Chapter 4:


Mayuka To Ryu (繭価 と 龍)

Ryu glanced at Mayuka’s French braids and found himself itching to touch them. Her pace steadily got quicker but due to their height differences, Ryu was not having a difficult time catching up. Although he could say that Mayuka was high-spirited and her blank expression was confusing, those eyes were glinting under the lampposts.

“Ryu,” Mayuka decelerated, so did Ryu. “Do you still love baseball?”

He dithered, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, I think so. I still watch the games, go to the batting practice centre once in a while to practise my weak swings.” Ryu slipped his left hand into Mayuka’s tiny right palm and interlaced their fingers. Mayuka was used to his sudden physical affection, and she let it be. “Why?” He asked.

“Do you regret not joining the high school baseball tournament?” She inquired.

Ryu was not sure where the conversation would lead him to, but he answered her earnestly. “Of course! Do you remember the story that I told you, Mayuka?” He blocked her way, and they both stopped walking. Mayuka blinked, a little surprised by Ryu’s keenness to retell the same story for countless times.

“When I applied to Haikido High School because of their popular baseball team who has been to national level every year,” Ryu giggled, “And they said I was too frail and skinny to be a part of the team. My friends, Hattori and Takaya were selected, but I studied their game plan and was able to help them. The group… the group…” Ryu stopped and chuckled sorrowfully.

“Well, what did you teach today? Did anyone misbehave like the last time?” Ryu changed the subject and started to walk slowly, leading Mayuka.

Does it still hurt, Ryu? Mayuka looked down, slightly culpable for bringing up her lover’s painful memories. “I taught my students the English Pronouns,” Mayuka answered, “he, him, his.”

Ryu laughed. “That’s some easy stuff! Kids nowadays are so global-minded. How did they not know those simple things? That’s foolish!”

Snapped. “When there are so many things available, people tend to get overwhelmed,” she justified her students’ shortcomings, “Some simple things can be complicated. Even for us adults. So, Ryu,” Mayuka paused and gazed at him, “Please don’t belittle my students.”

It baffled Ryu and they both stopped gripping each other’s hand that their interlaced fingers parted ways, leaving gaps between them. He took a quick glimpse from the corner of his eyes at Mayuka who was walking next to him. However, as seconds passed, his legs got heavier and heavier as if there was an ankle cuff that made him teeter. Why is it so difficult to talk to you, Mayuka? Ryu lost his words. Mayuka walked more quickly and left him behind. Besides, they were already in front of their apartment block.

On the other hand, Mayuka was eager to go home and read her students’ conversations on the chat box. She overlooked that Ryu got disheartened and was left behind. When she entered the elevator and pressed her floor number, she finally noticed that she was alone. Mayuka quickly jumped out of the elevator and looked around. 

Ryu? He was not in the lobby.


Mayuka turned around as fast as lightning as she was called by a familiar voice behind her. Her eyes slightly widened in disbelief. “Yukimura,” Mayuka blurted out her name. “Yukimura Hana, right?”

Hana pouted. “Tsukushi Sensei said that I’m beautiful,” she rolled her eyes, “yet could not remember me well. Do you really mean what you said?” Yukimura Hana blew her bang.

Mayuka examined her student’s face meticulously. She wasn’t in doubt that the young girl in front of her right now was Yukimura Hana. Among the three of them, Hana was the only one with short hair and full bangs that perfectly stayed above her well-shaped brows. The students usually wore their school uniforms and sometimes, their school t-shirts. Therefore, seeing Hana in shorts and sleeveless striped tops without makeup was a new experience.

Meanwhile, Hana was embarrassed to meet her teacher here. Moreover, in this attire. She rather let Mayuka see her in a composed state, but at this moment, she wanted to remain unbothered. Hana did not recall bumping into Mayuka while settling down. She recently moved with her sister into one of the apartment units. They had been moving their stuff bit by bit for a month and today marked their first day living independently from their parents.

“Do you live here, Yukimura-san?” Mayuka asked. Hana nodded and stated her house number and floor. Mayuka’s heart raced when her mind made the calculation on its own. That’s next to my unit.

“Mayuka?” Ryu turned up and exchanged small bows with the short-haired girl. “Have you done cleaning your house, Hana-chan?” Ryu offered a friendly smile, and Hana nodded nonchalantly. However, Mayuka instantly recognised defensiveness in Hana’s unconcerned behaviour. 

The young girl also said that her older sister thanked Ryu for helping them and would like to invite him for a barbeque next week. Ryu chuckled and assured her that the fridge was heavy for them to carry by themselves. Ryu happened to be in the lobby. He saw their struggle and offered them extra hands. Hana also updated him that the leakage in their kitchen had been fixed, and the plumber he recommended was felicitous.

