Mayuka To Ryu (繭価 と 龍)
The defeat led Kenji to throw his phone on Ryu’s bed before he threw himself. I give up, he muttered.
Resting the right arm across his face, closing both eyes, he grumbled softly. Meanwhile, the confused Ryu only gave the friend a blank gaze as he packed his clothes in the dark blue duffel bag.
Kenji was irritated with his teammates who decided on the demography of their research without discussing further with him. He was under the weather yesterday, and today, they informed him that they had sent their venue proposal to the lecturer. Worse, the lecturer approved it.
Ryu just finished all classes and straightaway went home. Then, he was surprised by Kenji who waited in front of his unit, smiling sheepishly. The latter apologised for turning up out of the blue, but Ryu did not mind and let the friend in.
The new semester had started and they were entering the third week. However, many obstacles broke into their lives. Takaya and Hattori were occupied with their campus election preparation.
Takaya supported the current party while Hattori was fervently creating a new party that would listen to the students’ voices and recommendations more actively than the present ruling student councils. Their clashing manifesto blazed them and erupted their sanity. Therefore, whenever they hung out on weekends to catch up with one another, Takaya and Hattori ended up grabbing each other’s collars. The innocent Kenji and Ryu had to stop those impetuous men, slightly embarrassed.
“Ryu,” Kenji rolled his body and lay down on his stomach. “Have you told Ta-kun and Tori-kun about your marine project in Okinawa?” He pouted. “Don’t forget to bring many bottles of sunblock!”
Ryu nodded and chuckled at Kenji’s reminder. “My diving instructor has warned us to leave all kinds of sunblock.” It shocked Kenji and he sat up, questioning about getting sunburnt and painful skin recovery. “Don’t worry, Ken-kun,” he answered calmly, “they will provide reef-friendly sunscreen for us. Previously, our seniors brought sunscreens with oxybenzone and-”
“W-Wait,” Kenji frowned. “You don’t forget that I’m a sociology guy, do you?” He got a little offended by unfamiliar science terms that Ryu applied in his utterance.
Ryu immediately apologised and clarified that most of the sunscreen brands were not suitable for marine life. “You know bleaching?” When Kenji nodded, he continued, “basically, oxybenzone will harm the coral reefs and others.” Kenji responded with a long ‘aaaaaaah’ and it eased Ryu.
He sighed. “Can’t believe you’ll be going to Okinawa!” He whined, marginally envious of the other guy. The unpleasant view of handling Takaya and Hattori alone by himself devastated him. Ryu, as a marine biology student, would enjoy the blue ocean every day for a month. His eyes bored into Ryu’s duffel bag, sifting every piece of garment that Ryu had placed neatly.
When he saw the blue winter scarf in Ryu’s bag, he wondered how Ryu was progressing with his healing phase. He remembered how sombre Ryu was a few weeks ago that every gesture from him was funereal. It worried them to an extent Hattori threatened Ryu that he would call the Tanaka if Ryu continued locking himself in. Takaya, too, deplored Ryu’s silence that had garrotted them for months. He begged Ryu to share with them and let them help him.
When the door clicked open that night, the miserable Ryu came out and told them everything. The missing rhythm, the just-neighbour, the breakup note, the little Gotou boy, the spare key, and Mayuka’s note.
“Oi, Kenji,” Ryu called him again. Kenji was startled that his half-opened eyes wandered around, searching for Ryu. The friend was already in the kitchen, boiling some water. “Are you staying for dinner?” Kenji dawdled and slowly nodded, trying to figure out Ryu’s response. “Do you mind a simple fried rice?” Ryu asked as he was planning to cook.
. . . . .
Half of the passengers on board Okinawa were Ryu’s classmates. Managing thirty classmates, who were exuberant and excited, was exacting. Ryu noticed how exhausted their advisor, Chiaki Kazumi was, that he ended up using the portable voice amplifier to hush them. He made a wise decision to quickly put the students in groups before their departure and picked a leader for every group randomly.
The unpredictable nomination has resulted in him as the leader of his group. Every group consisted of five students, and he needed to lead another four classmates. He realised that he had a female and four male members in the group, including himself. He was not close to the female students and their faces were, somehow, unfamiliar.
“Look!” The female teammate went into ecstasies while pointing at the greenery that was a thousand feet below. “That’s my hometown!” Her remark amazed the other teammates and they started asking which prefecture was that. “My hometown is in Wakayama Prefecture, just below the Nara Prefecture. There! Ah, now I miss my home.” Her pitch went higher.
A male teammate interrupted, “Can you speak in Kansai dialect, Tomomi-san?” And Tomomi started talking in an uncommon tone and lexical. Some of the morphemes changed as she spoke in the dialect. “Tanaka-san, are you sleepy?” She asked him, still using the dialect.
Ryu smiled awkwardly. “A little,” he answered shortly and moved his gaze to Wakayama Prefecture that Tomori pointed out. A sudden jab of terror burgeoned his heart when he realised how huge this nation was. He could barely see cars or people walking on the streets of Wakayama Prefecture. It made him doubt the possibility of bumping into Mayuka.
