Chapter 5:

Following My Heart

Distant Waves

“And here you go Suzuki-san, this is your paperwork that you’ll need to get through security. I am going to let Doctor Kokomi know that you’ve arrived. In the meantime, can you take the paperwork back up to the front desk?”

Toya handed me the paperwork as he surveyed the expression on my face. I can’t believe that of all things that I could have left at home, I had left the one thing that I couldn’t forget. As though he could read exactly what was going through my mind, he smiled to reassure me.

“No need to worry, I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back. Just knock on the side door right over there and head on in to finalise the paperwork. It shouldn’t take too long to complete.”

After entering the aquarium with Toya, we went straight to his office which was in a building next to the entrance. He had a small corner desk office not too far from the entrance. The door across the way read Doctor Kokomi Mizushima.

Looking at how clean and empty the office desk was in both offices, I’m guessing these two don’t spend much time at their desks. Both desks had a family picture displayed upon them, accompanied with a pencil holder. It made me chuckle and think of my messy desk back in Tokyo. It had probably been combed through by countless security guards investigating my workstation at this point.

I proceeded to pick up my bag and with my completed paperwork in hand, I headed back to the front entrance. The walk between the two buildings was about one hundred metres but it was starting to get crowded. I guess this must be peak visiting hours.

Going against the flow of foot traffic made me take quite a bit longer to reach the front security desk. Finally, after politely moving through endless streams of people, I made it back to the desk where Miyuki-san was waiting for me.

I knocked on the door and Miyuki-san opened the door. I quickly apologised for not bringing my paperwork before and handed over the freshly completed forms. She took a quick glance at the forms in her hand and proceeded to gesture for me to follow her inside. Behind the front window sat another office along with a camera and white sheet screen setup.

“Alright Suzuki-san, it’s time for your security pass photo. You’ll need this anytime you are coming into the aquarium. Please stand over in front of the white sheet and face the camera. I don’t mind if you smile or not, just don’t pull any silly faces.”

I walked over to the sheet and faced the camera. Miyuki turned the lights on behind the camera and started to play with settings on the camera. The sudden flash of bright light caught me by surprise and made me squint my eyes in a daze.

“Ummm, Miyuki-san... I’m still a little confused. Why am I getting a security pass when I’m only here for the interview? Isn’t it a little early for all of this?”

This thought had been becoming more prominent since I got here. It’s almost like I’ve already got the job which is clearly impossible since I only came here to satisfy my curiosity and take the interview. Why would they have me get my own ID security card just for an interview?

“Ughh, I don’t have time for this. Suzuki-san you’ll have to ask that question to Doctor Kokomi when you meet her. I am just here to create your pass, nothing more, nothing less. Now, on the count of three I’m going to take the photo. One, two, three. Excellent now if you can wait outside for about five minutes I will come out and give you your security pass then you’ll be on your way.”

Miyuki with an almost robotic look on her face, gestured for me to leave and I walked outside into the sunlight. I started to wonder if I really did make the right decision coming down here after all. Either way, I am in it now, I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

After about ten minutes, the door opened, and Miyuki stepped out with a lanyard and card with my picture on it. Yikes, that is definitely not the best picture of me. Couldn’t she have added a few filters or edits to make me look better?

“Here we are. Your new security pass. Remember, you need to take this with you whenever you’re travelling around the aquarium or science labs on the premises. This pass also works on all the security doors around the area that you’ll have access to. Welcome to Oceanworld Suzuki-san! Now get a move on. I know Doctor Kokomi is expecting you.”

Before I could respond to her, she had retreated back through the door. I decided there was no use hanging around here or asking her any more questions and I decided to direct myself back towards Toya.

Hopefully she can clear up what is happening here.

Arriving at Toya’s office, I gave a quick little knock on the door and entered. He looked up from some research papers he had been working on and stood up to greet me.

“So, did you get the security pass ok? It looks good on you. Welcome to the team Kayo! I know all of us are excited to have you here!”

Welcome to the team? Again, with the welcoming. I haven’t even said yes to the job yet or spoken to the doctor! These thoughts bubbled to the surface as I expressed my confusion verbally.

