Today, I'd like to share with you one of my most recent works of fiction, a short story originally published in the June 2012 volume of tsuki magazine.
conbini = Japanese convenience store
tsukimi daifuku = a Japanese dessert of ice cream wrapped in mochi
Written and completed in May 2012, in Tokyo.
By Lisa (paint with stars)
I don’t know why I came here.
The sky is a still a sleepy shade of grey, the early morning air biting at my skin and making me shiver. I fold my arms around myself, holding it all together, pressing it all in.
Next to me, he shifts and waits.
I remember getting on the plane, arriving in Tokyo for the first time. Getting through the airport, taking the train to my hotel, I was left exhausted by the end. But I was so exhilarated at the thought of being in a new place. This was going to be the next stage in my life. I was starting again, from the beginning.
The blur of train cars across subway tracks made me dizzy. I fumbled my way through crowds of people moving so quickly and with such purposeful aim. Class after class of students to whom I taught English, but never saw again. Heavy, moisture-filled summer air giving way to crisp autumn nights.
Then, I met M.
It was by accident, really. I never would have noticed him, had he not been reaching for the exact same kiwi yogurt that I was just about to purchase at the nearby conbini. He didn’t notice me then, but I began to realize that he frequented this conbini as much as I did. Sometimes he would choose the strawberry yogurt, or the blueberry. But even after the fifth time I saw him there, I still couldn’t work up the courage to talk to him.
That day, I had been using the copy machine to make a few printouts for a class the next day. After sneaking a peek in his direction to see which flavor yogurt he might be picking today, I had whipped around quickly and ducked out when I saw him turning to the register.
A minute later, I realized I had left a few pages still sitting on the machine. It would be much too embarrassing to go back now, so I just continued down the street.
Suddenly, I heard someone call out behind me, “Wait!”
It was the boy from the conbini, and he was jogging up to me lightly with the papers clutched in one hand.
And that was how we connected.
M was different from anyone I knew. He seemed lost in his own world sometimes, but when I was around, he either clambered his way out of it or found a way to envelop me inside it too. His English wasn’t very good, so I tried my best in hesitant, clumsy Japanese sentences. But this language difference set us free, because we became proficient in other languages – sight, touch. Laughter, heartbeats. Although it usually took ages before I could become close with someone, I felt completely free with him.
We had tsukimi daifuku and kiwi yogurt for breakfast at one in the afternoon. He took me to photo galleries and Indian food restaurants. I told him stories of California, and warned him of the true meanings behind English phrases such as “cut the cheese”.
I often liked to nudge or smack him on the arm when making a point. In return, he would fondly place a hand on my head and ruffle my hair. But we would never go further than this. It was as though an invisible line existed, an unsaid boundary that we both knew was there, and could be crossed, but we didn’t. To be honest, I was in love with him. My tingly excitement gradually and steadily grew into a deep river that flowed in his direction, but stopped just short at his toes, waiting for further instructions.
He seemed oblivious to the couples strolling under the cherry blossom trees at Ueno Park. Instead, he was extremely focused on shooting photos with his camera, and even snapped a few shots of me. Later, when he sent me the pictures, I noticed that I was surrounded by twirling pink petals and grinning hugely in every one.
He was oblivious when I cleverly tried to inch closer to him at the movie theater in Shinjuku. Instead, he looked at me and offered me some more popcorn.
It was as though his mind did not contain the concept, or even the possibility. I began to doubt myself, and wonder why I wasn’t good enough for him. It grew to the point that I became very frustrated and stopped contacting him altogether, hoping that he would ask me what was wrong. But he never did. Two months passed, during which I avoided that conbini and went to the supermarket further away, just so I wouldn’t have to bump into him. But finally, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. The thoughts, the regret, all of these complicated feelings were chasing each other around inside my head and threatened to explode. I had to be honest with myself, and with him.
I sent him a message, asking him to meet me one night. No answer came. But I went to the meeting place anyway. Ten minutes into reading a magazine on the shelf, I noticed a movement, and a familiar figure walking over to the yogurt section. I put down my magazine and followed.
“It’s been a while,” I said.
He paused, then turned to me. “Yes it has,” he said softly.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between us, for what seemed like an hour, but maybe it only lasted ten or fifteen seconds. I couldn’t tell, because what snapped me back to reality were two simultaneous motions – M’s hand replacing the kiwi yogurt on the shelf, and his other hand grabbing mine. A jolt raced through my arm as he pulled me out of the conbini and down the street without a word, for an eternity of pounding heartbeats, a blur of street lights and darkened windows, until we reached his apartment. He threw the door closed behind us. As soon as our shoes were off, he had me pinned against the wall, his warm lips on my neck, his hands icy and slightly shaking. My mind was filled with white; I wasn’t capable of forming any logical thoughts. Even still, I found myself reaching down and lacing my fingers through his, steadying his hands, kissing him back gently, then more firmly. The warmth and smell of his skin infused my senses, coursing through my body, lighting my heart aflame.
I woke up to darkness. M’s warm body was still curved lightly around me, and I could tell from his rhythmic breathing that he was fast asleep. A digital clock glowed with red numbers, telling me it was only 4:13 AM. Gingerly, I shifted my weight and slipped out of the bed, went to the bathroom, and returned to the room. I gazed at M’s sleeping form as I quietly pulled on my jacket, then tiptoed out of the room, softly closing the door with a click.
Outside, the sky is a sleepy shade of grey. My shoes crunch on small pebbles in the street, and other than that I hear only silence. I’m not sure why I feel the need to leave that room, but my feet keep going, one step after another. I’m trying to think, make sense of what has happened. It has happened so quickly.
I hear crunching through gravel behind me, and him calling my name. Against my will, my feet become prisoner to his voice.
“You’re leaving?” he asks, glancing at my face.
I shake my head. “I just needed a walk. To think about this.”
M draws closer, until we are only just not quite touching. “Isn’t this what you wanted?”
I shiver from the chilly air. “I…I don’t know. I thought so. But I didn’t expect it this way.”
He looks at me, confused. “I waited for you to tell me what was wrong. And when you didn’t, I started to guess for myself, and realize what you couldn’t say. After I guessed it, I even thought it might be too late, that you blamed me and didn’t want to see me again. So when you asked me to meet you at the conbini-“
He takes a deep breath, lets it out.
“I really like you,” he says.
I try to gaze evenly at him, and then find that I have to look away. He is too blindingly bright, even though the world is still covered with pre-dawn shadows. It is as though some invisible casing is creeping over my heart and starting to seal it closed, but I can’t say why. I turn to look at the horizon instead, where a small glowing ball of light is sliding upward through the silhouette of distant buildings. My fingers press into my arms, and I take a step back into shadow.
Next to me, he is starting to glow with the warm colors of sunrise.