Kiku knew well how to hide in plain sight. She was not interested in drawing men’s attention, so she figured that she just did not emit the pheromones or what have you that made men swarm. Yet appreciative glances bounced off her often as she traveled through her days. She dressed sharply to please herself and to live up to her own standards of order and beauty. This meant clean lines for work, no-nonsense structures in black, white, and strong colors that went ‘zing’. A stark boldness that went with her exacting nature. In her off-hours, Kiku was a little softer, more flowing and casual. Her favorite outfits were designed by a woman who once worked in a parachute factory and carried forward the soft seams and structure. She was lucky to look much younger than her years, despite her silvering hair. She enjoyed when her female friends complimented her outfits, especially Joni with her painter’s eye or Cassandra, who always could name the mood of an outfit. But it shocked Kiku whenever a man would approach her. She never expected it.
One time at Café Far Flung, Kiku was minding her own business, but wearing what Cassandra would call “Chanel with a whip”. A man tried to buy her a dessert. He came to her table, asking her if there was anything else she’d like to try. “Maybe something sweet?” Kiku assumed he was a waiter and wondered why they’d changed from counter service to table service since she came in forty minutes ago. She shook her head to clear out the confusion and to indicate that she was just fine.
“Oh, no thank you. I have my coffee here.” She gestured to her dark brew in the plain white cup. She had eaten an especially good Cobb salad, so she was pleasantly full. He gestured to the empty bowl, and she nodded. He took it away to the busing station, while she turned to her magazine. The spoon rested after a few brisk stirs, and the good sugar cube dissolved in the silence.
The man, dapper in a cashmere sweater the color of the Aegean, came back and cleared his throat. She looked up and noticed he was fashionably bald with a tended silver tuft on his chin. Eyes that matched his sweater danced behind architectural glasses. “My name is Charles. Can I get you anything? Anything at all?”
Kiku was still thinking he was the manager or a persistent waiter. To make him go away, she said, “I wouldn’t say no to the winning lottery ticket.”
“As you wish,” he said. He bowed slightly and left.
Kiku returned to thinking about travel grants, wondering whether she should try for Malmo/Oslo/Copenhagen or Buenos Aires or maybe different places in India. She just wanted to go somewhere else. To wander an old place with layers of history and to see things with new eyes. To have words wash over her like music, without having to pay attention and understand most of it. She wanted to stay in a nice hotel and not touch a potter’s wheel for a few weeks. She’d had her hands in clay for the greater part of forty years. Well, maybe that was going too far, because she knew she’d miss the hum of the wheel. But she longed for something new.
The travel magazine in front of her was aimed at adventurous trekkers, well-heeled and well-seasoned backpack slingers. Maybe she should go to the Amazon, the wide green ribbon in the photo spread beckoning. To see a flock of macaws in the wild! Imagine!
A shadow fell over the great rainforest, and the dapper man who thought he was her manservant was back. He held out a California Daily Double ticket and a quarter.
She accepted both, scratched away, and revealed two lemons and one cherry. She pretend frowned at the man and shrugged. “Oh well, thanks for trying.” She gave back the quarter when he really wanted her number. But Kiku, being Kiku, didn’t know that. She turned back to her magazine again. Not sure what to do next with his charm, he retreated.
She was so used to hiding inside herself that when a man like Charles, suddenly appeared and wanted to play, she forgot what other people see. An elegant beauty. She forgot that she was worth a look or two.
Another time Kiku was in a faculty meeting, chatting with Joni and Bert Shepard at break in the hallway. A visiting artist, an eccentric portrait photographer named Franklin Wanderval approached. He made a beeline for Kiku, ignored everyone else, and put a light meter up to her face. She swatted it away in slow motion, yet firmly.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
Franklin set the light meter in his coat pocket sheepishly. He bowed formally as they all stared at him. “Forgive me, but you have wonderful contrast! I was overcome.”
Kiku made a shooing motion. Franklin was frightened by this and backed away.
Shep teased her. “Poor man. You scared him off! He’s just looking for models for his residency project.”
“I guess he’ll just have to keep looking.” Kiku clapped her hands together in conclusion and went to get a drink of water on her way back into the conference room. Joni and Shep followed, agreeing that Kiku had no idea. And for someone so sharp and keen, this large blind spot endeared her to them even more.