Rumi Wilde had the uncomfortable feeling that she would never be able to live up to her name. She was, of course, named after the celebrated Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, and also had the misfortune of bearing the surname evocative of the great Irish writer, Oscar Wilde (no relation). Yet, Rumi Wilde had not a creative bone in her body, and always thought her name quite ridiculous. Most people declared she had a beautiful, exotic name, but Rumi knew they must be disappointed once they realized how dry and uninspired she actually was. Even her physical appearance was unremarkable – a small, dark Plain Jane.
One gloomy Monday morning, Rumi released a listless sigh as she fixed herself a mug of black coffee in the office kitchen. The sigh seemed to originate from the very core of her being, and the rush of breath swept through her body like a small aftershock. Rumi took her time walking to “The Farm,” a name given to the workspace where she and five of her coworkers sat like hunchbacks over glowing computer screens, their nimble fingers performing intricate, synchronous tap dances on the keyboards as they crunched – nay; pulverized – numbers for Ashida Investments. Rumi also thought The Farm a frivolous name, but apparently management considered it a fanciful way to differentiate between the various workspaces in the building. She supposed it was better than The Junkyard, anyhow.
But when Rumi approached the entryway to The Farm, she found a rather exuberant young man swiveling around in her chair, picking up and putting down the assortment of items on her desk with each revolution: office supplies, calculations scribbled on scratch paper, the desk calendar with images from the cosmos.
“Hey there! Do you happen to know who sits here?” asked the young man when he noticed Rumi.
Before Rumi could respond, however, her coworker Lance said, “Oh that’s Rumi Wilde’s spot. I don’t think she’d like you snooping through her things, John.” Lance flashed a covert wink at a bewildered Rumi.
“Oh? What do you think?” John swiveled in Rumi’s direction, and the brightness of his grin created a halo within his face. “Do you know this Rumi chick? Is she pretty serious?”
Rumi, still trying to understand what was going on, ignored John’s question and asked, “Are you new here, or something?”
“Correct.” John opened the top drawer of Rumi’s desk and drew out a laminated paper depicting the periodic table of elements. “Really? The periodic table, at an investment firm? Who does that?”
Rumi remained silent. She held a secret fascination for the elements, and though she knew it was odd, she found comfort in looking over the table when she felt stressed. It was like examining the seating chart of school children with distinct personalities and feeling a sense of calm and order to see they were all in their proper places. She took a step toward her desk, more unnerved than annoyed by John’s intrusion of her space.
John yanked open another drawer and erupted into laughter when he unearthed a book from beneath a sheaf of loose papers. “The History of the French Revolution. Is this girl secretly retaking high school, or something?”
Rumi laughed. The evidence did seem to point to such a conclusion, but in fact, as a post-grad she had become increasingly interested in subjects that had seemed dull in school. Rumi used to practically sleep through her history classes, but now she sat enthralled during her lunch hour as she read of the dramatic power struggles in France and the rivers of blood shed at the blade of the horrific Guillotine.
“No personal framed photos anywhere, no cheesy inspirational prints, no stash of chocolate,” John said, swiveling around and around. “This Rumi girl seems hardcore. I think I’m in love.”
This time Lance burst out laughing. Pablo, Helena, Isaac, and Jen, who had all been focused on their work, removed their iPod headphones when they heard the laughter and began to observe the scene with curiosity.
“What’s so funny?” John asked, but Lance just shook his head. John turned to Rumi. “Do you think she’d go out with me?”
At this point, Rumi felt a little thrill at not having revealed her identity just yet. John’s remarks left her feeling both surprised and skeptical, and she wanted to have some fun and do a bit of digging before the jig was up.
“You don’t even know her,” Rumi said. “How could you be interested based on so little?”
“I’m intrigued.” John finally stopped swiveling, and his stillness made Rumi more nervous than his kinetic energy had. “Rumi’s stuff just strikes me as different than what the average girl would have.”
“You mean boring.”
“No, I mean practical and unsentimental.” John furrowed his dark caterpillar brows. “But also…zesty.”
“Zesty?” Rumi choked back a laugh, but her coworkers couldn’t help from snickering. She became suddenly aware that she and John had an audience.
“Yeah, she seems to have a certain zest for life as it is now, or as it once was, instead of mooning over an idealistic fantasyland.”
Rumi stared at John with her mouth agape; what she saw was herself, through his eyes.
“So, is she hot?” John asked, shattering the moment.
“Uh, no,” Rumi said, startled by her own bitterness.
“Damn, a bit harsh, no?” John asked. “Most girls at least try to sugarcoat their venom. Are you jealous or something?”
“Because you shouldn’t be. You’re kind of pretty, in a subtle kind of way.”
“And you’re kind of sweet, in a backhanded kind of way.”
Rumi and John held each other’s gazes with a smirk that seemed to soften with each passing moment.
“John! There you are.” Linda, Rumi’s manager, appeared at the entryway to The Farm. “Sorry to keep you waiting, but we finally have your desk set up over at The Junkyard. Have you met the Farm Animals yet?”
“All except Rumi,” John replied cheerfully, getting to his feet and donning a shiny new professional persona.
“Oh! Well, then,” Linda said, gesturing between them, “Rumi Wilde, meet John Doe. John Doe, meet Rumi Wilde.”
John just looked at Rumi with wonderstruck eyes, but Rumi snorted with laughter.
“John Doe? That’s your real name?”
As John followed Linda out of The Farm, he glanced over his shoulder to shine his halo-grin on Rumi once more and asked, “What’s in a name?”