“Do you know Tanaka-san, Sensei?” Finally, Hana realised that her teacher was still standing there quietly, listening to them. “Which floor do you live on, Sensei?”

Ryu’s brows were corrugated. “Sensei?” He looked at Mayuka in confusion. “You know her-”

Mayuka stayed expressionless. She was not sure whether the weariness at the end of the day or the long-winded updates about each other’s life irked her. Mayuka was convinced that she wished to vanish, but she needed to cut off Ryu’s question. “I live on the same floor, next to you and Tanaka-san’s unit,” Mayuka replied, and as she expected, Hana was surprised. “Tanaka-san?” Mayuka blinked. “We don’t know much about each other. We’re just neighbours, but we are ready to assist you if you need anything.”

Hana could sense the sudden indescribable coldness and tension. She acknowledged it did not come from her teacher that looked collected. Is it Tanaka-san? Hana wondered. She bade farewell to them and excused herself to the convenience store nearby.

Ryu pressed the elevator button, and it took a few seconds before the door slid open, welcoming them. They stepped into the elevator and were silent as the dead. When they reached their floor, Mayuka darted out and prepared her key to quickly unlock and shut herself inside. She was flustered by her response. 

Just neighbours? Don’t know much about each other? 

She recollected her senseless answers. What was she trying to convey? What upset her to spite Ryu? Was it due to Ryu’s harmless comments on her students? Or was it due to the exchange of life updates between Ryu and Hana that she deemed as a waste of time? Mayuka could not find the answer.

And the last thing she realised was that she already entered her house, greeted by the tenebrous entrance. While Ryu’s slow footsteps passed her unit, she heard him unlock his door and closed it normally. There was no sign of distress or disappointment or anything; at least, what she wanted to believe.

Ryu took off the sneakers and his right hand blindly reached for the switch to welcome some lights. It took him a while to adjust to the sudden brightness. Ryu glanced between the bedroom and bathroom. The perspiration had made him uncomfortable, but he was too weary to stand under the shower.

“We don’t know much about each other. We are just neighbours…”

Those phrases continuously echoed in his mind that he wished he could scream his heart out and demanded Mayuka for a sound clarification. Was she upset about something? Was she embarrassed by him? Did it concern her that her student might start thinking negatively about her? Being in a healthy love affair was not a crime. Neither of them lived under the same roof. Neither was married and had a secret affair. They were totally ordinary. 

Why, Mayuka? Ryu sighed.

He threw himself onto the bed and set the air-conditioner at its lowest temperature. It has been a while, Ryu thought. It has been a while since they both started missing their rhythm. Mayuka and himself kept colliding in their waltz that they missed the steps. He moved to the left while she turned to the right side. It also felt as if they hung the same pole of magnet around their neck and repelled one another all the time. Ryu realised that he wanted her attention badly these days. He started to question her priority when she did not reply to his email in an hour. This was not their first summer together, and Ryu witnessed Mayuka’s summer schedule last year too. Hectic.

He knew Mayuka well. She could have dated a charismatic senior from her education department who commonly looked composed, like future educators, professors. They all came from reputable backgrounds, but she was not interested in them. 

Or was that my assumption? Ryu doubted himself.

Ryu knew he was not a heartthrob. Unlike Mayuka who had experience in dating, he did not. He had limited romantic encounters with girls. He was that friendly and understanding boy who comforted his friends when they broke their hearts, yet he was also that pretentious guy who secretly envied them when they outdid him. He was scared to admit that it was painful to congratulate Hattori and Takaya when they were chosen for the school baseball team. Ryu believed that they were chosen due to his determination to study their strengths and weaknesses. He created their game plans, yet he got nowhere.

It was also him who jokingly asked Mayuka to date him while he was putting up the second lock on her entrance door. Their landlady approved the request. Mayuka thanked him for always checking up on her, saved her laundry when she came home late, and occasionally cooked dinner for her. She imparted that Ryu was a great person who she wouldn’t mind sharing her house spare key with.

“Then, Tsukushi-san, wouldn’t that make us look good as lovers? We complement each other!” Ryu blurted out and quickly wished he could dive into the deepest ocean when Mayuka gave him a flabbergasted stare. He remembered how Mayuka froze, and he was ready to convince her that he was joking.

“S-Shall we?” Mayuka looked away, hiding her red cheeks. “I’ve never looked forward to returning home, but lately, I can’t wait to see you, Tanaka-san.” It was a short confession from the quiet Mayuka, but his heart was in spring for more than a season. They started as awkward neighbours who attended the same university and greeted each other when they ran into one another.

Ryu laughed and covered his tired eyes with his arm. He remembered how adorable Mayuka was when she blushed. He wanted to pinch her cheeks, but he knew she was a reserved person. 

The laughter turned more sorrowful. “Where did it go wrong?” he asked himself and found no answer. This quiet room hid his snores, frustration, and happiness, yet it felt empty right now. He silently wished he were in Mayuka’s room instead.

