Chapter 1:

Concrete Jungle

Distant Waves


“Suzuki-san! This presentation is in the wrong order! It is an absolute mess! I have a meeting in fifteen minutes, it better be ready in five, or else it will be your head on the chopping block!”Bookmark here

My heart felt like it sunk into a pit of anxiety the moment I heard my name being called- I knew this was not going to end well for me. After all the work I had put into those slides to make sure they were perfect for the prospective clients, what do I get as a reward? A big fuss in front of the whole office just to have it thrown in my face.Bookmark here

I brought up the presentation on my computer and hastily reviewed it as tears burned in my eyes. I attempted to blink them away as I concentrated on the contents of my screen. I made the requested adjustments whilst sniffling, changing the content on a few slides to match the new presentation order whilst attempting to think of things to stop the tears from brimming over.Bookmark here

Even though this isn’t the first time, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I’ve been dealing with this ever since I graduated college. It has just become a repeated and unwelcome occurrence at this point. I felt the tears well up in my eyes again, I saved the presentation and its new changes as I rushed out of my cubicle with my head dipped to avoid attracting attention from my co-workers.Bookmark here

Maybe I’m just not cut out for office life- the thought seared through my mind as I rushed towards the toilet, blindly locking the toilet door behind me, and sinking my head into my hands and feeling the tears roll down my cheeks.Bookmark here

All this hard work and years of dedication, only for it to come to this?Bookmark here

In my chaotic life, my home and my cubicle at work have become my only places of solace, places of respite from the treacherous jungle that is corporate life. I felt a growing sense of melancholy grow in the pit of my stomach, I felt pathetic- my life; confined to two places between my home and my workplace. I briefly wondered what value my family saw in this lifestyle, for them to be able to do so for their entire lives.Bookmark here

After twenty-five minutes, the flow of emotion had ebbed, and I returned to my seat in front of my desk. My eyes were drawn to my presentation now up on the big screen, a large round of applause from everyone watching echoed through the office halls. I didn’t attempt to turn around; the mere thought of seeing my work cheered on by those who had witnessed my recent humiliation less than an hour ago will only fill me with rage amongst other emotions.Bookmark here

Turning back to my desk, my eyes stared blankly at my computer, before a face emerged over the cubicle, greeting me carefully with a friendly tone.Bookmark here

“You ok, Kayo? You seemed so down after Morisaki-san came by and got on your case again. Don’t let it get to you, he is just one of those old guys that are stuck in their old ways.” Yuri came around to the side of my cubicle, smiling in an encouraging manner.Bookmark here

She gestured to the elevators, “Come on, let's go get lunch, that might cheer you up!”Bookmark here

Ah, how could I ever survive my tumultuous office life without this girl?Bookmark here

Shiba Yuri, she started here before me and was my senpai when I started. We took a liking to each other instantly, but I quickly realized we both had a flaw in our characteristics. We couldn’t stand up for ourselves when it mattered most.Bookmark here

From that day onwards we made sure to cheer each other up when the other got knocked down. Even so, she is like a ray of light on a cloudy day just when I need it most. Having each other's backs, it was the only way for both of us to survive this life.Bookmark here

“Thanks Yuri, but I think I just need some time to let this one settle a bit. Seeing everyone celebrate really makes me feel like I’m utterly worthless here. I never get credit for my hard work and face the brunt of all the problems.”Bookmark here

I let out a deep sigh as I turned down her offer of lunchtime spent together, “I might just eat lunch here. You head off and if you could, could you bring me back some tea on your way back?”Bookmark here

“Are you sure? You know it always makes us both feel better when we have a nice chat over lunch.” She seemed to look at me with sympathetic eyes, “Kayo, you’re definitely not useless around here! They wouldn’t be able to do anything for any potential clients without your dedication to your work, even if it's never recognized. You should know that even if no one around here says it to you.”Bookmark here

“I’m sure. Give me time to think this one over... and thanks for the kind words, you always know what to say to cheer me up.”Bookmark here

Satisfied I had started to at least feign a smile, Yuri turned to walk towards the entrance.Bookmark here

“I’ll make sure to bring you back the best tea I can find!”Bookmark here

I could hear her all the way from the entrance, no one else seemed to pay any attention to her as she walked out of the office.Bookmark here

Now that I’m alone during my lunch break, I can research what I want to look at. Everyone at the office seems to think the best option every day is to head downstairs to the food carts that come to our parking lot.Bookmark here

This means that there is no one to notice what I’m working on. I can do as I wish without the prying eyes of any of my co-workers. The last thing I need today is nosey people asking me questions.Bookmark here

~Bookmark here

I have worked in this company for 3 years since my graduation and with every passing year, I have felt my happiness and motivation to excel at my job dip with every passing day. Only one thing has spurred me on to get through my days, it was the time that I could spend immersing myself in researching into the topic of my passion and love.Bookmark here

The Ocean.Bookmark here

The mystical land that humans have yet to comprehend. One of the last places on Earth yet to be fully explored and full of mystery. An endless expanse that is waiting to be understood by mankind. If there was anything that came from me being in Tokyo, it was where I found my love for exploring the ocean.Bookmark here

