Kento stretched out his arms, a drawn-out yawn escaping his mouth. He checked the time at the corner of his screen. The yawn changed, morphing into a groan. It was late again.
“Why do I keep doing this?” he asked the empty air. He stood up, examining the office around him. The company he worked for had this entire floor of the building, but it was empty now, the only source of lights being his monitor and the signs pointing to the emergency exits. Kento pondered for the hundredth time why his boss liked riding him so hard. This was the fifth night in a row that he worked till dark, and he was getting sick of it. He wasn’t self-aware enough to realize he only had himself to blame. His boss never asked him to work late after all.
“Oh well,” he muttered to himself, packing his things. “It’s not like I have a wife waiting for me at home.” He threw his bag over his shoulder and began the trek back home. On the way down the elevator, he noted that the entire building seemed deserted. Stepping out, he waved at Abe, the night-doorman. Abe gave a friendly wave in return.
“Working late again, Mr. Shifutu?” Abe asked as Kento passed.
“Yeah,” Kento replied, walking through the door. “I think the boss is trying to get me to quit.”
“Would be a damn shame if you did,” Abe called out, before closing the door. Kento smiled. Abe was a good guy, and at least always made sure his night ended on a positive note. He would have asked him out for drinks on his next day off, but Abe had a wife and kids at home, and Kento didn't want to keep him from them.
“Ugh, I don’t feel like cooking,” Kento lamented, slowly meandering to the nearest station. He checked his phone. He still had fifteen minutes before the next train arrived. “I should just get some food along the way.” He thought about his options for a meal. He had gotten very familiar with the take-out selection around his home given the number of late nights he had to work. He was still considering his options when he reached the station.
The station was small, matching the town. He worked in the biggest building they had, a measly five stories tall. He lived on the other side of town and took the train to and from work every day.
“Same thing, day in and day out,” he muttered. He almost spat the words. Usually, he was pretty content with his lot in life, but on nights like these, he couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something more to life than just this. There had to be more existence than just work, food, and sleep, right? He wished that something, anything at all, could come across his path, and make his life just a little bit more interesting.
“You shouldn’t get on this train,” a voice from beside him said. He was pulled from his self-pity, turning to find the source of the disturbance. Beside him was a young girl, most likely in high school or university. He looked at her, then to the rest of the station. On the other side of the platform was an elderly couple, and sitting on one of the benches was a man in a suit, loudly talking into his phone. Aside from them, the platform was deserted. Kento looked back at the girl.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Kento asked.
“Just trust me!” The girl said, flashing a charming smile. Kento couldn’t help but feel that there was something about this girl. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but she seemed familiar. Her eyes reminded him of his mother. Kento scratched at the back of his neck, pondering this development. He peered down the tracks, seeing the train in the distance.
“Well, there is another one coming in an hour, and I do want to get some food,” he said, transfixed on the oncoming train. “I guess I can do that in the city.” He paused for a second, then turned back to the girl “Do you want to come with me?”
His question rang out into empty air. The girl was gone. He spun around, scanning the platform for any sign of her. She was nowhere to be seen. There wasn’t anywhere she could have hidden. His eyes widened, and his pulse quickened. He ran over and peered onto the tracks. His worry was soothed, replaced by even more confusion. She wasn’t there either. He stepped back, frowning.
“May as well make good on my promise,” he said, giving up on solving the problem. He walked off the platform just as the train pulled in, his thoughts set on going to a nearby cafe.
“I never even got her name.”
Aiya picked at the food on her plate listlessly. The man across from her had not stopped talking since they had sat down. He was telling some story about how he and his friends terrorized a younger child in his university days. She mentally cursed her friends for setting her up on this date.
“Cool and cute my ass,” she muttered.
“What was that?” the man across from her asked.
“Oh, nothing!” she said, bolting upright. Her face turned slightly red, being caught in her blunder. She plastered a fake smile on. “Please, continue.”
“Ok, so anyway…” the man began again, and Aiya instantly stopped listening. She already knew this date was a bust. It wasn’t that the guy wasn’t attractive. He was pretty handsome, but he was so full of himself, and a blockhead to boot. Aiya couldn’t wait to drag her friends over the coals for setting her up like this. She took a sip of water and checked the time. They had been at the restaurant for more than an hour now, and she had said less than a dozen words total, including her order.
The night dragged on with her date bragging about himself and his accomplishments, flexing his muscles, and generally making a fool of himself. When it mercifully ended, he offered to walk her to the station.
“Oh, no thank you,” Aiya said, trying to sound polite. “I have something I need to do before I go home.”
“Ok,” the man said, eying her up and down. He placed his hand on the wall behind her, no doubt trying something he saw on TV. Aiya squirmed. The chill of fear crept down her spine, and she was unsure how to get out of this.
