Chapter 2:

Bridge

Girlfriend from Another World


02

I had missed my floor.Bookmark here

I’ve been way too distracted reminiscing the encounter with Makoto earlier.Bookmark here

Of course, Makoto wasn’t with me right now.Bookmark here

Right after that meeting, she about-faced and begged off her invitation for a hang-out.Bookmark here

When she did, that nure-onna disappeared too.Bookmark here

Seeing her behavior turn do a one-eighty was, unsettling, to say the least.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would appreciate having an actual ghoul as our captive audience.Bookmark here

I didn’t question Makoto about it at all.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It was safer to just leave things be, and maybe have some nightmares for a couple of days.Bookmark here

Yes, the thing was horrible.Bookmark here

Yes, I was scared.Bookmark here

But the thought of scaring your childhood friend away from you was even worse. Having the yokai bite my head off would be preferable.Bookmark here

But there’s a silver lining, of course.Bookmark here

I opened my phone and checked my LIME contacts.Bookmark here

Makoto Shirase.Bookmark here

I got her number.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The reason for her leaving was clear on my notifications:Bookmark here

Miki Starsky ch. is live!Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

You idiot. You’re supposed to run away from that one.Bookmark here

I walked out the next stop of the elevator and back into the halls of the department store, phone still on hand.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I leaned on a nearby pillar and just continued watching Miki’s suffering play out in real-time.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Charisma really is a talent.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The LIME contacts window was the first thing that appeared after I ‘alt-tabbed’.Bookmark here

Her name stared me right in the face.Bookmark here

My finger hovered over the call button, and I imagined the kinds of funny scenarios that could play out if I rang her now.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

But I have way too much respect to do that.Bookmark here

And that respect is now doubled, knowing that Miki and Makoto are the same person.Bookmark here

The thought of it still felt unreal to me.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Makoto is Makoto.Bookmark here

Before I got lost in a memory with her, there were things to be done first.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I did know some basic Japanese, but I wasn’t ready to make a faux pax and say something dirty by mistake.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I scrolled through my contacts and found a certain name:Bookmark here

Jougasaki.Bookmark here

Before I went to Japan, I made sure to try to get at least one contact I could somewhat trust.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It was cute.Bookmark here

Turns out, both of us were using that app for more… ‘nefarious’ reasons.Bookmark here

We both tried to nab a female Japanese penpal.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

…Unfortunately, my hit rate for contacting any Japanese girls was effectively zero.Bookmark here

Not like I was trying to get myself a girlfriend from here or anything. Said my dishonest self.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Jouga.Bookmark here

Saki.Bookmark here

Jou.Bookmark here

Jou…Bookmark here

Nah, forget it.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Jougasaki was basically my tour guide.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, my tour guide is also an impulsive spender and had an agenda of his own.Bookmark here

He took off by himself today to spend the day in - where else - Akihabara.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Says a lot that he didn’t trample mine today, but instead walked a path far, far away from me.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

First light tomorrow, we had something planned.Bookmark here

I went to the nearest fast-food place with time to kill and grabbed myself a meal. Quick, easy-to-eat ramen it is.Bookmark here

Sitting down with my piping hot meal, I tuned in back to Miki’s stream.Bookmark here

Miki was still dying to the same boss.Bookmark here

There’s no shame in it, though.Bookmark here

Because I did too.Bookmark here

The only real shame is giving up when the bell hasn’t rung yet.Bookmark here

Miki’s frustrations were showing. Her whinings became more prominent and she was playing just a tad poorer than several minutes ago.Bookmark here

It was cute. Endearing, even.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This was tribulation, and Miki would come out better for it.Bookmark here

Eventually, it all came to a head as her character finally delivered the finishing blow on that damned horseback knight.Bookmark here

It was a moment of happiness that I was glad to partake in.Bookmark here

Okay. Take it.Bookmark here

There goes my money.Bookmark here

I’d donated a decent amount for a chat that simply said ‘congratulations’. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

A fun time that would not have existed if I’d convinced her to hang out today.Bookmark here

But I couldn’t help myself.Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

Makoto Shirase.Bookmark here

I won’t call her, but I will do this:Bookmark here

“Nice stream today, Makoto.”Bookmark here

I messaged her.Bookmark here

I heard my LIME chime in.Bookmark here

“Did you watch?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, of course.”Bookmark here

“Nice.Bookmark here

Let’s hang out later, k? I can’t wait to hear from u!”Bookmark here

Wait, later?Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

I still have to meet Jougasaki later.Bookmark here

Time to try and make peace talks.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, what time you got?”Bookmark here

