My Butterfly

Posted: May 22, 2013 in writing

I was sitting alone in the library cafe with a pen in my hand and that look on my face.

“Are you alonely?” she asked, very politely, with that slight oriental ‘r’ sound replacing the ‘l’.

I interpreted her question as a pretty mis-phrasing of an enquiry whether the empty seat next to me was taken.

“No, please. Go ahead.” I gestured with my pen-hand to the seat.

She hesitated.

“Do sit down,” I said, reflecting how confusing some of our constructions must be to the non-English speaker.

I watched as she sat herself down with a neat folding motion, her hands ending at rest on her lap. There was something of the geisha about the movement, though she was dressed in that rather doll-like fashion of Japanese or Korean students. Black mini-skirt, white stockings topped by childish ankle-socks, a fitted t-shirt with an oversize butterfly motif and a gauzy fabric embellishment suggestive of wings at the shoulder.

“You writer?” she asked.

I glowed in the reflected light of Hemingway and Sartre. Squint and this could be Paris.

“You not alonely?” This time the question was more challenging, an implied ‘though’. You’re a writer and you’re not ‘alonely’?

“I’m not sure I understand you,” I said.

She smiled and it lent her rather bland face an impish teasing quality. “You not understand me? That is funny.”

I admit I can get a little prickly when I think someone is making fun of me. I felt a surge of objection but that was wafted away by a glance at her charming amused expression. She had dimples when she smiled, adding to her doll-like appearance.

“Are you implying that a writer should be lonely?” I asked, trying to match her playfulness.

“You told me sit down,” she said simply.

“Yes, but that was politeness. I thought you wanted to know if the seat was taken.”

“You want me leave the seat?” Again that slight ‘r’ sound: you want me alleve the seat?

“No, of course not. You’ve only just sat down. We’ve barely met. I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Sam. Like Sam Spade. You like Hammett?”

“Yes, I do actually. I used to devour those hard-boileds when I was a teenager.” I had a disturbing flash then of a hard-boiled-egg eating competition. Was that from Cool Hand Luke?

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” she said, which astonished me. That line from Cool Hand Luke: was she reading my mind?

“So, let’s start again,” I said. “I’m Sam. And you are?”

“Your Butterfly.”

“Your Butterfly?” Presumably an Anglicisation of her original name.

She giggled. “No. Your Butterfly. Sam’s Butterfly.”

This was a bit peculiar. Still, I shrugged, “My Butterfly, well, how do you do?”

“That is just polite question? You want me answer?”

She had that attentive way of waiting for an answer, which some people find inscrutable, but I thought a refreshing relief from European over-emoting, which is just disguised self-preoccupation.

“Tell me something about yourself, My Butterfly. It’s an interest name.”

“You familiar with Lao Tse story?”

“Lao Tse wakes up, having dreamed he was a butterfly. Or is he a butterfly dreaming he is a man? I had a similar dream myself.”

“What if,” she asks quietly, “both man and butterfly are aspects of the same dream? Both being dreamt by the Great Tao?”

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