Girlfriend from Another World
I had missed my floor.
I’ve been way too distracted reminiscing the encounter with Makoto earlier.
Of course, Makoto wasn’t with me right now.
Right after that meeting, she about-faced and begged off her invitation for a hang-out.
When she did, that nure-onna disappeared too.
Seeing her behavior turn do a one-eighty was, unsettling, to say the least.
I can’t say whether I’m relieved or disappointed that today wasn’t happening. It would’ve been nice to do some actual catching-up with a girl I’ve known since we were old enough to still have our moms wipe us clean in the bathroom.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I would appreciate having an actual ghoul as our captive audience.
I didn’t question Makoto about it at all.
I don’t know whether pointing it out would spook her or amuse her. There was also the chance the yokai would literally bite my head off in the middle of the street and send me to wherever it came from if I’d acknowledged its presence.
It was safer to just leave things be, and maybe have some nightmares for a couple of days.
Yes, the thing was horrible.
Yes, I was scared.
But the thought of scaring your childhood friend away from you was even worse. Having the yokai bite my head off would be preferable.
But there’s a silver lining, of course.
I opened my phone and checked my LIME contacts.
I got her number.
Before she peaced out, I was able to stop Makoto and ask her for her contact details. She was still somewhat of an airhead like I remember, leaving out of nowhere like that and expecting me to know how to reach her as if we were still neighbors.
The reason for her leaving was clear on my notifications:
Miki Starsky ch. is live!
I opened the stream and saw her playing one of the hottest games of that month. It was infamously difficult as all hell, and it’s fun seeing Miki get blasted over and over by some horseman boss-character in the game.
You idiot. You’re supposed to run away from that one.
I walked out the next stop of the elevator and back into the halls of the department store, phone still on hand.
It wasn’t a big deal landing on the wrong floor just two down. This trip made me walk more miles than I have ever had in my home country, and some set of stairs wasn’t going to deter me. I might as well get some exercise in.
I leaned on a nearby pillar and just continued watching Miki’s suffering play out in real-time.
There were no hints of dead air in her stream at all. Despite the frustrations of dying over and over, she was still able to crack jokes in between it all. Some were misses, some were hits, but the important was that she didn’t stop trying.
Charisma really is a talent.
I pulled the stream to the side and put it on Picture-on-Picture mode so that I could do my other things while I watched.
The LIME contacts window was the first thing that appeared after I ‘alt-tabbed’.
Her name stared me right in the face.
My finger hovered over the call button, and I imagined the kinds of funny scenarios that could play out if I rang her now.
She’d call for a ‘bathroom break’ and tons of blue-colored chats would start pouring in for her. Or maybe she’ll pull off that ‘idol meeting’ excuse that’s a popular meme among her industry, which is just a euphemism for any important business they have to attend to.
But I have way too much respect to do that.
And that respect is now doubled, knowing that Miki and Makoto are the same person.
The thought of it still felt unreal to me.
In the circle of virtual streamer fans, it was taboo to publicly say the identities of the people behind the streaming avatars. Even when people knew, you’d have to be asking for a lynching if you went out and brought it up in polite conversation.
So looking at the name on my phone – it felt taboo. It was a little exhilarating, but it really isn’t anything special at the same time.
Many other people have Makoto’s name on their phone, too. I’m not unique. Makoto is a person – just a real girl with a second identity. Makoto is just someone who wanted to try out a new fad and fortunately sky-rocketed her career off of it.
Makoto is Makoto.
Before I got lost in a memory with her, there were things to be done first.
Going alone in a non-English-speaking country is foolish if you didn’t know their language in at least a basic level or without knowing someone who does.
I did know some basic Japanese, but I wasn’t ready to make a faux pax and say something dirty by mistake.
If people had subtitles for me, then I hope my subtitles have black borders and don’t blend into the frame, obscuring my translation and making me say stuff I never meant to say.
I scrolled through my contacts and found a certain name:
Before I went to Japan, I made sure to try to get at least one contact I could somewhat trust.
Jougasaki was a man a little older than me. He was a penpal I made back when I was still studying. There was this app that allowed you to write long-form letters and let you make connections with people that shared the interests you specified.
It was way different from meeting people with ordinary messengers since sending a message actually took time to reach the other party. It was a way of simulating an actual physical exchange of letters.
It was a cute little thing. Eventually, we met up for real, and found out our schools weren’t more than an hour away from each other. We made it a habit to meet up every day after class and became something like brothers.
It was cute.
Turns out, both of us were using that app for more… ‘nefarious’ reasons.
We both tried to nab a female Japanese penpal.
I wasn’t sure what reason he had for trying, but I had my own reasons, and I’d like to believe we were cut from the same cloth and we shared that reason, too.
…Unfortunately, my hit rate for contacting any Japanese girls was effectively zero.
Not like I was trying to get myself a girlfriend from here or anything. Said my dishonest self.
That aside, I didn’t know Jougasaki as any other name than Jougasaki, even though I’m sure he’s already told me his real name. And shortening his name in any way felt weird to me.
Nah, forget it.
