My eyes dial in and I see it's a girl, a girl with bright aqua-colored hair, the very same Katy Perry blue I yearn to dye my own hair. The girl, talking to her boyfriend (my assumption from how close to each other they stand) catches my eye, we smile.
"I love your hair," I call out as I pass. "Oh, to be young again, I'd love to have hair that color."
At which point she peels away from her boyfriend and heads down the stairs. "You should!" she says. "And I'm not that young, I'm thirty."
"Ha! You're a baby!"
But I'm glad I haven't called her a girl out loud. Despite Girls on Trains and Girls with Dragon Tattoos, girls over twenty one are young women. Period.
By now, I've stopped and turned and she's caught up with me. She's a pretty young woman, her colorful hair pulled back in a high pony tail, petite in a tank top and barely there jean shorts. Shorts so short that bring out my old lady judgmental side. Me, who was proud to wear micro-minis back in the day.
"I'm Belle," she says, extending her hand to shake. I notice that her arms are covered with tattoos, inked with turquoise and soft pink, looking more like water color illustrations from a book of fairy tales than the old school tattoos that used to mark up a sailor's muscle.
We shake hands at the exact same moment I realize her left arm ends at her elbow. Belle takes my hand between her right hand and her left elbow, the way you might take a friends hand in both of yours. It feels soft, like skin.
"Nice tats," I say.
"Tatoos," she says. "Thanks."
I apologize and ask her about the difference. Tattoos are an art form, she explains. Tats feels dismissive, like she's some sort of miscreant. You wouldn't say paint for painting, right? I thank her for correcting me, grateful to learn her point of view about a word I've tossed about without thinking. Tattoos are mainstream now, I tell her, after all no self-respecting chef would be without a tattoo.
Belle's tattoos are beautiful. Together we look at the designs on both her arms and she shows me where her left arm ends at the elbow, pointing out some tiny bumps scattered on her stump like a smiley face, latent evidence, she tells me of miniaturized fingers. If tats is wrong, surely 'stump' is wrong too, but I don't know the right word. Two minutes into my new friendship with Belle, I can't ask.
Belle's boyfriend joins us while she tries to convince me to let her dye my hair. Says she has everything she needs to do in her car, parked right here, near her boyfriend's apartment. She can color it in a matter of minutes. I demur as she talks formulas and emulsions, tints, techno talk like a professional.
"Are you a hairdresser," I ask. "Is that what you do?"
She laughs, no. It's just something she does for herself.
"So what do you do?" I'm curious about the cute young woman with the pretty tattoos and outrageous hair color. If Tinkerbell was a real job, she could be a modern day Tinkerbell, sharp and spunky.
"I'm a dominatrix," Belle says—and something else but I don't hear the rest of the sentence. My mind, my ears, everything has come to a halt at dominatrix. My pedestrian life has not prepared me to come face to face with a dominatrix. As a writer I'm feeling a familiar thrill. Maybe I can write about her? An article? A character in a book?
"And you?" I ask her boyfriend, unapologetically nosy. "What do you do?" I'm not sure what I expect.
"I'm a civil engineer," he tells me, a little sheepishly. Such a conventional job.
"He's my vanilla," she laughs.
"I'm not always that vanilla," he objects.
"Okay, okay," I say, laughing too, trying not to picture what they do in the bedroom. "We all have our private lives," I joke, as if my ordinary life might brush up against the counter culture from time to time.
We're all still laughing as I walk away, my pale green plastic laundry basket filled with t-shirts, underwear and socks to be folded and put away.
Once more I wave off her offer to do my hair. "Let me think about it. And I'm sorry if I was too nosy," I say.
Belle laughs good-naturedly. She doesn't mind. It's clear she meets people like me every day, curious, keen to know more about her. She'll go off on her merry way, probably not giving me another thought, while I'll continue to wonder about her long after we say goodbye.
I'd like to be more blaze, more sophisticated but it's not everyday that you meet a blue haired, tattooed dominatrix. I can almost picture her at work; at least I know which hand she uses to hold the whip.