I met Iris about a year ago.
It had been a habit of mine to frequent a coffee shop a few blocks away from where I lived. I ordered the exact same kind of coffee and sat at the table near the counter; the one that anyone who got up to buy a drink had to pass by.
And so a year ago, I went about my morning routine, read the newspaper, when I happened to glance up at the counter. There she was, leaning against it. She was wearing this beautiful yellow dress. It reminded me of the walls my old bedroom had. My mother was unhealthily optimistic, and although I never actually asked her, I surmised she thought it was a good idea to paint my room with such a bright color in hopes that her child would grow up just as sunny as her. I remembered this as Iris stood there, and I wondered how a stranger could have made me think of something I’ve never thought about in years, just by standing in a yellow dress.
After the barista handed her a drink, she finally turned around, and there our eyes met. I looked at her bright brown eyes, frank and assertive. There I saw neither feigned empathy nor hidden contempt I found in everybody else’s. In her eyes, I saw the truth. That was when I knew she was different from everyone who’d passed by me, or anyone else I’ve ever encountered before in my life, for that matter. In fact, she had been the only one who had me admit to these banal feelings that I once thought only existed in fiction.
I figured she must have recently moved to the neighborhood, because after that day I saw her all the time. For once, I was happy. Don’t get me wrong, work was good. The company I had only recently formed was already steadily gaining a reputation. I lived in a spacious apartment in one of the city’s more peaceful neighborhoods. I had everything I ever expected to have, and yet there was always this tug in my chest people have when they think they’ve forgotten something. I quickly noticed its sudden, permanent absence that same week.
Iris always ordered the same kind of coffee like me I did, so it wasn’t hard to surprise her with a free drink one morning. She was taken aback at first, but the confusion turned quickly into a small, endearing smile.
I then gave her flowers. She grinned when she received them, the kind that you would have upon hearing you’d won the lottery. I had never seen anything more beautiful. Over the next few days, I gave her different sets of bouquets. I even went to the coffee shop early to surprise her with them. She whispered to herself that she loved every single one, and her eyes told me it was truth.
Iris loved chocolates, too. I decided to purchase some for her after that day she went into the café with puffy eyes. She’d just cried. I have always heard it was a great way to lift one’s spirits, so the very next day I gave her a whole box of it. She still looked downtrodden when she came in, and I thought perhaps she was too preoccupied to give much notice when she got the box. It was fine with me, really. I just wished I would have known what she was crying about.
I’d wanted to confess to her all these things, too – how I felt about her, how I loved how her bright eyes lit up every room she entered, and that whatever bad thing it was that was making her unhappy would eventually pass. I guess finding a right time for such a declaration was impossible. At least, that was until an idea crossed my mind. It was simple, traditional, even outdated for most people, but it was perfect for me.
A letter, I admit, was a bit of a risk. I wasn’t exactly a writer – but to hell with risks. They were always going to be there. In the end, I must have scrapped twenty drafts before I finally settled on the final one. I was so relieved when I finally gave it. I thought she’d appreciate it best – more so than the coffee or flowers or chocolates, or whatever else I could have bought for her.
She came in a little later than usual that day, still looking sullen. I hoped I would finally see her smile again upon reading the letter. What I did not prepare for was her reading it, hands shaking and worried eyes blinking fast, before sprinting out of the shop without a single word. She didn’t even order anything.
I didn’t see Iris at the café over the next week. At one point, I even stayed longer than I should have, thinking that maybe she was simply late. She never came. Maybe she was more upset than I thought she was. I got angry, angry at whatever could have caused her such unhappiness, and angrier that I wasn’t able to comfort her. I tried to find out what had happened, but my questions weren’t answered. I grew more and more agitated, but every time I thought of Iris, my resolve only grew stronger. Friday night, I finally decided, I was going to help her, whatever trouble it was. Anything for Iris.
Saturday came by fast. Shortly after eating breakfast, I drove to her apartment, which was a fifteen-minute drive away. I parked the car across the street and stayed. As I waited for her to arrive, I thought of all that I wanted to tell her. I closed my eyes and thought of her crying. It pained me. I really wish I could have helped much earlier. If I weren’t such a coward, then maybe… My gaze flickered to my wristwatch every now and then, and before I knew it, two hours had passed with me just tapping my fingers on the wheel. I clenched my jaw, then puffed out my cheeks. She was supposed to be here by now… any second…
As if on cue, she turned from the corner. Iris slowly walked up to the entrance, and pushed the door open. I, on the other hand, composed myself for a moment, before turning off the car and finally going out to follow her. My steps were slow but heavy; I could hear the tiny rocks on the ground crackle underneath them. I briskly passed through the hallway and hurried up to the second floor. I turned as I reached the last step, and there she was in the corridor, fumbling for her keys.
