One-Way Mirror

Hidden women of history: the priestess Pythia at the Delphic Oracle, who  spoke truth to power

Sometimes I feel like an observer, watching Organza from behind a one-way mirror like in the police shows, especially when she gets excited. She does that a lot, reveling in the sensation of being righteous and virtuous. Her dark-green eyes light up with thousands of volts of electricity. Her pixie face, topped by short brown locks, transforms into a vengeful Greek heroine, and her normally soft voice metamorphoses into Pythia’s, pronouncing the decision of the gods. That’s why I love her. When we’re alone, Organza is my gentle and supportive companion but, whenever a topic of interest comes up, I step back and let the high priestess of Apollo take center stage. It works most of the time because people are overwhelmed by her wit, sincerity, uncanny memory, and attention to detail. Instead of dedicating her intense intellect to something mundane like politics or sociology, my consort has chosen to influence people rather than tell them what to do—unless they’re in the room with her. Organza writes an influential social blog, followed by the leaders of industry and government. Academia tries to ignore her from their ivory tower, but the self-proclaimed intellectuals of America acknowledge her perspicacity now and then.

But there’s something about Organza that I hadn’t seen until I observed her having a conversation with her best friend during happy hour. It was a Wednesday afternoon. I was watching from the other side of the one-way mirror. And apparently, I wasn’t alone.

Organza spotted Danielle Grant as soon as she entered the quiet, neighborhood bar where we were meeting for drinks and dinner. Her eyes lit up but she didn’t become Pythia, not right away. A hand flew up, waving animatedly to get the attention of a woman who didn’t look like a pixie or a Greek goddess. Danielle was…maybe the girl next door. Long, wavy, dark-blonde hair and bangs framed a friendly face with puffy cheeks centered on a full nose and wide, smiling mouth. She wasn’t beautiful. Or hot. But something about her confident demeanor—neither arrogant nor egotistical—got my attention. 

“Oh my god, Organza!” Danielle began, anticipation crinkling her cherubic cheeks.

Organza interjected with just as much excitement. “I can’t believe you haven’t met Craig. He’s been my boyfriend for a while, but you work so much we never get to just…casually get together!” 

I had the impression that Danielle wasn’t excited about meeting me. She hadn’t even noticed me yet. At Organza’s introduction, her brown eyes focused on me, full lips smiling, the excitement gone from her face. “Oh…hello, Craig, I’m so glad to finally meet you. Organza has told me so much about you…”

She was lying and we both knew it. Interesting.

Organza didn’t correct Danielle’s false statement but instead elaborated the fiction. “Craig’s been dying to meet you and…here we are…finally getting together.”

Danielle’s expression quickly changed from disbelief to acceptance as she shook my hand, her eyes saying that she was accustomed to the smooth blending or reality and fiction from Organza. But those dark orbs weren’t judging me or Organza, simply accepting the reality of…what couldn’t be changed. We shook hands and Organza signaled a server, a young man who instantly responded to her request. Danielle and I completed our obligatory introductions accompanied by meaningless pleasantries, with Organza looking on approvingly. 

The formalities out of the way, I asked, “So, Danielle, what were you going to tell us?”

She’d had time to think about her announcement. Would she maintain the fantasy of being excited to meet me? I was pleased with her decision.

Danielle smiled sheepishly and said, “I am glad to finally meet you, Craig, but I have to admit that I wasn’t thinking about that when I arrived. I was excited about something that happened on the subway…”

Rather than inquire about her experience, I raised my eyebrows in Organza’s direction, waiting for her response. I was only an observer, the cop behind the one-way mirror.

Organza’s eyes shot open. “Did you get fired?!”

She wasn’t listening. Organza wasn’t a very good listener because she was always planning a response, which didn’t always fit the conversation. It didn’t matter most of the time because all her friends, including me and apparently Danielle, were accustomed to her inattention to details. 

“On the subway? Of course not. I had an unsolicited and frightening—at least at first—encounter with several guys on the way over her. I’m used to having guys hit on me but this was different.”

I wasn’t sure which implication would elicit an immediate response from Organza. Her idea of sexual harassment was any guy talking to her before she addressed them. That’s how we met, in a corner bar during happy hour, when she interrupted my conversation with some guys from work to introduce herself. 

