“I knew you before we met and I don’t even know you yet. All I know is that you’re someone that I’ve always known. All I’ve ever known is how to hold my own, and I don’t even know you, but I still wanna hold you close.”
Mariko hopped off the subway into the large, cosmopolitan streets, her long hair flicking to the other side of the head. She had been in New York for a few weeks at this point, but still had no idea where she was going, or even what she was doing in such a large city. Mariko had loved the thrill of Tokyo as a child, but thrill wears off as times goes by, and in this case even after a couple weeks the initial shock of city life was wearing off into being just a pain.
Of course, it could just be living in a strange new city with strange new people and a strange new language, but still, Mariko found herself lost many a time in New York, both with the physical landscaping of the complex city, and with the thorny nature of her relationship with it.
Her relationships with cities were very complicated, to say the least. There was something her mother used to tell her about called musubi, the tie that binds, no matter what stood between it. Mariko thought that her relationship with both New York and Tokyo was a little bit like that. With Tokyo, she was bound to it through her connections and awe as a child, despite her deep hatred of the family she would visit there. With New York, the ties were always looser and more complicated, but still there. Her attachment to the city was one of wonder and desire to visit, of longing and interest. She had always wanted to see the city and experience life in it, but never could.
Not until now.
As Mariko stepped over the gap between the subway and the concrete, she felt her pinky finger brush up against something strangely warm. It only lasted for a second, but she felt an odd sense of comfort from the sensation. Glancing behind her, Mariko’s dark hair flipped again as she turned around to see what it was, looking up at the face of a young man, around her age. He shared her same jet black hair and brown eyes. As she stared into them, she remembered another thing her mother used to say.
“You have beautiful eyes, Mari. Take care of them. Eyes are the window to the soul. No one can ever look through another’s eyes, so we must take care of our own”
Mariko wasn’t entirely sure where she got that from. It wasn’t a Japanese expression, but she still said it, nonetheless. Of course, she would never be able to see what was going on through the man’s eyes, but it still made her wonder. Had he meant to touch her? What was he going to say now?
The man’s eyes grew wider as he stared into Mariko’s own gaze. Eyes are the window to the soul, she reminded herself, as she began to turn away. This interaction was pointless, just a means to get her distracted on her way to work. An excuse to know someone in a large city where she was lost. Nothing worth anything.
“Wait!” the man called out, reaching to touch her pinky again. “Don’t go!”
Mariko frowned, her head jostling around the people running to and fro. She understood those words. The man was speaking Japanese to her. Surprised, she turned back around, getting a better look at the young man.
“I’m Kenji,” he said, his mouth forming the words slowly, but surely. “Who are you?”
“You speak Japanese?” she replied, still in shock from the man speaking to her at all. Kenji laughed, his own matching jet black hair waving in the wind. “Of course,” he responded. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
Mariko sighed, pulling her hands back into her pockets. “I’m Mariko.”
“Mariko,” Kenji slowly articulated, letting his mind comprehend the name. She wondered what he was thinking. Perhaps the name meant something to him. Perhaps it meant nothing, because he was a stranger she had just met on the subway. The latter felt more likely. “Mariko, do you believe in soulmates?”
Mariko blinked. If anything, that wasn't what she expected for him to say. Soulmates were a concept found all over the world, but they weren’t necessarily something Mariko had a strong belief in. Pondering what to reply, she glanced to her left, at the subway zipping away through the tunnels through the rest of the city. It reminded her almost of when light refracts in straight lines, or when strings fall down diagonally. Each face peaked through the subway, but she still didn’t recognize a single one. That was either the beauty of the city, or Mariko’s curse, she decided. Not being able to notice a soul unless they were staring right at her and spoke her language.
“I believe,” she started, looking at a young girl in the subway tying up a hair ribbon. “I believe in ties that bind.”
Kenji laughed, a smile cracking through his face. “Ah,” he said, his eyes sinking back in. “The string of fate.”
Mariko nodded. “Yeah,” she almost whispered, the words hardly making it out. “The string of fate.”
