Lost in Japan
The food court was on the second floor facing the escalator. It was filled with fast foods, both Asian and Western, sweet shops, and a chain cafe. We had both gotten a mochi donut. Sean left to use the restroom. I got a cup of coffee.
I was still tired, but lacking any plans, we loitered around the mall, suitcase and all. Most of the stores were for clothing, but one specialized in kitchenware. Sean was fond of cooking, so we decided to mess around there. Neither of us had ever lived alone and fooling around in the store felt like the first taste of real independence. I’d pick up a pan pretending to flip an omelet, try on oven mitts and take an imaginary pie out of an oven, or admire plates and glassware that could one day be set on a table at a dinner or drinking party for unmet friends.
“Wow, look at these, Alex,” Sean said as we walked through the utensils aisle. He picked up a pair of chopsticks that were joined together like a compass from our middle school geometry class. “My mom used these to teach me how to use chopsticks. They have these loops to hold your fingers,” he said, slipping his fingers inside. “Then you can move them without dropping them.”
“Lemme try,” I said, and he chuckled handing them over. “Woah.” I clicked them twice. “You can get a pretty nice beat going with these. Here, wait, guess the song.” I clicked for him, swinging my hips to go along. Sean started laughing, shaking his head in defeat, but then stopped and looked solemnly behind me. I turned around and the employee at the register jerked her head the other way. I bowed my head in shame, putting the chopsticks back and wheeling my suitcase out of the store.
There was a bookstore on the third floor. Sean mysteriously vanished among the shelves when I asked him where to find the manga. Fine, I’ll find it myself. Locating anything proved to be an issue. I couldn’t read any of the signage. The shelves blocked each other and I couldn’t quickly glance, so I had to walk through each aisle and pull books at random. Sometimes, I would think I found one since the cover had an anime girl on it, but then it would turn out to be a book on geology or space. As I put yet another foiled plan onto the shelf, I saw sticking out from the side of a bookcase, like a flag on a mailbox, a small sign that read, “English Books.” That would do for a substitute. Marching to this section, confident and happy that I had found the niche specially carved out for foreigners like me, I picked up a book and discovered a page full of kanji. “What?” I closed it, put it back, and took another. The same thing happened.
“Found you,” Sean said. “I thought you wanted to see the manga. What’s wrong?”
“Sean, thank goodness you're here. I think I’m hallucinating. Does this look like English to you?” I showed him the book. He shook his head. “But this is the English section. It should be in English, right?”
“This is for studying English.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. “So, you found the manga? Where is it? Ha ha, let’s go.” I marched out of the section and Sean lead me towards the back. Rows full of them. The spines were numbered and colorful. The covers had anime girls and boys, posing, running, or playing a sport or instrument. Following the aisles to the very back wall, I came across two girls my age. They were sharing a book, snickering to themselves, until they heard the sound of my suitcase wheels. Their mouths were open like they had been caught stealing, undoubtedly surprised by the sight of a foreigner. As they kept looking at me, it became rather unnerving, so I grabbed a book off the wall and tried to pretend to read it but it was covered in plastic wrap. One of the girls gasped.
“You don’t want to do that!” Sean had appeared and seized the book out of my hand. He looked at the girls and they quickly hid their faces behind a book. “Come on,” he said, taking my wrist and he started to pull.
“What? Where are we going? I just found the manga,” I tried to stop him. “Please, please, please. I didn’t get to look at anything.”
“That’s the point.” He dragged me out of the store.
We stood by the entrance. He was red in the face from all the tugging. Maybe I needed to lose some weight. “Uhh, you can let go now. You’re kind of hurting me.”
“Oh, sorry,” he said, freeing my wrist.
“What was up with that?” I said, looking back into the store. “I wanted to see if they had Jojo’s.”
“Sorry,” he said again, but couldn’t look at me. “I would’ve warned you but you were too fast. I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea…”
“Well, in the back of the bookstore, that’s where they sell the, uh…BL.”
“What, like gay stuff?” Sean nodded. “Like,” I said, whispering, “t-two boys…k-k-k-kissing?”
“Well, usually more than that.”
I faked a gasp. “No!” He nodded. “So that’s why it was plastic wrapped.” He nodded. “Well then maybe we should go back,” I said and took a step towards the door.
“Ha ha, just joking. I’m joking.”
“Right...” He said softly.
“Wait, so then those girls were FUJOSHIs?” Something about the way the word rolled off the tongue amused me.
“Not so loud,” Sean whispered, “they’re right over there.”
“Huh?” I looked back into the store. Their long hair fell behind a shelf. Sean walked to the escalator. “That’s crazy though,” I said. “I thought fujoshis were just some Tumblr or Twitter thing. It’s weird they exist in the real world. Oh, well, actually I think a few of my classmates read that stuff, but it’s usually online. Maybe they buy stuff, too?” Sean was focused on the fleeting eyes of others on the escalator, but I was confident that my English would disguise the topic of conversation. It might be cruel to say, but it was fun to see him so innocently flustered. “Do you know why they call it ‘yaoi’?” Sean shook his head which could have been interpreted to say, ‘please stop this conversation’ but I didn’t see the fun in that thesis. “Because the bottom usually goes, ya-OWIE.”
I felt unusually proud of myself for that one and would have burst out laughing had Sean so much as giggled. He looked upwards, away from the failed comedic theater and its captive audience riding along side us. It was a letdown that the joke had failed, but I couldn’t think of why. It was a pun. I knew he liked those. The subject matter was slightly more adult in nature, but it’s not as though he was averse to that theme. We were hardly children. Though, when he got flustered like that, he was like a little kid.