The first time I see her two words come to mind: butterscotch and beauty. Arrayed in complimentary shades of cerulean hues, she is indisputably that. A butterscotch beauty. Cell to ear, absorbed, she is listening to someone—her lover, perhaps, or a dear friend, maybe—as I study her with the eavesdropping eye of my camera and a writer’s insatiable curiosity. I am posted up on the opposite side of the courtyard, where I have gone in order to better appreciate the view.
She is a photograph I can no more leave without than I can depart without my beloved golden scarf. So I stare, deciding how I’ll best approach her, and before I can execute a quick plan, another woman, stoic and looming, emerges out of the crowd and hovers possessively at her side. Like scent, she doesn’t linger, her intent, probably, to mark her lady territorially, and then vanish.
On the other side of the bricked wall behind BB is a grassy carpet of Smooth Jazz Festival revellers, swaying and bobbing in the early-October sun. Enthusiastic, they vibe in spite of the heat and singing insects and nibbing grass, patiently casing the outdoor stage off in the distance for any sign of Bony Jones and his musicians.
Passing revellers block my view of her from time to time, but I don’t mind. My enjoyment stems from observing BB listen to whomever with every fiber of her being—the act intimate and surreptitious yet public. She, the lucky listener and I are ensconced in secrecy amidst softly falling afternoon shadows.
The sentry of a woman returns. Again, BB continues listening, although her body tightens about her purse and phone. She looks up once, acknowledging the other woman’s presence wordlessly. She motions to the concession window, and loosens her body, giving it section by section, to the impenetrable wall. Behind large dark shades and her artsy purse, she peers downward at her turquoise, gem-studded Indian shoes.
Between us, jazzed and jazzy festival-goers mill. Yet unbeknownst to anyone, she woos my curiosity, becomes the curio of my lens.
Iconoclastic, she has perfected a gypsy polish that intrigues me, prompting me to step outside of my anonymity and stroll up to that soft-looking, red-smeared smile…just to see firsthand, if it is as stunning and inviting as it appears from across the walkway. Now inches from her face, I sense the power in BB’s smile, which is awakening sleeping twitters in my belly. I shift my weight from one Roman sandal-clad foot to the other. Take in the light-weight earrings. Though nondescript, they communicate how thoughtfully she has dressed for the day, for the occasion. A-line, sky-blue dress, long matching head scarf, one bracelet, plain but pretty, a silver watch, that blue-jean purse, and bare legs ending in decorative slippers.
Es una mujer exquisita. She is an exquisite woman.
I sip her for a few seconds, persistent about sampling whatever I can of her sweetness. Is there something in the way she smiles, in the way she purses her mouth that showers me with memories of my mother? Had my mother lived, she might have been this BB’s contemporary. The egg-shell blue dress echoes Jackie Onassis and hints of Audrey Hepburn. Minus the mane of wiry, mile-long black hair and excessively thin frame, she might have been a buttery Diana Ross.
But then again…she isn’t so far from me, until I do not fathom her attractive. I do. A question plays on the corners of my lips before floating between us and passing her to me in a silky instance. She is somewhat amused. Possibly embarrassed. Her eyes widen when I do not give her a break, and my pleasant openness pays off. Her hesitation recedes gradually, and when it does, she graciously nods her consent.
Luscious red and looking exceedingly kissable, her mouth, like a wave, wavers, then blossoms warily into an almost grin, then a half smile, and finally it is fit for the runway, the Silver Screen, the boardroom, or the leading fashionista magazines, but, gracias a la Diosa, my camera’s smile finder goes to work doing what it does. Not to be outdone, my imagination follows, doing what it does, framing snapshot images of what she’d look like, “desnuda,” cornflower-blue dress draped across the back of a chair, with her scarf now hanging loose over her erect nipples.
A spaghetti straw threatens to slip from her shoulder. Unconcerned, she lets it go unnoticed, immersed as she is in flirting with the ravenous eye of my camera. The “I’m not a model” and “I’ve got a tan” and sweet little girl whims flutter off on stray breezes. In my invitation for her to play at modeling on the runway of the patio, she realizes she is as free, unencumbered and adventuresome as her poses will allow.
So she teases me. Flashes a “You know you like it, huh?” come-on, and just as mercurially, withdraws in a series of closed-mouth pouts. I move about. Craving out distance between us, hoping to gift-wrap her privacy, thinking if I do, she’ll give me more…and she does.
BB’s enigmatic charm can’t be squelched, not even by thick, whitish-grey shadows that drift down and around her like a lover’s hand on the delicate straps of her dress, tugging them down to reveal a flat chest. My bet: she never could boast much in the way of breasts. Not even during childbirths, if she has known any. Her tummy doesn’t give her away either. Flat, softly rounded at the bottom, feminine, it slopes appealingly from under her nonexistent breasts down toward her dancer’s legs. Yes! That may be who she was, more than likely, years ago, when she was fifteen or eighteen. A dancer. An Alvin Ailey dancer. Commanding the stage, other dancers, the audience, her woman on a theatre row, front and center.
Seems to me she holds back, in spurts, the more I shoot. The more the camera flashes. The more passers-by notice our cinematic foreplay. I wonder if she ponders why this younger woman is photographing her. “I hope I’m coming through as attractive,” I imagine her self-judgments. “If I smile too wide and free, my smile may confiscate my face, and she will know that I know little of modeling!”
Her daintily delicate lower view is equally as hot, to me, as the top. So my camera does as it wishes, unapologetic, and memorializes BB from every angle except from the rear view landscape. The moment I back-up, expanding her stage, although unsuspecting extras in the photo shoot never stop moving on their way from here to there, I know time ticks. Her sentry will be returning shortly; therefore, I aim, focus and snap quicker. She pirouettes to the left, then to the right, but she never turns in a complete circle. Guarded, she poses as though to keep something sacred from this smiling, exacting photographer, short and frisky, slipping and dipping, seeking the most advantageous angle.
As for me, damnit, I am not a cougar. I am and want a full-grown lioness, who is comfortable in the knowledge I no longer dye my locs, fleeing sprigs of grey rejoicing about my temples. After all, can too many years of dying color one’s brain? Yes, I know my body; I no longer stomp the hell out of those machines at Bally’s, although I do exercise. And sure as shooting, there is no way I can overlook, giggles, my sight is changing, as in, “Forget passing me those glasses. Hand me the magnifying lens, sweetheart.”
I’m not strange. I’m me; no other person I can be. No other person would I want to be. I can discern my Butterscotch Beauty is cut from s similar cloth. Confident in her seasoned skin, sexy in her ripeness. Desirable to many.