When I was in middle school, my parents decided it would be a better opportunity for me to go to finish my education and attend a university in Tokyo. My father was a regional manager for a large firm Tokyo and was eager for me to join the workforce after completing my education in the city.Bookmark here

Without any consideration for my feelings, I was uprooted by my family, whisked away from my closest friends, and put in an unfamiliar concrete jungle. The beautiful views of the mountains and crashing waves on the shore were replaced with rows upon rows of buildings as far as the eye could see.Bookmark here

I grew up in Kamogawa, surrounded by the sand and surf. Every day after school, my friends and I would go to the ocean. We would snorkel and surf until the sun began to set. There was nothing we did not do together.Bookmark here

Every time we went to the beach, I would see the Oceanworld aquarium right on the waterfront, protruding along the coast. I would visit the aquarium regularly with my family and sometimes, with my friends. On occasion, my middle school would even plan field trips for students to explore all the exhibits made available to us. Though, to be fair, in such a small town, the options for field trips were limited so I guess it was something that the teachers wanted to plan to break up the monotony from time to time.Bookmark here

Whenever I found myself in the aquarium, I was always in awe of the unknown fish and aquatic life swimming right in front of my eyes. Normally, I found it difficult to get a close look at a fish through a set of goggles and snorkel before they would scatter. Here, however, through a piece of glass, you could observe a whole other world from an entirely different perspective.Bookmark here

Being enrolled in a prestigious high school, a wide variety of clubs were readily available for us to experiment with during our schooling years. This included the scuba club- I had initially convinced myself that I knew enough about the ocean growing up, and that I did not need someone to show me things I'd already seen. I told myself that it would be a hassle for me to join and that my parents would prefer me studying in the evening instead of "playing in the water" as they would say.Bookmark here

As my first year progressed, a little voice in my club kept reminding me of the existence of the scuba club until it was at the forefront of my mind. One day, I bumped into one of the club directors in the hallway and decided to take the plunge. The director was delighted that I had decided to join and go me into the pool straight away.Bookmark here

Until I reached Tokyo, I had no idea just how much I would miss the ocean, being able to swim with the ocean wildlife and having the world within my reach. I missed my friends and the ocean greatly, but it was here in Tokyo that I embraced my desire to return to the water’s embrace.Bookmark here

From that moment on, the rest is but a great memory of my life in Tokyo. The streets of the concrete jungle did not really bother me anymore. I had another world I could escape to when life got me down.Bookmark here

My high school had a pathway directly into the university- no further exams were required. Life almost felt too easy. However, when it came to choosing a major, that is where the difficulty lay.Bookmark here

One part of me wanted to follow my parents’ ambitions for me- business school and a secure office job. My father emphasized that this was the path that one would have to take to be successful, even though nothing in the business world interested me. Not to say that business courses were challenging for me; I just did not feel any real passion for the field of study,Bookmark here

The other part of me wanted to follow my love for the ocean and wanted to work towards ocean studies. However, the moment I proposed the idea to my father, he burst into a fit of rage. It was the loudest argument we'd ever had.Bookmark here

He held firm on the idea that business was what I was going to be doing and that there was no other way. Honestly, what he said almost convinced me not to follow what I had set out to do since I was a child. After the argument, whilst the tears were flowing down my cheeks, my mother came to speak with me.Bookmark here

She assured me that I was someone who could follow any path that I chose and that my father was someone who just wanted to see me succeed instead of living an unfulfilled life.Bookmark here

Looking back, I wish that I had been able to stand up to him back then.Bookmark here

When I got to university, every time I suggested studying about the ocean, it was fiercely shut down by my father at every turn. He threatened to cut me off emotionally and financially if I did not abide by his wishes.Bookmark here

Because of this threat, I no longer went diving with my friends, and after a while, my friends and I started to drift apart. Those were the longest years for me- doing classes I had no interest in, away from my friends studying science and creative art was daily torture.Bookmark here

I now wish that I had been stronger.Bookmark here

Throughout university, it became harder and harder to make friends. Having no real common ground and interests meant that I became someone who did not hang around the campus long. Either way, between the studying and the internships that filled my weekly schedule, I barely had time to speak with anyone.Bookmark here

Thankfully, since my father was satisfied, he paid the tuition, so I did not need to get a part-time job. However, this meant that when I did have free time, that I had no one to spend it with.Bookmark here

When my final year arrived, I was given a chance to do an extracurricular elective over the summer. Looking over the list of subjects, I was stunned to learn that I could do an elective in the sciences! Not only that, Oceanography 101 had a few openings that fit right into my schedule! I told my father that I would be taking up an extra Accounting course to keep up the charade and he fell for it hook line and sinker.Bookmark here

"I'm so proud that you're seeing the reality of what is important in life rather than that delusional fantasy of swimming or whatever you had when you were younger."Bookmark here

Those words really cut me like a knife. To this day, remembering him say that fills me with anger. How could my own father crush my dreams like that?Bookmark here

