‘…and being able to find someone as you even in this hell of a workplace, I-I think that was nothing less than fate. So Sayuri-san, will you, well, go out with me?’.
Man, for someone whose work involved speaking with an awful lot of people each day – much more than an average person would have liked – Yudai sure was practicing an unusual amount for this after-work meet-up, that too with someone who wasn’t even a client! After all, clients are all that his life should, no, must, revolve around, right? No matter the lengths he goes to each day, to get the paperwork organized, manually making sure that exactly 2.5 centimeters of margin was left on each page, happily agreeing to do at least 2 hours overtime each day without the appropriate compensation, and yet, one tiny error – perhaps just as simple as the damn fountain pen deciding not to work properly just as the paper was going to be blessed with the client’s signature – and there! So unprofessional, isn’t he? ‘I apologize for the inconvenience, he is but, a mere novice’ says his boss, who, ironically, should have been celebrating the ten-year anniversary of handing Yudai that job contract. Yes, the same contract that had been earned through blood, sweat and tears, and had promised so many new smiles. And it did bring smiles, but only towards the latter half of his career when he met Sayuri. Perhaps the paperwork didn’t seem as tedious now, neither was loneliness his only companion during the long, overnight shifts. And today, maybe for the first time, Yudai was looking forward to the overtime, where he would finally be able to give this companionship with Sayuri a more ‘concrete’ name.
‘I’m sorry, Yudai-san. I’m glad you feel that way about me, but I’m afraid that I don’t consider myself ready’.
‘Not-not at all, Sayuri-san, I completely understand. I’m sorry if I made everything a bit awkward.’ said Yudai, trying his best to not let his expression betray him, and show the reflection of his heart that had totally, absolutely been ready for this rejection, right? He got into his car that night, around 10 pm, ready to drive off through the streets of Sapporo engulfed in the chilly early April air. The sweet smell of the Sakura flower bouquet that he had planned on giving Sayuri wafted through his slightly red and sniffling nose, as he made his way towards the Izakaya – literally, a stay-drink-place which is especially popular among office workers. Before making his way inside the Izakaya, Yudai casually placed the bouquet at the side of the street, neither having the courage to carry it back to his already cramped and lonely rented apartment, nor having the heart to simply throw it away in the dumpster.
For perhaps the two decades of her life that she had been writing – starting off as a hobby and moving on to make it a side hustle of sorts – the meaning that writing held in Aika’s life had remained constant: It had always been a way of seeking refuge. ‘It’s as if I never run out of content!’ she often jokingly says, referring to how full of bittersweet experiences her life has always been for her to draw inspiration for her work.
Her first work, ‘The Woman with 10 Faces’ was published as a children’s manga in 1994, and told the story of a woman who could magically transform into 10 forms and work as 10 different people in entirely different professions. This of course, led to the woman often finding herself in a fair share of sticky situations and hilarity ensued as she encountered people who had worked with more than one of her personalities. The reality, however, was far less humorous. The ‘real’ woman with 10 faces – Aika’s mother – had everything the story included – worked multiple professions, was forced to have aliases due to the nature of the work (as she would half-jokingly say, “some things should be left where they belong!” referring to her different identity at each workplace), often found herself in sticky situations with employers and authorities – only this time, magic could not help her.
Her second book, titled ‘Deep Down’, chronicled what Aika would describe as perhaps the closest she would ever come to experiencing magic. It was about a childhood love. Perhaps, one may even argue that the novel did not do full justice to capturing the depth and raw naivety of the actual experiences. As one line from the book goes, ‘If I were, till then, existing in an undisturbed slumber somewhere deep down in the ocean, obliviously serene amidst the surrounding chaos, he was like the rays of the sun at dawn, beckoning me to come to the surface after having somehow found its way through the deep, enclosed walls of the ocean.’ Don’t get it wrong though, the magic hadn’t yet taken place. The magic was evident only towards dusk on this beautiful day when the memories of this encounter were forever lost from his heart. Poof! Simply vanished. Retrograde amnesia. That’s what those white coat wizards had called this magic that had sent the memories of the boy with the honey brown eyes into the deepest, pitch-black part of the ocean where even the brightest ray of their love could not reach.
Aika’s most recent work titled ‘Untouched’ was still underway – and had been so for quite some time now. As she sat at a corner table under the flickering lights of the Izakaya, incidents from the past few days, especially today, fleeted through her mind, each pulling the corners of her mouth ever-so-slightly in a wry smile. They had finally given her the inspiration for the long due closing chapter of her novel. She continued writing without a pause, occasionally washing all the tiredness away with a few sips of the good-old sake down the throat. Her train of thought was interrupted only when the sweet ringing of the door chimes signaled the arrival of another customer.
‘Welcome, Yudai-kun! I had been awaiting your arrival!’ said the old owner, rather cheerfully. But before Yudai could reply with the same enthusiasm of the owner that he had always found quite endearing, his feet were stopped in their tracks as his honey brown eyes met another pair shining underneath the set of flickering lights.
‘S-Sayuri-san, I didn’t expect to see you here…’
After spending just a slightly awkward, unexpected hour in the company of someone who existed both in her memories and in her present life (albeit as two different people), it was time for her to get going. Just as she got up, a book from her briefcase fell onto the floor, which was promptly picked up by Yudai.
‘You read Aika-san’s work too, Sayuri-san?’ he inquired. In response, Sayuri just gave a quick smile, not wanting her secret of having a pen name to be out just yet. Making her quick exit from the Izakaya, she was stopped only briefly in her tracks by the sight of the Sakura flower bouquet, laying quietly at the corner of the payment. Her fingers twitched to pick it up, but they were instead called to move towards her chest in an attempt to soothe the slight ache in her heart. Some things should indeed be left where they belong. Untouched.