I’m neither a movie star nor a body builder, so I figured that if a girl as hot as her wanted to meet me I would play along. Maybe I’d get lucky for once. My friends understood when I dumped them for Organza. I fell in love with her that night, having dinner and some drinks, listening to her talk about herself, explaining why she had picked me up, giving me intimate looks into her psyche. She was unpretentious, a rare personality trait in a woman as attractive as her. She didn’t like people who are so physically appealing that they take it for granted, like the guys who hit on her all the time, men who thought they were god’s gift to women. When I had a chance to speak at length, I asked her why she’d wanted to meet me, quoting sociological research proving that people were attracted to others with similar overall physical attributes. She’d scoffed and repudiated those Darwinian studies as nonsense reflecting the biases of the researchers. I was totally in love with her by the time she finished her tirade with a concise summary of my behavior, which she’d been watching for weeks at my favorite happy hour bar, and her analysis of my personality, a perfect match to her idea of a romantic partner. I was speechless. Romantic partner? She discussed her own physical flaws and my strengths on the way back to her apartment, much nicer than mine and in a better part of the city. I’d spent the night and moved in within a week. That had been more than a year earlier.

I was awakened from my reflections when Organza grasped my hand suddenly, giving me a quick, doubtful glance, before saying, “Did you call the police? That’s the first thing I would have done if accosted in the subway by a group of men.”

Danielle shook her head emphatically. “Of course not, Organza, they didn’t threaten me—”

Organza’s countenance told me that she was frustrated with such a naïve attitude. “Sexual predators don’t reveal their intent in public. They stalk their victims and strike at a vulnerable moment. Haven’t you been listening to me? Did you at least get a photo of them? For a future police investigation, after you’ve been…” Her eyes opened wide, revealing the frightened girl who’d been sexually abused by her father, a frightening memory she’d shared our first night together as she’d pressed against me in the dark, shivering.

I thought that Danielle should finish her story before calling the police. “What was different about it—your encounter on the subway?” I asked nonchalantly.

Danielle’s full lips curved upward in a playful smile as she pulled a small can from her bag. “I didn’t need to use the pepper spray you insisted I get, Organza.” She waved it around, causing me to chuckle and Organza to cringe, before continuing, “Instead I got the phone number of their ring leader…” 

I laughed out loud, causing Organza to throw me a disapproving frown before she retorted, “You actually spoke to them?! I can’t believe you encouraged a bunch of sexual predators like that, Danielle! Have you lost your mind?”

Her grip on my hand had tightened, revealing the flow of painful memories she’d tried to forget, afraid that her best friend would suffer a similar fate. I squeezed her hand hard enough to get her attention before interjecting, “Let’s hear about this so-called ring leader of the gang that threatened Danielle before we call the FBI, okay?”

I knew that Organza trusted me when she loosened her grip and replied, “Sure, but it always starts with an innocent request…”

I kissed her quivering lips to reassure her, surprised to sense a weakness I’d never seen before. The defenseless young girl confronted by a terrifying situation had been awakened when someone she cared about was possibly facing an ordeal as terrifying as she had survived. 

Danielle put the small spray can away and said, “Are you ready to hear about my experience—maybe it was an adventure?”

I waited for Organza to nod weakly before I said, “The floor is yours,” knowing there would be frequent interruptions.

“I got on at Lexington. The train was full so I stood near the door, ignoring the other riders. But then a guy got up and offered his seat to me, commenting that I looked tired, which I wasn’t but I guess he was hitting on me, so I thanked him and took the seat next to an older woman who was reading a magazine, but then he said that he’d seen me on the subway before so maybe I was commuting like him, so I pointed to his hip-hop gangster clothes and asked if he was in the music industry—”

Organza interjected, “I can’t believe you spoke to him so personally, what’s wrong with you? Now he’ll stalk you because of your ill-considered words…what were you thinking?”

Danielle scoffed and continued, “He showed me his business card. His name is Chima Taggert and, according to his business card, he runs a hip hop apparel business called Get it right.” 

While Organza searched the internet to verify Danielle’s statement, I asked, “What about the other guys you mentioned?”

“They work for Chima. They’re all friends from high school but he’s the entrepreneur. They share an unfinished loft as living space, but he runs the business from downtown because he wants a really cool address to promote sales, and he doesn’t want to mix business and pleasure…” 

Danielle’s animated expression reminded me of myself when I’d met Organza. She was overwhelmed that a successful entrepreneur had been publicly stalking her and wanted to meet her. 

Her internet investigation complete, Organza’s head popped up, her attention focused on Danielle as she said, “Chima Taggert is black…”

I watched the two friends closely to see how this epiphany would go down. I personally hate classifying people using primary colors, especially black and white, which aren’t even colors but nothing more than their absence or presence. I was blown away by Danielle’s response.

“Naturally. Hip hop is an African-American phenomenon, like jazz and fried chicken, created by men like Chima although he doesn’t claim to be a creative genius, only a purveyor of cultural artifacts like t-shirts, hats, pants, and…well, you get it.”

“But…he’s black…you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, Danielle, even talking to someone from…a man with such a checkered past…I mean, those guys—hip hoppers and their like—they shoot each other in the street because of some kind of macho code of honor. Oh my god, what are we going to do!” Organza’s terrified expression and disingenuous concern for Danielle’s safety failed to hide her revulsion of the possibility of Danielle being interested in a black man. 

