One beautiful July afternoon, on a narrow side street of London’s chic SoHo neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, I don’t fall in love on first sight. I don’t do a lot with the emotions I’m pent up with. As I grew older, I’ve learned how to cope and live with them. But I never act upon them.
She broke all of those rules I set up for myself. At first glance, she wasn’t a centrefold model. She wasn’t Aphrodite walking among mortals. She, to most people, was just another girl. But I was certain, ever so certain, that she was my kind of woman. Just like that Mac DeMarco song Alex kept going on about one time.
Although she didn’t belong in high fashion runways, she did look like a French New Wave film extra. The girl that catches your eye while everyone looks at Bridgette Bardot. Or a possible stand-in for Chantal Goya in Goddard’s “Masculin Féminin” no one knew.
I’m not entirely sure if I had the type. To be honest, I go for the first person that doesn’t look at me with contempt and vice versa. And I don’t know if this girl would even look at me the way I briefly glanced at her when I passed by.
But she was etched on my brain all afternoon. With the brief smile she threw at my direction, I knew right there and then, she was the 100% perfect girl for me.
It’s weird. All of it was weird.
“Earlier on the street I passed by the 100% girl,” I told Chris.
I arrived at the coffee shop I was reluctant to even go to. To everyone close to me, they knew I wasn’t a recluse, but I wasn’t a fan of going out either. I felt by societal conventions I must at least see a friend that beautiful afternoon. And it just so happens to be a close friend and a former co-worker.
Plus, he begged me and hasn’t seen me in ages.
The disbelief on his face was paralleled. At this point, I’m certain he thought I was an AI incapable of love and other emotions. He took me in and analyzed me like a perturbed Francis Bacon painting.
“You… you met someone?” he said after an uncomfortable moment had passed. “What…what was she like? Where did you first meet?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her,” I mumbled, biting on my index finger absentmindedly, trying to recall striking details. “Her smile? Uhh… shiny hair?”
He guffawed at my struggle to paint a picture of my 100% perfect girl. If I’m not mistaken, he probably thought I was doing a bit. I was not. But with my stoic, deadpan features, who really was to say I wasn’t?
“So you met on the street?” he pressed on, surprisingly still engaged, “Did you get her number? Uhh… followed her?” Bombarded with all of these queries, I felt my brain go haywire with information overload. I twisted my curls with my index finger in an attempt to get the right answer out.
Instead, all I said was: “Nothing. Just passed her on the street.”
For the rest of the afternoon, I was left to my own devices. I left Chris in shock and disbelief that I am a person capable of infatuation and desire. In his defense, I never really talk much about love or crushes. I wasn’t a schoolboy—but I did act like one earlier.
I still feel like a lovesick schoolboy after I left.
She was walking east to west, and I west to east. It was a really nice July afternoon.
I peddled my way to a nearby Waterstones in hopes to get my mind off her. While peddling, I found myself distracted, almost destroying innocent side mirrors, and running red lights. Her kind smile etched on my brain. Her striking red coat feeling so, so, so familiar.
Parking my bike outside the bookstore, I entered the familiar chain bookstore layout. I knew where everything was; my favorite sections, where I hid books I wanted to buy (but chose not to), and the faces behind the counter. I don’t talk to them. I just politely smile, give them my quid, and go on my merry way.
By all luck in the universe, I saw her by my section, standing there with a copy of Vonnegut’s “Sirens of Titans.” I wondered how vast her knowledge of science fiction went. In silence, I wondered how she felt about grueling Russian novels.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and—what I’d really like to do—explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in SoHo on a beautiful July afternoon. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, I’d take her for chips or sit her down around a local diner I like, maybe see an Eric Rohmer film, walk around the park with my foldable bike by my side. With any kind of luck, and courage from my end, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
I didn’t realize I’d been walking to her direction this whole time.
“Lovely afternoon, miss. How do you feel about talking to me and listening to me drone about criterion classics for half an hour?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like a film Mormon.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know where the fiction section was?”
No, that was ridiculous. We were both standing by the fiction section, for one thing. A five-year-old child wouldn’t buy for a line like that.
Maybe the simple truth would suffice. Maybe, with all the courage I’m humanly capable of, I can say: “Good afternoon. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”
No, she would laugh at me. Or even if she did, she would run to the hills or call 999 in a heartbeat. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. I don’t believe I’m a looker, even if The Guardian interviewer told me otherwise. I knew I was an acquired taste that no one seemed to want to acquire.
And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m forty-three, and that’s what growing older is all about.
I take a few more strides and opened my mouth: She and her copy of Vonnegut turned to head to the counter.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. A classic case L'esprit de l'escalier. A case I am often burdened with after deciding what I actually want. After realizing what I actually need.
