“sometimes when I see people eating alone I want to sit down next to them” (part 4) by Michael Koh

The doors opened to a brightly lit station, immaculate as Shinbashi, perhaps even more so, and Maya stepped out on to tiled flooring laid out parallel to one another, achieving the sensation of fervent orderliness. Yellow lines accentuated the floor to give passengers a sense of movement towards the entrance and exit. Maya followed the line and ended up outside of the station, where she noticed an advertisement for “the best tonkatsu in town.” She stood by the entrance, deciphering the language, wondering which way it was to the restaurant. A loud voice behind her caught her attention.

“I just want to make sure that you turned the T.V. off.”

A heavy set man lumbered past her, as a small device was pressed to his ear, and stopped to wiped the sweat from his neck with a handkerchief.

“No, listen, if no one is watching it, turn it off. What do you mean you like the sound in the background… Speak up; I can’t hear you. Stop wasting electricity and turn it off. What? I pay the bills, you don’t. Go get a job then. Did you make dinner yet? Okay, okay, good. I’ll see you soon. Hello? You want what? Ordinary coffee? What the hell is that? Why don’t you just ask for coffee? What? Okay, goodbye. I love you too.” He placed the phone into his pocket. “Dumbass,” he muttered, and sauntered away.

Maya, amused at the one-way conversation she had heard, wondered what ordinary coffee meant. She remembered drinking weak, bland coffee at a cafe in Ohio and Judy complaining that her drink was too cold. Maya remembered reminding Judy that she ordered iced coffee, and that it was supposed to be cold. Judy made a face at Maya. The memory ended with the two of them smiling at one another. Maya was hit with a heavy longing for her sister, a familiar face within the welcoming facade of Japanese society, but she stood alone, her cardigan wrapped loose around her body. Emptiness slashed at the walls of her stomach. Maya was drowning in a crippling wave of hunger. Forgetting about her wanting of familiarity, she focused her attention on her starving self and looked for a sign, a landmark, a building, anything that would hint at Maya’s location. She scanned the area, decoding the words one by one, until she saw a road sign depicting directions to a highway. The arrows pointed west and east. She turned westward and crossed the street.

Maya smelled faint, but the distinct scent of fried food. Her mouth watered and her stomach reminded her how hungry she was. Skyscrapers towered over her as she made her way to the restaurant. She looked back at the station, to remember what it looked like, only to notice a 17-story building in place of the train station from where she had exited. The stylistically simple building reminded her of the hospital in downtown Columbus. The sharp angles gave way to a towering glass panel, reflecting the city lights proving only to exacerbate the lack of ornaments on the building. Lost in the mesmerizing minimalism of the building, Maya temporarily forgot her hunger, and felt a longing for her room, the familiar pale white paint of the walls, her pillow, the solitary desk, and a single light hanging from the ceiling. She remembered the dimly-lit stairwell, leading down to the sparsely furnished den, the faint smell of breakfast still lingering in the air, the smudge on the carpet from Judy spilling a bottle of paint, and thought of her sister, who would have reprimanded her about the apathetic attitudes of the Japanese.  Maya could hear her voice in her ear. She turned away, hoping to leave the nostalgia behind, only to find a familiar face stand before her.

“Judy,” Maya exclaimed.

“Are you lost?” Judy asked.

“What are you doing here?”

“Are you lost,” she asked again.

“What? No, I’m not; are you okay?”

“What did I tell you before? Be aware. Are you aware right now?”

“Judy?”

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

Judy’s face replaced the faces of the crowd. The faces asked Maya the same question in unison. She reached for Judy, but she swiped at air. People stared at Maya and some of them pointed at her. She could hear them ask questions amongst themselves in Japanese.

“Mommy, is she an actor?”

“You mean an actress.”

“Yes, actress.”

Maya turned away from the crowd and walked around a corner, away from their view. She could hear them talk about her.

“People even talk shit about you here,” Judy said.

Maya ignored her.

“Do you want to know what they’re saying?”

Maya looked at Judy. Judy was smiling. She felt anxious. “What?”

“They’re wondering if you’re fucking nuts.” Judy laughed.

“Stop it, stop doing this to me,” Maya said.

Judy looked Maya in the eyes. “Stop what? Is this not enjoyable?”

“No, I didn’t do anything. No, go away. Please, stop.” Maya fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands. “I didn’t do anything Judy, why are you doing this to me?”

Judy watched her. “You’re pathetic, I hope you know that.”

“No, I’m not,” Maya shouted. She picked up a rock and threw it at Judy. The rock sailed past Judy’s head and landed harmlessly on concrete.

“No one’s here for you. No one.” Judy said as a silhouette figure approached Maya.

“Hey,” the figure shouted in Japanese. “Are you alright?”

Maya looked up at the silhouette and tried to stand up. A man ran over from across the street.

