Kelly Kustmoto's character gets more than he expects from a visit to his friendly local Korean manicurist.
One by one, everyone in the shop went back to whatever it was they were doing. The manicurists lowered their heads and continued to study or file or polish their clients' nails. The clients themselves continued staring at the TV or at nothing at all while the receptionist went back to studying her own nails, ignoring me even though I stood in front of her patiently.
After three or four minutes - which is an eternity for a man by himself-the receptionist raised her head and looked at me as if for the first time. "Salamdeul i chajgoissneun salam-i issseubnikka?" she said.
I imagined it meant 'hello' or 'can I help you' or something to that effect. I took my gloves off and she almost fell off her chair. She started saying all kinds of things in Korean while skittering around looking for something. She gathered some things from one table, cleared off another and looked back at me as if I were bleeding to death. She motioned with her arm in a most animated fashion for me to come to her. I walked over and she pointed to the chair and told me to sit. She yelled something else to someone else with the urgency of a paramedic. In a second, a woman with hair as stiff and black and shiny as onyx came running towards me. Her purple and gold laced silk shirt and matching pants fluttered in the wind. Her makeup was straight from the days of the Gisaeng. She wore matching gold and purple amethyst earrings, bracelets, and a necklace.
She spoke broken but impressive English. "Come on. Let me see," she said, reaching for my hands. "Oh, my." She put her glasses on for a closer look. "Oh, my," but with more emphasis.
"You come to the right place."
"I fix, you see."
"Thank you," I said.
"Why you come here?" She asked.
"Who send you here?" She said. "What her name?"
"Um, the concierge at the hotel," I said.
"What her name?"
"Uh, I don't know."
"You have girlfriend?"
"Um, no." I wasn't sure if this was standard procedure for a manicure, so instead of asking her what all the questions were about, I just answered her.
"You take her to dinner," she said.
I couldn't help but laugh.
She sat down facing me and pulled over the arm with a large magnifying glass attached to it. She placed my hands under the light and picked up what looked like a nail file. She went to work and said, "Very serious. You take concierge to dinner."
I laughed again and said, "I don't think that's..."
"Tonight," she interrupted.
She gave a look that suggested not to argue. Whether or not I would actually ask the concierge out, I said, "Okay. I'll ask her."
"Good," she said and for the first time, smiled. "She save you your hand. She care about you."
"But that's kind of her job, right?" I asked.
She gave me another look that said not to question her. I knew that look. It was the same look my mother and my grandmother would give when they were done arguing. But I wouldn't have been a pesky boy growing up or a stubborn man now if I didn't test "the look."
"You guys probably have a deal set up, right?" I asked. "She sees someone that needs some work done and she sends them your way."
She shook her head. "You have no clue." She made a clicking sound with her cheek. "No wonder you have no girlfriend."
"What does that mean?"
"Good thing someone care about you. Send you to me. I can help. But only because she care. She send you just in time. You are lucky. Buy lottery, yes?"
She rolled her eyes. There was a set of unfamiliar tools at her side. She would pick one up, examine it, and use it on my hands. Some of them caused pain, some tickled, some I thought did nothing at all. But in the end, my hands did not look like my hands. I couldn't recognize them. They didn't feel like my hands and they didn't smell like them. For all I knew, she replaced them with some cadaver hands she had sitting on ice, waiting for me.
I paid her and tipped her generously. As I walked out of the store, she gave me a look. A different look, but just as universal as the other. It was also one used by my mother and grandmother. It stated an understanding; that there was a task I had to complete whether I wanted to or not. But it also said it was up to me and if I knew any better I would listen, but that I probably didn't know any better, so she wouldn't be surprised either way. Even further, it said to me that although she wouldn't be surprised with my decision, she would be disappointed. The concierge was probably single and saw something interesting in me. The manicurist would be upset that I chose not to ask a beautiful, polite, intelligent, sad and lonely woman out. She would be saddened at the failed prospect of love. She would feel an unfulfilled feeling. Her title might have been manicurist but her real passion was matchmaker, and if I didn't ask the concierge out, she would fail at her passion. She said all of this with that one final look. It was enough to empty the hearts of the north of their hatred and fill them with warmth and love.
As the door closed behind me, it hit the chimes in a much more subtle, refined fashion; with grace and maturity. I gave her a smile and she smiled back. I got to the hotel elevator and reached for a mint. The floor numbers ascended as did my heartbeat. When the doors opened, a light I had never experienced before blanketed me in comfort and confidence. As my eyes adjusted, I saw her standing at the counter. She smiled wide when she recognized me. I smiled back and let the sound of the chimes play in my head and carry me towards her. I asked to buy a lottery ticket but knew I had already won.