It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, a man and a woman crossed paths one fateful July afternoon. In Soho where capitalism and luxury were abundant, two twin flames crossed paths for the first time, even though they never believed in luck or destiny. They found it both frivileous.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
But they never do any of that. Fear enraptured the boy. Fear was all the boy has ever known. So even with every cell on his body, asking him to go and spill words on the floor, he never bothered to open his mouth and call out to her.
A sad story, don’t you think?
I looked at my surroundings. With all of these bundles of knowledge around me, why am I dimwitted on the aspects of life that mattered the most?
I sighed and decided to let it go. Compartmentalize it and probably revisit this lost flame on my future memoirs. Hell, maybe I finally found the subject of my script yet to be written.
The chime on the glass door signaled her departure. To at least get a glance of her red coat, I turned my head to send her off with my gaze.
Sudden adrenaline rushes were always lost to me. I never figured how a man can lift a fridge when his home was met in flames. Or what punching someone felt like when faced imminent danger.
That one July afternoon, I finally learned what that sudden adrenaline rush was.
I dropped the book I was holding in an instant. With one swift motion, I was out the door, running after a stranger that I may or may not be 100% perfect for. But I knew she was the 100% perfect girl for me.
I ran in traffic, almost jeopardized an old lady’s bag of groceries, and got a burly man pissed by bumping on his shoulder. I muttered my sorries and apologies. I kept going after the red coat on the distance.
Then by luck and long strides, I grabbed her shoulder. She turned and there she was—my 100% perfect girl.
“Hello,” I managed to sputter out. Completely out of breath, I finally got a complete mental image of her. Shiny locks. Warm eyes. Soft smile. That soft smile greeted me with awe and confusion.
“Oh, it’s you.”
It’s me? What did she mean it’s me?
“The guy from the street earlier,” she trailed off, suddenly distracted. “A-are you okay?” she asked. I was hunched down with my palms holding on my knees for dear life. I was sweating buckets and completely out of breath. I knew I looked asthmatic. But I wasn’t. Thank God I wasn’t.
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” I waved my hand to reassure her. She nodded, still at a loss on why I came all the way to stop her from enjoying her afternoon. “I just—you’re—“ I stuttered. Of course, I stutter, now out of all times.
“No, what I meant was—“ I took one final deep breath to compose myself. “I… I like Vonnegut,” I managed to straighten myself up. “Still re-read ‘Breakfast of Champions’ from time to time.”
Was I being creepy? This was creepy. I’m a creep. A creepy man most women would run away from. A tall, glasses-wielding, creeper who just chased after an innocent, unique, striking woman to discuss a post-humous American author.
To my surprise, she didn’t greet me with sheer disgust. She greeted me with a chuckle.
“‘Hocus Pocus,’” she nodded. “I ended up re-reading that a couple of times,” she tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. “Don’t know why you’d stop a stranger to discuss Vonnegut. But I’ll take it.”
She’s witty. Funny. It’s not that I didn’t expect her to be funny. It’s just nice to hear her voice. And to know that she is capable of humor. With my history of luck, I’m just glad she didn’t run away at the sight of me.
“Richard,” I extended my hand. “Others tried to call me Dickie, but I would really prefer you wouldn’t call me that.” Another chuckle escaped her lips from my attempt on banter. She shook it and introduced herself.
Her name rang in my ears. It was a favorite song. A pop classic yet to be written. A name doo-wop artists tried to incorporate in their tracks.
I didn’t tell her just yet that she was the 100% perfect girl for me. Instead, I told her how I saw her in the bookstore earlier and felt like introducing myself. I assured her I wasn’t a stalker. Just someone trying their luck on a beautiful July afternoon.
I never do this, I assured her. If she wants me to turn and walk away, I would.
But she didn’t ask me to turn away. She didn’t run at the first sight of me. By chance, she didn’t find my attempt on banter pathetic. She found it earnest. Strange but earnest.
“What are your feelings on grueling Russian novelists?” she asked me out of nowhere. Taken a back, I scoffed a bit, biting my bottom lip to suppress a smile creeping on my face. “I hate how they consume me. Love making new forms of fiction out of them.”
“‘War and Peace’ could’ve been shorter, though.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why didn’t just do a Twitter thread about it.”
We shared a hearty chuckle. In the middle of stillness, I asked her thoughts on talking about Tolstoy or Dostoevsky over a diner somewhere. She agreed for she was tired of spending her alone time alone anyways.
“Plus, who knows?” she shrugged. “Maybe you’ll make me less lonely.”
One beautiful July afternoon, on a way to meet up with a friend, the boy peddled from west to east, while the girl, intending to spend her quiet afternoon by her lonesome, was walking from east to west, but along a same narrow street in the SoHo district of London. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever. Or you know, for mere hours, until they found themselves in a convenient chain bookstores for yearning, lonely bibliophiles.
An almost sad story. Almost another story of unrequited love.
But luck and adrenaline were on his side. And by chance, she was yearning for him the way he yearned for her.
Just one glance was all it took.