I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.
The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.
After I saw the outside of the buildings, I met a real estate agent who showed me the available room in each apartment. For a room in the apartment which was under refurbishment, she offered a 20 percent discount because the carpet and the wallpaper in the room was damaged. As the room had been my first choice anyway before I came here and I have a weakness for a discount, my mind was almost set on that place. The thing was, as I wrote here once, the available rooms of that building were concentrated on the fourth floor in the east side and this room was among them. Even after I saw the building and the room with my own eyes, I couldn’t find out what was wrong with the fourth floor. I checked in a hotel and went to have dinner at a restaurant in the hotel as the stay included dinner. Since it was a budget travel package, I didn’t expect the food at all. But the dinner was probably the most gorgeous feast I had ever had. It included all-you-can-eat crabs, tempura, steak and shrimps. Ironically, fatigue and tension for decision making spoiled my appetite and I could eat only little. At night, I couldn’t sleep either from a sense of claustrophobia because the mountains and the woods closed down the area. I asked myself if I could really move in this area, let alone on the enigmatic fourth floor…
I took a trip to the Western region of Japan with my partner. To travel there is an about-once-a-year event for me because the region is where my parents live and one of my favorite destinations to spend a short vacation. I had made a precise plan for this trip a few months in advance. The plan was taking a bullet train and then a plane to get there, hanging around the outlet mall, meeting my high school teacher and visiting my parents’ home.
I saw rain falling quite heavily out of my window on the morning of departure although the weather forecast had been for rain only in the afternoon. Thanks to the inaccurate weather forecast, I would have to walk in the rain to the nearest local train station for ten minutes with an umbrella added to my heavy bags. When we left and got down to the entrance of our apartment building though, the rain just stopped. My partner exclaimed excessively, “How lucky we are! It stopped raining just when we’re stepping outside! How about that!”
We were transferring from the local train to the bullet train at the station. We didn’t have our seats reserved on a bullet train as it cost less. Before getting aboard, we were going to drop by a kiosk to get breakfast. But we looked in an information board for coming trains instead of entering into a kiosk directly. A station attendant happened to pass by, and told us the platform number where the next train would come although we didn’t ask. He also added that if we moved now, we would catch it in time. Instead of breakfast, we took an escalator to the platform while hearing the train coming in. Just when we got to the platform, the train door opened before us. Two business men got off, and two of us got on. Although the train had been full, only two seats that those business men had taken side by side were empty. We sat together without a reservation. My partner was enraptured and said, “Got aboard just in time, only two seats together were empty! How lucky we are!”
After arriving at the airport, we flew to Kansai Airport by a low cost carrier. The flight was completely packed since the fare was incredibly low. I was irritated for the whole flight because a group of a kid, a mother and her friend was sitting right behind me and extremely noisy. The kid was shouting all the way. My patience was about to reach the limit in the end of a mere 90-minute flight. When the plane descended and prepared for landing, it was lapped by dark clouds. Large drops of rain drummed on the windows. The captain announced the weather at the airport would be heavy rain. Probably because it was a low cost carrier plane, it wasn’t connected to a ramp but parked far from the terminal building. After landing, we needed to use the stairs to go down to the ground and walk outside to the building. While I was going down the stairs, I noticed the heavy rain had just stopped. My partner said exultantly, “Look at the sodden tarmac! It must have been raining hard until minutes ago! How lucky we are!”
I finally dared to question him, “If we are that lucky, how come we sat in front of the only noisy child on the plane?” He answered convincingly, “It’s a piece of advice that we shouldn’t take any longer flight than this on a low cost carrier.” He apparently implicated our tentative plan to fly to North America by a low cost carrier and sounded as if we were lucky to find the right indication for the plan.
We took a train to the nearest station from a hotel we had booked. The hotel was a 7-to-8 minute walk from the station. On our way, drops of rain started falling. It rained in earnest a few feet away from the hotel and we rushed forth to the entrance. After we settled in a hotel room, I suggested that we should give up our plan to go to the outlet mall. I thought that it wouldn’t rain again like this if the plan to go there was right. We changed our plan and took the hotel’s spa instead.
Since the hotel was the economy one, I didn’t expect too much of the hotel bath. But as it turned out, it was the best communal bath I’d ever taken. It was small but clean and stylish, and the total atmosphere was superb with the modern lighting and jazzy background music. And I was the only guest there. I enjoyed it immensely and relaxed totally. It unexpectedly became a true vacation experience. Luck seemed to be on my side on this trip so far. I couldn’t tell any more who or what decides our itinerary…
I had a nightmare last night that a room flooded and I drowned in the cold water. The sense of water was so real and I actually passed out in the dream when I gulped in too much water instead of air. I think the nightmare has something to do with my new custom. The communal spa in my apartment building has a sauna. While I love to take a sauna, I had never stepped in a cold plunge sitting next to it. Running water is pouring into the small bathtub and icy water is overflowing. I looked with wonder at some residents jump into the cold plunge after getting out of a sauna. One woman soaked herself in icy water completely from head to toe. I didn’t understand how they could do so without having a heart attack. I tested the water with the tip of my toe once, and almost screamed with its coldness. But as I regularly saw someone sink in the cold plunge, my curiosity had grown bigger. And three weeks ago, I finally summoned the courage to give it a try. I gingerly put my leg into it and found that the small bathtub was much deeper than I had thought. I lost my balance and my other leg splashed in. Although I was just out of a sauna and very hot, the extremely cold water froze my legs instantly. I tried to get out but the tub was too deep for my height. The fear that I could never get out of freezing water seized me and I began to panic. Swashing water clumsily, I struggled to climb out. I sincerely wished nobody was watching. Strangely enough, I couldn’t forget the sensation afterward and wanted to try again for some reason. Next time in the spa, I dipped my legs in the cold plunge again. Then, I tried to soak up to my chest. In a few days, I found myself submerge to my neck. Now, taking a cold plunge has become my custom. Every time though, a fear of having a heart attack crosses my mind. It seems I’m attracted with a narrow escape from death. I imagine I might be dead in a cold plunge someday…