Iris Arakawa was supposed to go home this weekend. On Wednesday, she ducked into her office on Capitol Hill to tie up loose ends. She called an old law school friend and made plans for dinner. She asked about getting a ride to the airport. She arranged for her best friend to pick her up when she landed in Honolulu.

Everything was set.

And then early Thursday, for reasons no one can begin to explain, the bright, 32-year-old legislative assistant tucked her driver's license into an inside pocket of her jacket, walked to the corner Metro station and, according to police, hurled herself into the path of an oncoming train.

Iris Arakawa died on the tracks at the Capitol South station at 5:53 a.m. It was only after her suicide, as they groped to understand, that stunned friends realized that they may not have really known her.

More…style="box-sizing: border-box; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; color: rgb(170, 170, 170); margin-bottom: 0px !important; font-size: 10px !important; -font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif !important; text-align: center !important; text-transform: uppercase !important; height: 21px !important; line-height: 21px !important; letter-spacing: 0.3px !important;">ADVERTISING

"There was absolutely no clue, none whatsoever." U.S. Rep. Patsy T. Mink was at a loss for words. The Democrat from Hawaii had hired Arakawa in July 1992, thrilled to be stealing one of the rising young stars from the public defender's office in Honolulu.

"She was very warm and compassionate," Mink remembered Saturday from Hawaii, where she had expected Arakawa to report for work Monday on a month-long assignment on health care.

The transition to Washington had been rough for a rural island girl who had never lived on the mainland, friends recalled.

"She found it a very exciting experience, but like a lot of newcomers, Iris found Washington very overwhelming," said Sue Lin Chong, who met Arakawa at the University of Hawaii's law school and was pleasantly surprised when she moved to the District.

"There are so many overachievers here and a lot of stress," Chong said. The two women often longed for the serene lifestyle and close-knit sense of community that they had left behind in the islands.

Everyone knew how much she missed her widowed mother and four older brothers. She had returned to the island of Maui twice since moving here.

"She was homesick," Chong said. "She missed things like picnics on the beach at sunset. She was a real beach freak."

When the two chatted on the phone early last week, Arakawa said she couldn't wait to get on the plane home Friday.

And after six months of working for Mink on dry issues involving the North American Free Trade Agreement, Arakawa could look forward to health care reform, an issue that could stir her passions.

"She was deeply committed to social justice," Chong said. "She went straight from law school into the public defender's office. Iris was very much an idealist and wanted to make the world a better place."

She socialized in Washington with other Hawaiians, but no one apparently had any clue whether she was romantically involved. Chong remembered her friend doting on an 11-year-old nephew and cheering him on when he won a sixth-grade election for class treasurer. She assumed Arakawa wanted children of her own someday, but like many things close to the heart, the women never discussed this.

"She was Japanese American. I'm Asian too, and it's a very Asian thing not to want to burden anyone else. Iris was an intensely private person," Chong said.

But Chong was "always the prodder" when it came to exploring life on the East Coast. She took Arakawa to museums, to Annapolis for breakfast, to Philadelphia for a photography exhibit. Arakawa was especially interested in photography and creative writing.

"I took her to New York for the first time," Chong recalled yesterday. "She was absolutely dazzled. We went to see a Broadway musical, 'The Secret Garden,' and Iris loved it."

Arakawa had a streak of adventure too, and she could be impulsive. She had the flower for which she was named tattooed on her shoulder.

One colleague, Laura Efurd, remembers that Arakawa seemed especially buoyant in recent weeks. Efurd figured that, like everyone else, she was relieved a tough legislative season was over.

But on Monday and Tuesday, Arakawa called in sick for work. "Four other members of the staff were down with the flu, and we assumed she was too," Mink said.

Arakawa returned to work Wednesday to get ready for her trip. People noticed she was pale and quiet.

"It appeared she had the flu," said co-worker Russell Kudo. "She didn't look well. She didn't feel well. She did appear tired."

Chong called her at home. "She sounded strange, all draggy, like a 45 record on 33 speed," her friend remembers.

At first, Arakawa mentioned that she wasn't feeling well, then said somewhat cryptically: "I'm really kind of okay. I have this house guest here." She didn't elaborate, and Chong didn't press.

Although Mink felt close enough to her assistant to have her over for Thanksgiving dinner two weeks ago, she said yesterday that she knew little about Arakawa's personal life. Her staff is now helping to plan a memorial service Monday morning in the Capitol's chapel. "We're all obviously in a state of shock," Mink said.

Co-workers had the grim task of identifying the woman's body Thursday. "It was very difficult," Efurd said. "I don't even know what she was wearing. All we really know is that she was killed at the Metro."

Colleagues and friends dismiss homesickness as a motive for the suicide, noting that Arakawa already had her plane ticket to Hawaii.

"She always knew if she didn't like it here she could go home," Mink said. "She was a brilliant young attorney. She had no commitment to stay if she didn't like it."

If life inside the Capital Beltway was a disappointment to her, she still could joke about it. After their trip to Philadelphia last summer, she and Chong sipped ice cream sodas at Union Station. Hot and petulant, Arakawa suddenly declared, "You know, after all the wonderful talk about four seasons here, it's just not what it was cracked up to be."

Chong chided her about her attitude, and Arakawa burst out laughing. "Iris hated the weather," Chong said. "She was beside herself over the blizzard last year."

Her family was planning to visit next spring to see the cherry blossoms. Arakawa recently moved into a larger apartment, in part so they all would have a place to stay.

That ground-floor apartment on C Street SE was vacant this weekend, an overhead light burning through closed wooden shutters. Neighbors knew nothing about the tragedy that had befallen the occupant of Apartment 2. A package from a Tennessee cousin sat unclaimed in the mailbox.

The unopened box reminded Chong of her last conversation with Arakawa. She had called again to check on her friend and arrange to deliver a small Christmas gift. Arakawa still sounded strange, "spacey and vacant, like she was on medication," Chong said. There was no reason to suspect drugs.

Chong ended up sending the present via messenger to Mink's' office. Arakawa called Wednesday to say thank you and suggested dinner that evening. At 4 p.m., she called back to reschedule for Thursday.

Chong left several messages on Arakawa's answering machine Thursday. She gave up trying to reach her about 8 p.m. and was stunned to learn later that her friend had been dead since dawn.

Standing outside the dreary row house where the light still burned in Apartment 2, Chong remembered why Arakawa had moved from a basement apartment a few blocks away.

"It was just too dark," Arakawa said at the time. "I want a brighter place."