The Magic of Perspective
Rain pounded against the pavement as I exited the little studio in the strip mall where my Krav Maga lessons were held. Hungry for something to eat after my latest lesson, I pulled my phone out of my purse and began swiping and tapping at the touch screen to decide where I wanted to go for a meal.
I didn’t get very far in the process when someone bumped into me from behind. The phone fell from my grip and landed in a puddle alongside soaked pieces of litter.
“Damnit!” Fast as I could, I plucked my phone off the ground and hastily rubbed it against my clothes in an attempt to dry it. The screen had shut off and I didn’t dare try turning it back on until it dried completely or else risk frying it forever.
I spun around to face the inconsiderate ass who caused this problem and came face to face with a teenage boy still wearing a sweatband with blue and violet flowers. Great. It was the weird kid who always wore the same sweatband, in and out of class.
He had a hand tangled in his blonde hair and wore a huge grimace on his face as he looked at me. His pale blue eyes dropped down to the phone in my hand and they relaxed significantly as he proceeded to wipe his forehead. “Phew, at least it wasn’t anything important.”
“Not important! Are you—” I bit my lip and took a very deep breath as I tried really hard not to yell and strangle this strange person.
From his first day in the class, most people had an aversion to him. No one ever talked to him before or after class, but that didn’t mean he didn’t try to speak with anyone. He tried, but the conversations usually ended in annoyed looks and him slinking away.
Despite my best efforts, some attitude still found its way into my next words. “Do you know how much it will cost to replace this if it doesn’t start back up?”
If he caught the harsh tones in my words, they didn’t seem to bother him. “I’ll bet you’re starving, I’ll buy you lunch.”
Did he really think a meal would make up for the water damaged phone? Still, I was hungry, so I might as well take the free meal. “Fine, but I choose the place.”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, I’ll choose since I’m paying. Come on.” He started to walk away and didn’t even check to see if I followed. A part of me said I should just go home and get away from the weirdo, but that would mean waiting for a bus in the rain since Uber was out of the question. Besides, I’d been taking classes for over a year now, and he’d only just started. I could take him.
With a huff, I followed after him. When got to the edge of the strip mall, he paused to open up his umbrella, and then we continued in the rain down the sidewalk. The umbrella wasn’t very big, and he didn’t over to share, so I was left with just my pullover hoodie, which was quickly being soaked through in the downpour. Cars raced along the road and none of them really showed any concern for those of us unfortunate enough to be out in the elements. Several sent up huge waves of water as they hurried along, threatening to make things even worse. What was I doing?
Without warning, the boy stopped and pointed to the road. “Look at the light on the pavement. Isn’t it magical?”
“It’s reflected light,” I grumbled, not really in the mood to look at lights in my drenched state.
"I’ve always felt that the shimmering lights look like magic.” With one final look of longing at the lights racing by on the road, he continued down the sidewalk.
I hurried after him and my gaze kept drifting to the reflections of light in the road. Maybe they could look like magic if I squinted.
The road crossed a small river and again the boy stopped. This time, instead of staring at the road, he studied the turbulent waters. “Did you know there are beavers in this river?” he asked but didn’t’ wait for an answer. “They don’t come this far into town, but they are there, even when you can’t see them.”
He kept walking and I followed at a loss for words. What had I gotten myself into? Who just randomly stops in the middle of a rainstorm to spout random facts, all the while hiding under an umbrella without even offering to share it with your companion? Still, I felt I was in too deep to just up and leave, so I continued to follow.
On the other side of the bridge, we kept going for nearly half a mile until we approached a building that resembled a pagoda. The boy hurried inside without a word. I followed him inside and saw him standing before a small, empty podium where one of those lucky cat statues was perched. Next to the cat was a little paper sign that read: “push for service.” An arrow pointed to a little button. The boy bowed to the cat and then began repeatedly pushing the button, which caused a doorbell chime to sound non-stop.
“Do you have to hit it so many times?” I snapped, causing him to jump.
“I love the sound of doorbells. Makes me think of fairies.” He continued to hit the button without remorse until a woman emerged.
A gentle voice spoke before anyone appeared. “Hello, Cooper.” The vendor came around a corner and wore a smile on her face as she greeted the boy. Her eyes fell on me and grew wide for just a moment. “Table for two today?”
“Yes,” Cooper replied curtly, leading the woman toward the table he wanted.
She followed without a complaint and waved for me to follow. Cooper examined several tables before settling on one near a window and directing me to the chair with its back to the window. “Feng Shiu indicates that you should sit there, the westernmost chair.”
As I grumbled to myself about having to sit with my back to the window, he turned to the woman as she handed me a menu. “I need a bag of rice.”
Our host nodded and disappeared into the back without another word. Cooper and I sat in silence as I studied the menu. Maybe a minute later, the hostess returned with a bag of rice, which she handed to Cooper before taking my drink order.
She left again and Cooper held his hand out to me.
I raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you doing?”
“Phone,” he demanded, not answering my question.
I relented and handed over the object, it wasn’t doing me much good anyway. He then proceeded to drop my phone into the bag, shake it, and then set it on the table. “Rice is lucky. It will help fix your phone.”
“It’s also pretty absorbent,” I pointed out, to which he thought for a moment.
