Traveling down the road of memories.
Hello, Shinjuku station. It’s been a long time. Maybe, it’s because business has been dead for ten years; things don’t seem so different. As before, the colors are gray while the motions are crowd sway. At the end of the platform, Jake shuffles as slow as crumbling lava, for the passengers at the top of the stairs create a wall of polyester. Finally, he gets to the bottom of the stairs. He turns right. A few steps later, he’s repeating the maneuver and climbing the flight of stairs up to the Yamanote, the great circle track of Tokyo. His destination, the next stop, is Shin-Okubo.
Going up the stairs, he hears a train rumbling to a stop. Aware it’s going in his direction, he hurries up to avoid getting trapped on the stairs by the crowd getting off. He makes it, and steps aboard through the nearest door. The air conditioning is a welcome relief from the muggy air of a summer afternoon. He doesn’t bother to look for a seat, instead he stands at the door, and gazes out at the familiar city with a blank stare.
In three minutes the train rushes into Shin-Okubo, and squeals to a stop. The doors part, and his legs pull him out. He pauses long enough for the doors to close and the green cars of the Yamanote to move on. One part of him would rather go back to Shinjuku, but at the moment, there is no train on the other side. His legs pull him once again, and he goes down the stairs for the ticket gate.
At the bottom of the stairs, he sees the man at the gate hasn’t yet been replaced by a machine as they have at the larger stations. Perhaps, that’s the champagne that launches an old memory.
It was a rainy day, long summers ago, his first visit to this station, he was wearing bell-bottom jeans and a red aloha shirt. On the sidewalk, under the overhead tracks, just outside the exit, she was waiting for him with an oiled red paper umbrella. He’d only seen that kind of umbrella in samurai dramas, yet here was a teenage girl in a t-shirt, a denim miniskirt, and high platform sandals holding one. The contrast was delightful. She opened the umbrella, handed it to him, and hugged his arm as they forsook the shelter. They leaned into each other. He felt her skin so firm and warm. She looked into his eyes, smiled, then led him into the rain.
Exactly how long ago was that? Jake counts the years ten, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. It was twenty-two years ago. Now, he’s back on a business trip.
Jake looks down to hide his face, and closes his watery eyes. He swears he can clearly hear the sound of rain spattering on oiled paper, yet he can’t recall a single word they spoke. He smiles, files away the memory, and follows the soul of summers past. His step is bouncy though it follows the wispy trail of a frail memory. The stores are different, the wares and signs have changed, though the architecture is the same. The aroma from the restaurants is no longer ramen soup, but Korean barbecue. He’s looking for a particular street, worrying a little that he won’t recognize it, but he does and turns.
Small apartment buildings, their doors facing the street, and love hotels with romantic names on vertical signs, line the gray asphalt lane, just wide enough for one car. Everything about this street is rectangular except for the trees, their leaves providing shelter for the screaming cicadas. There’s the love hotel with two open gates, one of which she dragged him through to get him out of the way of an approaching car. That wasn’t how the driver and his two female companions in the rear seat saw it that day, for they laughed as they followed the scene out the back window.
The street isn’t long, maybe two hundred meters, before it ends at a T. Second from the corner should stand the familiar two story building. A few steps to the left and it comes into view. In good repair, the only thing that has changed is the perimeter wall; a rusty barbed wire has been added on top. He thinks it’s because evil has become more brazen. Even the door of the apartment nearest to the street matches his memories. The rooms behind that door come back to him; the memories beckon him to pull the door open to look inside that apartment, the one they spent the first year of three together.
Eighteen she was and four years younger than he. She had colored her life with love and adventure while his canvas was empty shapes with tiny numbers. So, he had followed her here from across the sea, hoping with her help he could put color into the emptiness of his life.
She never told him the real reason she left. Now, he believes fate cleaved them apart. But then, he had blamed himself for lacking something that could have kept her.
In his mind a curvaceous bottle is flipped over. Memories pour through like sand.
His Japanese friend rushed into the shop from his table of puka shell necklaces outside on Kalakaua Avenue. Blowing kisses into the air, he shouted, “Jake! You lucky guy. You got a date with a wow-wee chick.”
Heads turned and added chuckles. Jake plunked the ice cream scooper into its water container. “What are you talking about, Masa?”
“She say she wants you. You gotta meet her tonight.”
Jake waited for the catcalls to die down. “Whaddya mean... I gotta?”
“Please, I promised her. She’s gonna buy three necklaces.”
