“Akhila … Wah, that sounds so exotic!” she said, as I shook her hand.
I blinked confusingly at her, my dark brown eyes flashing with panic for a moment. I hated being scrutinised by people – though in this case it was warranted as we were introducing ourselves to each other. And didn’t I do the same thing moments before? Still – exotic? Was I? Well, I suppose it sounds exotic to her. Most Japanese would probably encounter white people more often rather than a dark-skinned South Asian here.
I wasn’t technically dark – I had more of a dusky brown skin. My Indian heritage made it such that I had curly black hair that flowed like springy strings. While I’m sure Ritsuko would have considered it more exotic had I allowed it to grow freely, I preferred to keep it short and tied up, barely touching the base of my neck. My t-shirt was plastered against me, as was my shorts – I was suddenly very conscious of my appearance beside a goddess like her.
“You’re too kind, Tachibana-san.”
“Oh, call me Ritsuko. Even though you’re speaking in my language, I understand that it’s unusual for you to be referred to with your surname. So we’ll keep it simple between us; no formalities alright?”
No formalities? Woman, we just met. Are you out of your mind? And well, we wouldn’t be seeing or talking to each other once you’ve spent five minutes being nice to me as an apology for the mishap that you had caused – so why bother with all of this?
“Alright,” I agree, not wanting to argue about something so trivial. It wouldn’t matter after five minutes anyways.
She beamed at me – her bright smile beaming a shot through my body ‘till my toes. “So, where you’re from?”
“I’m a Malaysian.”
“Ah, Malaysia! I heard that it’s such an interesting country.”
I tried to think about the current situation back home – political unrest, growing racial tensions, petty crime and an increase of sexual assault cases – hmm, interesting indeed.
I shrugged my shoulders, unsure as to how to answer her.
“So you’re here on a holiday?”
Why bother telling her I’m going to be working here?
“Have you been here before then?”
“But then you’re brave aren’t you, for coming here all by yourself?”
“I suppose so.”
She sighed deeply.
“You don’t talk too much, do you?” she asked me, obvious to my almost monosyllabic answers.
“Well, I’m quite reserved; you could say I’m a boring-kind of a person.”
She cocked her head sideways, studying me once again.
“I don’t think I can say that about you when I know nothing of you. How about I become your tour guide for today, since you’re here all alone?”
A kind of uneasy feeling settled at the pits of my belly. Attractions aside, I hated being around strangers; my anxiety would surely flare up somehow.
“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you. You were saying you wanted to enjoy the sea anyhow.”
“No, it’s not a trouble. I’ve been here so often; it doesn’t matter if I miss it once. I can always come back some other time – I have family living here as well so I could always use them as an excuse.”
She was smiling at me with a hopeful look; I just didn’t know how to brush her off. Relenting, I nodded my head.
“Alright, lead the way.”
“We can get a beach ball and some mats, and lounge until after sunset. You’d see some people having BBQ at the beach at night too – it’s too bad that we don’t have the necessary items,” she commented as she surveyed for a parking spot.
Honestly I didn’t expect her to be so gung-ho about the whole thing – I mean, I’m a stranger to her too. Wasn’t she afraid of me? I glanced at her – she had worn a baggy top to cover her swimsuit, making her appear even more sensual and alluring than when she had her skin exposed moments ago in her bikini. I don’t think a one centimetre height advantage would do her good; my muscles weren’t hiding under my clothes after all.
She took me to quaint souvenir shops around the Kokusai Street, convincing me to return to the beach after lunch instead. She insisted that I had to buy some chura-tama and a personalised shima zori, the latter being a locally-produced flip-flops. Apparently she had some artistic nature – she spoke rapidly in Japanese with the shopkeeper, designing it to suit my taste – or what she thought would suit me. The result was a black pair with a cheerful fluorescent blue palm trees painted on them. A cheesy “Palm Beach” tagline ran in the middle.
I almost cringe at the thought of wearing them; the last thing I wanted was to fit in the stereotypical role of a tourist – which was what she was reducing me to, yet the excited look she had on her face when I smiled at her faintly as a token of my gratitude made me feel like it wasn’t so hard to pretend to like what she was doing. The chura-tama, a kind of glow-in-the-dark keychain hung on my keyring, glowing slightly, the purple that she chose for me struggling to shine against the sunlight.
Next on her agenda was to get me to try some local Japanese food – though she put her foot down when I suggested sushi.
“The art of sushi-eating has been soiled by those money-grabbing Japanese entrepreneurs here. Everything is westernised now; I mean, they even mix their wasabi into the soy sauce, for God’s sake! No, I’ll take you elsewhere; we’ll have beef instead. We’ll have sushi for dinner elsewhere.”
We spent the next hour having Japanese hotplate while splitting a healthy portion of Terriyaki-glazed steak at Steakhouse 88. I made sure I avoided giving too much information about myself as I felt she was holding back on hers as well. We skirted around talks about ourselves by delving into common themes of our respective country; she seemed interested in my local folklore whereas I took the liberty in prepping her with questions about their famous animation industry.
For someone that seemed to be an air-head, she was very much knowledgeable in almost all kinds of topics. I casually slipped out that I was a fan of the Boston Red Sox and immediately earned a scornful look from her; she believed that the Japanese had a better league compared to the Americans – the only thing they lacked were the monetary depth that their American counterpart had.
I couldn’t deny her arguments when I shared the same thinking – though I tried for a moment. Watching her get so worked up about something that was obviously her pride and joy was so … satisfying to watch.
Damn, there I go again! The lust that I had managed to curb flared up all of a sudden.
“Shall we pay up and head to the beach? We can just lie around on the beach for now and have a dip once our stomachs are ready!” she said, laughing all of a sudden.
It felt like there was a trickle of honey dripping on my ears.
“Sure, why not?”