We met up for coffee and talked for two hours. He limped due to a soccer injury and wore a red polo.
“I’ve gained so much fat,” he joked self consciously.
Rain pounded against the glass panels. It looked like the beginning of Twister. He told me about his hometown, the villagers, and the nearby city. He was the oldest son out of his 7 or so brothers and sisters. His golden ticket was to come to America to get an education. But his family couldn’t afford it.
I think his parents counted on the prince to study hard and make something of himself, but in their home country and not overseas. At the age of 17, he moved out of the house. His landlord let him stay for free after seeing him struggle between jobs and school. There were mainly two girls while he was at boarding school– one of them was “the greatest love of my life,” he recalled with a hazy look in his eyes. I asked why they couldn’t be together, and he replied that’s just how life worked out.
He saved up enough money to come to America and got accepted to an almost all black college. Those were good times. He smirked and chuckled while retelling stories where he and his friends were drunk, and the women he managed to seduce, and how he worked his way from the bottom up. People knew the Woodland prince. Now he had moved onto our China/Koreatown of a campus, working his way towards a masters degree in transportation engineering.
“Like planes and trains?” I asked.
“More like railroads. Trains, fast. Across the ocean even, maybe one day. But I’m not sure if I can make it. My classmates– they come from good backgrounds. The books I used to study back at home, you know, they’re different than the ones here,” he said.
When the rain settled down to a sprinkle, we said our goodbyes and he asked when he could see me again. He sent me a video of him on a training bike and kept me updated on his physical therapy. At first the texts were weekly, slowly dragging into months, and then became sporadic. His invitations gradually turned into tests requiring my initiation and approval. Months past without us exchanging a word.
Commencement week rolled around again, and I caught a glimpse of him taking a picture with a friend. He had a bright smile on his face that suited the sunny day.