It was a forced trip. The LED string that lights my miniature Japanese paper lanterns had gone suddenly defective after only a few months. So back to the Japanese Garden gift shop to get a new one. Of course, a stroll was required as well.
My first encounter was with a bride-to-be. She is getting married next weekend at the garden (which I made a mental note to avoid). She was also blocking the entrance gate as she picked up her basket full of fish food packets. Apparently she wanted each guest to experience the joy of feeding the gorgeous koi that populate the garden waters. Not a bad idea but...
"Oh, look. Some of these packets are less filled than others."
Oh, boy. She went on to demonstrate her outrage of the unevenness of the hand-filled bags to the attendant. The bride had a friend with her too so no way for me to flash my membership card to get by. As I listened to the bride whine and insist on equally matching packets I felt pity for her poor husband. Finally, the gate attendant took pity on me who took a time out to let me through. God knows how long that woman stayed there.
I smirked to myself as I stepped into my beloved Japans, recalling one of my favorite haikus:
Do always love their wedding,
Sometimes their husband
I enjoyed the mid-morning serenity with the still mild temperatures on a windless day. I was uneasy though as this was not a visit of inspiration but of a task to be done. I wondered if I were passing through from a sense of obligation. After all, I'd been only a few weeks before (when I wrote an uncharacteristically optimistic haiku). Something was bothering me but like the princess and the pea, the problem was buried too deeply. I heard some faint music at the other end, so I sauntered over to see if an event was going as often happens on the weekend.
By one of the seating areas is a tricky set of steps leading down to the water to cross over. I'm always careful when descending them but as I did I noticed a figure approaching from my left on the path I was about to enter. I glanced up to judge the speed of the figure to make sure we would not collide. But as I did I saw a dark haired woman about my height flashing me a winning smile that made my heart skip as I took notice of her. I registered that with no outward reaction as I needed to return my attention to the steps.
But now I was really bothered. That woman! She smiled as if she knew me! I wasn't in a position to study her and most likely she was just being friendly but...alarm bells were going off inside. I'm not even saying this was a romantic thing, but something told me this is someone I need to get to know. I am hungry in so many ways. I thought of the Clooney speech in "Out of sight" about two people who see each other for a moment and there's a "recognition". That's what I felt.
I went on to explore the source of the music but no events were to be found in the garden. Must be coming from the Botanical gardens restaurant nearby. I noticed a decent stream of fellow visitors as I strolled. I also noticed the Smiling Woman. She was crouching at various places to feed the fish. I was way too embarrassed to get closer to her but I was dying to read her face and know more.
Then I saw something else. A pair of two red beetles, like I'd never seen before. The previous master gardener used to post all sorts of insects and wildlife he found at the garden, things I rarely noticed. It made me feel I was missing out. But spotting these two guys gave me a chance to post my own discovery - but they scrambled away before I could get the phone out. Just missed.
Everything felt off-kilter, like I was out of step with something. I had to assume I was over-reacting, though. I took the handicapped route for variety's sake up the hill to the back path on the very east side by the fence. Almost no one takes that path as there's a parallel one that's more direct right beside it, a few feet higher. I needed space while in this distracted state.
But sure enough, right as I step to the top I'm facing a girl and her boyfriend looking directly toward me, the girl with a 35mm camera pointed dead on. I smiled at them in the recognition I must be ruining her picture. She lowered her camera with a peeved look. I know every angle of the garden and couldn't imagine what she was taking a shot of. I had to quickly decide if I wanted to go back down or make her wait as I awkwardly passed by. I chose the latter. The photography girl didn't speak to me but her boyfriend made a verbal acknowledgement. Kids.
So I made a point to avoid them as well as the Smiling Woman. Yet as I continued around the garden, I couldn't shake the sense of excitement from that flashing smile. Damn, I wanted to get to the bottom of it! I stopped at another of the covered seating areas, watching the light reflecting off the water dance upon the leaves above. I've done so many photo essays of the garden I don't bring my camera unless I have something specific in mind. But in this and my previous visit I saw small moments I wanted to capture and promised myself to never come again without my Canon.
There's another final hill towards the gift shop and as I reached the top, guess who I run into? The Smiling Woman! She smiled again when she saw me, like she knew I'd been thinking about her. My face immediately flushed and I looked away as if I were viewing the garden. But as she got closer I turned back and worked up the courage to say "Hey" as we passed but it was like she was nearly laughing at that point. Who knows, maybe she was laughing at me. She certainly seemed to have the advantage.
I lingered for a long time in the gift shop hoping she'd pass through as it's one of the exits to the garden. But a voice inside me said not to hope for that. I scanned the parking lot as I left. Maybe I saw her pulling out in an old Acura. Maybe not. I was too scared to stick my face in the car window to see. My only hope now is that this is not over and fate will cross our paths once again. Hard to know what's real and what's imagined.