. . . . .

Mayuka kept her sunblock in the bag and waited for their store manager to call them. Every morning, Leader Yuri would gather all the morning shift staff and the part-time workers for a brief announcement. She would start by asking about the workers’ well-being, and the permanent staff would chorus happily as a reply. They ended up laughing and lightened up the mood which Mayuka personally enjoyed. Unlike the Kaimei Public Library that had quite a lot of male staff, WS Pharmacy was dominated by women. Mayuka could not get happier as she found out that dealing with women was more fulfilling than men. Keyo-san is an exception, Mayuka thought.

“Tsukushi-san and Kaori-san can help to replenish items that are empty on the shelves,” Yuri instructed while looking at Mayuka and the other part-time worker. “Have you both memorised the places for all items?”

One of the staff interrupted, “Yuri-san, cut some slack! They just started last week and only work during weekends.” They all giggled. Yuri agreed and apologised for her impatience. However, she encouraged Mayuka and Kaori to get familiar with the pharmacy layout as soon as they could.

When they started operating at 10 A.M. sharp, several old ladies had been waiting outside the pharmacy. As the customers entered, one of the staff shouted, “Welcome to WS Pharmacy!” It was emulated by other staff all at once. Therefore, it would look as if a person led the greeting, and soon, the whole team followed her to make the customers feel more welcomed.

Mayuka was still a little shy to join the bandwagon that she would do the rebound greets slowly. As time passed, more and more customers started to bombard the pharmacy. Sometimes, the greeting could not keep up with the endless customers. She has heard that the retail world was cruel, and that was undeniable. 

Moreover, when a customer asked her for a brand of shampoo that was no longer available in the pharmacy. Mayuka explained that the sought brand has stopped supplying the shampoo. However, the customer went outrageous, yelling out that the shampoo was the only one that worked on him. It upset her that as soon as the customer left her, she went to the toilet, hands shaking in fear. Mayuka had to admit that she could not hold her tears and cried a river. Yuri immediately soothed the young lady.

“Some customers are assholes,” Yuri said, smiling warmly at Mayuka. “Maybe because this is your first experience dealing with emotional customers like him, I truly understand you. But remember, it’s not your fault. You’ve explained well to him.”

Seeing how feeble Mayuka was, the store manager allowed her to go for lunch early. Other staff also took care of Mayuka and affirmed her that she was not to be blamed. It has helped her a lot, and the rest hours were easily handled when she steadily recovered from the shock.

As the shift was over, Mayuka thanked everyone and straightaway went home. During her break, she tried to reach Ryu through calls, but his line was unavailable. She tried twice with a thirty-minute time interval between the first and second attempt, yet failed to reach him. It worried her. Now, she just wanted to come home, get into Ryu’s warm embrace and tell him about the infuriating customer. This time, she would not justify the customer’s behaviour if Ryu said the customer was foolish.

After a twenty-minute journey by train and foot, she was finally in the elevator to her floor. She walked past Hana’s unit, then hers, and stopped in front of Ryu’s. She pressed the bell, but nobody answered her. Mayuka waited for two minutes before pushing the button once again. Still, answerless. Although she could barge in with the spare key, she figured out that she would not like it if Ryu entered her house without informing her beforehand. Therefore, after thinking for a while, she used Ryu’s spare key and unlocked the door.

As soon as she entered, she realised that the air in Ryu’s apartment was quite stuffy. He had not opened the windows for the whole day, and his living space was warmer than usual. It was a quarter past seven, and the sun had bidden farewell, yet Ryu was nowhere to be found in his apartment.

“Did he go somewhere?” Mayuka sighed and took her phone. She dialled Ryu’s number, and it was still unreachable. “Where are you, Ryu?” Mayuka sent a short email, ‘Do you want to have dinner together?’ She assumed that Ryu’s phone was either in flight mode or it had run out of battery.

Mayuka decided to wait for him while folding her fresh laundry. Therefore, giving the final glance at Ryu’s brown bedsheet, she went out, locked the door, and returned home. She whispered ‘tadaima’ under her breath as she entered her own unit. When she bent down her body to place her shoes neatly, her eyes caught an envelope on the floor, a few centimetres from her feet. Mayuka frowned, wondering which neighbour would slip a nameless letter under the door, rather than in her mailbox at the lobby.

I’m going back to my hometown and won’t return. Please keep moving forward and don’t look for me. I know it’s selfish to say this after I’ve suggested we take a break. 
Forgive me, Mayuka, but let’s break up.

The sender did not write his name, but Mayuka recognised Ryu’s handwriting. She thought the note was enough to shatter her heart, but when she found her spare key in the envelope, the world turned bleak, and her soul cast off all the strength that was holding her legs. Mayuka fell down on her knees and forgot how to breathe.