She would often wander through the covered shopping streets when she was bored or lonely. On this particular Sunday evening she had been feeling lazy and decided a stroll would be the perfect remedy. The shopping arcade was always crowded and despite having walked through it dozens of times, she still managed to get lost in the maze of shops and pachinko parlors. Even though it took her a long time, she liked to read all the signs to practice her hiragana and katakana. She had begun to learn a few kanji but soon gave up at the immensity of it all.
Her low point came every week at about this time. It was inevitable, and she had learned to accept it. She had thought that by coming to Japan, to a job that she finally enjoyed, things would be different. But the Sunday blues was a guest that lingered on. Still, the glowing signs and people going about their business gave her some distraction. She would occasionally wander into one of the shops to gaze in wonder at
countless beauty products lined up on the shelves. It was hard to distinguish what was what. As a former shop-aholic, she had set up a rule that she strictly adhered to: only one item per trip, and it must be something she needs. She hated following the rule, especially now that she was out of debt and finally making the wage she deserved, but she had promised herself that she would. She could not face going bankrupt again.
As she watched a child begging his mother to buy him a toy, she pondered what she would treat herself to that night. She was already nearing the exit of the arcade and she still hadn’t found anything eligible. She caught sight of a Lawson’s across the street. Suddenly she had an idea. What she really needed was a good old-fashioned beer to lighten her mood. Did the trick every time.
She picked up a large can of Kirin, and stood outside the convenience store. A group of teenage punks sat in the parking lot, chatting and chain-smoking. She laughed at their gelled hair and tight black pants. They think they look so cool. It was hard to believe that she was just like them not so many years ago. Except that she had been smoking weed. There was a zero tolerance policy in Japan for illegal substances without regard to type. But at least you could drink on the street, she thought with a smile, taking another sip of her beer.
She noticed a white man entering Lawsons. She was always taken by surprise when she saw other expats around. It made her wonder what they were doing there. It was fun for her to try and spot them. Often she would mistake someone for white from the back, because many Japanese people bleach and dye their hair. Although other whites in Japan fascinated her to no end, she never dared approach any of them to strike up a conversation. She was too shy for that. All the same, she liked seeking them out with her eyes. She saw the white man from before come out of the store, and he returned her glance with a friendly smile. To her surprise, he came to stand beside her and pulled a beer out of his bag.
“I guess we had the same idea,” he said raising his can for a toast.
She obliged, but said nothing.
“My name’s Todd.”
“Adele,” he repeated slowly, as if savoring her name.
“So what are you doing in this part of the world?” he asked eventually.
“I’m working in advertising. How about you?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. Teaching English.”
“Is that fun?”
“It has its ups and downs. The kids I have are pretty mellow so that makes things a lot easier. I’ve always wanted to come here though, so I would be happy with any job I found. It’s so exhilarating to finally be here.”
“I guess I can’t really relate to that because I came here for the job. Japan just came as part of the package. In fact, it was a little scary for me to leave all that was familiar and come to this remote place. If anything, Japan was a deterrent. But I would have taken this job no matter what. And I guess maybe it was a good thing to get away. You know, to have a certain anonymity- a chance to start over.” She laughed ruefully, afraid that she might have revealed too much too quickly.
“Peanuts?” he offered with a smile. She politely shook her head. He munched in silence for a while. With a furrowed brow, he resumed thoughtfully, “I know what you mean. I think many of us come here because we feel a mixture of wanting to run away and wanting to start a new and exciting chapter in our lives. It’s-”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to say that I was running away from something. It’s just nice to be away from my parents and really be on my own.”
“I understand that. I just think we’re more similar than you think.”
“At least you would like to think so,” she says with a smirk.
He laughs. “Hey, do you want to go somewhere and get a drink properly?”
“I can’t. I should be heading back- you know, school night and all.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you. Another time maybe.”
They didn’t exchange numbers or arrange to meet. It was a relief for Adele not to worry whether they might meet again, even though she liked him. As she turned back to wave goodbye, the promise of next time hung in the air. She thought of how fate brings strangers together like the ebb and flow of the tide, consistent but without purpose. And she was glad for the mystery of fate that had brought them together.
*Published in JET Journal 2007*