She was seventeen. Her heart was scanning the world when it unexpectedly fell open. He stood in the hallway of her new friend´s house with a fold-up easel under his left arm. His skin was the color of chestnuts. Her hair was the color of wheat.
“Abe,” he introduced himself. “Some friends call me Ape, though.”
She had to go to some stupid Snow Ball Dance with a blind date. It was on the schedule for the weekend while Abe was not.
“I´ll wait up for you at Kathy´s house,” he said. And he did. They sat on a single soft chair in the living room until 1:30 a.m. Then he had to go. He touched her lips one more time. “See you in morning.”
Morning came. He gave her a tour of the old school he had attended. He was twenty-one now, away in college on a scholarship.
On Sunday after church she went to have dinner with his family - a younger sister, cautious, and two younger brothers who clung to her. The parents were kind, pretending no one noticed her white skin.
He took her to the bus station on Sunday afternoon. He carried her bags. “What´s in there?” he asked. “Bricks?”
She blushed. “Books.” She hadn´t opened one since Friday.
“Well, you can read them on the bus,” he said. She knew she wouldn´t.
“I´ll see you again,” she promised when he gave her the last of his magical kisses.
“Sure,” he said. She didn´t believe it any more than he did.
She sat in the far back of the bus and waved until he was out of sight and a little longer. Then she collapsed in her seat and sobbed. She knew her life had changed and she felt homeless.
“Are you okay,” a woman asked.
“Yes.” Her jaw was trembling. She wanted to be left alone with the immensity of it all, and, luckily, they let her be.
She didn´t want to go back home at all. The grass would be gray now, she thought, and so it was for a good long while. School was dull. Old ambitions tasted like cardboard.
Life went on.
He went to Nairobi to teach English for two years. She wanted to go, but it wasn´t allowed. She sent him fourteen letters, wanting to send more. He sent her nine. One included a woodcut - black ink on cream-colored paper with a tear drop of the face of a girl who resembled her. “See, I´ve made your face black, too,” he wrote.
She married him on her twentieth birthday. At first she had wanted to wait ‘til she was twenty-one, but she wasn´t that patient.
People warned them it would be difficult. It was. If anyone can do it, we can
, she thought obstinately.
They parted twelve years later on good terms. He was overbearing in an attractive way. She was unable to withstand the power of his self-confidence. She loved him still and trusted he felt similar.
He remarried a few years later, one of his own kind, a beautiful woman named Leesha whom he had dated back in high school. It was right. Nevertheless it hurt.
He contracted a debilitating disease in his early forties. For a while they exchanged emails in the early mornings. But then Leesha went on his computer and read one of their recent exchanges and accused him of being in love with his first blond wife still, and she in turn quietly withdrew for all their sakes.
She visited the couple once. Leesha was kind. When Leesha left the living room for a phone call, Abe reached out and touched his former wife´s arm with a trembling hand. “You´re exquisite,” he said.
“Thank you. As are you,” she replied.
She did not visit again. He was ravaged with drugs for blood thinning, for depressions, for all manner of things. She remembered his brilliant, incisive mind.
She didn´t know if Leesha would let her know when he died. It didn´t matter. She had said her goodbyes so long ago. She was grateful for the complicated years together and that one weekend of kisses when she was seventeen.
The woodcut was on sturdy paper and kept well through the years, though it yellowed some.