All I have been able to do since then was to hold my tongue; I knew that if I wanted any chance to get to this class, all I had to do was just laugh and agree with whatever he was saying.Bookmark here

That class ended up being the best thing that I got out of university. When I arrived on the first day, the teacher instructing the class was one of the final year students and was none other than my best friend in the high school diving club- Sena. When our eyes locked, we both knew that it was going to be a fun class.Bookmark here

Sadly, as summer came to a close, I knew that it was back to business school, but at this point, I did not care; I finally got to do something that I truly enjoyed. I felt real love for oceanography and I always lost track of time whenever I was in class. At the time, I was determined to follow that career path after graduating for university.Bookmark here

I told myself that I would, no matter what it took.Bookmark here

I convinced myself that surely, my father would not be able to control me any further after I finished university.Bookmark here

Oh, how wrong I was.Bookmark here

The month before I graduated from university, I received a job offer from a large business firm courtesy of my father. He had sent out job applications and used his connections before I had even graduated!Bookmark here

This was another time that I wished I had stood up to him, but I just could not defy the man no matter how right I thought I was. Every time it came to telling him what I truly wanted to do, I would get weak at the knees and would never be able to confront him.Bookmark here

It really made me feel pathetic.Bookmark here

It had been three years since I had graduated from university and started working with the company. Only the memory of the ocean and my love for it spurred me on every day. Every lunchtime, when everyone heads downstairs, I sit and learn a little more about wonders that it possesses. I soak up every piece of media and information I can find in the short time that I have.Bookmark here

I spend my lunchtime checking news articles, research pieces, books, documentaries, you name it, I have read it. However, as soon as the first person comes back from lunch, the screen goes off and no one’s the wiser.Bookmark here

Today I embarked on my ritual the same, only this time, while feasting my eyes on my obsession, a distinct ping rings out of my computer speaker that indicates a new email has arrived. I took a quick check of my surroundings to make sure that no one is back in the office before opening it.Bookmark here

To my surprise, it’s from Oceanworld in Kamogawa, and its title reads ‘Job application accepted’.Bookmark here

My eyes widened and I immediately felt a wave of shock come over me. This is absurd!Bookmark here

I haven’t applied for any job in years, not since I was given the job offer from this company, courtesy of my father and influence. I have always thought about the idea for a while now, but I never dared to act on my impulse.Bookmark here

As much as I hated this job, it paid well enough, and I knew that they needed me. There was job security here.Bookmark here

The thought of applying to work in a field that had everything to do with the ocean, though thrilling, terrified me. I was always too scared to receive a rejection letter. To find out that I am not good enough to work in the field that has given me my little ray of hope and happiness every day, would just be too much for me to bear.Bookmark here

The title of the email drew my attention immediately, and I clicked it without hesitation. My immediate thought was that they must have sent it to the wrong email address but as soon as I scroll down, I found that the email was addressed to me. This is quite perplexing. I started to read the email:Bookmark here

To Kayo,Bookmark here

Thank you for applying for the role as my assistant here at Oceanworld. Normally, replies are automatically generated as a success or pass but I felt your email was a special case since you were applying directly to work with me.Bookmark here

Firstly, I must mention that your application email, while touching, was written very oddly. It has been some time since I enjoyed reading an application email, especially one that was sent at 11:30 in the evening. I can see your enthusiasm and passion for wanting to work here as well as your passion to help preserve the incredible creatures that we have at our aquarium.Bookmark here

When I received your email; I had also recognized your name and thought that I may have seen it before. My presumptions were indeed correct as our records indicate that you have visited the aquarium more than anyone, I know who doesn’t work here! That is indeed an impressive record to have but it does sadden me to see you haven’t visited in over 10 years.Bookmark here

Attached in this email are documents containing all the information that you will need for the interview process ahead. Please reply to this email in the next 2 business days if you would like to attend the interview by video call or in person.Bookmark here

I look forward to meeting with you soon as well as seeing if the passion you once had for the ocean has stayed with you after all these years.Bookmark here

Sincerely,Bookmark here

Doctor Kokomi MizushimaBookmark here

I felt my jaw drop as I finished reading the email. I cannot believe what I’m reading. How could this make any sense?! When and how did I apply for a job? I didn't even know this job existed! How could I be accepted for any interview for it?!Bookmark here

After some pondering, I realised that last week while researching about the aquarium as I often do; I noticed a job posting for this exact position. Reading through the job description and the requirements made me feel giddy with excitement.Bookmark here

The thought of being able to work in an actual aquarium, getting to get an even closer look at ocean life, and on top of all that getting paid for it. Could there be a better opportunity for me?Bookmark here

I remembered feeling tempted to apply for the role, but above that temptation, I felt an underlying feeling of crushing doubt. If I were to be rejected, I don’t think I could look forward to anything outside of work to get me through these long days.Bookmark here

Studying everything I can about the ocean has become my only obsession outside of work, it’s what makes the grind of office life bearable.Bookmark here

I always felt if I kept my ambitions as this unattainable dream, I would never be disappointed if it never amounted to anything. I could keep my little dream alive this way.Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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