“I am looking for you,” she said.
“Oh? Well,” I said playfully. “Here I am!” I beamed at the girl, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen years-old. I had no idea who she was.
Short and very slight, she was the most striking beauty I’d ever seen in a man or woman. Jet black hair hung down past her waist, the sunlight reflecting iridescent strands of Safire. There was not a blemish on her stunningly perfect heart-shaped face. Her large eyes were deep lavender with bright flecks of gold, outlined by thick, jet black lashes and elegantly arched brows. Transfixed by her beauty, I couldn’t help gazing at her the way a little child openly gapes at something that fascinates them.
“May I sit with you?” she asked.
“Of course,” I gestured somewhat grandly to the chair opposite me. She took the seat, leaned a little bit forward over the table with her hands in her lap, and stared intently at me. I didn’t move muscle.
“This book you are reading, it is good?” She asked, gesturing with her head to the novel in my hand. Her head moved in a kind-of reverent nod as she spoke. Mimicking her a bit, I nodded in reply.
“You will tell me about it. Please.”
“Uh…I just started it, actually, so I have no idea what it’s about. Not yet.”
She was silent, now searching my face, for what, I wasn’t sure. I felt my cheeks flush.
“So, how can I help you?” I snapped. I needed to take charge of the strange situation. “You say you’ve been looking for me…” she started to reply, but I put up my hand to stop her, “…but, I think you mistake me for someone else; someone who looks like me, perhaps?”
“Your mother told me what you look like and where to find you.”
I flinched. “My mother? My mother…my mother died years ago. You must have me mistaken for…”
“Yes. She died when I was five years-old.”
A strange girl mentioning my mother years after her death was downright weird. I was suddenly comforted knowing I was in a public place with many people around. Adjusting my posture to an upright position, I put my inherent no-nonsense sensibility into play.
“I don’t have a clue who you are. I never met you. But, if you knew my mother, like you say, though I find that highly doubtful, given how young you seem to be…” the girl started to reply but I stopped her with a flash of a upheld hand. “If you knew my mother, then you know that, were she here, she would insist you answer my questions, so,” counting off on my fingers as I went, “how do you know my mother, who are you and, how the f…how in the world do you know who I am?”
The girl lowered her head almost to the surface of the table before looking up again to meet my gaze. “Your mother is a friend of mine. She is very amusing! I like her very much. She taught me the card game she calls Spite and Malice. She says, with more practice, I will become very good, and one day I will win and she will lose.”
As she spoke, a smile broadened wide across my face. “My mother taught you Spite and Malice…when you were very little?”
“You have other questions,” she said. “I must reply as you requested.” I gestured for her to continue.
“My name is Amrusha Koshi. I live here, in the city …”
“With your parents, I assume?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
I shrugged. “You seem young. How old are you?”
“I will be fourteen in two months.” I smiled. I was right about her age.
“My auntie lives with us, as well. And I have an older brother. Do you want to know their ages as well?”
“No, no. Not necessary. Please, continue. You’ve not said how you know my mother. I mean, I have to assume your parents were clients of hers, or maybe your aunt?”
“She came to see me two weeks ago.”
I did not completely fathom what Amrusha said. “She? Who, she? Your aunt?”
Amrusha shook her head. “Your mother. We are speaking of your mother.”
“Amrusha, can I get you something?” I abruptly asked. “Maybe something to drink? A soda? Water? Tea?”
“Yes, thank you. I would like tea, please. Black. Or Oolong, if they have it. No sugar or cream.”
I excused myself and walked to the counter to get Amrusha Koshi—the very odd and very beautiful fourteen year-old, who knows her black tea from her Oolong tea, and who apparently was visited by the spirit of my long-dead mother for the specific reason of teaching her how to play the card game Spite and Malice—a mug of English Breakfast. Neat.
As the barista prepared Amrusha’s mug and topped off my coffee, I watched her. She sat still, staring straight in front of her, when suddenly she let out a loud, high-pitched giggle, which drew looks from others in the coffee shop. Just as suddenly, she went silent and still again.
I placed the mug of tea in front of her and asked her why the laugh.
“Your mother!” Her incredible eyes were bright and wide. “She is so very funny!”
“Yeah….Mom was a very funny lady,” I quipped.
“The answer to your last question…”Amrusha started to say.
“Oh, I’m sorry…what was my last question?”
“How I know who you are.”
“Ah, yes. How?”
“I assume the answer is obvious, because I have told you. I know your mother. She is my friend.”
I drew in a deep breath and took a moment to gather my thoughts. “And, so, Mom, my mother, came to see you…in a dream, perhaps?” Amrusha shrugged. “…and apparently knew I was here at this particular coffee shop, told you what I look like and told you to drop whatever you were doing and come find me? Is that it?”
“Not exactly. She…”
I interrupted her. I needed an explanation planted firmly on the ground, not riddles flying overhead. “My mother, from the great beyond, told you to find me here today, at this hour. Here, in this place.”
“It’s just that…not including how strange this all is…I don’t come to this place often. At least, not regularly.”
Amrusha was nonplussed. “She said you were here, told me what you look like, and asked me to come see you, as I have said.”
Curiosity superseded my disbelief. I had to ask. “Did she say why?”
Was this kid playing me? If so, why? I narrowed my eyes at Amrusha and asked in scolding tone, “Do your parents know you are here? Or, where you are? And, most importantly, why you are here?”
I waited for her to respond, but Amrusha didn’t reply. She blew air over her hot mug of tea before taking a tentative sip and set the mug back on the table.
“OK. Whatever,” I shrugged.
My mother never gave any credence to anything she couldn’t actually see, touch or hear. Ghosts did not exist, except as the Holy Ghost, a Halloween costume, or in summer campfire tales. She certainly did not think anyone could talk to someone who died. This girl telling me she’s been sent by my mother, of all people, was kind-of funny.
“Ironic, to say the least,” I muttered to myself.
“What is ironic?” Amrusha asked, herself now looking a bit confused. I shook my head. I wasn’t entirely sure if she was asking after the meaning of the word, or why I found the situation as such. Either way, it was clear Amrusha possessed absolutely no sense of irony.
If Amrusha hadn’t mentioned Spite and Malice, my mother’s all-time-favorite, best-way-to-kill-the-time card game; if she wasn’t so unaffected, or if she possessed an inkling of a sense of irony, I could write the entire encounter off as nothing more than being the unwitting punk of some geeky teen prank. But, I believed Amrusha. I believed this strange girl befriended the ghost of my mother.
“Ya know,” I ventured, “I thought I spied several decks of cards, in the bookcase, over there…” Amrusha turned to see where I had indicated. “Why don’t we play a game of Spite and Malice. I’ll give you a few pointers of my own.”
Amrusha paused and then let out another high-pitched giggle. “Your mother said to me just now that you do not play well, but if you happen to win, I am to accuse you of cheating!”
Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. Whenever I happened to win at Spite and Malice, my mother always teased it was only because I was cheating.
“Oh, my dear girl,” I reached across the table. Amrusha raised her hands from her lap and held them open to me. I grasped them both. “You don’t know how much it hurts to miss your mother.”
“Has anyone told you that you are a very beautiful girl, but also a sort-of odd little thing?”
This time she frowned. “All the time. My brother, in particular. He calls me ‘weirdo,’ and tells me that I am to leave him alone. He is very mean to me.”
“Well, brothers can be like that. Don’t worry. He’ll grow out of it, eventually. Maybe. Anyway, c’mon. Let’s play some cards.”
Inspired by the prompt: You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?