Chapter 7:

A New Venture

Mayuka To Ryu (繭価 と 龍)

Hana held a pink pen with a rabbit cap and sifted it in awe. There were boxes everywhere on the floor that restricted their movement. She finally overcame her amazement and placed the adorable pen in one of the boxes.

“Yukimura-san,” Mayuka called her, “If you don’t mind, could you please put the pen in the stationery box? It’s next to your bag,” she requested politely. Hana nodded and removed the rabbit pen into the allocated box. The younger girl got on her feet and looked around. She noticed that her teacher had many books, papers, and other teaching materials; they filled most of the boxes.

Hana asked Mayuka about boxes that she wanted to throw away, but the older lady declined her kind offer. Hana pouted. “Sensei is so cold when you are not a teacher,” she commented. Mayuka disregarded the statement and focused on segregating items that she wanted to send home.

Summer break would end in two weeks, and she had very few days to clean and pack everything before moving to a new place. Mayuka had chosen her practical teaching school. Her decision led her to receive several phone calls from her coursemates and juniors who opposed the selection she made. 

Mayuka was favourable among her peers, especially the juniors due to her helpfulness and anodyne attitude. They conveyed their biased opinions towards the school she chose as a choice that ‘wasted a futuristic mind’. However, Mayuka insisted that she wanted to venture into an unprecedented journey. Her lecturer advisor did not make any remark and approved the submission. Everything was flowing smoothly, almost effortlessly that it suggested a pleasant ambient.

Mayuka looked around her home sweet home. For the gazillion times, she was grateful to live in this unit. The apartment was strategic with a seven-minute walking distance from the train station, two convenience stores nearby, and a fifteen-minute walk to Sasaki Cram Centre, where she started her first part-time job as a tutor. 

When she was frustrated with assignments, she would spend plenty of time gazing out of the window from her tiny balcony, watching the school kids frantically walk down the road from the school. Later, when the sun began to disappear, more and more high school students would show up in groups, heading home. Watching them eased her. At night, this room hid her nocturnal bruxism that used to frighten Ryu but soon, he would pinch her cheeks when she started grinding her teeth although she was sleeping soundly.

Ah, again. Mayuka brushed off the thought of her missing lover and went to the kitchen to prepare simple snacks for Hana. She admitted that some items from Ryu halted her movement and recalled their memories together. It has been almost two months of him ghosting her, yet every night, she wished to hear the sound of her door unlocked. 

Impossible, she would quickly remind herself when she saw her spare key.

“Sensei,” Hana paused, holding a small picture frame. “Do you really don’t know Tanaka-san?”

The simple inquiry perturbed Mayuka that she almost lost her strength and dropped the plate. However, she suppressed her quivering feelings. Putting down the utensil and plate on the kitchen counter, she turned around and faced Hana. 

“Oh,” she responded shortly, thinking hard about the proper response as she saw that her student was holding the picture of Ryu and her. She remembered that Ryu leaned his head against hers, and they both were smiling happily in the photo. It was during last winter, and they also wore a couple baby-blue scarves around their neck. “I’m sorry. I was worried that you might misunderstand me.” Mayuka concluded that it was best to speak the truth. Besides, she was no longer Hana’s teacher.

Hana put the frame in a box of Mayuka’s sweatshirts and winter jackets. “But you don’t even live together with Tanaka-san,” the young girl stared at Mayuka, “and isn’t it normal for you to have a boyfriend, Sensei? You are only 22-23 years old.” She heaved a long and frustrated sigh. “Can’t believe I had a crush on my teacher’s boyfriend! That’s so lame!”

Mayuka was wordless, but she acknowledged that she wanted to bury herself alive. Failing to figure out the reasons, she became more ashamed of herself. Was she ashamed about the discovery of their intimate photos? Was she embarrassed by a fifteen-year-old love confession towards her lover? Or was she penitent that she lied about her relationship with Ryu due to her unnecessary prudence?

