“Hey, you! You! You guy!”
I turn and look. It’s an old Japanese woman. She’s waving at me from her doorway. She has the look. Instant crazy. Pink bathrobe. Hair curlers. Reading glasses half the size of her head.
“Yeah?” I ask, getting out of my car.
“You guy! I need you to help me. Can you help me?” she asks.
“With what?” I think about checking my watch to signal to her that I’m in a hurry or it’s too late at night for strangers to be asking for favors. I resist.
“With what? No what. You young guy. I old lady. No ask what. Just help.” She motions me inside her house.
“I can’t – it’s late.” I can’t think of any other excuses. “I just want to go home.”
“You no help old lady?”
I should be in my apartment. In my bed. Wondering why I can’t sleep and how much tomorrow is going to suck. Worrying about how I’m still an Uber driver with Andre the Giant-sized student loans and zero friends to count on for a good time. I should be by myself and letting the introvert in me recharge within my own perfectly mundane home.
But I’m also bored.
“Yeah, alright. Sure.”
“Good. Now you’re a good boy,” she says, smiling wide. Her tiny, fragile body scrunches up. Her shoulders by her ears. “Come inside!”
I walk into her house. Into a house that used to be something else. “What is this place?” I ask.
“My home. You no like?” she says with a giggle.
“No, I like it. It’s just – different.” I walk past several faded tangerine leather chairs with dryer bowls hovering above them. In front, a long glass mirror. “Did you run a salon at some point?”
“Yes. Another life. I have many lives. Like cat.” She stares into my eyes. Smile never wavering. “What’s your name?”
“My name? Clark.” I hold out my hand. “What’s your name?”
“Oh! Your name Clark! My name is Fuji.” Her frail hand reaches out and shakes on top of mine. “You handsome, Clark. You have girlfriend?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well, no,” I say.
“Sort of,” I say.
She giggles. “Oh, it’s okay. Lot of fish. Lot of sea.”
I smile back at Fuji.
“Fuji,” I say, “what is it you needed help with? Something I can move for you?”
“Not yet. We just talking now.”
“Okay.” I sit down on an old stool off to side of her makeshift living room. Fuji plops her tiny body onto a soft recliner and faces me.
“I see you around. I see you all the time. I see you running. Why you run all the time?”
“Me?” I fidget. “I like jogging, I suppose.”
“Oh good for you. Running good for heart.”
“Yes, very much.”
A monsoon of silence. Nobody speaks. I stare at her – my internal organs cringing. She stares back at me. Smiling that same goofy smile she’s held since she first got my attention outside. We stay like this, holding our poses as if someone hit the pause button on our scene. Finally, she speaks.
“My husband name is Jack.”
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Is he home?”
“No, no. Jack die. Thirty-seven years ago, he die.”
I give a solemn nod.
“Look. You see.” Fuji reaches back toward a bookcase. She pulls off a dusty photo album. Floppy leather binding. She opens it up. “This Jack.” She points at a black and white photo. In it, a young man in a military uniform – polished black shoes, pressed slacks and buttoned short sleeve shirt – holds his arm over a small Asian woman looking back at him lovingly. She holds his hand as it dangles over her shoulder.
“Is that you?”
“Yes, that’s me. When I was young. When I was pretty.”
“Oh, Clark! You flirt?” She giggles again.
I’m starting to like her.
Fuji flips through photos, staring at them adoringly. Memories scrolling across her eyes as she turns each page.
“Where did you meet?”
“In Japan. He in the military. I was just a stupid girl. He like me right away but I didn’t know him. My father didn’t like it. For months I ignore his calls. His letters. I see him at the market and I try to pretend he not there. But Jack so persistent.”
“Is that what won you over – his persistence?”
“Persistence, yes. But also, I get to know him. Kindness. Jack have so much kindness. He treat strangers like they were family. I loved that. Eventually, we go on one date. He make me a princess right away. We go on another date. Same thing. Third date. Nothing change. After a while – I loved being his princess.”
“I can see that.”
She caresses the top of the plastic photo slips.
“Do you think about him often?” I ask – instantly recognizing it is as a dumb question.
“Yes,” Fuji whispers over a gush of pain. “He love of my life. He teach me how to love. Love him. Love people. Love me.”
“I’m sorry, Fuji. He sounds like a terrific man.”
She looks up. The wide smile returns. She reaches back to the bookcase once again. Snags a novel off of the middle shelf.
“Jack always make sure I go to bed happy. He would read to me before I fall asleep. Every night.”
Fuji hands me the book.
“You look like him,” she says. “You look like my Jack.”
“You think so?”
“Yes. I see you running one day. My heart happy with excitement. My Jack. He’s here again!” She wiggles in the recliner and clasps her hands over her chest. She closes her eyes. “You’re my Jack.”
I open up the book.
I start to read.
Omar Hussain is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, transplanted to Ann Arbor, Michigan. His beta-test novel, The Outlandish and the Ego, debuted in late 2017. It received some praise, remarkably.