The phone rang at about ten in the morning.
My girlfriend, Alison: “Lesley and I are going to Ikebana show tonight at the Japanese Cultural Centre. Can you join us?”
Even though I was swamped at work with a looming deadline, I agreed. “Meet you there at 7,” I said, full of confidence.
Alison was a new woman in my life and I wanted to impress her with my cosmopolitan savoir faire. Of course I loved Japanese culture – I still do – Hokusai prints of Mt. Fuji, Haikus by Basho, flying grass calligraphy, Zen brush-and-ink paintings – and Ikebana, the fine art of flower arranging. I was an art school grad, an urban sophisticate, a metrosexual years before the term had been coined.
Immediately after hanging up the phone I realized that I had twelve hours of work ahead of me and only eight hours to do it. Plus, I needed another 30 minutes more to clean up and drive across the city to the cultural centre. So I loaded up on coffee, got my papers in order, sharpened my razor, filled my glue pot and worked for eight hours without so much as a two minute biology break in the little boys’ room down the hall. Amazing how deadlines and a goal can focus one’s attention.
Even though I raced through my project, skipped lunch and dinner, and broke a dozen traffic laws between Parkdale and Don Mills, I arrived (heavy sigh goes here) late. The park bench in the garden where we’d agreed to meet was empty.
Plan B: Go inside and find them.
The room was packed. Women wearing beautiful gowns embroidered with dragons and goldfish, peonies and bamboo, clouds and waterfalls. Men in impeccable blue pin-stripped suits with crisp white shirts, shiny shoes and silk ties. Obviously I was underdressed for the room, but my t-shirt was clean and my hi-tops were new, so I wandered into the crowd to mingle and enjoy the show. Alison and Lesley were in there somewhere; surely, we’d meet.
For reasons that I cannot explain, I find the odd combinations in Ikebana – colour, texture and composition – completely fascinating: A branch of cherry blossoms reaching into space from a cloud of white baby’s breath; one pink lily bursting out of a tangle of ribbon rushes; three plums, a rosebud and a twisted gnarl of driftwood; a single hosta leaf, deeply veined and wrinkled, wrapped around a long arching branch stripped bare save for a single orange crabapple dangling from the tip; a sprig of red Japanese Maple rising from a mound of moss sprinkled with blueberries. Perhaps Ikebana can only be experienced visually, and attempting to explain it verbally is futile.
It wasn’t too long before I noticed that people were drinking and eating – saki, sushi, fresh fruit and vegetables. The aromas reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast – fourteen hours earlier. Unfortunately, like my search for Alison and Lesley, my hunt for a waiter with a tray of food or drink was fruitless. Every time I saw someone pop a teriyaki shrimp or a bacon-wrapped lychee into their mouth my stomach growled in protest.
Finally, I saw a platter of fruit on a table under a fan of palm fronds. I snapped off a few red, thumb-sized bananas and peeled one. Two bites into my second banana, the crowd parted and suddenly I was face to face with Alison and Lesley. Perfect!
Much to my surprise, Alison’s eyes were not glowing with love and affection, but horror and disbelief. They looked at me, at the bananas in my hands, at the table behind me, back at me, back to the table...
After a few seconds of stunned silence they both screamed, as if they had just seen Freddy Kreuger pop out of the attic closet. The crowd went silent. Every head in the room swivelled in slow motion to look at me. You could have heard a baby blink.
I swallowed the last of my banana.
Then, simultaneously, as if they had rehearsed it a hundred times, Alison and Lesley burst out in hysterical laughter, joined a few seconds later by many of the guests; leaving me, facing the crowd, clutching my bananas, alone, silent and confused.
Apparently, I was eating First Prize.
(She married me anyway.)
— THE END —