“Thank you, Toya! Everyone has been treating me as if I’m already part of the team, but- um, I haven’t even signed a contract yet. Not to mention, I haven’t met the doctor- I came to satisfy the little bit of curiosity I had about what my life could be outside a nine to five corporate life. I haven’t decided if I can leave behind my corporate lifestyle to stay here.”

“I see, well let's head on over and meet Doctor Kokomi shall we? I’m sure she can clear up any confusions you might have about what you’re getting yourself into. On the way, I can try to answer any questions you have about the Doctor and the aquarium. I am happy to help where I can!

He paused as though a thought amused him before chuckling and continuing, “Although... Hearing from the Doctor, I don’t think you need any explanation about this place. You probably know more about it than I do! Now, after you.”

Toya gestured towards the door and we both headed out. I followed him back out into the crowded central area of the aquarium as we started heading towards the far end. I could see people weaving between the exhibits at the aquarium, walking into the gift shop, and making chatter all around me.

If memory serves me correctly, the dolphin area is down that way. Oh, and over there are some of the bigger tanks! I was so distracted by all the sights of the aquarium that I hardly noticed Toya looking over at me, eagerly awaiting my questions.

“Um, if I can ask Toya, can you tell me about Doctor Kokomi then?”

Toya’s face lights up when he hears me ask that question. I can tell he greatly admired the doctor.

“Of course! I’ll give you a great little introduction- Doctor Kokomi is a renowned Japanese Marine Biologist and Oceanographer. Her research is known not only here, but all over the world! She has published many studies and often attends global ocean conferences.

Even though she’s employed here, you could say she never stays here for long periods of time. Her work takes her to many amazing places in the world! She started here as an assistant to the doctor during her time studying at university.

After graduating with her doctorate, she took over the position as head researcher of the aquarium. I think she’s coming up on her 15th year here which is incredible since she’s only in her mid-thirties.”

I could literally see the glimmer in his eyes as he continued to talk about the doctor.

“Even though she researches places all over the world, she spends most of her time here in Kamogawa. Either out off the coast researching or working here at the aquarium. She can often be found at her other research facility in Cairns, Australia.

She has had a fascination with the Great Barrier Reef and the conservation of such an important ecological wonder of the world. Dook University in Cairns offered her a travelling professor role and a lab for her research if she would share the results with the school whenever she came to research. Which she of course, gladly accepted.

This is where you and I come in. As her assistants wherever she goes, we go as well, which means you’ll get to see many wonderful and amazing places! It’s a role that while demanding, has so many great rewards. I think you’re going to love it!”

I can’t believe how amazing Doctor Kokomi is! She has accomplished so much in such a short period of time. Not only here but all over the world! I really can’t wait to meet her!

“She sounds like an amazing woman, it kind of makes me think about what I’ve been doing with my life up till now. Everything I have done up to this point in my life feels like it pales by comparison.”

“I know how you feel Kayo, I was the same when I first got here. I was fresh out of university when I got selected by Doctor Kokomi to work by her side. She gets so many people who try to work with her, yet she rejects almost all of them. It’s a real honor to work for her. You should be proud to be here.”

Toya seemed to consider his next words as though they amused him.

“The day after she received your email, she came over to me and was so excited. It was as if the best news that could ever happen just happened! I haven’t seen her so animated in a long time! I think she really appreciated your love for our work here and saw that you are a Kamogawa native. You must have really wowed her in your application.

She’s so excited to meet you and so am I. So, I hope we can work well together.”

I felt my cheeks get a little red when Toya finished.

Wow, I didn’t know how to feel about this. Doctor Kokomi sounds like she’s making me out to be the best person for the role but I’m just your average corporate girl with a dream.

I didn’t get a proper education in Marine Science. Did she really pick the right person for this job? When I meet her, I really need to show off the knowledge I do have.

“Didn’t you used to come here a lot when you were younger Kayo? I heard from Doctor Kokomi that you used to always be here during middle school and that you loved it here. What happened? Did you get a little busy when you got older?”

