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Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010

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First Snow

A winter's tale of strange serendipity from the pen of Michael Hoffman. Illustrations by Chris Mackenzie

Special to The Japan Times

"Tamaki-kun! It's you, isn't it?" Startled, the man looked up from the book he'd been perusing. He stared at the woman in bewilderment. "Yes, my name is Tamaki . . . "

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"And you don't recognize me!"

"I . . . no . . . I'm sorry . . . "

The woman seemed amused rather than offended, as though the man's failure to recognize her was even more delightful than their unexpected meeting. She smiled. "Will you take a chance and come with me anyway?"

"Go with you! Where?"

"For a cup of coffee. My treat. There's a coffee shop one floor down. We won't even have to go out. Is it still snowing, I wonder? Imagine snow this early in the season! What's this?" Unceremoniously she took the book from his hands. "A history of India! Are you interested in India?"

"I'm thinking of going there."

"Business or pleasure?"

"Not business, certainly."

Opening the book at random, she read, " 'India's largest concentration of temples, in Bhu . . . ' I won't even try to pronounce it . . . 'were constructed over many centuries and by a succession of dynasties . . . ' Oh, look!" She showed him a color photograph of a gleaming golden temple, its reflection shimmering in water.

"That's the Golden Temple at Amritsar."

"Quite the connoisseur, I see. Are you going to buy the book?"

"I don't know, I . . . "

"Buy it, it looks so interesting!" She made a movement as though to take it to the cash desk herself, but Tamaki in confusion cried out, "Wait!"

"Well in that case," said the woman, "put it back and let's go for coffee. You can come back for it later."

They seated themselves at a table by the window. Outside, the snow was falling in fat, lazy flakes. To the waitress, who appeared almost immediately, the woman said, "Cappuccino, please," and then looked questioningly at her companion, who nodded as though affirming some inner thought, and mumbled, "Mm."

"Tamaki-kun! Really, I'm so happy . . . but you still don't know who I am! Oh, but this is marvelous! Wouldn't it be nice to just spend an hour together like this, me knowing you but you not knowing me? But I'm sure you'd recognize me long before the hour was up. No? Nothing? You look at me and see a perfect stranger, nothing more? Can I have changed so much in 30 years?"

"Thirty years! Thirty years ago I was 6 years old!"

"And I was 17. There, I've confessed my age. If you care to flatter me and tell me you'd never have guessed, I won't mind. Think, Tamaki-kun, think! Who babysat for you that time your father had a gall-bladder operation and your mother . . . "


"Ah, thank you." The waitress had returned with their coffee. There was a moment's silence while she laid down their cups, and then:

"Sayoko-chan! But . . . how can you possibly have recognized me? I'm bald now . . . "

"Oh, baldness changes a man much less than men seem to think it does. Besides, I saw you at your father's funeral."

"You were at my father's funeral?"


"Well then, why didn't you come over and speak to us? Mother would have been so pleased."

"I'm not so sure of that." She smiled faintly. "But tell me about yourself! What have you been up to all these years? What have you made of yourself? I'm dying to know."

"What have I made of myself? Nothing." He shrugged and gave a somewhat forced laugh. "Whatever potential I may have shown at age 6, I failed to live up to."

"You've suffered a setback? But you're still young. Pick yourself up, rally . . . "

"Not a setback exactly. . . . But anyway, what about you? You're married, of course?"

"Why 'of course'?"

"Single, then?"

"It would seem to follow, but no, not that either. I was married twice. Once divorced and now . . . I don't know what I am! My husband and I live in the same house, we exchange greetings every now and then. . . . Is that marriage? Well, maybe it is. And you?"

"I'm single."

"More and more people are nowadays."

"Actually" — Tamaki's face brightened at the memory — "it was you I wanted to marry."

"When you were 6. I remember."


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