It’s not that hard to spot a six-foot tall black woman in the centre of Saigon. I kept an eye out for her everywhere I went. I even went so far as to ask one of the ladies who sold fruit at the Ben Thanh market. I had convinced myself that I had fallen in love at first sight. Not that I believed in that sort of thing, but the thought of her was so compelling, as the days went by, she became larger and larger in my mind. More and more beautiful. And, awkwardly, more and more unobtainable.
So there was some irony in the fact that I did not manage to find her. She found me. She walked up to my table at a Foreign Ladies of Vietnam luncheon, sat down in the chair next to mine, and draped her long, lithe arm around the back of my seat.
“These women are out of their minds,” she said. “Are you?”
“Do you have an obsessional fear of losing your husband to his Vietnamese secretary?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
“Thank god,” she said and waved the waiter over. “I’ll have a very, very big martini. And this lady will have…” She eyed me expectantly.
“I’ll have a vodka. No ice, no lemon, no nothing.”
She had a smile like a solar flare. Not just her plump lacquered lips, or her wicked laugh lines, but her dark, olive eyes. It all lit up like something radioactive. “I like you.”
I smiled back. “I like you, too.”
She said nothing until the drinks arrived. I took a sip of my vodka and, in a moment of madness that included overlooking the fact that it was only lunchtime, knocked the rest of it back.
“So what is a girl like you doing at this disgusting colonial gathering?”
I nodded my head over at the rolling bookcases in the corner. “I just come for the English language books.”
Again, she smiled her wide, wide smile. “That’s very worthy.”
“Why do you come?”
She inhaled and let the breath out slowly, languidly. “I just need to get the hell out of the house every now and then. Too many staff, too in my face. I’m not used to that kind of crap. I grew up learning to make do for myself.”
“There are far better places to spend an afternoon.” On the cool, white sheets of my bed, I thought.
“Yeah,” she said, “but then I wouldn’t have met you, now, would I?”
I blushed. And it bothered me that I blushed. I wanted to slide under the table and stick my head between her legs while she went on sipping her martini. But I thought, maybe, that would be slightly excessive.
“I’m having a little dinner party on Saturday. Wanna come?”
“Oh, I’d love to.”
“Then do. And you can meet my wife.”
My heart sank. My mouth dried up. The vodka had suddenly settled on my stomach like battery acid. I should have known she wouldn’t be single. I should have known someone like Jude would always have someone dancing attendance. I was sure that, from the time she’d reached puberty, someone was prostrating themselves at her feet, begging to be trampled on. And, for some reason, the fact that it was a wife and not a husband, made her seem all the more unobtainable.
But I would go to the party anyway.