Ah, Jake thought, beginning to get the picture. Masa didn’t need to worry. Jake was hooked, but he wasn’t letting Masa reel him in so easily. “I don’t know. It sounds weird. Besides, I’m broke and I haven't got any wheels.”
“Don’t worry. She’s rich. She pay for you, man! We use my car. I drive you both anywhere.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s gone. But, she gave me her room number at the P.K. We can go there tomorrow morning.”
Jake stopped the charade. “She better not be ugly.”
Masa assured him, “No way, Jose,” and went back to his table.
Jake turned back to the ice cream counter, and smiles greeted him from the faces of the waiting customers.
The next morning his name, shouted in a cheerful voice, woke Jake. Rolling off the couch, he stepped out into the second floor lanai.
Masa stood beside his beat up Datsun Sunny. His smile in a deeply tanned face was dazzling. He laughed and called, “Come on. Let’s go.”
His enthusiasm sparked one in Jake, and soon they were on their way to the Princess Kaiulani. Their drive there, so early on Saturday, took little time. They turned off the street and drove to the back of the hotel. That’s when Jake saw her.
She was short with shoulder length wavy black hair. Wearing tight jeans and a silk t-shirt, her eyes were hidden behind big round sunglasses that conjured an image of a dragon fly. With large wooden clogs, she gingerly stepped down to the pavement. She should have been nervous getting into a car with two strangers in a foreign country, but she got into the back seat with the coolness of a taxi customer.
Masa introduced us with joy in his voice, “Jake, this is Mayumi.”
Mayumi gave the traditional Japanese introduction, “May this be the beginning, Jake. Please, take me well.”
Jake wasn’t fluent, but the answer was a simply routine, “It is I who must ask for your acceptance.”
As Masa put the car into first gear, he shouted, “Hanauma Bay. Here we come.” Jake smiled thinking Masa must have gotten that from the movies.
As they embarked on their drive, Masa told Mayumi that Hanauma Bay was inside the crater of an extinct volcano whose steep walls hindered cooling winds from entering. He warned it would be hot inside. He said that, doubtless, because of its natural beauty, engineers had decided to build the road to the top of the hill instead of around it.
An hour later, cresting that hill, they drove through the park filled with leafy trees, stopped in the shade, and got out. They walked to the edge of the cliff as the breeze ruffled the leaves and enveloped them with the smell of the sea. Jake glanced sideways for Mayumi’s reaction. She sang one long syllable of awe. Straight down was a sapphire lagoon with lines of waves entering the broken wall of a crater before creaming over a reef. It could leave anyone feeling dizzy and small.
They watched their step going down the zigzagging stairs of volcanic rock; Mayumi, one step above Jake, held on to Jake’s hand while Masa brought up the rear. Jake sensed the hill talking to him, telling him to let it be. There was the sense of merging with something huge. It made his chest feel too tight. What happened next was inevitable. At the bottom, they kicked off their sandals, and sank their feet into white sand, as Jake’s heart barrel-rolled above the clouds.
The heat rising off the sand embraced him like a long lost friend. Almost at the water’s edge, just before the beach slanted down, he placed the thin straw mats on the last feet of dry sand. Here, waves murmured to him in an ancient tongue. He sat and watched as Mayumi rose and greeted the cooling water with her feet. Shifting his gaze to the volcanic walls of the bay surrounding them, he felt cupped in protective hands.
Mayumi returned and sat beside him. “It’s a number one place. Thank you.”
Jake asked, “Are you wearing a swim suit under your clothes?” She nodded still looking out to sea. Jake cajoled, “Come on. Let’s go in.”
Mayumi took off her sunglasses. Jake got a good look at her eyes for the first time. She didn’t have any make-up on which made her beautiful in an childlike way. Mayumi lifted her blouse over her head, unbuttoned her jeans, and lowered the zipper. Leaning back, she lifted her hips and jerked the jeans off. She stood and offered her hand.
The last grain of sand goes through the sand clock. Jake becomes aware of the present.
The air is stifling. Cicadas are screaming. The shirt is white with a cheap tie. The pants are black and creased. The face is pale and lined. Jake walks past the building with a smile, thinking he’s glad he came here. Time has kept the good memories and smothered the pain. He will always love her, but not in the way of long ago. A young couple come out the door and brush past as if he weren’t there. Jake blinks, then stares, for he recognizes them. Jake looks down at his hands and through them at the black asphalt road.