Where are you, Mayuka? Ryu secretly clenched his fist. She could be anywhere. Perhaps in Hokkaido Prefecture or his hometown in Fukushima Prefecture. She might return to Shizuoka Prefecture and live with her family or perhaps, in Wakayama Prefecture, under his feet. Yet, he would never know where she was. Ryu shut his eyes and held himself from having another breakdown. As soon as they landed and reached their dormitory, he wanted to dive into the Okinawa Ocean with Chiaki.
. . . . .
Ryu pushed the duffel bag under the creaky metal bed after he brought out a new set of bedsheets. In less than two minutes, he had put on the soft blue sheets on the bed and patted the wrinkles away. They just arrived at the Haseda dormitory where each room housed two students.
Since the boys were close with each other, they decided on the division with a simple scissors-paper-stone game. Therefore, the result was, Ryu shared a room with Mitsuki while the other two male teammates, Hotaru and Tatsuya stayed next door. When they went to the balcony, they could reunite again, effortlessly.
“Mitsuki,” taking off the garments, Ryu revealed his pale skin. The unexpected stripping surprised Mitsuki that the dumbstruck man nictated, watching the leader who was barely clothed. “I’m going to the ocean. Wanna join?” Ryu inquired while putting on short pants and a white shirt.
Mitsuki stammered, “n-no,” he looked away, “I’m going to take a nap. Tomorrow will be hectic.” He was not used to this side of Ryu. Mitsuki had only seen the cool and congenial Ryu, yet the one standing in front of him right now was impatient and distant. His friendly invitation, too, was done in the name of politeness. “Have you informed Chiaki Sensei?”
Ryu nodded and dashed out. Perhaps, the perceptive Mitsuki was not wrong. Ryu was indeed impatient to meet the sea.
He rented a bicycle and cycled as fast as lightning to Haseda University Diving & Research Centre. The centre was owned by his university for marine students and researchers. When he arrived there and parked the bicycle at the provided space, he stormed into the air-conditioned building to seek Chiaki.
“Tanaka!” Chiaki, who saw the eager young man with his confident strides, quickly waved his hand. Ryu smiled widely and approached him. “Oh,” he eyed the imposing Ryu in awe. Ryu bowed respectfully to the advisor.
Chiaki recalled how Ryu looked unadorned during his first visit to the research centre when the latter was a junior. Now, the younger man seemed to tower over him. “Can’t you wait till tomorrow?” He pointed towards the black bag of scuba diving equipment on the counter. Ryu shook his head and carried the heavy bag to the dive boat.
“Sensei,” he turned around, gazing at Chiaki emptily. “Which dive boat?”
The gaze galvanised him. “Haseda 3,” he answered, “but wait for me and Kaede-kun!” He warned the younger man. Ryu replied with two thumbs up and set his pace to the mentioned dive boat.
Walking to Haseda 3, the soft minuscule beach sand greeted him. Before he got onto the boat, he soaked both feet in the saltwater, getting rid of the fine sand. They sped up to the dive site, and when they reached there, Ryu began assembling his gear by checking the oxygen tank.
Chiaki just watched silently.
Making sure that everything was fine, Ryu took the buoyancy control device (BCD) and slid it over the valve of the tank. He pulled the thick strap of the BCD and secured it around the tank. Finally, he attached the regulator accordingly. When he assumed that he had completed all the salient steps, he took off his glasses and kept them in the case that he brought. He, then, changed into the dive suit, wore his prescription dive mask, and was ready to put on the BCD to espy the underwater nation.
However, Chiaki stopped him with a soft pat on the shoulder. “Check the tank pressure,” he reminded his student and started assembling his equipment. It was strenuous to comprehend youngsters’ emotions, moreover, when they looked passionate and simultaneously dreary. Like this Tanaka Ryu.
“I’m ready, Sensei!” Ryu shouted wholeheartedly. “Can I jump now?!”
Easy, boy. Chiaki grinned. “Go, Tanaka!”
When his body hit the endearing water, Ryu simply felt welcomed. Like embracing the lover that he wished to forget. He balanced himself and controlled his breathing carefully.
He enjoyed studying the breath-taking coral reefs and various schools of colourful fish that dashed away when his friendly wave greeted them. He was benevolent, but they misunderstood him. A few minutes later, came another splash from his advisor.
Chiaki gestured ‘don’t go beyond this site’ to Ryu and the younger man gave him an assuring nod. They went separate ways and Ryu visited his favourite coral reefs, the Acropora Formosa.
He remembered showing pictures of the coral reefs that he took by himself to Mayuka, and she chortled until she ran out of breath. Ryu was taken aback and almost got upset, but then, Mayuka added that the beautiful reefs looked appetising, like chicken feet. Her stomach grumbled on the spot that surprised Ryu. She asked Ryu if that coral can be eaten by humans, and it was Ryu’s turn to burst into uncontrollable laughter.
I hate you, Ryu breathed normally, trying to avoid holding his breath while diving.
Even miles away from one another, and even when he was underwater, Mayuka resided permanently on his mind. Like a ghost of his past that lingered and followed him forever.