She sighed in frustration as she heard the bells ringing and the barricades slowly coming down. She crossed these tracks on her way home at the same time every day, yet her timing recently had been markedly off. She considered ducking underneath the bar, but a child and his mother were waiting patiently beside her. She reminded herself that she should set a good example for the child. She had heard that in Japan, people always followed the rules. Her employers had warned her on her first day not to J-walk, as others would follow her, automatically assuming that the signal had turned green. She had nodded and smiled pleasantly at the time, though she knew this dire warning would not stick with her for long. She figured that she was unmistakably foreign and no doubt people would reconsider before following her. She had so far been right.
At last, closing the door to her tiny apartment, she flopped dramatically onto the futon. This made her wince. She had forgotten yet again, how little cushion this thin futon provided from the hardwood floor beneath. She thought wistfully of the thick, king-sized mattress back home that was awaiting her return. After work, she was usually too exhausted to do anything more active than stare numbly at the TV. She had gained considerable weight since she had first arrived in Japan. The junk food here was just too oishii to give up. Besides, American junk food was greasy and heavy. This delicate and refreshing junk food felt healthy in comparison. As she flicked through the channels, her mind wandered to thoughts of her old life. She longed for one of Steve’s soothing shoulder massages. She missed him, but she knew that she was meant to be here. The timing was just not right. She had been eager to start her new life but he was ready to settle down. He had asked her not to go, and she could not bring herself to forgive him for asking that of her. When it came to relationships, she had never been good with getting her timing right.
Even though it was a shame things with Steve did not work out, she was not worried about finding someone else. She had been warned that Japanese men were averse to western women and that the western men were busy being adored by beautiful teenage Japanese girls, but she was confident that she would be one of the lucky ones. She was blond and leggy after all, and that had always enabled her get whatever and whomever she wanted.
When she first arrived in Japan, she didn’t like the look of Japanese men. They struck her as maddeningly paradoxical: misogynistic and yet oddly effeminate. She did not care for the things she saw; the drinking, smoking, and infidelity ad infinitum. In her mind, they demanded respect where it had not been earned.
A while back, after a hard night out drinking with colleagues, her married boss helped her flag down a taxi, but before she could close the door, he had slid in beside her. She cried out in shock but this only served to excite him further as his greedy hands began sliding up her nylon covered thighs. His look of bewilderment as she pushed him angrily away made her rage burn in her chest. She knew by then that the alcohol was just an excuse for his boldness, that he had licence to act with impunity as all was expected to be forgotten the next day. In Japan, such behaviour was acceptable as long as it was under the guise of having drunk too much. As a white woman surrounded by ambitious and arrogant Japanese men, she was the lowest on the respect totem pole. After that incident, her benign dislike for Japanese men had quickly developed into disgust and hatred.
That was, until she met Ohashi sensei. Her friend Yuhiko’s son had a baseball game one blazingly hot Sunday afternoon, and Samantha was cursing herself for agreeing to come along. She had so much more work to finish at the office but she knew she needed a break. This was certainly better than hiding out in her apartment downing truckloads of junk food.
She tried to make small talk with Yuhiko, who nodded politely. Even though she was notoriously unobservant, Samantha could tell that her friend was engrossed in the game. An adolescent boy is always the apple of his dear mother’s eye. Samantha got so bored she almost left the game several times but she suppressed the urge, out of respect for Yuhiko. She brought her hands up to shield her eyes and was about to ask where the bathroom was, when she saw him. He stopped her dead in her tracks. She stared at his delicate hands waving about in the air as he was yelled out coaching advice to his team. They were losing on their home turf but there was still time to turn things around, he encouraged them. At that moment his eyes caught hers and they were both riveted.
For the rest of the game, she grilled Yuhiko on her son’s baseball coach, but she didn’t know much, other than that he was nice, single, and an English teacher at the school. Good prospects. She could do the legwork from here on out. At the end of the game, she excused herself for the ladies room, telling Yuhiko she would rejoin her at the family van. She gave him a smouldering stare and slipped him her business card. He looked down shyly, but accepted the proffered item with both hands and bowed. As he rose, their gazes met again and this time he offered a hesitating grin. Not a particularly auspicious start, she noted with a frown, but she was sure she saw a fire within him that needed kindling. Oh yes, she was willing to bet that given the right trainer, he would be an animal in bed.
Ohashi sensei insisted that they speak English to each other and she insisted on Japanese. In the end they reached a friendly compromise, throwing words around in each language, here and there. He turned out to be everything her male colleagues were not. He was not only sexy, but caring and thoughtful. He satisfied her in every way. His behaviour greatly surprised her, given her impression of his peers. To her, he stood out from any man she had ever been with, for he was somehow able to be animalistic without being an animal.
He never told her that he loved her and neither was she naïve enough to believe that anything would come of their relationship. They both knew that his family would never let him cross this divide and that she cared for him too much to let him. Perhaps because their relationship was illicit and had an expiry date, it became one of the most passionate and unforgettable in her life.
He was very gentle with her in the beginning. There was no initially awkward groping. He would stroke her lovingly, inch by inch. Though they knew their love would be short lived, time was never a factor in their lovemaking. Sometimes it was slow, and sometimes it was frenzied, but it was always full of passion and respect. He was everything she craved in the least expected way.
One night they were feeding each other sashimi at his house when it started raining heavily. She gave him a mysterious wink and ran outside. She stood there waving silently at him, getting drenched. She looked to him so beautiful, as the rain clung to her eyelashes, sparkling in the dark. Her nipples were hard and he could see the outline of her breasts. She was wearing nothing but his faded oversized t-shirt.
She gave him a devilish smile as if to say “What are you waiting for?” He felt his member growing. She closed her eyes and bit her lip, almost drawing blood, and began touching herself. He stood on the threshold uncertainly, wanting to tell her to come inside but his tongue stuck in his throat. He was afraid that the neighbours were still awake but he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She lay down on the grass and parted her legs, moaning for him. For a moment he couldn’t breathe, and he almost came from the force of his desire for her. There was a loud rumbling in the sky. Lightning flashed, illuminating her pearly skin. He knew then what he had to do and hesitated no longer. In two quick strides he crossed the divide and took her as his own.
*Published in Ganbatte Times, Kyoto 2007*