As all the people around me professed Buddhism and Shintoism, I had never been exposed to Christianity until I entered junior high school. The junior high I attended was a private Catholic convent school and most teachers were nuns. Since I had never had any contact with nuns before, they were nothing but mysterious to me. They lived together in a convent next to the school and wore a veil. They were called like Sister Catherine or Sister Patricia although they were Japanese. Until I got used to them, I had always wondered about the small basics. Do they have an ordinary Japanese name? Do they really stay single for life? Are they bold under a veil? Yes, yes, and no, I gradually learned the answers.
I had studied English quite hard to catch up with other students who came from the same convent’s elementary school that gave them a head start in English education. One teacher, called Sister Judith, happened to know that and kindly found a pen pal for me. While students mostly didn’t like sisters, she was an exception. She was popular because she was friendly and beautiful. Students also respected her since she graduated from one of the most renowned universities in Japan and was the smartest sister at school.
The school had the very rigid rules for uniform. If an irregular bag was spotted, it would be confiscated. I carried my personal small bag into school one day in addition to the big uniform bag, and Sister Judith caught me. She said she had to confiscate it and I begged her not to. I promised her I wouldn’t use it for school ever again. She decided to overlook my breach for once out of consideration for my emotional plea. As a stupid teenager, I was defiant to pretty much everything. I believed nothing good existed in this world. So I took my irregular bag out of my uniform bag again as soon as I passed through the school gate after school that day. I was walking toward the bus stop with the bag dangling. Someone called out my name from behind. It was Sister Judith. She didn’t return to the convent as usual and left for an errand on that particular day.
She didn’t confiscate my bag, though. Instead, she was crying. “I trusted you and that was why I let you go. But you betrayed my trust. I’m bitterly disappointed in you,” she said quietly and walked away. I felt it was much better that she yelled at me and took away my bag…
From January of last year to October, I’d had terrible skin trouble on my face. I had eczema mainly on my cheeks that were itchy and peeling. The condition was too bad to be covered up with makeup and I was in a mess. Since I’d never had that kind of problem before, I couldn’t figure out the cause.Eventually I attributed it to an allergy to basil pasta sauce. But I recently ascertained the true culprit and need to clear the basil sauce’s name.
My apartment building has a spa which fee is included in the monthly maintenance fee from the resident. The privilege of using it with no holds barred and the fact I’m cheap send me to the spa every morning and evening. Not using it is a big waste of money for me. At the spa, a hot tub, a Jacuzzi, a sauna and a cold water tub are regularly available. And during the busy time such as the summer holidays and the winter skiing season, an extra hot tub is operated.
When I looked for the solution for my skin trouble, I tried everything including shortening my spa time a little. After the trouble went away in October, it reappeared as soon as I started taking an extra hot tub at the spa in December. The cause wasn’t the basil sauce. I took a bath too much and too long every day. Sweating too excessively and having too much metabolism seemed to cause skin trouble. I knew moderation in all things, but had never known it was also true for a spa and metabolism. I thought they were good for health and the more the better. I’ve read or heard everywhere that metabolism is essential to health, and had never thought it also required moderation. It amounts to this, that I was too healthy.
I reduced time and the frequency for the spa drastically and my skin trouble quickly disappeared. The free spa was my favorite relaxation. Now spending less time at the spa every day, I feel as if I leave an all-you-can-eat buffet after only a few bites each time. My good old days of sweating in a sauna as much as I want and relaxing in a Jacuzzi as long as I want are over. And to make matters worse, now that I’m careful not to sweat too much, I’ve gained a few pounds…
The nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her. She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought. And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come. I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring. Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already. I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.
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…