Finally we were meeting for dinner. I called him at just the right time when he happened to be in the neighborhood. That meant that he had class at Hunter and I was on his way home, in between him and Fort Greene.
“Why don’t you come up here?” he asked.
“Because I’m down here, and it would take me longer to get up there than for you to come down here. You hop on your bike and you’re here. I’ll wait for you, I’m sitting on the chairs at the southeast corner of 32nd and Broadway.”
For some reason he acquiesced and I opened my French workbook. We had both graduated six years ago but were addicted to learning. After so many years of studying, life feels empty if you stop. I bent over the book and did not look up.
“I knew you right away,” he said. “I knew you right away out of all these Asians.”
Inside Kum Gang San, he took out a giant bundle of pens. There must have been thirty pens and pencils in that bundle. It held the same fascination as a rubber band ball. I picked it up in admiration and thought of the word for a bundle of sticks. Faggot, from “Return of the Native.” This one odd word was all I remembered of the book.
“Ooooh,” I heard from over my shoulder, as I extracted a Bic, and reflexively I put the pen in her hand. The Asian waitress had black arty glasses and looked in her thirties, the age that I envisioned everyone as parents.
“I need ah,” she said, and tucked the pen in the cute square pockets of her black apron.
“Yeah? Here, you want another one?”
She left and Farhad said, “You gave her my pen.”
“Oh I’m sorry, I’ll give you one of mine.” But looking in my bag, there was only one pen, a Pilot. I could not give him my only pen. “I’ll give you one next time,” I said, knowing, though, that since we did not see each other that often, this would be lost.
I read the entire menu and had, as usual, Bi Bim Bap, hot. He had salmon teriyaki and a dragon roll, none of which he shared. But I understood that my food and his were not an even trade. Plus there was plenty of food. The waitress liked us now and we got better little dishes of tofu and seasoned vegetables, and refills on them. That was all it was about, really. We talked about everything and nothing as usual and his friend called and I said hi to his friend.
Days later, as I kicked a chestnut off the sidewalk, I thought about how I did not see a pen on the tray that night. He had quietly taken it back.