“Is 19:30 ok?”Bookmark here

Oh, 7:30 then.Bookmark here

Though this probably means a change of plans with Jougasaki.Bookmark here

Sorry, buddy, but I won’t be coming home tonight.Bookmark here

It’s date night.Bookmark here

There’s nothing wrong with calling it a date. Nothing wrong with calling things as they are.Bookmark here

Still, these acts felt forbidden.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It felt like eating the forbidden fruit from Eden.Bookmark here

You realize just how naked the other person in the Garden was. And then you’re naked too.Bookmark here

How funny. Didn’t a snake tempt Adam to eat the fruit, too?Bookmark here

Yes, the nure-onna is a snake yokai. Makes you wonder why it had ghost hands.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It was only natural for this to happen, though.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I’m not engaging in a taboo.Bookmark here

I’m not going to get intoxicated with this feeling.Bookmark here

No siree.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Well… I may already be too late on that last part.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

But enough of that.Bookmark here

It was time to hit up the convenience stores.Bookmark here

--------------------------------------------------------------------------Bookmark here

I honestly don’t know what was going through my head that time.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Indeed, I was inside a Japanese convenience store - a konbini.Bookmark here

And I don’t know how I ended up here.Bookmark here

In my hands was a basket of random snacks, drinks, and hygiene products like deodorant and cologne.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Talk about being a pervert with extremely high expectations.Bookmark here

I’d just met my childhood friend again after all this time, and I’m already thinking of that.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Thing is, I was too busy shivering in fear in front of the rack.Bookmark here

Sigh.Bookmark here

How despicable was I to go and buy protection for tonight?Bookmark here

Nothing was going to happen tonight. It’s just a casual meet-up.Bookmark here

The thought of me imagining I’d be having a ride with Makoto later, instead of it being a usual catch-up between friends.Bookmark here

It was pathetic, even by my own standards.Bookmark here

I reached out towards the boring blue box that said ‘0.01 thin’ on the front.Bookmark here

I tried to grab it. Slowly. Slowly.Bookmark here

And then I relented.Bookmark here

Forget this.Bookmark here

Nothing’s gonna happen, you fool.Bookmark here

I looked at my basket full of the other groceries I had picked up earlier.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

Even though our first impression wasn’t already stellar. It was, however, interesting.Bookmark here

That aside, I’m curious about what the local coffee tastes like, so I consider this a win.Bookmark here

My phone rang. I checked it, and saw that a new LIME message had come up.Bookmark here

It was from Jougasaki.Bookmark here

“Bro, you going on ahead of me? You raving chad!!Bookmark here

Drop me a recommend if the girls are good. :)”Bookmark here

Jougasaki, you idiot. I’m not paying for an escort.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The actual story for tonight might be a little too much for Jougasaki though.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

In any case, I answered him as simply as I could.Bookmark here

“Sure :)”Bookmark here

I’d have to think of a convincing lie for him later just so he can get off my back about it.Bookmark here

Oh, I couldn’t afford the girl, and I didn’t wanna settle with second best.Bookmark here

A hostess scammed me in Kabukicho; I didn’t get any action.Bookmark here

My girl was haunted, so I packed my bags and left.Bookmark here

…That last one might be a little close to the truth.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I could already hear them whispering.Bookmark here

“Oh, he’s quite daring, isn’t he?”Bookmark here

“Oh, look, a virgin.”Bookmark here

“How pathetic, he can’t even pick up the rubbers. Must be a virgin.”Bookmark here

It was time to go.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

As each customer finished their purchase, I marched forward, and with each stride, I kept thinking about how tonight would go.Bookmark here

What has Makoto been up to all these years?Bookmark here

How’s her health? Her education? Her career?Bookmark here

Her lovelife?Bookmark here

…How did she end up becoming Miki Starsky?Bookmark here

…and probably, Makoto, why are you haunted by an actual snake yokai?Bookmark here

I spaced out in front of the cashier.Bookmark here

“Dear customer?Bookmark here

Dear customer, are you okay?”Bookmark here

“...Ah”Bookmark here

I snapped awake from my self-indulgent trance.Bookmark here

“Sorry. Here.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

In that same bored and tired voice, he asked:Bookmark here

“Will that be all?”Bookmark here

What an earnest worker.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Will that be all, though?Bookmark here

I looked back at the shelf of thin rubbers away from the counter. I gave it some thought, then looked back at the cashier.Bookmark here

As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.Bookmark here

“Uhm… there is one more thing I need to buy...”Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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