I noticed her yesterday on the train to Budapest.
Seeing her again is like seeing a whole new person.
Yesterday her brown straight-cut bangs sheltered her eyes as a wimple might cover a sister's vanity. Her head was bent over a book nearly through the whole train ride, so I had no way of seeing her entire face. I could only see the small wrinkles that stretched past her eyes when her cheeks rose to a smile. I could only see the small mole that rested perfectly in the bridge of her nose. I could only see her straight brown hair as she combed through it occasionally with her frail fingers.
Only now, as I stand in front of her in the shoe store, do I realize how badly I wanted to understand her. Only now, as she bends down to size my feet, do I realize how little I really know about her.
She did not seem to take notice of me yesterday, but now she smiles. What a lovely smile! Her hair is drawn up in a neat bun so I can see her face. Hazel eyes blink down at the shoes, understanding, frowning, smiling, asking. What is it she's asking?
"Would you like to try these on?"
How could such a lovely thing be bent over shoes all day? "Yes."
Her rosy lips purse into a thin line. "Doesn't seem to fit. Shall I get another?"
What is her name? "One size up will do I think."
She walks away, strutting with importance as if she means business. She comes back with a friendly smile and a box held firmly in her small hands. How long has she worked here? "Try these."
The shoes fit, but her eyes betray a flash of disapproval. I'm suddenly dissatisfied. "Won't do."
"I'll find you another pair. Forty five?" She takes the shoes from me, her soft fingertips brushing past mine.
I answer yes, but she's gone. She comes back with another pair, holding the shoes up for me to see, beaming at the polished leather in pride. Her unblemished cheeks rise to a grin. "These are from Vienna."
She helps me into the shoes, gently tugging at my heel. They fit well enough. Her eyes flashed with delight. "Very fine. I'll take these."
She puts the shoes back into the box and smiles. How young she seems, so full of life! She leads me to the desk where she totals the cost. The number is depressing, but how I remember the way she looked when she saw them on! The paper bills leave my hands like leaves in the autumn wind. She smiles again, her entire face illuminating with joy. No regrets.
The shop bell rings behind me as I clutch the shoe box. Budapest spread like heaven before me, I stroll through town, happy.
Only now do I remember her half hidden face. The face on the train: obscure, abstruse. Only now do I look at the shoes in my hands. What fine leather I was sold! Only now do I look at the receipt and feel my heart sink.
Only now do I realize that I am a fool.