“Um, I’m going to go now,” she said, slipping out under his arm. She walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from the nearest station, trying to avoid looking back at him. She walked a wide circle to get back to the station, in a depressed mood the entire time.
“I came two stops from home just for that,” she muttered, dragging her feet. “Why do I even bother?” She turned a corner, seeing the station. Her mood lifted slightly. She was almost home. The station platform was pretty crowded, mostly young couples who seemed to be on dates. Her mood dropped again, as envy crept up her spine.
“Damn kids,” she cursed, under her breath. Seeing them enjoy their youth made her unreasonably upset. She wasn’t old by any means, having only just turned 23, but having gone to an all-girls school she had missed out on all her chances to experience a teen romance.
It was made all the worse by her friends who were all in successful relationships and determined to make the same happen for her. They paraded man after man in front of her, but none of them felt right. Maybe she was being too picky. When she was young and refused to eat her food, her mother always told her she would never get a man if she was that picky. She laughed softly. It was almost prophetic.
She was still thinking about this curse her mother had put on her when the train pulled in. She got on, along with all the young couples. Aiya found herself a nice spot at the corner of the train car, leaning against the wall.
“I didn’t get to have dessert,” she whispered to herself. “There’s a nice cafe at the next stop. Maybe I should go get some cake there.”
“You should go straight home,” a voice behind her said. She turned around and was met by a young girl. Aiya guessed she was around nineteen.
“Shouldn’t you be making kissy-faces with your boyfriend?” Aiya asked, automatically lumping the girl with all the other lovestruck ladies in the car.
“I don’t have one,” the girl said, smiling. Aiya studied the girl. She was a bit short for her age, with auburn hair that matched her own. She felt… connected to this girl, somehow. She heard some laughing and looked up. A group of boys were eying her, making comments about her figure. Aiya walked past the young girl and to the boys.
“Hey, if you want to talk about a girl, at least have the decency to do it quietly,” she said, her icy blue eyes staring daggers into the poor men. She wasn't usually confrontational, but she was in a bad mood. This wasn’t the first time she had to deal with something like this either. She wasn’t vain, but she also knew she was attractive, and a lot of men tried to get close to her just because of that. Sometimes she resented the fact that she drew attention like that.
“Sorry,” they all muttered, looking down. Aiya sighed and rubbed her eyes. She had lost her appetite.
“Sorry about that-” she began, turning around. She stopped when she realised the girl was gone. Aiya cast her eyes around the train car, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. She returned to her corner, confused. There wasn’t really anywhere to go, but the train car was also pretty full, so it wouldn’t be hard to disappear from sight. Aiya sighed.
“I never even got her name.”
Kento struggled with the keys to his apartment door. He had told his landlord at least a hundred times that the lock was sticky. He managed to turn the lock, and slammed his shoulder into the door, forcing it open. He almost fell over his own feet when the door gave way, only barely saving himself. He sighed.
“I need to get a better place,” he said, closing the door behind him. He walked through the small kitchen into his cramped room. He powered on his computer, which doubled as his TV. He pulled his chair back and sat down with a sigh. He browsed the internet for a while, but nothing caught his interest. He ran his hand through his shaggy black hair.
“I need a haircut.”
He got to his feet and turned on the hot water for a shower. He spent some time enjoying the warm water, one of the few highlights of his days. His grandfather always told him not to chase after fame and fortune, but to find joy in the little things in life. It’s a philosophy he tried to take to heart. As long as he had food to eat and a roof over his head, what could he complain about?
That’s what he told himself, but deep down he knew he was lonely. He had two friends to speak of, but both were almost always busy. As for a girlfriend…
“At least I’ve never had a pregnancy scare,” he said, trying to look for the best in a bad situation. He got out of the shower and wondered how his life turned out this way. He wasn’t ugly by any means, and he was generally pleasant too, and a very hard worker. He didn’t have the self-awareness to realise that his work ethic was exactly the problem. He was so scared of failure and letting people down, that he neglected other parts of his life for his work. More than anything, he was scared of needing money and not having it.
Ever since university he had thrown himself at his studies and his part-time jobs, leaving very little time for socialization. It had landed him a well-paying job, but the idea of making a mistake and being unable to find a job again prevented him from spending more money than he needed to. On the bright side, he had saved up a small fortune, not that he had anyone he could spend it on.
Kento slipped his shirt on, then collapsed onto his bed. He checked his phone. It was past midnight. He rolled onto his back, groaning.
“I have to be up at six tomorrow, otherwise I’ll be late,” he whispered. He rolled back onto his side, closing his eyes, determined to work hard again tomorrow.
Aiya opened the door to her house. It was a moderately sized house, with two bedrooms, and a separate kitchen. She had gotten it as a gift from her grandparents when they retired to the seaside. It was much bigger than she felt comfortable in, giving away that she was from a wealthy family. She knew that she could probably live the rest of her life on family money alone, but she refused. Aside from this house, she didn’t take anything from her family. She was set on building a life for herself, without assistance from her family.
