“7 hours, booth H5.”
“Thank you for your preference. You can now use booth H5 for 7 hours, with unlimited drinks from our stalls. Enjoy your..”
The listless dude had already turned his back, walking towards the booth. It was times like this one that made Naito lose even the slightest hope in human society. How difficult was it to be patient for one second and follow the customs? Was it so energy-consuming not to be an ass for a mere minute?
The afternoon shift was very busy. Some of the customers were loud middle schoolers, laughing and making dirty jokes non-stop. They were so carefree and seemed so happy. It was fun looking at them enjoying their youth, trying to show off to their friends and the people around them.
Naito would work until 21.00 and then go home. He didn’t have any shifts for the next 2 days, so he had enough time to dedicate to study for the university and sleep.
10 more minutes and I’m off. He was checking the clock on the wall restlessly, waiting for the shift to end and wave goodbye to the loud customers. Then she entered the manga cafe. Naito thought that he wouldn’t see her again, since she tried her best not to bump up to him for days. He looked at her with bored but questioning eyes, trying to figure out if she had any signs of being mistreated, like bruises or cuts. This was not an action of interest, rather than plain curiosity - or so he wanted to believe.
She turned left to the reception heading towards him, looked at him and spoke to him casually.
“You can go now.”
He looked at Airi troubled. He waited until she came out of the staff room with her working clothes on, staring at her discreetly with his head tilted so that he’s not so obvious and tried saying something to her. But what should I say? What is it that I want to know? “Who was that guy?” I don’t care about that. “Why were you on the ground with a disgusting man on top of you in the middle of the night?” How would that info be helpful for me in any way? “Why did you leave running without even saying anything?” Of course she wouldn’t say anything, the situation was obviously embarrassing for her, what should she say? “Ehm, thank you for taking this perverted man off me, I really appreciate it”??
Then without realizing it some words came out of his mouth without even noticing.
“Are you ok?”
He felt exposed. Like he said something he shouldn’t. Like he showed weakness. He wasn't interested in her so why…
“I am very well. And you? Shouldn’t you leave now?” and then turned to the counter and pushed him slightly away, with their eyes never meeting - not even for a mere second - showing that he didn’t want him around.
He remained silent for a while and then took his backpack and walked away. He changed and left the manga café without looking back at her, not even saying goodbye. What for? Her attitude is so disrespectful, she is so full of herself. People like her were unnecessary in his life. Since she seemed fine, he shouldn’t even bother asking her about it. He had better things to do.
Arriving home, he went straight into the shower. He was feeling filthy from this exhausting interaction with so many people. Maybe he should ask the manager to let him do only the night shifts from now on. Although it was already spring, Naito preferred showering with hot water, because it helped him dispose of all the tension and relax. He tried to clear his mind before getting into bed, so that unnecessary thoughts don’t follow him in his dreams.
He was inside a forest, walking on a dirt path with innumerable tall plane trees and maple trees around. The sunrays were piercing the thick foliage, living bright spots of glittering light on the ground. He didn’t have to check his hands or watch. He knew immediately he was dreaming, because when he was, his mind was wondering automatically if he was experiencing reality. Naito enjoyed the scenery, so he decided to walk further inside the forest. He felt somehow lonely; a bittersweet emotion of isolation was devouring his mind, so he tried to create something to make him feel comfortable and secure. He wasn’t sure what was exactly the thing he was seeking, but his brain was translating the emotions he felt into images connected to specific situations in his subconscious, and presented something that would fit his needs each time.
He noticed that the roots of one of the trees were starting to move, like the ground was boiling. Wishing to see better, he moved his body closer to the tree in a second. Dirt was seething as if it was in a liquid state, more like syrup than mud. Something was trying to come out. He reached his hand without fear, because he felt there was nothing to be afraid of, since he was constantly giving the command to his mind that he wanted to see something comforting. Suddenly a purple ball emerged from the depths of the earth. Two completely black eyes like polished marbles started being visible, looking at him like a puppy looks at his new master. A long cord with a snowflake on its end was hanging behind it; it was a slim tail, flowing in the air, as if the creature was swimming in deep water instead of flying.
It’s presence was so soothing and tender. The color of its surface was dark and mysterious. It looked like a black hole in the middle of space. Naito went closer to observe it, and before doing any further motions, the floating sphere rushed towards him, falling against his chest and starting purring almost like a cat. He felt a heart-warming emotion, and hugged the mysterious, cuddle sphere. He could sense a sound coming from it, but it wasn’t exactly that he could hear something, rather than communicate with it in a new way that he hadn’t experienced until now, like telepathy (?!).
He wanted to explore this forest more; the atmosphere was relaxing and the scenery welcoming and intriguing. Although the dream had just begun, something was interrupting his thoughts, something was stopping the dreaming process.
……BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!
How weird. It felt like I was sleeping for only a few minutes, but it’s already 08.00. 9 whole hours had passed since he fell asleep. He double checked his smartphone to be sure about the time, and that he was experiencing reality. His mind was still blurry and couldn’t think properly.
That’s right. I have to write the dream down. He looked for the notebook next to his pillow, but he remembered he had put it in his backpack to read even when he wasn’t at home. He reached the backpack next to his bed to take the notebook out and write. He searched blindly for some seconds, but couldn’t find it. He got off the bed and looked more cautiously inside. No notebook. Where could it b…
He must have left it… at the manga café.