Either way, before I could confidently say I had full mobility in a foreign land, I had to meet up with someone who knew their way. And that man was Jou. Gasaki.
The moment he heard I was taking a trip to ‘the Holyland’, this man pretty much dropped everything he was doing and packed his bags to join me. I had no idea what kind of work he’d taken up that would allow him to just go abroad at the drop of a hat.
But either way, this was a golden opportunity. Jougasaki knew the language to a native level, and he knew his way around to boot. It wasn’t the first time he’s been to Japan, either, which is an extra boon when it came to getting around.
Jougasaki was basically my tour guide.
Unfortunately, my tour guide is also an impulsive spender and had an agenda of his own.
He took off by himself today to spend the day in - where else - Akihabara.
Jousagaki, to put it lightly, was a big nerd. He didn’t look like any sort of stereotype for that word, but this man meant business when it came to Japanese pop culture. He’s nerdy enough that sometimes he even makes me squirm in my own nerdy boots. Jougasaki, in spite of that, was a genuinely good person who’d never trample the toes of others.
Says a lot that he didn’t trample mine today, but instead walked a path far, far away from me.
I messaged him on LIME to tell him to meet back at the hotel room we booked in the evening and to not take any untoward trips to any funny houses just yet.
First light tomorrow, we had something planned.
I went to the nearest fast-food place with time to kill and grabbed myself a meal. Quick, easy-to-eat ramen it is.
Sitting down with my piping hot meal, I tuned in back to Miki’s stream.
Miki was still dying to the same boss.
There’s no shame in it, though.
Because I did too.
The only real shame is giving up when the bell hasn’t rung yet.
Miki’s frustrations were showing. Her whinings became more prominent and she was playing just a tad poorer than several minutes ago.
It was cute. Endearing, even.
I cheered her on with a free chat, telling her to ‘not give up’ in English, which appeared strangely since most of her chat was made up of a Japanese audience.
I’d already made it past this boss, but I didn’t want to spoil the experience for her by trying to drive via the backseat.
This was tribulation, and Miki would come out better for it.
Eventually, it all came to a head as her character finally delivered the finishing blow on that damned horseback knight.
It was a moment of happiness that I was glad to partake in.
Okay. Take it.
There goes my money.
I’d donated a decent amount for a chat that simply said ‘congratulations’.
Giving her donations for moments like this made me feel satisfied. It’s like sharing a winning moment with your favorite person, or when your bet horse happens to win a race.
Miki decided to end the stream there. She’d had a rough time, but it was clear from her voice that she had a lot of fun today.
A fun time that would not have existed if I’d convinced her to hang out today.
But I couldn’t help myself.
By the time she closed her stream down, I’d already finished my ramen in no time at all. Jougasaki still hasn’t replied, so what’s someone to do before the boredom kicks in?
I won’t call her, but I will do this:
“Nice stream today, Makoto.”
I messaged her.
I heard my LIME chime in.
“Did you watch?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Let’s hang out later, k? I can’t wait to hear from u!”
I felt a nervousness enter me. Makoto, what do you mean by later? We hadn’t agreed to anything so soon. And would she have said that if I didn’t chat her up on LIME?
I still have to meet Jougasaki later.
Time to try and make peace talks.
“Oh yeah, what time you got?”
“Is 19:30 ok?”
Oh, 7:30 then.
Though this probably means a change of plans with Jougasaki.
Sorry, buddy, but I won’t be coming home tonight.
It’s date night.
There’s nothing wrong with calling it a date. Nothing wrong with calling things as they are.
Still, these acts felt forbidden.
Right after a stream, asking the girl behind the avatar on a date the same night. It felt like I was up to no good. The thought of this happening is a prevalent joke circulating the fan community, but I never thought I’d be the one partaking in the rule-breaking.
It felt like eating the forbidden fruit from Eden.
You realize just how naked the other person in the Garden was. And then you’re naked too.
How funny. Didn’t a snake tempt Adam to eat the fruit, too?
Yes, the nure-onna is a snake yokai. Makes you wonder why it had ghost hands.
Also, why put the fruit within reach of the guy who’s not supposed to take it? It wasn’t like they had a ladder back then to come get it. The Knowledge of Tools was one only granted to humanity in that momentous moment.
It was only natural for this to happen, though.
Makoto is my childhood friend, and we’d only met again after so many years, and by complete coincidence too. Playing catch-up is a must. Miki isn’t Makoto, and Makoto isn’t Miki.
I’m not engaging in a taboo.
I’m not going to get intoxicated with this feeling.
Being me, it became my nature to start second-guessing the motives of a young lady who’s a little too eager to go on a dinner date.
Perhaps I was the star of a mean-spirited reality TV show, and Makoto was the star and I play the unwitting fool who gets embarrassed on national television.
I also considered the possibility of her becoming conceited after all these years and trying to hook me into a scheme where I become her personal piggy bank for the rest of my life.
Well… I may already be too late on that last part.
There was also the chance that the yokai’s just baiting me and using poor Makoto as her flesh puppet made to dance, all to eat me or my soul or something.
If I were her, I’d advise against it. I’m not sure my body would be tasty, but I know for sure my soul would taste like garbage.