“Oh no, nothing of the sort. I reluctantly moved to Tokyo with my family and never came back to Kamogawa. I did join the diving club when I was in high school but sadly, I never did get the chance to do anything with my love for the ocean much after moving away.”

“Oh, so you love to dive do you? Have you dived recently? That’s even better if you already know how to dive. It means I won’t have to dive as much anymore. I am more of a desk researcher than an in the field type of person myself.”

“No, I haven’t dived since high school. Wait, there’s diving involved in this position?”

I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or nervous. I loved diving when I was in school, but it's been a long time since I last dived. Wait, why am I getting excited over this? Just because this job has diving doesn’t mean I came here to take it. Although it has made me think a little harder about my options.

“That’s a shame, but I’m sure you can pick it back up quickly again. I’m sure it's like riding a bike! It will all come back to you very quickly. I have faith in your abilities.”

Those words hit me harder than anything else he’d said today. I think it’s the first time in a while someone has trusted me with my abilities. I need to give it my all. The last thing I want to do is to disappoint anyone here!

“Alright, we’re here! Welcome to the dolphin training pools. Here, we train as well as nurse all the dolphins we currently care for in the aquarium. You can see we have two pools with a connector in the middle. The smaller of the two pools on the right is where we bring the dolphins individually so we can check their health and make sure nothing is wrong with them. It’s also a great place to get to know each of the dolphins.

As you are aware, dolphins are some of the smartest creatures on the planet and they all have their own personalities. These dolphins are no exception! Many of them are rescues that were brought here after they were injured in the ocean. Doctor Kokomi spends most of her time with the dolphins, so you’ll get to know each of them pretty well.”

As Toya was pointing out the features and areas of the dolphin aquarium, I spotted a few of the marine workers in wetsuits coming out from one of the hidden doors. Some are holding buckets with what I expect to probably be fish for the dolphins to eat.

I could see many dolphins swimming freely throughout the pools. Many of the dolphins were starting to congregate by the marine workers holding the fish buckets. Smart little guys must know it is feeding time, they are so cute. Once all the workers came out into view, Toya started waving to one of them in the middle.

“Doctor Kokomi, sorry we were running late. We had a few things to take care of on the way over here. Where would you like me to take Kayo to come see you?”

Doctor Kokomi looked up at the sound of Toya’s voice and for a second both of us locked eyes. I could see her eyes start to fill with joy as she put the bucket of fish on the ground and started to wave back.

“Hey Toya, no need to worry. We were running late here as well. Please take Kayo downstairs and I will join her shortly. She can watch the dolphins from below while I finish up here.”

“Understood Doctor. I’ll take her down and then come up and help you.”

After putting his hand down, he turns to face me.

“Right, well I guess I will take you downstairs. She shouldn’t be too long. She probably wants you to enjoy the marine life while you wait. Let me take you down. Follow me.”

We started to walk to the right of the pools towards a long passageway that headed downstairs. There are many other animals to see downstairs besides the dolphins. Along the walkway they have an assortment of different fish from around the world alongside penguins.

“Alright, let me take you over to the windows at the bottom of the dolphin enclosure. We often come down here to observe how the dolphins are swimming and acting in the water. Doctor Kokomi should be down shortly. I’ll see you soon.”

Just like that, before I could say anything to him, Toya was gone. Now alone while the rest of the public watched the other enclosures. I sat alone watching the dolphins. Alone with my thoughts about my impending meeting with Doctor Kokomi, the nerves soon returned after I realised the situation.

After five minutes, I had forgotten about my nerves. My attention was solely focused on the dolphins swimming so majestically before me. There were about eight dolphins in total swimming around in circles. Some swam in unison around the outside of the cylindrical tank, others kept to the middle and would burst above the surface before coming back down with a crash of water.

I watched as the dolphins splashed around the surface of the water and beams of sunlight trickled into the tank. It was at this moment that I really wanted to be swimming in that tank alongside the dolphins. I hadn’t had this feeling of wanting in such a long time. However, just as my mind started to get side-tracked, my eyes caught a glimpse of another creature that was most certainly a different shape.

