1

I got Nozomi’s phone number off of a bulletin board at the International Center in downtown Fukuoka a few weeks earlier. I’d been visiting the center on a weekly basis during the past several months looking for my next English teaching gig and a new place to hang my hat. Thanks, or no thanks, to the International Center I’m now Abazure’s newest kept boy and will be moving next week to a small coastal village in the western suburbs of Fukuoka City where I’ll be sharing a condominium with three other Americans.

The bulletin board at the International Center’s is divided into several categories: Language Instructors Wanted; Language Students Wanted; Items for Sale; Events; and Friends Wanted. Having found a job and a place to live, it’s the last of these, which I have started foraging through, hungrily searching for a woman to help forget.

Many of them are like me, seemingly starving for someone to love them. Sadly, few, precious few, of the women I’ve actually gone to the trouble of meeting have been able to distract me from the very memories I’m trying to forget.

Day in and day out, I am constantly reminded of my loss. My apartment, where Mie and I once made love, is now a cold mausoleum of sorts, where the remains of dreams are interned. Ghosts of the past occupy every inch of the place and the only thing that alleviates the heartache is the subtle palliative I’ve found in words written and spoken by women and the possible intimacy of a stranger as lonely as me.

2

On my way home from work, I call Nozomi from a public phone outside a small mom-and-pop rice shop. It’s only my second time to call her. Three days earlier when I called the first time, we had such a good conversation that she asked me to call her back later in the week so that we could arrange a day to meet.

Inside the telephone booth I take Nozomi’s number out of my pocket and place it on top of the green phone. I also remove a phone card I’ve been holding onto for months from my wallet.

Whenever I look at the phone card, a tsunami hits me: a wall of nostalgia rushing towards me and sweeping me hard off my feet, hurling me towards the most vivid memories–Mie in my arms, Mie in my bed, and Mie in my life. Try as I might to grab onto one of theses images from the past, and hold it against my chest as if they were real, I am always drawn away by the force of receding waters into a cold, black sea of loneliness, the images torn from my hands. Only the hope that I might one day embrace Mie again or find someone else I can hold on to is all that keeps me from drowning.

I examine the unused metallic phone card and trace my finger over the logo Mie created–Lorelei with the wings of a butterfly and the name, Lady Luck. It is the last one of a stack she had given me shortly after we first met, and I’ve been holding onto it like the assiduous custodian of a religious relic.

I slip the card into the slot and Lady Luck rests a moment like the host on a communicant’s tongue before being consumed with an electronic chime, Amen.

I dial Nozomi’s number and as the phone starts to ring, my throat grows dry.

After our first call, after running down the hill to my apartment and the epiphany, I sat on my sofa. For the first time in the months after Mie left me, the merciless ghosts of the past had been quieted. Something in Nozomi’s voice and in her words assured me of what my friends had been trying to tell me: that there were other women out there, better women even, who would help lay the past to rest. There would be other women who would find the smile hidden deep within me and coax it to the surface, other women who would make me laugh, other women who would make me savor the joy each day presented rather than merely survive as I had been doing until the night when the promise of deep, dreamless sleep awaited me.

The phone rings again. It’s been such an awful day and I’ve felt like crap for most of it that the only thing keeping me going is the one-act play I’ve been performing all day in my head.

The curtains open and the protagonist is standing at a phone booth dialing a woman’s number. The phone rings, the woman answers and the two are engaged in conversation that has him dropping all his change into the coin slot. Before he runs out of money, though, the woman invites him out for dinner and drinks the coming weekend. The man smiles, the curtain closes.

3

The phone rings again. I consider asking Nozomi out for drinks and karaoke. I’ve been a crowd-pleaser all year with syrupy renditions of ballads from the sixties and seventies. I have even mastered several Japanese pop hits. I couldn’t go wrong with karaoke, especially now that karaoke boxes, small private rooms with settee, table, and lights that dimmed are all the rage. No, she wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to belt out a few songs for an hour or two. Yeah, I’ll ask her out for drinks and karaoke.

The phone rings again and Nozomi answers.

“Nozomi, hi. It’s me, Peador. Genki?” I ask.

She answers that she’s fine. When I inquire about her day, she sighs and says something I can’t catch then falls silent.

It is an altogether different person I’m talking with today and I’m tempted to ask if something’s wrong, but worry doing so will only have her retreating further. So, I try to be genki and akarui as a friend advised because Japanese women love the cheerful, spirited type. They won’t give you the time of day if you’re kurai, she said, that is if you’re dark and brooding. I tell her about the great job I got in the morning, that I’ll be moving to Fukuoka in a few weeks, but it’s not getting me anywhere. The levity I try to force feed on to what is for all intents and purposes a one-sided conversation leaves me feeling like an idiot.

Then, Nozomi interrupts me.

“Peador,” she says, “have you got a girlfriend?”

I tell her I don’t.

“Last night an American called me.”

All the kindness that made her voice so sweet to the ear, made me want to crawl into its warmth and curl up into a ball is gone. She’d rather hang up than go to the trouble of telling me.

“Go on.”

“He asked me if I’d ever had sex with an American.”

“He didn’t!”

“He did!”

“Just like that?”

“Yes.”

“Unbelievable,” I say.

“I told him I hadn’t and wasn’t interested in doing so, then hung up.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I reply with a sincerity I needn’t manufacture. “There are a lot of creeps out there, Nozomi. You really must be careful.”

Who am I to talk, though? Wasn’t my intention all along the same as this American’s: to get laid? Did I really occupy a higher moral position merely because I possessed something resembling patience and tact?

“You know, I have a boyfriend, a Japanese boyfriend,” Nozomi says. Her tone accuses me of assuming things I haven’t. “I’m not some Yellow Cab who’ll sleep with any foreigner just because he called me up.”

I’m at a loss for words. Not that it matters, though, because before I can reply, she says, “Sayonara” and hangs up. The Lady Luck card pops out and the phone starts beeping.

Dumbfounded, I stare at my reflection in the glass before me for a minute before takinge the telephone card and stepping out of the booth. As I head down the hill and back to my dismal little apartment, my head is as clouded as ever.


© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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