At first, no words came out. It took me a few seconds before managing a greeting. “Hey.”
She jumped up slightly and then looked at me, confused. I searched for recognition in her eyes, but there was none. “Sorry. Do I know you?”
I scratched the back of my head. “Um, the coffee?”
“The flowers? The letter?”
It was as if she’d suddenly realized something terrible.
“You?” she told me, and suddenly her eyes were filled with nothing but fear and disgust. It was pure vitriol. I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand at all. “You were the one who wrote that… that letter?”
“Yes,” I started. I said that I did. “I hope you like them, Iris.”
I heard her breathe heavily, eyes glaring. She told me, gritting her teeth, “Leave me alone.”
I stuttered; I couldn’t fathom why, why she was suddenly so upset. I thought she liked the gifts. I saw it, the smile on her face and the joy in her eyes. Those couldn’t be faked; if it were, I would know. And so I asked her, “Did you not like them? Was it the flowers or the chocolates? Or maybe my letter?”
She blinked hard and fast, as if she couldn’t believe I would even ask such a thing. She told me, no way in hell. And then those three words again. “Leave me alone,” she repeated.
You have the most wonderful eyes, I said to her; I couldn’t leave such a thing alone. But there I saw her face and it was plastered with nothing but contempt. I was heartbroken. Here was the only genuine person I have ever met, and she did not want me.
I couldn’t hold it back. With all the courage I had left, I said to her, “I love you.”
She took a step away, never taking her eyes away from mine. “I’m going to call the police if you don’t leave me alone right now.” I knew she meant it. She was reaching into her pocket.
I had but one choice. “I’m sorry.”
I lunged towards her as fast as I could and put my hand over her mouth. I whispered as gently as I could into her ear, tried to reason with her – tried to make her remember all those times I managed to make her smile, hoping memories of past memories of elatedness would calm her down, but she tried to wriggle out and strike me. I managed to hold tight. I pushed open the door with my back and pulled her in, kicking the door shut right after.
I struggled to carry her across her sofa into the kitchen. All of the curtains were closed, but rays of light managed to peek through the cracks to the furniture and floors. She flailed around so I wrapped my arms around her tighter, but she didn’t stop. Too much resistance, even when I just wanted to tell her how I felt.
This went on for what seemed like forever until finally, she stopped. With a shaky whisper, she said, “Okay, you win.”
I was either too stupid or too trusting of her. I don’t remember if I loosened my arms around her or completely let go, but as I did so, I felt her elbow jab against my stomach. I let out a low grunt. That woke me; for the first time in a long while, I was properly frustrated. It took me a second to regain my senses. I turned my head and spit quickly before lunging. I managed to take hold of her wrists, but I tripped myself over and had to quickly steady myself back into position. The next thing I knew, Iris got loose and yet again found another opening to strike me, except this time I was ready. By instinct, and perhaps doubled with the anger pent up inside me, I grabbed her on the top of her head, and with all my might, pushed.
She dropped down to the floor, her back striking against the ground with a loud, sharp thud. My chest heaved up and down, my mouth open. I felt sweat trickling all over my face. I stared at Iris, whose face was frozen. Her eyes and mouth were open but there was neither blinking nor sound.
She was no longer grunting and struggling. In fact, she stopped moving altogether. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on.
I dropped to my knees, hovering above Iris. I just kneeled there, dumbfounded for – I don’t even remember for how long, before snapping out of it. I reluctantly brought my face closer to her face to examine her.
That was when I realized that she was still breathing faintly, though she could neither move nor talk. I stayed put, hurrying to grab her wrists to make sure she stayed there, and took a good, long look at her. Was she even conscious? I was surprised the moment I noticed it. The rest of her might not be, but I could see – her eyes were still full of life. Those brown eyes – honest to their cores. I loosened my grip on her wrists, and my body shook ever so slightly as all the tension that had built up inside me dissipated. I put my palms against the floor to steady myself while I felt her stare burning into me. Silence rang in my ears, and I could feel the rapid beating in my chest. I did not look away, not once.
Instead, I held her gaze as she held mine.
Still, there they were, the most beautiful eyes. There they were.