Originally published in Eastlit, October 2014
Everyone is rushing, moving, fidgeting one foot to the other, texting, smoking. Yukihiro watches a homeless man. He’s doing the tea ceremony from start to end with a cup of Starbucks coffee. Three times he turns the cup. The slit opening stops precisely facing him. Businessmen run from platform to platform, tourists circle signs and maps. The old man doesn’t notice, the calm centre of the station, performing the ritual with the intensity of a monk.
The sky is dramatic, a typhoon approaching. Umbrellas are shaken and puddles form. Trains rumble off, cars shoosh through green lights. Everyone is moving.
Yukihiro has arranged to meet Stefanie at 5pm. She is in Japan and wants to see him on her way from Tokyo to Kyoto. That was all her email said.
He glances at his watch. Sips his coffee.
The day has darkened, though it’s still early. The rain is heavier, drilling into umbrellas. Electronic noise as doors close. A group of high-school girls screech. He pulls out his phone. No calls. He left work early. For months he’s been thinking of leaving. He’s been thinking about going to Montreal.
He takes the crumpled polaroid from his pocket. Stefanie and him. Montreal 2007.
He looks at his phone again. He wants to look busy. He hates standing against the wall. He feels like he’s been stood up. She’d phone if there were a problem. 17.37. He checks the weather forecast just for something to do. It says rainy, a typhoon expected. He knew this. A few seconds more pass. The drains are blocking. Sip coffee.
He thinks about taking his tie off, at least loosening it. He looks at the photo again. Wonders how he looks now. Does he look like a man? Or does he still retain the rubble of adolescence? He doesn’t feel like a man. All the men his age are so confident, so assured. They get promotions. They have new cars. He sits in front of a computer and presses one of five keys: if A happens push B; if C happens push D; if E happens push cntrl/alt/dlt; if Y happens call a supervisor and if Z happens you’re fired. He’s been thinking a lot about leaving.
The homeless man finishes his coffee. Salary men on their way home from work. Girls going from shops to karaoke bars. Young guys revving by in huge cars. Foreigners talking loudly about their plans for the night.
Robotic trills. A rush of air. The shinkansen glides to an exact stop. He straightens his back. Pushes his face into happiness. She stands out, exotic. Yellow hair amongst all the black, a head taller. Fumbles with her tickets, bleep and she’s through. She looks around for him. He tries to make himself stand out, make himself seen. He takes a step forward. Another suit, another black hair detaches himself from the flat mass Yukihiro had ignored. This other suit has followed her through the gate pulling two suitcases. He stops beside Stefanie. She hands him her bag. She takes out her phone, dials. Yukihiro drops the photo in the bin, his coffee on top, leaking.