Lost in Japan
Before we had turned in that night, Sean’s father had texted to inform him that they would be spending the next few days in Tokyo, and if we weren’t too busy adventuring and could somehow squeeze in the time, then might he be allowed to intrude upon us for a meal on his behalf, of course. Neither of us could say no to a free meal, but my enthusiasm slipped into polite opposition, through such phrases like, “Well,” and “I don’t know,” after Sean said that we’d have to get up no later than six in the morning. I had gotten used to sleeping past the standard for school and, perhaps if it were closer to the start of the trip I wouldn’t have felt so reluctant, but the truth is that setting my alarm that early robbed me of my leisure and reminded me of my departure.
Unfortunately, my strategy of non-committal responses was one Sean was well accustomed to in that country--and, whose media most likely spurred that habit of mine to the frustration of others-- and he said, fully embodying the role of son, “he wasn’t asking.” He showed me a detailed itinerary of at least twelve options of which one was in Tsukuba. It was tagged with a disclaimer that, while he understood that option may be the most convenient for us, we might feel rushed while dining.
Despite the fuss, I slept well. I had a dream that I was at the bottom of a stream, like Ophelia, floating in that ultimate peace, though I could breathe, and looking up I could see a white fish swim in bright daylight.
Before reality's daylight broke, we were scrambling to shove our stuff into our bags, pacing back and forth down the halls, and tidying up where we could, all while trying not to wake his grandmother. At some point, I couldn’t find Sean. He wasn’t in his room, or in the bathroom showering, and I even ventured outside to the curb to see if he was scouting the bus. I began wandering around the house, searching the guest rooms, the kitchen, and then the living room. There was a screen door beside the TV.
“Sean?” I said, stepping into the four tatami matt room. He was standing before an open shrine with a picture of a Japanese man and burning incense. I walked beside him and clasped my hands as well. Thanks for letting me stay at your house. Your study was really cool! I began to wonder about the more technical aspects of prayer. Mainly, whether the consequential wrath from Babel affected those in the afterlife or if language was purely temporal. It was too theological for six in the morning so for good measure I threw in an arigatou gozaimasu and let myself be excused.
I brought Sean’s stuff to the door so that when he said his goodbyes we could rush out the door. I waited about five minutes and he blushed to see me sitting in the genkan wearing it. Of course, seeing the sunlight streaming through the paper windows, we rushed down the street and arrived as the bus was backing in reverse to the curb.
We got to the station with about ten minutes of downtime to spare, but before descending the escalators to the platform, Sean patted down his pockets and, nervously smiling, said, “I forgot my house key.”
“Uh oh.” I tried to sound more concerned than aware that our early morning had been in vain.
“I’ll call my grandma. This sucks. I’ll probably wake her up.” He gave a sigh as he put the phone to his head and waited for the other end. She didn’t answer on the first or second try, and during those attempts, our train had come and departed. We decided to wait before trying again. There were no benches up at the entrance and we couldn’t descend to the platform without making his grandmother pay to get in, so we made some makeshift seats out of our luggage.
“I’m really sorry. I know exactly where it is, too. I set it on one of the boxes beside the bed before we went to the bathhouse so I wouldn’t forget it there.”
“It’s fine. It’s my fault anyway. I brought all your stuff then rushed you out.” From where we sat, we could see all the tracks, barren with gravel with the bronze tracks stretching out, converging at the horizon. A whole other half of the city lay on the other side, and while I didn’t know it at the time if we had chosen to walk in that direction the day before, we would have come to the sea and gone to a beach like any other beach during the sunset. Instead, we’d spent it at the shrine. “It’s a good thing you noticed, though. How would we've gotten in if you didn’t realize until we got there?”
“One of the windows doesn’t close properly, so we could’ve broken in.”
“ ‘Guess I’m an expert in that by now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your grandma’s neighbors.”
“Right. I forgot about that.”
Down by the tracks, another train pulled in: the fabled Thomas the Tank Engine. By then, I had been confident that nothing from this trip would be forgotten, that I would forever harbor the past five days as a defining moment in my life, though knew not yet how it would affect it. And yet, already, I had forgotten about Thomas and the seemingly randomness of Sean’s comment. What about Sean? How much would he remember? In fact, he had said he liked me because I remembered him but I didn’t know what that meant. How does he remember me?
On the benches, a small crowd of photographers snapped photos or got mad at other people for getting in their way of the photos before Thomas departed on his schedule like any ordinary public transit. They started up the escalators and we stood up off the floor as though butlers at a dinner party.
His grandmother arrived and flagged Sean down. They both laughed while I stood at a distance. The two days, breakfast and buffet, as well as any trouble remaining from that burglary incident, made it hard to believe that she had wanted any more of my presence, but then again, I needed to say one last thank you and goodbye. Once the key had been exchanged, I came up beside him and she looked my way. She was smiling. I bowed with thanks, and she shook her head and bowed, too. Before we left, she dug through her purse and then bowed as she presented it to me. It was a transport card. Thinking that she was offering to pay for our trip to Shizuoka station, I shook my head and took out the paper ticket I had purchased. She shook her head and wagged the card with both hands still extended. I wasn’t sure what to do. I could see on her face that she was undergoing the same lingual frustration.
“She wants you to take it.”
“As a thank you for coming,” Sean said this with the grace to be expected of an innkeeper's grandson, with an implicit ‘we’ that was wholly unnecessary.
I took it, bowing again, with another, “Arigatou.” It had occurred to me that, I hadn’t spent much time with her at all and the few times we spoke I had always felt a distant air like an untraceable draft which, I suppose, I had taken for reluctant niceties when in reality, whether from cultural difference or my own self-consciousness, I had no idea what his grandmother had thought of me. For that matter, I wasn't sure what Sean thought of me beyond the term, "like" and nor did I really understand my own.
Sean knelt down to tie it. I had been in too much of a rush, and too stunned by her present to notice. “She really didn’t have to do that,” I muttered, holding the card before me like it were a relic.
“But she wanted to.”
We passed through the gate and waited for the train. It was empty the whole way to Shizuoka station, and because of our last-minute change in transportation, we didn’t get the chance to revisit the castle ruins or venture to some restaurant of retort but ran from the gate to gate with the newly unfamiliar suitcase to make it to the bullet train. One would think that passing by the same grass, tunnels, and city on our venture down would have elicited that haiku I had composed and had then since forgotten, but I had been too distracted by Sean’s sleeping face like a kitten’s, his nose twitching like a deer, and the words that he had emitted from his cherry lips. Never did I think something beautiful, or at least something more than a pleasant compliment, could have been inspired by and directed toward me.