Bancha 3 Silhouette


Bancha 3 Silhouette

The Silhouette

“Haunting, isn’t it?”

The young woman turned toward Sophia and nearly dropped the print. “You startled me!”

“I’m sorry,” Sophia said. “You were so lost in the image that I should have known better. Does it remind you of someone?”

Looking back at the image of the man about to walk over the hill and out of sight, perhaps forever, the young woman said nothing for a full minute before swallowing hard and saying, “It was a long time ago. There’s nothing anyone can do about it now.”

“And yet,” said Sophia, “you can’t put it down.”

Stiffening her spine, the woman replaced the print in front of a row of others. “You’re a good salesperson. But you’re wasting your time on me.”

“I wasn’t trying to sell you, dear,” Sophia said. “The picture has sold itself already despite your attempts to make it appear otherwise. I’m more interested in you. You were lost just now.”

Turning, the woman began a slow walk away from Sophia and glanced at other rows of prints as well as those that were hanging from a gigantic wall. “I only stopped by to top up my Tesla.”

“Really? I’m glad we could be of help, dear. But there’s a Supercharger just up the road a bit.”

“Yes.” The woman’s voice was flat and hard. “But, I’d have to pay for that.”

Sophia took in the woman’s expensive clothes, shoes and bag. “Uh huh. I see. Anything else, dear?”

The woman half turned and looked levelly at Sophia. “My app did mention that you had clean restrooms.”

“Ah.” Sophia held the woman’s eyes with her own. “And?”

Turning away again, the woman took several more steps before she stopped and turned back around. Looking around to be sure no one else could hear, she said, “And a friend of mine in the bay area told me I should stop in because, well, she said something strange like, no matter how much I buy here, I’ll leave with less than I came in with. Whatever that means.”

Sophia’s face split with a smile. “It means you need a cup of tea, dear.”

The woman’s well plucked brows tried to touch. “I don’t understand.”

“You will, dear. I’m Sophia.” She stuck out her hand. “And you are?”

The woman took Sophia’s hand in hers and cocked her head. “Anna.”

“I’m thinking bancha.” Sophia said.

“I’m sorry?”

“It's tea, dear.”

“Oh. Well, I’m afraid I don’t know much about tea. I’m a big believer in the health benefits of just plain water.“

“Oh my gosh! You poor thing, Thankfully you came in just in the nick of time. A customer gets a delivery of bancha from Japan on a regular basis. It’s not highly regarded there. Considered to be of lesser quality than shincha, which is first harvest. Ni-bancha is the second picked. San-bancha is third. There are more than 20 grades of bancha and my customer likes to find a decent mid grade. Saves him money. He squeezes a penny so tightly you can hear old Abe’s chin whiskers coming out by the roots.”

Anna’s brows grew even closer together. “Um. I had Rooibos tea at a friend's once.”

“Oh, bush tea some call it. Excellent, dear, excellent. You're way ahead of me on that one. I won’t get to the R’s for some time yet.( Unsure) Let’s you and I retire to the temple of tea, otherwise known as the staff room, and partake of ourselves some refreshment. And bring the print, dear.”

Anna had begun to follow Sophia but froze in her tracks at the mention of the print. Sophia was half way down one of the long aisles before Anna reluctantly turned and picked up the print and hurried to catch up.

<<<>>>

Anna scrunched up her face. “It’s kind of grassy, isn’t it? Or straw even. Still -- “ She took another sip of the tea. “Definitely not what I expected from a green tea. And yet -- ” taking another sip, she swirled it around in her mouth before swallowing. After a moment, she said, “I like the aftertaste. Not sure why but I do.”

“It’s an acquired taste, dear,” Sophia said. “Most people wouldn’t start you with bancha but I am not most people. So, tell me, what brings you here to Sophie’s Cove?”

“Well, as I mentioned, free electricity, clean restrooms and my friend’s rather confusing description of your, um, business?”

“Yes, dear, it is a business. But, if you don’t mind, can we cut to the chase? From your clothes and demeanor, you can pay for a faster charge just up the road without a thought to the cost. You could, I suspect, own a much more expensive car but purchased an EV, not for the chance to save a buck, but because you are socially responsible. You care about people more than things. The clean restrooms? We pride ourselves on that all up and down the coast because we depend on making you happy enough to come back and spend money.

“But -- but, Anna, You’ve got something you want to trade. I think you want that print for a reason even if you don’t understand why. So, who was he?”

The cup half way to her mouth, Anna froze. “I’m sorry?”

Sophia studied the other woman so intently for a moment that Anna began to squirm in her chair. She took a sip of tea and managed to swallow it without choking. Clearing her throat, she said, “Sophia?”

“I know you're being honest with me, Anna, but still -- “ Leaning slightly forward in her chair, Sophia said, “It’s not one man. It’s your life. Tell me about your father, dear.”

“Sophia, what makes you think I’d want to -- “ She paused and met Sophia’s gaze full on. “Okay. I never knew him. Or, at least I can’t remember him. He left when I was three. My mother never kept a picture of him and would never discuss him when I asked. That’s it. That’s what I know.”

“And you’ve been looking for him in the eyes of other men ever since.”

“Oh for crying out loud, Sophia. Even a beginning therapist knows to ask questions. You just assume you already know.”

“I’m no therapist, dear. And if I’m wrong, you’ll correct me.”

Anna looked at her cup. “I’m going to need a little time to get to know you better before we have that conversation.”

“Dear, this would go so much better if you would just be honest with me.”

Anna sucked in an angry breath and let it out with a single gust. “I don’t know. I suppose you could be right.”

“Let’s pretend for now that I am. So, if it is as I say, could that explain some of your failed relationships?”

