FINDING SEOUL 2
Her eyes seep sadness. They sting like old wounds reopened--wide and gaping.
I imagine for a moment that she sees her own abandoned daughter--a hint of the child she once knew in the shape of my face.
She is old enough to be my Oma, but I know she isn’t. My imagination is letting longing take it for a spin.
The look in the woman’s eyes had swept my thoughts toward personal tragedy, but, there is only pity--and sadness. And they're not for herself, but for me.
I struggle with the metal chopsticks.
Performance jitters. I have been using them non-stop since my move to Tokyo three months ago. I am convinced I could skillfully eat using toothpicks, and yet, under this woman's gaze, the chopsticks are soba noodles between my two fingers.
Her gaze crinkles at the corners when she laughs. The lines around her eyes and mouth sit atop her face like an ill-fitting mask, unsuccessfully hiding the pretty girl beneath.
Korean words I don’t know.
I blush, the black sesame cake evading my maneuvers. I mumble something about wooden chopsticks.
More words, and then, she leaps from her chair and I know a fork will be produced.
Sometimes her chopsticks are on my plate--always adding food--or arranging a bite in the way it should be eaten. Lettuce, sweet meat, frilly radishes and finally, crunchy rice noodles.
The dish in front of me is never empty. Always more. The best bite, the last bite.
She nods her head at waiting staff and swiftly, old dishes are carried away and new ones are brought forward. Each creation is a piece of art that makes my taste buds sing.
I suddenly see myself dining as a three years-old, and then I see the whisper of my Oma across the table. She never has a face in my imagination, but I know what she feels like. Oma eyes my progress and intervenes to ensure I want for nothing, her own plate neglected, her tireless ministrations second nature.
A sense that this is something I had missed growing-up mists over me.
Tea is served. Seventeen-year-old Chinese tea leaves she brews only on special occasions. Tea as old as her restaurant.
Chinese tea with more roots and more story in Korea than I do.