Akemi had to get a special visa extension or waiver- I'm not sure what it was called- for her earlier than expected trip to Japan. She was taking a semester off for it. I accompanied her to the registrar's office to request the paperwork- offering moral support and help with English. I was upset, angry too, that she was leaving, but still wanted to be with her.
The registrar balled her out for interrupting her study plans, reminded her that as a foreign guest she had responsibilities, hinted she was ungrateful. Akemi accepted blame, was contrite, but remained firm in her plans.
She had a wasp waist, I noted anew as she talked at the desk beside me. Her waist was almost impossibly slim yet her hips her rear ample in the tight blue pants she wore that day. How could that registrar with the bushy mustache not notice, just keep talking about administrative business? Of course he must have noticed. He kept talking professionally anyway. That was his job. His mustache needed a trim, I observed, as did his hair. Some grey mixed with the light brown. He looked in his late forties like me, forty-seven, I'd guess. He looked thoroughly fed up with the job, with students, as I sometimes got. But his desk job brought none of the compensating joys teaching did. He looked soured on the world.
I didn't miss the irony, not to say humor, of the fact that I was the capitalized WASP- White Anglo Saxon Protestant- while Akemi was anything but, and physically she resembled the real thing, those sharply defined sections, so sexy.
To secure safe return to this country following her trip, Akemi would have to fill out and submit an application form. That was what she'd come to the office for. She pressed toward the desk, examining the paper the registrar had placed on top. Reading a little before taking it. The bureaucratic language wasn't easy even for people raised on English. Her lips moved faintly in silence, sounding out the words discreetly as best she could- clearly some were unknown to her. I saw she wanted to project confidence she lacked, wished for us not to stare. If we did, she'd be embarrassed.
I looked on, ready to offer assistance but not pressing it on her, showing my respect for her ability. Let her try to handle the challenge on her own. She'd value my regard for her independence. The swell of her hips in those sleek metallic blue pants caught and held my eye. I looked with the longing of someone who knows he is about to lose something. The curve down and out from the minuscule small of her back. Her rump in profile was remarkable, soft, taut. Sleek!
From a certain angle, she looked almost extraterrestrial.
The large-boned and soft bellied bureaucrat criticized her fairly sharply for failing in his view to appreciate her privileges as a student guest in this country, for taking her responsibilities lightly. He seemed overly harsh, excoriating, suggesting in effect with arched (bushy) eyebrows- his bigboned face drawn back and up like a villain in a horror movie- looking down on her, that in requesting a semester off (anyone's right) she'd acted like a whore.
God I wanted Akemi to stay, to get back in bed with her. She was so good.
I told her, "One thing's definite. You don't know when or even if you're coming back. I accept that. Of course. I have no choice. It's your decision. But I insist that before you leave you give me a way to get in touch with you, a phone number so we won't be cut off completely."
I knew as I said this that even if Akemi complied, let me know how to reach her in Japan or before she got there, it would make no difference in the larger scheme of things. I knew I wouldn't initiate contact. She wanted time and if I interrupted before she was ready, If I hounded her while she was away- much as I wanted to; I would long for the sound of her voice, the warmth that came with it, her heat- she would see my behavior, rightly, as selfish, and indicative of a lack of regard for her wishes. My chances of winning her back would decrease accordingly . I pledged not to phone no matter what. She could call me if she wanted- I knew she wouldn't, so the exercise of self-control would be rough. She had things to do for herself. And I had to accept the state of uncertainty. Maybe we'd get back together in just a few months or maybe we never would.
While she was gone I fell into despair for a while, didn't even realize it until one day I noticed how fairly hopeless I felt. I was staring out of the window of my apartment and time passed, I didn't move. Evening approached. The blue around buildings in my field of vision deepened and the room I saw in darkened. It occurred to me gradually as I noted time passing and my lack of motion that I wasn't looking forward to anything in my life except vague notions of future travel. I thought of taking a trip to Europe on my own in a few months. The prospect didn't excite me.
I looked to reading for distraction and couldn't find books that caught my interest. I read one about a Vietnamese woman in France, her experience as a refugee. It was a romance and not very good, the story distorted by French notions of cultural and racial superiority. I looked for the Vietnamese protagonist's character- she appealed to me- but couldn't find it through the filter of all the Frenchness, the chauvinism.
A friend saw me reading the book one day- we'd happened to meet on the train commuting to work in the morning- I told him I didn't like the story much and why and he commented on French "arrogance."
"The Germans may be selfish, but they're not as out and out arrogant as the French."
He went on then about the Pakistanis and the Indians, said they could be compared similarly. Listening to him categorize people in crude terms, I realized that he was an idiot- I hadn't earlier because I hardly knew him; he and I had little to do with each other at work; this was probably the first time we'd talked more than five minutes.
I didn't want to hear his take on Akemi or discuss the relative merits of Japanese and Koreans- Akemi did that herself, as a matter of fact, but never stupidly.
Talking with my colleague actually made me feel better for a few minutes, and I saw how to deal with temporary absence of hope: minute by minute. You find such small pleasures as you can. That was the way to move forward, back toward the light. There was no other.
They say an aspect of despair or depression is anger turned inward. And sometimes it is rightfully. I was at fault for continuing to see my former girlfriend when I was with Akemi- though I no longer felt passionate love for Andrea, just wanted to let her down easy- or maybe I still needed her somehow for a while longer. In any case, Akemi was within her rights to demand time away from me, go think on her own in another place (if she'd chosen somewhere nearer, not the other side of the world, I would have minded less). It made sense she'd choose to stop our incipient romance- we'd only been together something like five weeks then- or at least press the "pause" button hard. And I had no grounds for complaint if she met someone new in Japan or got back with an old boyfriend, though I suffered at just the thought.