“Here, let me help you,” he said, lending a hand.

“Thank you,” Maya said.

“Did someone hurt you?” He asked.

She shook her head as she grabbed his hand. He pulled her up and Maya looked down to see her knees bleeding.

“Are you sure?” He asked.

“I am alright,” she said, and let go of his hands, embarrassed.

He asked the same question again, as if Maya would answer him in a different way. She repeated herself.

“Listen, if you want, I can call the police for you,” he said.

“No, it’s fine. Really.”

“Where are you going? Maybe I can escort you so you don’t get attacked.”

Maya didn’t answer and brushed at her knees in an attempt to clear dirt from her nascent wound. Judy whispered in her ear.

“He just wants to sleep with you. Just look at how he’s looking at you. He wants to run his dirty hands over your dirty body. You’re just a whore, a fucking -”

Maya swatted at the air as if to clear away flies from her head. She looked at the man who looked at her knees, now streaked with blood. The man offered her a handkerchief. It was white and with a picture of a duck on one corner, facing east.

“Here,” he said. “Use it, I have another one in my pocket.”

She took it and dabbed at her hands and her knees. She looked at him occasionally as she was cleaning blood off of her legs. He had short hair dyed blonde, glasses, sharp chin, effeminate shoulders, relatively thin body, long arms complimenting his long legs. His mellow eyes met hers and he put his hands in his pockets.

“Oh,” he said. “I’m Hideo.”

“Don’t tell him your name,” Judy whispered into her ear.

Ignoring Judy, she thanked him. “I’m Maya,” she said.

“Maya?” Hideo looked confused. “Where are you from?”

She patted her dress and placed the handkerchief into her bag. She hesitated before answering. “America,” she said, barely above a whisper.

“America? Really, I thought you were Japanese,” he said with a smile. “When did you get here? You speak pretty good Japanese for a foreigner.” He scratched his head.

Maya flinched at his words. Foreigner. “I was born here,” she started. “I was adopted by my new parents in America.” She kicked at a pebble on the ground.

“Have you met your parents – your Japanese parents?”

Maya shook her head. “I’ve never met them. In fact,” she put a finger to her lips. “I’ve never seen a picture of them.”

“What a shame, Japanese parents are the best,” he said, and laughed. “I’m just kidding, I hated being home. My father, he was a pretty mean bastard. Beat me every chance he got.”

Maya’s eyes widened and apologized for his experience.

“You really do sound Japanese,” Hideo joked.

Maya laughed.

“Hey,” he pointed to a restaurant nearby. “Have you been there? I’ve had their tonkatsu and it’s pretty good. You know what a tonkatsu is, don’t you?”

Maya looked at the direction he pointed at and realized he was pointing to Tonki’s. She began laughing, to which Hideo, self-conscious of his opinion backed off.

“It’s not that great, we can go somewhere else if you want,” he said.

“No, no,” she said, wiping her brows. “It’s okay, I was actually heading there. I’ve heard they have the best tonkatsu in town.”

Hideo’s chest swelled at her comment. “They do,” he exclaimed. “They have the best. I go there every chance I get. I know the guys who work there; they’re great.” He saw Maya’s smiling face and realized his overzealous excitement.

“Let’s go,” she said, and they, together, walked to the tonkatsu restaurant. They turned the corner where Maya had first seen Judy. The crowd had dispersed, but Maya felt wary and nervous, fearing that someone might recognize her. Fortunately, no one did.

“I heard you shouting before I turned the corner,” Hideo said. “I got to you as fast as I could.” He turned to look at Maya.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I just wish I had gotten there sooner,” his eyes strayed to her knees. “Then maybe your knees wouldn’t be as cut up.”

Maya smiled.

“You look nice when you smile,” he said.

“What did I tell you,” Judy said. Maya could feel Judy grabbing on to her forearms. “He wants to take you home.”

“Fuck,” Maya said.

“What?” Hideo stopped walking. He looked at her intensely.

Maya too, stopped walking. She stared at the ground and was silent for a moment. “I think I stepped on a puddle,” she lied, raising her foot to pretend-inspect it.

“You should watch where you’re going.”

The two resumed walking and Hideo pointed to puddles and potholes to help Maya avoid stepping in one, not realizing that her shoes were completely dry to begin with.

Hideo began whistling and Maya listened to the tune.

“Do you know this song?” He asked.

Maya shook her head.

Hideo stopped to let a bicycle pass them. The bicycle receded into the maze of pedestrians. He pointed to a building to his right.

“Look over there,” he said.

A low building, two stories high, met Maya’s eyes, and the building, emanating a delicious smell, seemed to welcome her, enticing her body, her mind, and she walked towards the building, leaving Hideo behind.

“Hey, wait up,” he shouted, and ran after her.

Profile: Michael Koh
Read Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6

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