Before I could encourage Danielle to expand her story’s introduction, Organza continued her tirade about the dangers of getting involved with someone like this Chima character, implying that living with other men in an unfinished building was proof that he was a drug dealer, equating his internet business with money laundering. She finished with a dire warning.

“Don’t trust anyone who approaches you in a public place, especially not the subway…” She thought a moment before adding, “Or a bar.”

I laughed out loud at her hypocrisy. Bolts of lightning shot from her green eyes, now those of Pythia, as she faced me, her countenance demanding an explanation of my juvenile outburst. Before she could announce the decree of Apollo, I asked, “Are there a different set of rules for men and women?”

She understood my meaning but, undaunted, replied in a condescending tone, “Of course there are, Craig. Women are almost exclusively the victims of sexual violence. I had a pretty good idea of who you were before I introduced myself whereas Danielle knows nothing about this guy she met on the subway. It all could have been a lie or he may be a businessman, but with a nasty hobby, like Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby, not to mention Harvey Weinstein and…it doesn’t matter because there are no women on the A-list of sexual predators.”

She was right of course. But being more knowledgeable than me about famous misogynists didn’t erase the fact that she’d expressed racists views about the man Danielle had met on the subway, a black man who hadn’t behaved any differently than Organza. Men could be as uncertain of their actions as women, although it didn’t get as much publicity.

Usually I would have admitted defeat in her egocentric debate but I was spared such ignominy when Danielle said, “That’s why I wanted to get your opinion Organza, as my best friend, about a guy who would approach me on the subway and admit he’d been watching me. And I’m so glad to have Craig here too, to get a man’s opinion about Chima…”

I took my eyes off Danielle and focused on the front door, partially blocked by several groups of people standing around tables. Between their obstructing bodies and waving hands, holding glasses of beer, wine and cocktails, I glimpsed a young black guy entering the bar. He didn’t look like a rapper, dressed in black jeans and t-shirt; no dread locks, earrings or jewelry; just a young African American with a quirky smile. He didn’t even look out of place threading the suddenly packed bar. I stood up as he approached and extended my hand. 

“You must be Chima Kimathi?”

His high forehead and weak chin reminded me of Organza, as did his piercing gaze, although his eyes were brown rather than green. He accepted my invitation to join us and took a seat next to Danielle. Organza was silently studying him as if he were a bacterium trapped under a microscope lens. He didn’t seem to mind, never taking his eyes off Danielle as she formally introduced him. Organza was fuming because she doesn’t like surprises, especially not in public. I asked Chima why he wasn’t wearing the apparel he sold for advertising and he explained that he wasn’t into the hip-hop scene although he’d grown up with it in Kenya. He’d come to America on a green card to work as an electrical engineer but had helped some friends sell t-shirts on the internet. Before long, his friends were working for him and he was making more than as an engineer, although he planned to return to steady work when sales dropped. It was a part-time gig. 

Danielle queried Chima about his home in Kenya, prompting him to describe growing up on a subsistence farm with seven siblings, his parents’ savings paying for him to attend the University of Nairobi because he was the eldest, leaving his brothers and sisters to a life of poverty and misery. 

Organza interrupted. “So, you took this golden opportunity, to attend a prestigious university and learn a useful skill, and dropped all that for short-term money made from peddling cheap merchandise on the internet…?”

Chima retorted, “In Kenya, eating is a daily challenge, especially when recent droughts decimated my family’s harvest, leaving them barely able to pay the taxes on their land. I send most of my income to support them. It’s an emergency, not something…” He glanced at Danielle, thought about his words and added, “You probably wouldn’t understand.”

Those were trigger words for Organza, who was as aware of the problems plaguing central Africa as anyone else. “It’s easy to make excuses when it’s personal, but you aren’t thinking about the long term, Chima, about what you will do when your internet business goes bust. That engineering degree you’re sitting on has a shelf life and it won’t be worth crap in five years, just ask Danielle. She is keeping abreast of the latest developments in a rapidly changing field rather than calculating the cost of shipping worthless junk back to Kenya…”

I could see that her words stung Chima. “I am supporting my family, a problem you probably never had to consider, I imagine.”

Organza never backs down when confronted by arguments based on emotional pleas. “You said you send most of your income home. What is your family doing with it? Have you ever asked them? I imagine that, with an average income of about two-thousand dollars, the money you’ve been sending home could have bought other farmers out. Is that what your father did?” 