“If that’s the case, Sensei,” Hana said, “Do you know where Tanaka-san is? I haven’t seen him since I met both of you at the lobby that day.”

Ah, I know. Mayuka finally realised she was embarrassed to tell Hana that Ryu had vanished and left her with a short breakup note. He ghosted her. “He went back to his hometown, in Fukushima Prefecture,” she answered and luckily, Hana accepted without more enquiries. She returned to the room with a plate of fruits and three cups of jelly. The young girl’s face lit up and quickly snatched the banana jelly. For a moment, the thought of Ryu slipped out of her mind, although she had many questions to pose to her teacher.

They talked about the school where Hana led the conversation with various gossip and dissatisfaction with her friends. She also updated Mayuka about the Sasaki Cram Centre kids; Ayase Yui has started the archery summer practice and her mother wanted to meet Mayuka badly to apologise. The students were dejected when they found out that Mayuka resigned a week after the dreadful consultation. Some were speculating that Yui’s parents were the trigger but, Daichi explained that Mayuka was a final-year student who needed to concentrate on her university projects. They got convinced and stopped the blaming game. That’s our Gotou Daichi, Mayuka was pleased.

“Keyo Sensei implemented a new rule,” Hana tapped her chin, recalling the vague memory she stored. “Those who failed three times consecutively will be banished. None of my teachers should get involved in your family problems.” She imitated Keyo with a deeper voice. “Keyo Sensei has changed into a beast, you know!”

Mayuka giggled as she heard endless stories and parroting sessions from Hana about every matter around her. She secretly wished that her future daughter would be this talkative and expressive because she would listen to her for hours.

. . . . .

Keyo pressed the buzzer on the table, and in a split second, a waiter turned up, greeting him politely. He eyed Mayuka who was still going through the menu. “A cup of Americano,” he glanced at Mayuka to know her preferred drink but she was already staring at the waiter, waiting for her turn to place the order. Mayuka asked for watermelon juice and Carbonara Spaghetti. It startled Keyo as he was not expecting his colleague to dine in too. Upon receiving the friendly atmosphere, he added a Spicy Teriyaki Sandwich into the order.

“My apologies, Keyo-san. I missed my lunch just now,” she explained. Keyo smiled and reassured her that he was planning to eat as well.

The korero began with mutual affairs that they both shared. Unlike talkative people who would dominate a conversation, Keyo would quickly return some questions encouraging Mayuka to talk. He knew the young lady since she was in her junior year. Now, she was entering her final year; it had been three years watching over her. 

As much as Mayuka enjoyed listening to others, she was an opinionated person yet unbiased. He always went to Mayuka to discuss ideas regarding the cram school from the perception of a young female educator. Keyo also followed up about her practical teaching and insisted on keeping in touch with her as he has connections with public and several elite private schools. He would offer Mayuka a position as a permanent teacher if Mayuka contacted him once in a while. He was jesting with her.

Mayuka chuckled and nodded. “Thank you, Keyo-san.”

Keyo was about to reply when the waiter came up with a tray of their drinks and Keyo’s long sandwich. Mayuka’s eyes rounded as the sandwich landed on the table. The waiter informed that Mayuka’s food was being prepared and excused himself. “They know a beast like me needs a huge sandwich.” Keyo was referring to his tall and muscular build.

“By the way,” he started. “Why do you choose a school in Wakayama, Tsukushi-san?”

When Keyo invited her for a clandestine farewell dinner, she saw many curious inquiries coming to her. Keyo was a great leader who prioritised his teammates’ needs and strived for maximum productivity, as well as excellence. His resolution rarely happened due to emotional gains. Even now, when he asked her about her choice. It convinced Mayuka that he was asking, not questioning her.

Mayuka straightened her body. She saw this question was coming, and she had prepared for it.

“I’ve lived in Tokyo for three years without spending a single cent from my family,” Mayuka breathed in, “I paid everything and worked for my own living. I couldn’t thank you enough for accepting me. Sasaki Cram Centre was my first professional working experience. Luckily, I received a teacher scholarship during my third year.” 