Finally, he smiled. “So then it’s doubly lucky for you.”
Our hostess returned with our drinks, with his being a full pot of hot tea and two cups. He offered me one, which I took for the simplicity of being polite. The woman then took only my order and left us alone once again.
Our time sitting at the table was spent between sitting in silence and Cooper spouting random facts about different things. He talked about how the perceptions of ravens varied from region to region. In some places they were symbols of death, in others, they were symbols of strength and intelligence. He told me how salt is used to preserve meat, and so that protective property was applied to all sorts of magical rites. He spoke of how the number two is a symbol of balance and separation.
“Your hair is messy.” He stated between bites.
Of course it was messy. I put it up in a loose ponytail before an hour-long martial arts class and then walked nearly half a mile in the rain. “You think I don’t know that?” I snapped, “I don’t need some bizarre little twerp pointing it out!”
I promptly stood from the table and headed to the restroom. Looking in the mirror, I confirmed that my hair was, in fact, a mess. I halfheartedly attempted to fix it before giving up with a huff.
I held my reflections gaze for a minute. “Ok, you’ve put up with this long enough. Time to get your things and leave.”
I stormed out of the restroom, intent to do just that when I bumped into the hostess. I apologized, but she didn’t seem to hear it. Her previously joyful expression drooped as she studied my face.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
My answer was short, sweet, and to the point. “Yes.”
She placed a hand on my arm as she stared into my eyes. “Whatever Cooper said, he didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Why do you care? Do you know him?” Why would she defend him? Surely he bugged her too, what with the ringing of the front bell and choosing his own table.
“He’s a good boy. Just a little different. His father is always busy. Doesn’t know how to talk to his own son.”
I frowned and looked at the red and gold carpet. I’d met my fair share of friends with too busy parents over the years. Hell, I had one myself. “What about his mom?”
“She’s been gone a long time. Just left one day. His sister took care of him. She used to bring him here all the time, but she left for college a few years ago. Hasn’t been around much since. She understood him best. Without her, he’s a bit lost.”
I scowled and clenched my eyes tight. It didn’t matter if he had some sob story. Everyone had a sob story. Didn’t give them the right to be rude toward others. Though, admittedly, he hadn’t been very rude. He’d been a bit odd, and random, with a hint of lack of understanding social norms, but he hadn’t really been rude until his last comment about my appearance.
If anything, I’d been rude to him from the get-go.
“He’s different, but he means well. Whatever he said, if you just let him explain… he always has a reason.” She left me alone after that, leaving me to argue with myself.
My face scrunched up as I tried to come up with a reason to not hear out the kid. The problem was, I couldn’t. In fact, the more I thought about things, the more I understood. Most of the information he shared came without warning, but when he finished explaining, I could see the train of thought that led him there. The talk about ravens came from one hiding from the rain under a canopy outside the window. The salt came from him adding salt to his meal. The number two came from the fact that the two of us were here together, yet not together.
He had a unique way of looking at the world, and he was trying to share that with me. I had to admit, some of the things he saw were spectacular. On our walk over here, I couldn’t help but study the reflections of headlamps on the asphalt. They did look pretty in the rain. I never knew there were beavers in the river.
I never considered ravens could be intelligent. I always saw them as dumpster divers.
I always wondered why salt was so important to ghost hunters.
When I returned to the table, he’d finished his meal and held his cup of tea in both hands. Steam wafted up from the cup and drifted around his nose. He stared blankly out the window and looked up in shock at me. “You came back?”
I pulled out my seat and sat down. “You didn’t think I would?”
He shrugged. “No one ever does.”
“Well, you still have my phone in that bag,” I said, making sure to put on my signature teasing smile. Then, more seriously I added, “Plus, that’d be rude.”
“Doesn’t seem to bother them.” he sighed, “I know I see things differently, and that can make people not like me, but I’m not going to change because of it. I like who I am. I like seeing things that other people don’t. It makes life fun.” He pushed the bag of rice toward me. “You can leave if you want. I’m sorry about your phone.”
I opened the bag and removed my phone from the rice bed it lay in. With tentative fingers, I thumbed the power button and to my amazement, the screen flicked on without any signs of damage. I smiled, before setting it face down on the table and looking Cooper in the eye. “Why did you point out my hair?”
“Hair is a part of a person. How they style it represents who they are as a person.”
“And mine being messy means I don’t have my life put together?”
He shook his head. “No. Well, maybe. But it also means that you are free from the rules of society. You don’t let others control you.”
Fuck. Of course he meant it as a compliment, and I went and blew up at him. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“It’s okay. I should have phrased that one differently. Julia would have told me so.”
“My sister. I miss her.” His hand rose to the side of his head where he stroked the sweatband.
“Did she give that to you?” I asked, putting the pieces together.
“Yes.” He pointed to the flower as his smile grew. “These are pansies. In England, it is believed that carrying a pansy will help a person know that they are loved.”
“That’s really sweet.” We fell into conversation as I finished my meal, and I accepted a cup of tea from him. As he poured the liquid into my cup, he explained how an Indian prince invented tea while on a mission to spread the teachings of Buddha to China.
As I listened to the story, I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the little bits of light that reflected off the glass surfaces within the restaurant. It really did look like magic.