Lost in Japan
We left the park after a policeman flashed his flashlight at us more than once. Although that morning I had somewhat resented our lack of sleep and at that time we would have usually gone to bed, Sean's words haunted me and I refused to let the night come to an end. I told him we should stay up and watch movies, game, and eat all the snacks we had bought on the first day like it were his birthday party.
We had lost the snacks. They weren’t in my backpack where I’d put them, and after digging around my suitcase and Sean's backpack, I realized that I had never had possession of them. I had left them at his grandmother's house. We could have gone out to buy more but by then we were already committed to being indoors, so we decided to shower and then watch a movie. All my stuff was still in his room, so I sat on his bed, though he had set a spare futon for me beside it, while I waited my turn
There was a chess and go board scattered on the floor. He’d claimed Francis must’ve gotten into his room and made a mess while he was away. On the walls were two posters, one of the Tokyo skyline and the other of a Japanese pop singer, but I suspected that his mother hung those up to give his room some color. His desk and bookcase took most of the room's space and it was also the least dusty spot. Most of his books were shonen manga, some middle-grade fantasy series from America, and a few books in Japanese that I assumed were either his textbooks or poetry. His violin case sat in the corner.
I crawled up to it and then opened it. He’s such a liar. There was hardly any dust on it. The stringers plucked in tune. The bow had the faint stickiness of rosin. I brought it to my shoulders, bearing down on it on my chin. It had been four years since I picked up that instrument, one which I used to play every single school day, but now no longer own. I thought of what song I should play. Surely I could muster something faint memory into my arms and fingers, but I pulled it across the middle strings and could manage a measure or two of a practice tune, but nothing more. I started playing by ear. I hardly realized what song I had chosen when Sean walked back in.
He had already changed but kept a towel around his neck as he dried his hair. He recognized the tune and let me play it through. “That’s pretty good.”
Hearing him, who used to perform in front of a whole village, compliment my pitiful rendition of a song that in other parts of the world would surely have caused some rioting, felt a little sad. “No, I butchered it. I’m a disgrace to my nation.”
“I think the fact the first song you chose to play was the National Anthem is pretty patriotic”
“You really think so?”
“Yeah. Plus,” he said with a chuckle, “you were cute.”
“W-why don’t you play something?" I shoved it into his arms the started out towards the door. "I’ve gotta take a shower.”
“No,” he said, smiling at it as though it were a puppy in his arm. "I’m not in the mood to play right now.” He gestured for me to take it and I refused him. He knelt down on the floor and put it away.
“Thanks for saying that.”
“What? That you’re cute?”
“No, Sean, I’m being serious.”
“So was I.”
“S-shut up for a second or I’m gonna forget what I’m trying to say.” He turned around, sliding the case across the floor towards his bedroom door. “I go by Alex because because it doesn’t stand out. There are a million Alex’s in the world in like twenty languages. Alexander, sure, there’s some notoriety, but Alex’s are a dime a dozen. And, you know, I got tired of people making a big deal out of my name being Alejandro like I was some super exceptional guy because I had a Spanish name. Like, who cares? Sometimes I’ll get a substitute who gets all excited because they see my name but, you know, what if I told them, ‘um, actually, I like Japanese.’ Like it’s my fault for having a different interest.
“And then my brother gives me all these lectures like, 'But that name comes from such a beautiful language and you can't just whitewash your existence,' but, like, I don't speak Spanish and neither does he. But he goes out of his way to be annoying about it. Like, if my dad says we should go to a Mexican place for dinner, sometimes he'll say to my dad, 'Well, I don't mind going but Alejandro might be disappointed there's no sushi.' It's so stupid and I told him to stop and sometimes complained to my parents, but it's not like it changed anything.
"And it's not like I'm ashamed of myself or anything, I'm just more interested in anime than like, I don't even know what, ballet. It's a little better now since he's moved out and has a job and stuff but still. I think he resents me."
"What do your parents say?"
"They don't care. At least, they don't say anything about it to me. Ha ha, maybe they're all colluding behind my back. Not that it'd change anything. I mean, I can't even say Alejandro properly. You’re supposed to roll the 'r,' and I can’t do it. I've tried to learn, really, I've gone on YouTube and stuff, but I can't figure it out. Anyway, this isn’t my tragic backstory or anything. It’s honestly not a big deal. You just wanted to know, so, there you go. Just, don't start an argument or anything.”
“I won't start an argument," he said, zipping up his violin case, "but there's one thing I disagree with." If it were anyone else I would've known the exact next words, but I had felt he understood so I couldn't tell. "Alex isn’t a boring name"
“Dude, come on-”
“It’s yours," he said. "When I hear the name 'Alex,' I think of you."
I felt improper to continue sitting on his bed and when I stood up my chest felt heavy like lead. “I’m going to go take a shower.”
I left and ran down the hall and stairs to the bathroom on the first floor. Luckily his family wasn’t there to see me as I tried to open the door. I ran hot shower water as I sat in the corner and wept. I was never a crybaby growing up. The last time I cried must've been early in elementary school when my pet cat had died. Yet, for whatever reason, tears flowed as naturally as the sea rushed to shore and I was a novice sailor submitting to the wind's rapport.
I wasn’t sure how long I sat there--waves being in constant susurration--but eventually, I did get myself cleaned and returned to his room. He had changed and was hooking his projector up to his computer so we could watch some movies across the sheet he’d strum up as a silver screen. I let him pick the movies, though hoped they were Japanese, and I snuggled up against the wall alongside his bed, hugging a pillow as he sat next to me. He didn't try anything funny, the closest he leaned into me was to reach for some chips he had brought from his family's pantry.
The first film was a speculative thriller with a somewhat happy ending, the hero and heroine escape together, but the brutality of the plot made me feel the initial swelling around my eyes so I asked if we could watch something more funny and light-hearted. The next film was a Western-inspired comedy, which I had thought would be a romantic comedy until the end as the leads didn’t end up together. Just like that triggered a stream of tears, not so much the sobs as before, but like the rain on the window panes of Tokyo Tower.
“Alex,” he said my name again, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said between a sniff, “just the movie.”
“Really? It’s a comedy.”
“I know but…”
"Let me get a tissue."
"No, no, it's fine," I said, tugging on the back of his hoodie. "It's nothing."
I dried my eyes on my sleeve and he leaned fully back against the wall. He looked at me while I looked at the ceiling, the hanging sheet, and myself in the reflection of his pupil which didn't last behind a renewed tear-induced blur. "Do you wanna watch something else? I can put on Nichijou."
"I don't want to watch anything."
"How about the violin? I could--" they started flowing faster, "--never mind. Um, I don't know what to do. The only other thing I can think of is to say another haiku. Would that make you feel better?"
By then, part of me wanted to call it a night, but the other part was still fighting to stay up. "Only if you know a good one."
Sean sat criss-crossed on the bed with a straightened back facing towards me. "Okay. Here, but, you have to look at me when I say it." I went to dry my eyes again, but he shook his head and held my hands. “The setting moon and- ” he set his head against the wall with a slight thud that seemed to call me to follow, “-rising sun embrace the sky-” there was an intensity in his look that made me close my eyes, “-like converging lips.”