Lost in Japan
“Now, don’t be a stranger,” his mother said as she hugged me outside the restaurant. Her husband leading her youngest son steadily up the street as though to lure her away. “Next time you come stay for longer. I don’t know what you were thinking, coming for a week at a time.”
“It’s Spring break, Mom.”
She sighed, then let me free to catch my breath. “If only it were during Easter. Then you could’ve skipped two weeks for the price of one. You’ll tell your mother I fed you, won’t you? And that the house was pretty.”
“Such a gentleman. You aren’t looking for a wife, are you? Because I happen to know a young woman who’s almost got her college education.”
“MOM!” Sean let it slip. I thought for sure that masked behind his mother’s surprised eyes, a bulb had triggered marked with three letters, but it turned out it was that noble anger of having been talked back to. She was about to raise a hotter hell than anything Francis had experienced, and I knew she didn’t care if I saw it. Sean faked a cough that was so comical I was ready to head back inside lest I get caught in the crossfire, but his mom waited and Sean said, “Sorry. It’s just that dad’s…” He pointed down the street.
His dad was throwing Francis up in the air, then letting him land on his legs. Francis would laugh as he fell, stomp on the ground like it were a big rain puddle, then run back to him probably saying something like, “Again! Again!”
“Guess I should go then. Take care, Alex. Maybe we’ll see you tomorrow, but I doubt it.”
We turned and parted our separate ways, her to the station and we back passed the pond. The water had turned on, spraying water in circular patterns from the center, as the ducks changed course towards edges alongside us. “I’m confused. Are we going to Tokyo again or not?”
Sean shrugged. “If you want to. You have my grandma’s card, so it’s not like you’d have to pay for it.” He was glancing at his phone as we walked and turned at the spaceship in the opposite direction of their house.
“But you told Francis you were going.”
“Only so he’d calm down. He’s so annoying sometimes. My mom puts on an act, but she spoils him just as much as dad.”
“You sound a little jealous.”
“I’m not jealous of a third grader.” He stopped alongside a building whose windows were lined with golf clubs and matching gloves.
“Come on, don’t get upset. It’s okay to be a little jealous.” There was a chalk sign by the corner of the house that pointed up a side stairwell. They went all out with the drawing. At the bottom of the sign, a man and a woman were strolling through the park during a hanami, and above it was some Japanese and, surprisingly good English, though not without a spelling error. “I was wondering where we were going. So you did want to look around.”
“Sort of,” he said, then started climbing the stairs.
A little doorbell chimed as we entered. The shop was much darker than I expected. The walls were a wooden orange and, after the initial genkan and tatami hallway, every inch of it was hidden behind the silken fabric. The owner came out from the back, a short middle-aged lady with a bright face, with a kimono slung over her shoulder. She greeted us with a nice bow and then, without hesitation, whisked us away to the men’s section.
Sean asked her to take my size, then she went about finding things that were the right fit. If I could have worn one I would have been satisfied, but Sean would give comments in Japanese and I’d have to wait and see. His mother was right. When she brought the first kimono to my chest to see if the color suited me--it didn’t--the soft sound soothed my fingertips like ivory keys for a pianist. When they did find a suitable color--four of them, black, brown, navy blue, and maroon--she went through the whole dressing process, holding my waist and finding matching obi belts. I’d look into the mirror and it was as though I had transformed into an anime character, with wavy brown hair and, from the excitement and wonder, big bulging eyes. “Samurai!” The owner cheered. Sean blushed and took a picture.
I liked the navy blue, but Sean insisted upon the maroon since, he claimed, the red matched the pigment of my skin. I thought his reasoning was faulty because, having been so distracted by the clothing and how well-suited it looked on me, halfway through I had a revelation: Sean not only liked me but was attracted to me, too.
I bought it. Not because I would ever wear it, the dressing process was too intricate for someone who favored belt-less jeans and a t-shirt, but because it was the last one we tried on and, although his mother had made the recommendation under the guise of merely trying on clothing, she failed to inform us of the proper way to decline the purchase of what was already on our bodies while the store owner flattered lackey. It wasn’t until we were once again wandering the streets, the kimono and matching obi folded up neatly in a bag, that I wondered if it was an intentional withholding.
The whole affair had brought us late into the afternoon. Sean was ready to return home and call it a day, but I kept thinking about that revelation and Sean’s reactions to my drawing of the new clothing--it was the onsen all over again, except it mattered not what I wore or didn’t. And while this all might seem quite obvious, although I knew he liked me, it took me to then to connect the dots that people who like other people, often also had ulterior desires. The thought turned my brain into a living sauna. We did not return to his home--where he may have felt emboldened now that his parents were gone. To be honest, the most I had thought Sean would want to do to me was hold my hand or give a hug both of which he’d been quite conservative about--not that that was bad necessarily, but I had noticed--so to think that he might want to kiss, I needed some time to cool down.
Tsukuba was a flat city, and yet the horizon was still obstructed by some peak of a mountain. We could walk much further without as much effort. It felt like we had run a circus around the city, but it may have been the university and a few parks. It was hard to say that Sean knew where we were, but he marched confidently by other houses that looked like his own, convenience stores, and rows of small businesses that lined the roads across the park. We eventually circled back and walked around the campus.
“My dad teaches here. I don’t know which building, though.” It was surprising to see brick. Not that it was nowhere to be found, but I was so used to wood or plaster that by then a brick structure seemed to me almost too foreign.
“He’s a professor?”
“Yeah. Hence his weird texts and the weird conversations. He’s always trying to teach someone something.”
“What does he teach? Philosophy?”
The largest portions of the school were passing baseball fields, soccer fields, and tennis courts, but I doubted we were matching up with any official tour. But, as the sun began to fall, and like all other evenings our stomachs grew weary, I was happy to feel that the initial rush of adrenaline from Sean’s interest had hidden itself out of my mind like the growing shade.
“What do you want to do for dinner?” I asked, my stomach rumbling so hard my voice may as well have been lodged in it.
“Whatever’s good with me. What do you want?”