She opened her fridge to get some cold water. Its contents betrayed her true financial situation. In contrast to the very nice home she lived in, the fridge was nearly empty. In a way, this made her thankful for the dates she had gone on. At least she got a free meal out of it. She poured herself a glass of water and took a seat in her favourite chair. It was late, but she knew she would struggle to fall asleep.
She flipped through a magazine she had bought earlier, not really absorbing what was on the paper. Her mind drifted.
“I need to find a job,” she said, putting down the magazine. She had been saying that for almost two months now. She had a good job but was harassed, and quit when her boss refused to take action. Now she was living off savings and working part-time at a nearby convenience store. Her funds were running low, but the idea of going back to an office job sent shivers down her spine. She didn’t want to end up in an environment like that again. She decided to call it a night. A quick soak in the bath later, she was in bed, staring at her ceiling. She tossed and turned some, before grabbing her phone. She casually scrolled through a series of articles and videos, then stopped dead.
Her fingers hovered over an advert for an office job. She checked the address and found it was one train stop away. She stared at this advert, weighing her options. With a shaky finger she pressed the ‘Apply’ button, then she locked her phone and tried to go to sleep.
Kento opened his eyes, squinting against the sun blazing in through a crack in his curtains. He rolled to his other side, determined to sleep more. It took only a few seconds before his eyes shot open. He jumped up, looking at the sun outside his window. He grabbed his phone, checking the time.
“Crap, I’m late!” he yelled, almost running into his closet to get dressed. In near-world record time, he threw on a pair of slacks and a button-up shirt. He grabbed his tie and jacket on the way out, bolting out the door, then turning back to get his phone. He sprinted down his apartment building’s hallway, and almost fell down the stairs.
“If I hurry, I can catch the next train!” he told himself, motivating him to go fast. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He could see the train pull into the station from outside. He pushed himself to go just a little bit faster, and just barely beat the closing doors onto the train. He accidentally collided with one of the other passengers, and instantly bowed, apologising profusely. He got a few odd looks from the other passengers, but no one was willing to confront the man with severe bedhead who had just sprinted into the car like a madman. Even the man he crashed into just ignored him.
Kento sighed in relief and sat down. He should be able to get to work with a few minutes to spare. He would have preferred to be early, but this was better than nothing. If he could match the speed he had when he ran here he should still be ten minutes early. He used the short train ride to catch his breath and to prepare. He eyed the door, ready to run as soon as it opened.
He was so focused on this he barely noticed everyone slowly inching away from him. He heard the train’s brakes engage and felt it slow down. He narrowed his eyes, preparing himself. The doors slid open, and he launched himself out of his seat with enough force to land outside of the train in a single leap. He kept his momentum, running with speeds to rival professional athletes. He seamlessly weaved between the morning pedestrian traffic, maintaining his pace.
The dayshift doorman tried to stop this madman from charging into the offices, but Kento was a force of nature. He finally stopped when he crashed into the back of the elevator. He waved at the doorman as the doors closed, showing he was no threat.
“Yes! I made it!” He cheered. He checked his watch. “With ten minutes to spare!”
Aiya quickly ran a brush through her hair. She didn’t have a lot of time to make herself presentable. She applied some light makeup and quickly walked out of the door. She headed to the station, trying to ease her nerves. This morning she was called awake by a woman who claimed she worked at the offices she had applied to yesterday. She was told that she got the job, and could start today. It was highly unusual. She expected it to take a few days for them to respond, and that she would have to do an interview. She wasn’t at all prepared for this.
“Ok, calm down Aiya,” she whispered to herself. “It’s just a job. I’m sure they’ll be nice here!” She forced herself to smile, trying to lift her spirits. She got to the station just as the train pulled in. She walked into the car nearest her, grabbing onto one of the handles. She heard a commotion one car over as the doors began to close. She tried to peer through the little window to try to see what had happened, but couldn’t make anything out.
She spent the train ride trying not to think about why she had quit her last job, and reassuring herself that this time would be better. Despite her own assurances, her nerves kept getting worse. She was so lost in her own world, she almost missed her stop, only barely exiting the train before the door closed. She walked slowly to her new place of work. Her mind started to fill with excuses not to go.
“Call and say you have the flu.”
“Pretend you got lost on the way there.”
“Throw yourself in front of the car and go to the hospital instead.”
She shook her head at that last one, dispelling her thoughts. She stopped, realising she had reached her destination, and set her resolve. She would see this through, and prove she didn’t have to rely on her family’s money. With newfound confidence, she entered the office building. A man at the door greeted her, and she tried to give a friendly greeting back. She walked to the elevator and rode up to the fourth floor. She watched the number in the floor indicator rise.
1… 2… 3… 4…
Aiya took a deep breath, as the doors opened.