Call him Whale Shark. But first, let’s talk about her.
She was nerdy-stunning, early 30’s, with dark pinned-up hair and black glasses, clear pale complexion, and a low musical voice from ye faire isle of Britian. First stop of a yellow 2 out of Ballard, about 7:30 in the morning, yet she was as sleepy-eyed as a 3:30 pickup. Not a morning person, but still capable of witty, yet trenchant, pleasantries. I really wanted to talk with her more, but she clearly needed space, so I didn’t push it. Sure enough, she sat in the back row, always the sign of someone who doesn’t want to talk.
(Except for one guy from Everett who went all the way in back, then started a shouted conversation with me over the freeway noise. I finally pulled over so he could move up. I don’t know why, he didn’t have that much to say—I guess I was just tired of being shouted at.)
The other stop, Whale Shark’s, was on Phinney Ridge. “Ridge” is Seattlish for “View”, and “View” translates as “money.” He had the whole kit: two stories of Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains, German cars, the “My Kid Is an Honor Student at Precious Prep” bumper sticker. Dressed in technocrat khaki and an invisible “Smartest Guy in the Room” sweatshirt, he started to sit in the first row, spied her, and switched to the middle row, just in front of her. Wave bye-bye to the wife and kids, champ.
As we pulled away, he tried to strike up a conversation, despite her minimal replies. “Parry” and “deflect” are sword fighting terms that have been drafted into describing conversation, and never has it seemed so literal to me as I watched her fend him off with as little energy as politeness would allow.
He was growing desperate, and started talking about his visit to the Atlanta Aquarium, and their stupendous whale sharks. “Biggest fish in the sea: forty feet long, 20 tons, and you’re right there looking at them. Amazing. I mean, forty feet…”
We were at a red light, and I glanced back in the rearview mirror. She had had enough. With the efficiency of a master swordfighter, she pierced his heart (or loins) with the tiniest of gestures: she closed her eyes. He was frozen with disbelief for a few seconds, then turned around and stared morosely out the window for the rest of the trip.
When we got to the airport, I unloaded her luggage, and she signed her credit card slip. A good-humored look passed between us: acknowledgement of what had happened with Whale Shark, an appreciation on her part that I was letting her be a sleepy morning traveler, without asking for more. And maybe something else, a sense of kindred spirits, an acknowledgement of the conversation that could have been. A special bond, perhaps.
That night, I told Tess the story of the trip, including the exchanged look with her at the end of it. “Oh God,” she said, “you’re as pathetic as he is.”
Whale Shark, my brother!