She didn’t wait for a response before continuing, “Probably not. I’ll bet they have a new generator and even a refrigerator, boasting to their neighbors about their rich son living in America, sending money home…”

Chima was overwhelmed by her onslaught, but he recovered his aplomb before explaining that his father was saving the extra money to improve the farm. He was interrupted by Organza laughing out loud, sarcastically asking why anyone would choose to make financial investments in Kenya with money that originated in the U.S., which offered better investment opportunities. She challenged him to produce proof of these investments made by his father. He admitted that he hadn’t demanded proof of his family’s investments but his mother had mentioned sending one of his younger siblings to the university to study engineering. Organza admitted that an education was a worthwhile endeavor but pointed out that, despite having a useful degree, Chima was selling clothing on the internet. She finished her analysis by suggesting that he should sit down with his family and make a concrete plan for the long-term, including the education of his siblings.

He thought a moment before responding. “You like to give advice, Organza. Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?”

Danielle interjected, “She gives advice. Organza writes a blog about modern life. She has more than a million followers worldwide, including in Kenya…”

Chima laughed and said, “At least I sell something people want. You give them advice they don’t need or want, but just for entertainment, like watching a movie. You are in no position to judge my choices, especially since you don’t know anything about my home.”

One thing I’ve learned about Organza, from reading her blog now and then, is that she doesn’t judge people or their choices. Her harsh analyses are based on what they tell her and all those ideas and facts she recalls at a moment’s notice. Her opinions sound like judgement sometimes, especially to someone who’s sensitive about the topic. I could see that she’d sown seeds of doubt in Chima’s mind, about what his family was doing with the money he’d sent home, and he was being defensive. 

She was accustomed to people being sensitive so she just shrugged, implying that it wasn’t her problem to deal with. She’d told me many times that she liked writing the blog because she could solve other people’s problems without getting personally involved. The sense of detachment shielded her from the emotional pain and uncertainty many of them were dealing with. I thought of her work as clinical psychology with teeth; she didn’t shy away from suggesting, sometimes even telling people, a course of action to solve their problem. Apparently, a lot of people followed her advice and reported improvements in their lives. Maybe Chima would too.

To Organza’s dismay, I compared our meeting to Chima’s introducing himself to Danielle on the subway. His comment was directed at Organza.

“I can imagine how you responded to that…” 

She faced him and retorted, “Danielle is my best friend and I worry about her. She’s such a sweet person that sometimes she can act very naïve, thinking others are as nice as her, and I was afraid this was one of those situations. After all, women who stalk men like I did Craig do as I did. We introduce ourselves when the time is right. The psychopaths depicted in thriller movies don’t exist in the real world. As you know, the outcome can be quite different with men…”

Chima was nodding as she spoke, finally saying, “I appreciate your relationship. In fact, I’ve seen you two together on the subway and I could tell how close you are. I knew that I had to win your trust, if not friendship, if I were to get to know Danielle and not be treated as a stalker.” He sipped from his beer and waved his hand in the air before adding, “So here we are, on a chaperoned date in a public place, just as if we were in my home town in Kenya.” 

He was smiling broadly so I joined him in a toast to persevering to meet someone. Danielle was watching Organza.

I retreated to the other side of the one-way mirror as Organza began her interview of Chima. He probably didn’t know that she’d graduated at the head of her class from Harvard, with a degree in psychology. Writing a blog had been a choice she’d made consciously after a year in graduate school. Danielle must have chosen this meeting venue with Organza’s personal talents and background in mind. I risked a glance at her and realized she was sitting behind the mirror with me, smiling knowingly, observing the interrogation from an objective position. She and I were required to contribute to the conversation occasionally to keep it from appearing to be what it was. When she was satisfied with the results, Organza proclaimed her decision.

“From the way Danielle described your meeting—probably intended as a prank because of my naturally suspicious tendency—I was expecting you to be wearing the apparel you sell, decked out in jewelry and dreadlocks. I know that most hip-hoppers are decent men and women, but I don’t think she’s compatible with someone from that culture, anyway not for more than a few dates. The character of your meeting was ominous under those circumstances, but that’s not who you are, although I think your support of your family is irresponsible—expecting your father to make competent financial decisions is at best wishful thinking…” She stopped her tirade and looked at me for support.

The moment called for more than holding her hand, so I bent over and kissed her expectant lips, letting her know that she hadn’t gone off the rails like she sometimes does. 

“How long have you two been together?” Chima asked when Organza was consoled.

Danielle interjected, “Craig moved in with Organza eighteen months ago. Aren’t they an adorable couple?” She was teasing us for Chima’s benefit.

His eyes opened wide. “So, are you guys engaged?” He glanced at Organza and added, “Or maybe you don’t want permanent entanglements…”

She glared at him so I answered, “She hasn’t asked me yet.”

Chima and Danielle laughed together.

Annoyed, Organza turned the eyes of Pythia on me but then something happened. They softened into the deep pools of affection I’d only seen in private. She glanced around the table and cleared her throat as she faced me again. “Why don’t we get married, Craig? It probably is about time.”

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