But enough of that.
It was time to hit up the convenience stores.
I honestly don’t know what was going through my head that time.
There was a short line of people, young and old, queuing up in front of the counter. Around me were a plethora of foreign - well, local in this case - products lining up rows upon rows of shelves. It smelt of a mix of paper, floor cleaner, and microwaved food, but oddly enough it didn’t smell horrible at all. The ceiling vents blew a warm but comforting wind through them to fight off the cold air from the spring air outside.
Indeed, I was inside a Japanese convenience store - a konbini.
And I don’t know how I ended up here.
In my hands was a basket of random snacks, drinks, and hygiene products like deodorant and cologne.
I could swear my hands were sweating bullets just looking at the shelf in front of me, and darting my eyes back and forth towards it and my basket.
Talk about being a pervert with extremely high expectations.
I’d just met my childhood friend again after all this time, and I’m already thinking of that.
I loaded up all this stuff - sans the hygiene - to obscure one very specific item. If the cashier would scan the products one by one, it would be by bulk, and he’d be completely oblivious to the fact I had bought that kind of thing.
Better than buying that box of goodies by itself, in a bold declaration to the cashier and the other people in line that I, a man at the end of his young life, was gonna score a homerun this fine night.
Thing is, I was too busy shivering in fear in front of the rack.
How despicable was I to go and buy protection for tonight?
Nothing was going to happen tonight. It’s just a casual meet-up.
The thought of me imagining I’d be having a ride with Makoto later, instead of it being a usual catch-up between friends.
It was pathetic, even by my own standards.
I reached out towards the boring blue box that said ‘0.01 thin’ on the front.
I tried to grab it. Slowly. Slowly.
And then I relented.
Nothing’s gonna happen, you fool.
I looked at my basket full of the other groceries I had picked up earlier.
I might as well buy all of this. I don’t think it hurts to at least smell good and not sweat like a pig later. I want to make a good impression on Makoto, regardless.
Even though our first impression wasn’t already stellar. It was, however, interesting.
That aside, I’m curious about what the local coffee tastes like, so I consider this a win.
My phone rang. I checked it, and saw that a new LIME message had come up.
It was from Jougasaki.
“Bro, you going on ahead of me? You raving chad!!
Drop me a recommend if the girls are good. :)”
Jougasaki, you idiot. I’m not paying for an escort.
I don’t know what Jougasaki was thinking, but even if I wanted to, I couldn’t hire an escort tonight. They cost an excessive amount of cash that I wasn’t ready to part with. I may not have come to Japan on a shoestring budget, but wasteful spending is still wasteful spending.
I do appreciate how supportive his message was. One would usually expect hints of jealousy or some insult, but this was quite wholesome. Not that he’s been ever the jealous type.
The actual story for tonight might be a little too much for Jougasaki though.
I’d either get called out for lying, or he’d press on me and tell me to lay pipe and ask for my testimony later. Running into your childhood friend on vacation is one hell of a tall tale – you’d think it was the plot to some crappy web novel.
In any case, I answered him as simply as I could.
I’d have to think of a convincing lie for him later just so he can get off my back about it.
Oh, I couldn’t afford the girl, and I didn’t wanna settle with second best.
A hostess scammed me in Kabukicho; I didn’t get any action.
My girl was haunted, so I packed my bags and left.
…That last one might be a little close to the truth.
Before I realized it, the rest of the konbini’s customers had already planted their eyes on me. I was beginning to look like a bigger idiot just staring at the shelf of rubbers than if I had just picked one up and gone my merry way.
I could already hear them whispering.
“Oh, he’s quite daring, isn’t he?”
“Oh, look, a virgin.”
“How pathetic, he can’t even pick up the rubbers. Must be a virgin.”
It was time to go.
I took what I already had and queue up for the counter. It was better than embarrassing myself in public in this little convenience store. I could still feel the piercing gazes of strangers who I have every reason to believe were already looking down on me.
As if being an actual foreigner wasn’t already bad enough, this act of hesitation and pervasion made me look like an even bigger freak.
As each customer finished their purchase, I marched forward, and with each stride, I kept thinking about how tonight would go.
What has Makoto been up to all these years?
How’s her health? Her education? Her career?
…How did she end up becoming Miki Starsky?
…and probably, Makoto, why are you haunted by an actual snake yokai?
I spaced out in front of the cashier.
Dear customer, are you okay?”
I snapped awake from my self-indulgent trance.
I handed over my basket of potluck to him. The scanner’s beep kept echoing in my ear as he scanned each and every individual piece of merchandise I’d crammed into that basket—poor guy. From the tone of his voice and how he looked, he seemed to hate the night shift.
In that same bored and tired voice, he asked:
“Will that be all?”
What an earnest worker.
He’s nothing like the cashiers back at home, who’d rather get all of this done and over with. It was admirable, but at the same time, it must be tiring trying to keep energetic when you’re working with a thousand customers per shift.
Will that be all, though?
I looked back at the shelf of thin rubbers away from the counter. I gave it some thought, then looked back at the cashier.
As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“Uhm… there is one more thing I need to buy...”