The string of fate. Ties that bind. Musubi. They were all connected, just like each and every person is. But the string of fate is what connects each person to their other half, no matter the distance or time. The string of fate holds your destiny, without any restrictions. It’s in everything, but it’s most prevalent in people, tying them to their soulmates.
“Would it be crazy,” Kenji continued, “if I told you we were connected through it?”
This time, it was Mariko’s turn to laugh. “Of course it would. You have no proof.”
Kenji smiled, his bright eyes growing wider again. “Well, let’s see,” he started, staring deep into Mariko’s eyes. “You ended up starting a conversation with someone who just happens to speak your language in a crowded city on your way to work.”
Mariko frowned, furrowing her brow. “You knew I was on my way to work?”
“Of course. It is rush hour, after all.”
Tilting her head to the side, Mariko nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”
Kenji smiled again, the crowd moving quicker than before throughout the tight concrete walkway. “Mariko,” he began, “for someone who claims to believe in soulmates, you seem to be quite adamant that we aren’t.”
Mariko’s eyes grew wider as she tried to comprehend what Kenji had just said. “I didn’t say I believed in soulmates,” she said slowly, trying to articulate each and every word. “I said I believed in ties that bind. Musubi. The string of fate. I believe in connections. I never said I believed in soulmates. And I certainly never said that I thought you were mine.”
Kenji sighed, as he looked down to his feet. “Mariko, I’ve been looking for my soulmate all year. You can’t just take this away from me when I’ve found her.”
Mariko laughed. “I said I believed in ties that bind, and now you’re saying that we’re bound. I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry to find your soulmate, but even if it is me, you can’t expect me to believe you.”
Kenji sighed again. “Mariko,” he started, like he had before. Mariko wondered why he always started talking by saying her name. “Mariko, I don’t want to live without her, whoever she is. I’ve found her now, I can’t just let her go.”
Mariko frowned. “How do you know it’s a she?”
“What do you mean?” Kenji tilted his head backwards.
“If you’re just looking for girls, you might have passed your soulmate ages ago.”
This time, it was Kenji’s turn to frown. “I never said I was just looking for girls. But I will admit, I was hoping it would be one.” He stopped here, opening his mouth to speak again. “Not that I have a problem with men, I just...like girls...more.”
Mariko laughed, another person pushing against her as they tried to make their way to work. “Musubi doesn’t work like that, Kenji. You don’t get to search for your soulmate. They come to you.”
“You didn't have to turn around when our hands touched, but you did.” Kenji stopped her to look down at his feet again, despite the people itching away from the subway and towards the stairs leading up to the even busier streets of New York. “I don’t know. I feel like that’s chance enough.”
A strong gust of wind came down through the subway entrance, blowing Mariko’s hair back. She smiled, thinking about her mother again and her firm belief in chance. Even if she didn’t like the family she would visit in Tokyo, she still liked the city, just like she still continued this conversation, no matter how strange she felt it was. Maybe Mariko just wanted a bit of familiarity from Kenji, just to hear her first language again and listen to people talk about philosophies she grew up with, even if her beliefs in them were wavering. Kenji was smiling, probably thinking that he'd stumped her.
“Kenji,” she began, a smile coming across her face. “The year is almost up. I wish you luck in your search. But I have a job to get to, and as much as I enjoyed this conversation, I can’t keep waiting.”
Kenji nodded. “If you love someone, you have to let them go, I guess.”
“Exactly.” Mariko held out her hand to shake his before making her way up the stairway. “Goodbye, Kenji. Just remember, she’ll find you, you won’t find her, alright?”
Kenji nodded, but Mariko still thought he was unconvinced. She took a few steps forward on the stairs, the crowd moving her along. The wind was blowing strong, pulling her backwards.
Perhaps it was a sign, though Mariko doubted it. Musubi isn’t something dictated by signs, it’s something that just happens. Sighing, she turned back cautiously, wondering what Kenji was thinking. Perhaps she had just made a mistake and had given up her soulmate, as unlikely as it felt.
But alas, Kenji was gone, lost in the crowd of the New York subway.