“Wait.” Anna nearly slammed her cup on the table. “Where do you get off -- “

“Oh please, dear,” Sophia said holding her palm towards the woman. “Don’t bother.”

“My friend said you were kind enough to help her with some things. This doesn’t feel very kind to me.”

“Ah, so now we’re getting down a bit deeper to the real reason you’re here. Your friend, and I don’t need to know who it was, probably needed a certain approach. You’re tougher, Anna. Much tougher. Now please, dear. Get to it.”

“I’m getting a divorce.” Anna pulled her head back as if to distance herself from what she had just said. “I’m sorry, that just -- came out.”

“Have you filed yet, Anna?”

“No. I don’t think I was consciously thinking about getting a divorce.”

“Good, good. Now, Anna, tell me about the print.”

“The print?”

“The print, the man walking out of your life and over the hill. Who was he? A lover? A soldier perhaps.”

“No.” Anna had nearly shouted the word and she shoved her fist to her mouth as if to cut off the possibility to say even more. Realizing what she was doing she quickly took her hand down and grasped the arm of the chair.

Sophia scooted to the edge of the chair and put her hand on the woman's arm. “Then who, Anna? Who? Tell me.”

A rasping sound erupted from lips twisted in disgust. “It’s him. My husband. The man who betrayed me. Who betrayed us both.”

Holding Anna’s eyes for a moment, Sophia finally said, “It’s not another woman is it? It runs deeper than that for someone like you. A deeper betrayal.”

Anna’s shoulders sagged and her lips were transformed into a smile tinged with bile. “We wanted to make a difference. We both did. I felt it in him. We would set up a modest practice that would leave him time for Doctors Without Borders. He could use his skills in plastic surgery to make a difference in so many people’s lives. People all over the world who are living in abject poverty and so badly disfigured they will never have a chance to rise above their circumstances without his skills.

“Then, the little jobs he did on me. He’s so skilled, no one had a clue that I was being transformed into a walking billboard unless he told them to make another sale. Which he did to land the richest clients, the most famous stars. Then he developed new techniques, he patented new devices. The money was staggering. Is staggering.”

“You’ve had work done, Anna? Wow, he is good.”

“The best. The attention and the money turned my head too. I was offered modeling jobs that paid better than I would have thought possible. I did have a different car, Sophia. But my social consciousness, as deteriorated as it had become, made me settle for a Bentley instead of a Rolls.” She laughed. “What a sacrifice that is, eh?”

“When did you begin missing the old you?” Sophia asked.

“Oh, I think it’s been creeping up on me for quite some time. It came out sideways though. Maybe another new car would help me get that feeling back that my life could be significant. A bigger house. More houses. A nice boat. A nicer, bigger boat. A bigger clothing budget. A no-limit clothing budget. It was hollowing me out. I’d spend more and more money hoping to fill in the chasm within me where the real Anna used to thrive. The piles of money have become obscene to me now but then I practically worshipped at the feet of our ever growing mountain of cash, investments and offshore accounts.”

“You talked to him about this, of course.”

“Of course. But, at first, I didn’t take my words any more seriously than he did. I wanted, no, I needed, to believe there could be a middle ground where the people we used to be on the inside could be brought back into the light without giving up our wealth and social status. You know the best one? It’s when you tell yourself the more you make the more you will have to help others. What a laugh. The money distances you from the people you used to care about. The empathy and compassion you once knew is crushed under the weight of your own self-absorption. If I am going to salvage any chance of being someone who thinks beyond my next fix of material pleasure, I need to get out. I need to divorce him.”

“And then what?”

“You know, I’ve asked myself that and haven’t come up with an answer. I feel like I’ve become so unmoored from my moral compass that I can’t trust myself to answer that question.”

“May I ask,” Sophia said, “are there children?”

“A grown daughter.”

“Wow, You don’t look -- “

“Everyone says that. Please don’t. It’s become meaningless to me. Worse, it’s like pouring salt in the wound my vanity has cut deep into my soul.”

“Fair enough. Then take the picture.”

“Excuse me? Is buying the print some kind of fee or something? If so, I have no problem paying whatever you want for it.”

“Don’t insult me, dear. I’m loaning it to you.”

“Loaning it? That doesn’t make sense, Sophia. Why?”

“I want you to take it to your husband and show it to him. Get his reaction. It’s your last chance, Anna. You need to take it. See if there is a shred remaining of the man you fell in love with. If that test fails, I want you to bring it back to me personally. Together we will put it back in the stack. Or, better yet, we’ll put it up on the wall.

“But, if it stirs something in him that gives you the slightest glimmer of hope, you hang onto that print until you have reconciled and re-anchored yourselves to who you really are deep down. Then I want the two of you to come back together and pay for the print.”

“You’re crazy, Sophia. The man I fell in love with walked out of sight over that hill years ago and he’s not coming back.”

“Maybe so, Anna. But we’ve got to try one last time. Imagine the good he can do if you find within him that spark. That part of him you loved and admired. If you can find and bring that spark back to full flame, miracles will happen for so many others.”

<<<>>>

Christopher watched as the woman pulled away in the black Tesla Model S. “She wasn’t here very long. She can’t have gotten much of a charge.” Then, turning to his wife, he said, “But then, that’s not really why she pulled in is it?”

“No,” Sophia replied. “She needed a safe place to hear herself say what needed to be said.”

“And the print?”

“A final test, Chris. A final attempt to save what I hope remains of their humanity and their marriage.”

“Think it will work, hon?”

Taking Chris’s arm, she turned him toward her and took him in a huge hug which he instantly returned. “I doubt it, baby. But I’m hoping against hope that I’m wrong.”


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