Akemi felt a flash of despair. She'd misplaced her phone her first full day in Japan and wondered if she'd lost everything, all her contacts in the U.S. Bad moments passed. She was with friends going home but couldn't concentrate on their conversation, what they were doing, looking for the car they'd parked in a remote place. They hadn't been able to find anywhere nearer. She and they walked for blocks, talking. She tried to listen but mostly heard her own thoughts, which feelings pushed to the forefront.
At home, she saw her nephew was wearing an NBA sweatshirt, black with white insignia. She asked if he was watching NBA games in the U.S. She knew the playoffs were on, the first game begun. The time difference made it available at an odd hour in Japan.
The idea of someone she knew interested in the U.S. made her feel better, not so far away. But her nephew said he didn't know about NBA games, just had the sweatshirt. The U.S. didn't interest him. Of course not. It was another world, and Akemi wasn't there now. The people around her in her hometown couldn't know the feeling she'd developed on the opposite side of the planet. She did feel lost, missed Mitchell.
Akemi asked Kentaro, her nephew, if the NBA playoffs were available on any Japanese television station. Again he professed ignorance, said he thought not. He was distracted, had other things on his mind, of course, was tuned to his life there.
Akemi found the game online, not a broadcast but text and graphics with live updates of the play-by-play, score.
It was a game she found interesting. By luck of timing, she'd happened onto distraction that made her feel good.
She knew that the opening round of the playoffs included a matchup between the best team in the league, the standouts of the year, and opponents excellent in their own right but not on the same level as the presumptive champions- there was no one nearly as good. She found to her surprise that the underdog was leading in the first game. It was the fourth quarter, the point gap large, but some nine minutes remained on the clock. Any other team and the outcome of the match would be a foregone conclusion- they were down nearly thirty points- but for the collection of all-stars on the court a comeback remained possible.
Akemi was an artist and Mitchell an academic. They were very different but had in common a love of sports. She wondered if he was watching now.
Mitchell would have been happy to hear this, to get an email from her telling about missing his country and him. It would have eased his mind, not to say elated him. But she didn't send one. She wasn't open that way. It wasn't her habit to show her feelings, not in words at least, and he just had to wait. Mitchell might never know what she'd been through on her trip, how she'd felt. And he'd have been fine remaining ignorant, respected her wish to limit what she said and how; he'd be fine with anything, just so long as he saw her.
All went well. She didn't even ask about Andrea. She wasn't given to talking things out. She trusted- until she didn't.
When Akemi came back, she suggested we go to Japan together. She knew my dream, she said, of living in another country, and saw no reason I shouldn't live it out. What's more, there was no reason to wait. You don't have to stay at your job here for another semester. I'd been planning to. I have to save, I said. No, you don't, Akemi said. We can go soon. I can get my old job back and you can get one teaching English. A lot of people do.
And I knew she was serious, never doubted that. She was the kind of person if she said she was going to do something she did it, didn't talk about it, did it. I'd learned that from her sudden trip to Japan to go see her trusted friends and family, go think on her own, leaving me on hardly a moments' notice.
I was a little stunned. Leaving in the middle of the semester would inconvenience my boss, to put it mildly. And frankly, much as the idea of moving abroad with Akemi excited me, I realized I'd been slightly looking forward to the new semester. In some ways I liked the job, the familiarity of it maybe, anyway the doing things I knew how to and was at least fairly good at. Change isn't easy, not big ones like Akemi was proposing generously, thinking of my feelings, what I wanted. Of course she herself knew how to take risks, take hold of her life. She'd left her country to come here, hadn't she? Of course she hadn't done so alone. Her friend, roommate (and at least sometimes lover) Hiroko had accompanied her.
We ended up putting the plan off, at my suggestion. You could say I chickened out, for the moment at least.
Talk in her first days back was of her life in Japan. An American guy, colleague of mine (acquaintance not friend) talked of her special skills from her country, compared her dance to martial arts. "She does Kung Fu fighting!" he exclaimed. He meant it as praise. How she stretched. How limber her body was. The things she could do. I couldn't match her flexibility at all. Could I even bend down and touch my toes? No, I couldn't. My age was partly to blame. My hard body also figured in the lack of suppleness.
I talked to students about talents, asked about theirs. "How many of you play a musical instrument?" They looked surprised at the question, the interest I was showing in them as people, my welcome to express themselves. Some said they did play one instrument or another. They welcomed the opportunity to talk about when they were growing up, the things they'd done learned. I pitched in, said, "I didn't take up an instrument, though I sang. Unless you consider the drums, which I played for a while. I recommend them to anyone. They're a great way to work out stress, but difficult. I had to stop."
"Why?" a student asked. They all showed genuine interest in my talk about myself and were happy for a few minutes away from class work.
"Because of the neighbors. Drums are incredibly loud. I had to give them up."
Speaking of skills and the joy of expression, Akemi avidly made love, encouraged me to grip her breasts hard and to not hold back. She took my hand and guided it all the way inside her. Does this really feel good? I found myself wondering. It went so far in. The answer was yes, of course. Fit like a glove. I straightened my fingers and drove gently hard in and out- chock chock chock- as Akemi bounced with me.
Call it Kung Fu or whatever you want, she was an artist, nimble, adept at what she did, expressively fierce in loving as in dance. Wasp-waisted or whatever, like a bee she could deliver the honey, and watch out for her sting.