I met Esther at the dry cleaners. I was picking up and giving back my pants. They had cleaned and pressed them in a rather unique way…along the seams. So, rather than a customary line in the middle of the leg, the lines disappeared in the hems along the sides. When I talk about China often being the opposite of the way we do things in the West, this is what I mean; they serve water hot and pants with hidden pleats. I found myself having difficulty explaining what I wanted and I looked around as if I expected some magic English speaking nymph to appear. She didn’t. Esther did.
Looking at her, I knew she was different; she didn’t look Chinese. I asked if she spoke English. She did, quite well in fact. Esther is from Hong Kong. After helping with my pants, she asked me where I was from and what I was doing.
“I was about to go smoke a cigar.”
“A cigar? I smoke cigars!” she said.
“No you don’t! You don’t smoke cigars! You’re just saying that trying to impress me!”
“I do!” she laughed.
“Not yet, you don’t impress me. But, alright little miss-I-don’t-smoke-cigars-but-I-say-I-do, wanna come?”
“Umm…” she thought for a moment “…sure. Where are we going?”
“Down the street. It takes about 10 minutes.”
We made forgettable small talk along the way. When we got to the bar, I gave her one of my Bolivar Royal Coronas (a fantastic smoke), one which I was about to watch get wasted, I was sure. Instead, the strangest of things happened. She correctly cradled her roll, toasted the foot (a pre-light ritual) and then slowly turned it between her well manicured thumb and symmetrical index/middle fingers as she lit that beautiful beast. I was in awe. The sight was a thing of beauty. She looked as natural smoking a cigar as a man who’d been doing it for years and yet she looked so much better. It was at that moment I realized just how sexy Esther was. Before then, I hadn’t made up my mind about her. But when I watched her smoke, I knew because, as sexy as women are, there is nothing sexier than a beautiful woman who knows her way around a cigar. Esther knew her way around one and I was taken by it.
At least I thought I was. As the evening wore on she talked and talked and talked…about nothing. She talked about her work, her career, her position, her ability and her accomplishments. It wasn’t her talking that bothered me, it was what she was talking all and only about…herself. What she did was read her resume and it bored me to tears. What started as promise soon became pain and I wanted out. Her smoking was nice but not nice enough to maintain my interest.
We had about thirty minutes left when I got up to use the restroom. When I returned, the tone and tenor of the conversation, her conversation, had changed. Transforming from a boring, insecure business woman intent on proving the world wrong, to a young, vulnerable, transparent girl who talked about her dad and how she was never good enough for him even as she endured years of his abuse was Esther. The caterpillar had become the butterfly. I was enchanted and disarmed. I identified. Memories of my own father rose in her words. The longer I listened the more I realized we were the same; we have the same father and we share the same story. Gone was the woman I wanted nothing more to do with and in her place was this small, frail, beautiful, broken child I couldn’t help but feel connected to. She spoke my language, the language of the heart, the language of “me too”. Esther was no longer acting, she was just “being” and I love when people are being…themselves. That’s when they’re different. That’s when their special. That’s when they’re priceless. The less special people make themselves out to be, the more special they become.
The last thirty minutes were the best and on the way home I told her so:
“Esther, I must admit, though you quite obviously do smoke cigars, in listening to you, you didn’t do much else. For that first hour, I wanted to get away. It was only in the final few moments that you piqued my interest.”
“I know,” she said.
“You do?” I asked.
“Then why did you wait so long to let me meet you?”
“Because I wasn’t comfortable. The longer you listened–I really needed to talk, I just didn’t know how much–the more comfortable I became.”
“Esther, I’m glad you’re comfortable. I’d like to see you again.”
“I’d like that too, Peter.”
I could give more details about our next date, one with a couple she knew, or our third that ended abruptly after dinner, before cigars and without sex. Pity. She looked great that night. Instead, I’ll cut to tonight.
Because of her schedule (Esther is married to her work and I understand and accept that), we don’t often talk. We sometimes text. Tonight I wanted to touch base and hear her voice, so I called her. It was 11:30 PM and I knew she’d be working. She was…in a hotel near one of her company’s factories. When I asked “Why?”, she said “Because when I got home from dinner, and looked around the room I realized I was surrounded by four empty walls.” I know that feeling and I recognized a softness in her tone as she said it…she was approachable.
“When your schedule permits, Esther, I’d like to spend some time with you.”
“I’m afraid, I’m rather busy…this weekend” her voice broke. I doubt she realized it, but I did. “I’ll be in Hong Kong at the hospital and…”
“The hospital? Why?”
She paused, “They’re running some tests.”
“What tests, Esther? Are you okay?”
“I think so…”
“You THINK so?!?” my mind shouted; my mouth didn’t move.
“…but I may have to cut out the peppers and cigars for now.”
“Esther, is this what the doctor has told you?”
“Not yet” she said.
“Then why don’t you wait to tell me that until after we smoke what I brought you from the States?”
She laughed. “You really brought me something from the States?”
“I really did,” I beamed.
“I’ve been getting headaches again” she confessed, “a lot of them.”
“Headaches like the one that ended our night early? The one you told me you’d one day tell me about?”
“I did tell you that, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Boss (my nickname for her because even when she’s not at work, she’s always ‘the boss’) you did.”
“Well, some time ago, they found something in my head, on my brain. They thought it went away. Now they think it’s spread.”
I won’t press you with the details. What I will share is tonight I think I know why I met Esther. I didn’t meet her to be impressed with her work or to get laid (however much I might enjoy that). I think I met her to be of service and I like that much better. I like being used to be of service to others. I like it when God pulls me out if his pocket, and gives me purpose. It’s when I’m at my best, when I’m empty of me and available to others to be the man God intends for me to be. And tonight, it seems, God opened up his pocket, pulled me out as though I were his cigar and said: “Go…be the man who offers to hold Esther’s hand when her dad never did.”