tied with a green ribbon, perfectly next to the raisin jar. He left, too uneasy to stick around for giving any explanation to her. He didn’t even turn around to see her amazement or surprise at the mysterious note.

He did remember he walked out with the salami, without paying.

If only he knew where else she would be, other than on the third Wednesday of the month, then he would have sought her sooner and shown himself. That was the misfortune of the plan, and Alan was doomed to wait another month. The time came, and thank god he got off at one from Kinkos. He rushed to leave the place, but Serge, who still was running on about some new bar in the Marina he had been frequently visiting, stopped his talk and asked Alan where he was so quickly off to.
            “I’ve got things to do,” was all he replied.

Serge looked at the clock. “Let me come with you,” he suggested. “We got enough people in here today; I’m sure I can slip out and tell the manager something.”

Flustered, Alan ran his hands through his hair, “I don’t know. It was quick, just to like, um, the post office.”

“If that’s it, then maybe after you do that you can accompany me,” Serge decided, grabbing his coat. After going to talk to the manager he and Alan were out the door. “What did you want to do?” Alan was asking, “How long will it take?” He had three more hours before she would appear.

Serge gave him a sly smile as they crossed Van Ness to the bus stop. “Well, I’ve been thinking, and I want to see if the Madama is there today. You think I’ve forgotten what day it is?” Alan said nothing. “Well you know it’s special. Landmark Cinema. Before four o’ clock, give or take ten minutes. I want to see her one more time.”
            “One more time?” Alan repeated. “Why bother to even see her at all?” He was getting hot again inside.

Serge, still having the romantic sly smile Alan detested, shrugged and said, “I just have that feeling, you know? It’s been a month, and maybe her magic has worn off. Or maybe it has grown. You see, Alan? I don’t know! And I need to. That’s crazy, I know it sounds. But that’s the sort of impact she has made on me.”

Alan really didn’t have a choice to decline accompanying Serge. Practically that was his destination, and he knew regardless of the turning of tides, he wanted to see her. If Serge was there, maybe he would surprise the two of them and confront the woman, and perhaps Madama would be moved and embrace him with passion so lifting it would send Serge into a shock, shattering his dreamy notions that his romantic fortunes did not always come out the way he wanted. “Well, if that’s how you feel, my friend,” Alan began, “let’s go.”

A whole hour went by as they waited in the front spiral staircases from the shopping center that led straight down into the Embarcadero. This way they would catch the girl off guard, and following her once made Alan confident she would walk down this way again, and prove a skeptic Serge that she wouldn’t be going down that way. “There are the lower levels, other exits out to the roads,” he argued, “what if we miss her?”

“We won’t,” Alan replied smoothly. “Who wouldn’t want to pass up on this?” They were both overlooking the grand white Ferry Building across them in the distance, still behind a pleasant row of stout plump palms.

And he was right. A small voice, soft and thin, pleaded “Excuse me, sorry,” as she nudged her way past Serge’s shoulder while he hunched over the railing. He was gaping at the encounter, and looking to Alan they were on their way, following the trail of the girl, now in gray platforms and white jeans, across to the white tower of the Ferry Building. They almost lost her, when the crosswalk turned to a red hand, but being like any other city dweller were not undermined and hastily ran across the street past the skaters and MBX bikers that crowded their way. They managed to catch up as she slipped through the doors into the market. She was a few heads in front, amongst the sea of people turning to the left where she slipped into a Mexican restaurant.

She embraced and kissed at the young man who waited at the front.

Alan’s thoughts stopped. Everything he hoped for, planned out"there was no use to any of it. The note card had been nothing. He never knew what came of it, or didn’t care anymore. He and Serge stood still in their tracks, staring in amazement at the unnoticing couple. They saw the two get seated at a window booth, the man helping Madama off with her coat; she wore the most simple but stunning red cotton blouse with a huge bow at the waist, and a loose long string of pearls that dipped at her navel. She still had yet to smile at the young man, but regardless looked brightly but blankly at her companion seated across from her, talking of something wonderful that she was so attentive to listen.

They headed straight outside onto the platform. Clothed tables lined the back windows of the Ferry Building, tourists and people on bikes ran up and down the dock, some taking a seat on steel black benches dowsed in seagull feces. The devastated Serge ran up to the embossed railing that blocked the edge of the dock from the murky dark water below. He leaned over, eyes closed, breathing heavily.

“F**k, f**k!” he nearly cried.  “Who the hell was that?”

Alan turned around instinctively. She was looking out the restaurant window, scanning the views of the people and seagulls and the murky water, before looking his way. Alan felt weird in her gaze, tensely turning his head away out towards the ferry boat just departing. Yet he turned it back, daring to look straight into her blues.

And she smiled so warmly at him.

© 2011 Paris Kim

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Added on March 14, 2011
Last Updated on April 9, 2011
Tags: strangers, love, San Francisco, relationships, friendship, jealousy


Paris Kim
Paris Kim

San Francisco, CA

an optimistic college student who takes her life growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and turns it into truthful fiction. always finding a way to smile and laugh and make the most of anything thro.. more..

Chapter 1 Chapter 1

A Chapter by Paris Kim

Chapter 2 Chapter 2

A Chapter by Paris Kim