the one that got away.Posted: August 5, 2008
The air was humid that day.
It was a nondescript Wednesday afternoon, a day before I had to leave Japan, and I was sitting on a subway car on the Yamanote line going out of Ikebukuro, surrounded by people who would barely understand my broken Japanese borne out of a guidebook and a book entitled “Essential Japanese Phrases” or something or other. At least I would understand their broken English, if they spoke it at all. The sunlight from outside, seeping through the cracks between the buildings and into the fairly crowded subway car, glared into my eyes. I looked up, noticing a TV showing an advertisement of some model playing a Nintendo DS she probably didn’t own. The clock next to it read 3:30 in the afternoon. Rush hour was near.
The conductor babbled something through the P.A speaker. All I understood was the fact that the station I was headed to is coming up next. It was all that I needed to hear, really. I stood up slowly, trying not to hit the sleeping commuters next to me as I made my way toward the exit. Their journeys still had a long ways to go. A fairly loud ‘ding’ signaled the opening of the doors. Muggy air slapped my face as I exited. I pulled out my cellular phone, a Samsung, out of habit; my cell carrier didn’t provide service in Tokyo and buying some sort of pre-paid SIM card for a week-long excursion was just dumb. The Samsung LCD flickered on. There were still no signal bars. It was just a glorified clock and camera now. I sighed and started down the dirty stairs, deftly avoiding people rushing down the stairs to be somewhere. I was merely wandering around a town I had read about, but barely knew. Tokyo is the new Paris, it seemed.
I stood outside of the station and stared at the sky for a good few minutes, enough to illicit a few stares of confusion. As I readjusted my backpack, filled with what was left of my funds for the trip, passport, and various knick-knacks acquired that day, a vending machine came into view. The bright red ‘Coke’ sign glared at me, demanding whatever yen I had in my pocket. I was glad to oblige. An outdoor thermometer read mid 30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t bother trying to convert the number to Fahrenheit. I shuffled around my jeans pocket, shoving aside the glorified clock/camera and assorted balls of lint and grabbed a few hundred-yen coins. The clunk of the coins going through the mechanism still resounded over the ethereal buzz of language, traffic, and advertisements. I reached down, took the beverage, and promptly turned around to set off anew.
And there she was.
It was surreal. A movie-like occurrence. A scene lifted from a novel, a comic book, a manga. T-shirt and jeans. Slightly thick rimmed glasses. Short brown hair. Her light complexion gave away the fact that she was obviously not from around here. We exchanged glances and smiles for a second before I scurried away. Not long after, I looked back. She was still there, and was now walking in my direction, drink in hand. I awkwardly introduced myself. It seemed like the right thing to do. You promptly replied. I didn’t really know where to go from there. We were two strangers in a city filled with them, more different from the rest due to the fact that we weren’t from around here. I mumbled, “So, you’re on a vacation?”
“Yeah, I am. Leaving in a few days, actually,”
She replied. Her accent was apparent. She was British.
“Listen, this sounds ridiculous, yeah? But, say, do you want to go grab a bite to eat?”
She grinned. I did a double-take. After all, I wasn’t used to people being this direct. I readily agreed, pushing away the notion that following someone I barely know in a city that I’ve only been in for the past few days was a horribly bad idea. I really didn’t mind. To this date, I have no idea why. The restaurant was called Saizeriya. I don’t even remember what I ate, if at all. It really didn’t matter. I was entranced by her persona, her everything; the way she noticed the little things, the way she could turn a phrase. She lived at a faster pace than myself, her anecdotes were quicker, her patience was less, but there was clearly some sort of connection. Every word out of my mouth came out smoothly, as contrasted with my usual mumbling around ‘people I don’t know’. I was actually comfortable speaking with someone I had met on a freak coincidence in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. It was an odd feeling, one that I couldn’t define at the time but now know.
We spoke of life, love, and ‘home’; not once did either of us mention what was clearly there, an attraction. Our conversation lasted until the evening. Countless free refills were abused as we continued to learn and understand each other in a way that has not been done before. She was a month younger than me. Lived somewhere near Cardiff. Loved to read, loved to draw. Nearly perfect. We were two souls exploring a city we read in books and wanted to see for ourselves, explore for ourselves. It was what somehow brought us in each other’s midst. We clearly overstayed our welcome, but the fact that we were foreigners led the waitstaff to turn a blind eye, either out of pity or the fact that they didn’t know how. I took out my glorified clock/camera and placed it on the table, and looked at her face. What did she see in me? Was I really that special? That interesting?
Is this a dream?
She snapped me back into reality with a quick gesture. It wasn’t a dream. There was an actual connection between us, an undefined connection bound to a certain four letter word. She stole glances of me when I was seemingly unaware, gesturing one of the waiters with a mix of sign language and broken Japanese for a free refill. I snapped a picture of her when the clock struck nine. She didn’t seem to mind. We left the restaurant soon thereafter, walking out into the slightly cooler night air. Stars were peering through the clouds and pollution. The moon stood directly above us, and neon lights glared at us. The train station wasn’t too far off. Her hotel was in Shinbashi. Mine was in Ikebukuro. Opposite sides of the railway. The train was where we were to part ways.
I bought a ticket with whatever yen I had left in my pocket. We sat in the train car, adjacent to each other. There were other commuters, clearly asleep and lost in their own worlds. The faint smell of sake meant some of them were probably drunk. She edged closer to me, let her hand lay on mine, and I barely even noticed. Tonight wasn’t the night where the usual awkward situations occurred, it was a night in which I was luckily uncharacteristically ‘normal’. Buildings sped by, and I was stuck in this sublime moment. This was the only time that I had felt time stood still for me, to cherish a moment in which I held someone I had met mere hours ago in my arms. The small television above showed an advertisement for a Nintendo DS, the nearby clock read 10:45 in dull LEDs. The clearly exhausted train conductor buzzed on the P.A,
We stood up, and inched toward the doors. The train slowed down to a stop. She gave me a lingering embrace that I wasn’t used to. She let go, and looked into my eyes. The train doors slid open. I said quietly, “I guess this is goodbye.” I pushed away the thought that I was using a cliche. She said the same words, which quietly ingrained themselves in the back of my mind. She exited the train car slowly, waiting on the other end, past the yellow line, and stared at me inside the now-closing doors. I did the same. Her face turned into a blur, and in an instant, buildings came speeding by. I sat, melancholy. I came to the pained realization that I never would find her again. Something like this occurring again is nigh impossible, finding someone I met at a vending machine would be finding a molecule of carbon dioxide exhaled by her breath. I knew only her name and her person. I closed my eyes and recounted the night in my mind as the train sped through the stations. I then came to the recollection of our goodbye. I should have kissed her. All that remained to remind me of the day’s chance encounter was a picture stored on a cell phone that didn’t even work in this country.
The train showed signs of slowing down.