I pushed my face up to the glass like a kid looking in a candy shop and looked around for the shape again but saw nothing. Then one of the dolphins came whizzing past the window. Holding onto the dorsal fin of the dolphin wasn’t another creature as I first thought, but a human swimming alongside the dolphins.

Oh, how I wish I could join them right now.

It was hard to get a clear look of who was with the dolphin but on the second pass I watched closely again. This time the person let go of the dolphin just as they went past the window.

Turning around, it was none other than Doctor Kokomi. She had a diving mask on and a small portable scuba tank. She came right up to the window and winked at me.

In response I took a step back, shocked as I had not expected her to come up so close to the window. I then nervously took a step closer to the window. She waved back and I instinctively waved back. All the dolphins around her seemed to stop as well and come up to greet her. She patted each of the dolphins on the head before they swam off.

After the last dolphin had left her, she turned her attention back to me. Looking me straight in the eyes she pointed at me then gestured to the surface. Does she want me to meet her upstairs? She started pulling her hands towards her as if gesturing for me to join in then she swam to the surface. I immediately turned 180 and started to run upstairs. That was certainly quite the introduction!

As I broke into the sunlight, I stopped to catch my breath.

“Did she scare you a little?”

Toya said standing at the top of the ramp.

“Come on, Doctor Kokomi is waiting for you. She thought it might be more fun to greet you with our dolphin friends. Sorry I didn’t say anything. She wanted me to keep it a secret.”

We moved through the side gate and towards the pool side edge. Sitting on the edge of the pool with a dolphin next to her sat Doctor Kokomi.

“It’s nice to finally meet you Kayo! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for so long. I’m sure you have many questions about what you’re going to be doing here but I must ask first. Did you enjoy watching the dolphins from below?

I could see your face through the glass before I came down. You seemed just as captivated by them as you were all those years ago.”

I moved closer to the dolphin sitting on the water's edge. I don’t know why I moved towards the dolphin; my body just instinctively moved on its own. The dolphin immediately moved towards me in response and put his head under my outstretched hand.

“It seems he already likes you. But you haven’t answered my question. Did you enjoy seeing them from below?”

“Honestly, it brought back many memories from when I used to go diving. Seeing the sun shimmering from below is something I haven't seen in a long time and it’s something I’ve missed. They are just such magnificent creatures! After all these years, I am still as drawn to them as ever.”

“It’s just like you were all those years ago. I was right, you haven’t changed a bit then.”

I looked at her with a confused look. Have we met before? She’s acting like we’ve known each other.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met before?”

“Oh, don’t worry that story will come in time but for now why don’t you come experience what you just said you wanted. Toya, can you take Kayo to the back and get her suited up?”

“What! Wait, don't we need to speak about the interview? That’s why I came all the way to Kamogawa?!”

“What do you mean? I already gave you the role even before you arrived here. I had Toya confirm it when you arrived today. But we can speak more after you get ready. I’ll see you soon.”

With a quick wink, Kokomi lowered the diving mask back over her eyes and nose, grabbed the small scuba bottle and dived back into the pool. The dolphin that had been just under my hand a moment ago immediately turned and followed her into the water.

“So, shall we go then Kayo?”

I stood up and followed Toya to the back. My mind was now racing faster than it could process all the information. All I could think about was that I was about to go diving again! I quickly put on the wetsuit and headed back outside.

Toya was waiting for me, and he handed me my diving gear. I sat down on the water's edge and started to fit the mask to my face. I checked the tank to see if it was working with a quick breath.

Sitting on the pool’s edge, my mind started to race again with everything that was going on. The nerves began to set in. Am I really going to dive into a role here at the aquarium? What about my life back in Tokyo? I still have my apartment and friends waiting for me. Am I really going to give that up and take a leap of faith? Right at the point of decision, I can never take the initiative. I really haven’t grown, have I? Even when I’m sitting on the edge, I hesitate.

This is so like me. Maybe I should just turn back now. It isn’t too late to get out of the pool.

No, I can’t do that. I’ve come this far. I need to at least give this a shot. In that moment, I let my body take control and with one swift movement; I slipped below the water into my new life.