My first post is the prologue for a short story I’m writing. “A Girl Called Kiki” is a story that focuses on why we marry the people we marry. Kinaya and John Hodges are a picture perfect couple. They are a well to do, upper middle class, African American couple with a four year old son, fulfilling careers, and the world at their fingertips. But the illusion of their perfect life comes crashing down when a horrible accident leaves Kinaya with amnesia. Having forgotten everything from the age sixteen and up, John must struggle to understand the stranger now living in his home and realizes that he may not know his wife very well at all.
“Are you a fan of art, John?”
My blind date for the evening, Alexandria, looks at me from the passenger seat of my Audi TT Coup with expectation. The passing street lights illuminate her impatient face with an orange glow as we whip past block after block.
“Depends on the art.” I respond.
“I discovered this place a few weeks back. It’s such a beautiful gallery. I know you’ll love it!”
I want to tell her that I’ve never been impressed with most so called “art” but I stave off. I’ve already given her permission to choose our date and she chose a gallery in West Hollywood. Paintings and sculptures, I suppose. I’m already bored by the idea, but for the sake of maintaining my image of the ideal cultured black man, I keep it to my chest.
“I’m sure I will.”
Alexandria, satisfied leans back into her seat. She pulls down the mirror, checking that everything is just so. I glance over at her. Shoulder length blond hair – flat-ironed to perfection, blue-green eyes that shine, and a wide expressive smile. She is a beautiful woman without a doubt. She has a quality to her that many people would call “girl next door” but with a hint of sophistication that makes her interesting.
From what my colleague told me, she’s a popular fashion blogger and writes freelance for LA Mag. Smart, attractive, independent, successful – Miss Alexandria is a catch and she knows it.
Then again, so am I. And she’s yet to impress me. We’ll see how the night goes.
The navigation informs me that the gallery is to my right. I notice the parking structure across the street and decide to park there. There is ample street parking but there’s no way in hell I’m doing that. Alexandria seems to have no complaints either. I quickly find a spot on the first floor of the garage and park.
“Have you been to any of the local galleries here?” Alexandria asks, stepping out of the car.
“Can’t say that I have. I work a lot, you know.” I lock the car and offer her my arm. She takes it in hers and the two of us walk out into the street.
“Well maybe that will change. A lot of people think they can only look at great pieces of art in a museum but there are so many of these quaint little galleries all over. You’d be amazed of the quality of work you can find.”
Alexandria holds on to my arm a little tighter as we cross the street. She seems pretty comfortable with me, having only met me an hour ago. I don’t complain though.
I can hear classical music coming from the open door of the building. Upon closer inspection, I can see the unimpressive exterior and location are misleading. Inside the gallery is as stuffy as any museum I’ve ever been to.
“For work of this quality? Yes, very quaint.”
“Alex my dear!” A man’s voice calls from the doorway. He is a short, feminine sort of man although I can’t help but admire his choice of suit.
Alexandria does not let go of my arm as she leans in to give the man a kiss on the cheek.
“Dustin! I’ve returned!”
“So I see. And you’ve brought a handsome guest. Pleasure to meet you sir, Dustin Lorne.” The man shakes my hand and I’m already ready to go. I put on my best bullshit smile.
“The pleasure is all mine, I’m John.”
Whatever follows, I obviously tune out because I find myself wandering off by myself shortly after. I can hear Alexandria chatting it up with her friend somewhere in the background, but for the most part she’s off my radar. Instead, I’m using my time to feign interest in the paintings.
I accept a glass of wine from a passing server and go up the stairs where it is less crowded. A painting towards my left catches my attention. I come closer, examining it. The painting is of a young man and woman laying by, what I believe is a banyan tree. The tree and surroundings are super realistic, almost looking like a photograph. The two people, however, are stylized like typical “African Art” with long limbs and simple features.
That is when I see her.
A striking woman in a blue dress. She is tall and slender with long limbs and jet black hair that falls past her shoulder blades. Her skin is dark – which may be an understatement. It’s flawlessly dark, like black paint with hints of blue. She doesn’t seem real. She looks like a perfectly crafted statue and I wonder for a moment whether that actually translates to beauty or not. She stands alone, staring intently at one of the paintings.
As though sensing my eyes on her, she turns and looks at me. She gives me the smallest of smiles and a nod, then returns to her examination of the painting. I am compelled to come closer and see what she is staring at so intently.