Keyo listened attentively while taking sips of his Americano. Mayuka darted her gaze from Keyo whose eyes fixed on her without hesitance. “However, no matter how much I work, I could never afford to live in the apartment I’m staying in right now.” She smiled. “My grandparents paid the rent and asked me to enjoy college, lived comfortably. I’m indebted, Keyo-san. So, I-”

Keyo cut off. “You chose a school that is near to them,” he continued, “So, you could look after them while working. Take care of them because old folks get lonely easily.”

The waiter arrived with a plate of Carbonara Spaghetti but received a tense silence. Therefore, he quickly walked away and left them amid the cold atmosphere. Mayuka nodded and started feeding herself. Keyo, who waited for her Carbonara, also started eating quietly. 

The Lala Café was spacious with many tables and has become the favourite place for students to stop by and kill time. The second floor also belonged to the Café where they provided selected spaces for monthly rental. Some adults enjoyed working on the second floor, a quieter and cosy option. The wall was painted in white and decorated with myriad abstract paintings on canvases. The wooden frames of B&W photographs complemented the clean wall, and some plants at random spots created a positive aura.

“Do you mind if we drop the formality?” Keyo requested, out of the blue.

Mayuka, who was separating some slices of bacon to eat after she finished the spaghetti, immediately looked up and found her manager’s warm gaze. “Pardon?” She replied in English, out of the blue.

Keyo laughed. “I see,” he cleared his throat. “Shall we be friends rather than colleagues?” Now, he spoke in English too.

They both burst out laughing at each other's spontaneous behaviour.

After digging in all the foods, Keyo suggested some desserts, but Mayuka politely declined. She still had various matters to sort out and a landlady to show her gratitude. She was moving to her grandparents’ house tomorrow.

The man sought the implicit message behind her little gestures, but Mayuka was stoic; figuring her genuine emotions required many attempts and prompts. Keyo offered a ride home as he drove here; again, Mayuka refused. She has several stops to search some gifts for her neighbours and landlady. Therefore, the furthest he could accompany her was to the bus stand.

He noticed how petite she was when they were walking side by side. In less than five minutes, the walk came to a halt. They were already there.

“Keyo-san,” Mayuka searched for a gift in her bag and handed it to Keyo. It took him a moment before accepting the small paper bag with a puzzled look. “It’s not much, but I hope I have worked hard enough under your supervision. Thank you for accepting me as a teacher at Sasaki. I have fallen deeply in love with teaching, thanks to you.” She bent down, offering the most respectful bow she scarcely gave to people.

The dark sky welcomed the moon that shone brightly. Some working men in suits passed by, giving them a little peep and faded away into the nearby eatery. For a moment, Keyo had the urge to caress her head, let her silky hair tangle up in between his long fingers, and assured her how she had been a wonderful employee that he wished would work with him for eternity.

Stop it. He accepted her gratitude and thanked her for the gift. He also apologised for not getting her anything which put Mayuka in relief. She insisted that she was not hoping for something in return at all.

And the bus arrived. Mayuka checked out the bus number, and it was the one she was waiting for. She thanked her former employer once again and stepped into the vehicle, never turning back.

The bus left.

When it evanesced from his sight, Keyo’s small laughter found its way out to escape from his lips. A frustrated one.

“It wouldn’t be so embarrassing to snatch away someone’s lover if I were her age,” he murmured to himself, rubbing his temple and looked inside the paper bag. He found a burgundy fountain pen with his initials and a mini card that said, ‘Your signature will always be perfect’. Keyo sailed back to the time when he lost his favourite fountain pen and announced to the students that his signature would only be perfect with that fountain pen, yet nobody admitted the theft.

That was years ago, Tsukushi. Keyo’s exasperation elevated. “Can’t believe I was thinking that.” He chuckled and left the bus stand.

I guess that’s the end of it. He walked confidently, glancing at the watch around his wrist, and decided to drop by the Cram centre on his way home.