“Would you mind?” I ask her, approaching the wall.
“Please.” The woman has a thick accent, which I expect. I’ve never seen an American woman that looks like her. She steps to the side allowing me a closer look.
The painting prominently features a man and woman, just like the one I saw earlier. They, and the area directly around them, look like typical African art with bright colors. They appear to be running, hand in hand towards the ocean. The rest of the canvass is hyper realistic, including a group of black and white men who chase them with weapons or books. It’s a surreal image but the intention seems to be very easy to interpret.
“Very nice.” I say. “Interesting painting.”
“A bit simple.” The woman responds. “Traditional Africans running from the influence of western culture, demonstrated by the different styles of art. It’s a bit on the nose.”
“I prefer things that are straightforward.”
I can see now that she has a very beautiful face. High cheek bones and wide eyes. I can’t tell if her eyes are a lighter shade of brown or if the hue of her skin simply makes them look light brown. Either way, it’s a striking gaze. The woman smiles at me again, a little wider than the first time.
“I feel the same way.”
“I’m John.” I hold out my hand.
“Kinaya.” She shakes my hand with a firm grip. I can respect that.
“If you don’t mind my asking, where are you from? Your accent is beautiful.”
“Thank you. I’ve lived in California for the last 10 years but originally I’m from Africa.”
I pause, and consider what she said a moment.
“Wow, Africa. That’s… that’s a lot of continent. I myself am from North America.”
This seems to grab her attention. She gives me a look over as though trying to figure out my end game. Maybe she’s never had to elaborate on where exactly she’s from before. Maybe no one has ever asked, or remembered. Or maybe, like myself, she isn’t always comfortable sharing much about herself. The fact that I can’t figure out the answer immediately, sparks my interest.
“I’m from Mambore. It’s in Kenya.”
“By the ocean?” I ask. She looks at me, pleasantly surprised. She is about to ask how I know, so I point towards the painting. I’ve taken a gamble and assumed by now, that she is the paintings artist. Her knowing nod, confirms my suspicion.
“So what brings you here tonight?”
“Really? You waiting for her?”
“No. I came in with her. I’m sure she’s still downstairs.”
“Ouch. That cannot be a promising sign.”
“Well, I’ll do my best to make sure she has a fun night out but she’s not exactly what I need.”
“And what is it that you need, John?” Although her tone sounds flirtatious, her eyes look very serious. I can tell just by looking at her, that my answer will be the determining factor in whether she continues our conversation or shuts me down.
I decide to answer, honestly. It’s the best way to determine if she, like my current date, is someone to simply pass time with or is someone worth pursuing. I reach into my back pocket and pull out my card holder. I never go anywhere without it. I pass her my card.
“I need to find my future wife.”
She looks me over for a while again. It’s hard to know what she’s thinking, which is new for me. She’s perfected her poker face.
“Dr. John Hodges. Pediatric Surgeon. Professor of Surgery Keck School of Medicine of USC.” As she mulls over my card, her eyes give no hint of her inner monologue. She is a composed straightforward woman, which is something I can appreciate. Many women I meet believe themselves to be this kind of person, but few actually are.
The longer I watch her, the more I begin to think she resembles some kind of African deity. Like, most people say a woman looks like a goddess because they are beautiful or they are sexually desirable. But Kinaya actually looks like a person who, if she lived in ancient Africa, people may think was too perfect to be an actual human person. A piece of art that breaths and pretends to be like everyone else.
Exactly what a trophy should be.
“I work a lot.” I continue. “I plan to work a lot more. I plan to be someone that people write about one day. It kills my personal life though, so people keep trying to set me up with these “socialite” types. I’m done being the hospitals “most eligible bachelor”. It’s annoying. So, the next woman I start seriously dating, needs to be the woman I marry. If that sounds like something you’re looking for, you can reach me at that number. If not, well then, it’s been a pleasure meeting you.” I hold out my hand to her.
“Likewise.” She shakes my hand and lets it drop. There is no lingering in her movements. She places my card in whatever secret compartment woman place things in inside her dress and returns to studying her painting.
I wonder for a moment, if I was too straightforward. But I push the thought away. If I’m going to go through the hassle of dating, I need to know that I can be myself. Unapologetically.
I turn to return to Alexandria and whoever it was she is talking to.
“Expect a call from me around 3 o’clock tomorrow.” I can hear the amused smile in her voice.
And suddenly, I’m smiling too.