I watched as she slowly sauntered towards the beach before I followed her. She was confident with herself – I could see that in her stride, in the way she looked. She walked into the water and lowered herself, beckoning at me with her fingers as she did.
“I told you I’m not much of a swimmer.”
It was obvious that she didn’t hear me; she was already swimming away. I flopped onto the sand at the side, letting the water wash over my toes as I watched her swim. The streaks from her blue bikini flashed brightly under the evening sky, reminding me of those rare sightings of dolphin that I’ve seen once long ago.
She was beautiful even in the water – or perhaps more so in the water. She swam gracefully like an eel, slipping under and over the water seamlessly. I couldn’t help but admire her; I could never pull of something such as that.
Catching my gaze, she slowly made her way back to me.
“I’m a weak swimmer. I usually just prefer lounging around.”
“Come on, I got you. I’d be close by.”
Despite all the things I feel about myself, I know I’m not a pushover. I rarely did things that I didn’t want to – or things that made me feel uncomfortable. So why was it difficult to tell her no? Am I that lonely to an extent I’m willing to tolerate someone that wants me to do something that I didn’t want to?
I stood up and walked towards her, willing to humour her at least for a short while. Whether I liked it or not, I was feeling awful with myself this morning and despite not knowing me and despite still feeling slightly suspicious of her, she did accompany me the better part of the day – she even took me out for lunch. It suddenly occurred to me that she wasn’t asking much.
“Wait – are you going to jump in just like that?”
I glanced down at my t-shirt and shorts. She had a point – but what do I do when I don’t have a swimming suit underneath my clothes? Slowly I lifted up my t-shirt, removing them as I stood in front of her in my half-tank.
“I don’t have any swimming suits so this gotta do.”
Feeling nervous all of a sudden, I slowly made my way towards her, lowering myself into the water gingerly as I did. I was still feeling phobic about swimming after witnessing my mum almost drowning once before but I wasn’t about to tell her that. She grinned at me as I slowly paddled towards her.
“It’s quite cute the way you slowly thread the water, as if you’d drown in such shallow parts.”
Damn this blush, why did it come out so easily around her? It was probably because I was inexperienced in having such conversation with anyone – but still, I didn’t like being teased incessantly this way.
Trying not to show that I was afraid, I floated beside her, moving in a slower pace, catching up to her. Feeling the water around me, surrounded by this tranquil, I felt my worries being washed away by the gentle waves. Watching the sunset with her was probably the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done for quite some time now. I was feeling grateful all of a sudden – grateful that I wasn’t here all alone after all.
We drifted against the current for a while, watching the orange streaks of the sun completely disappear from the sky, turning everything dark around us. The coldness of the water was starting to seep into me; I sneezed all of a sudden.
“Whoops! Looks like that’s a signal for us to head back,” she said laughingly.
“Sorry, I’m just too cold all of a sudden.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s already dark, of course you’d be cold – more so in new waters.”
We paddled out slowly out of the water, drying ourselves with the towels that she had in her car. For a moment I thought that this was it, we’ll be off in our separate ways soon yet she insisted on having dinner together too.
“I promised you sushi remember?”
Well, she did – but still, I didn’t want to be dragging her everywhere with me. She isn’t my tour guide anyhow – yet, no matter what I said, she didn’t budge. She insisted on having dinner with me and sending me home. My pleas seem to fell onto deaf ears; she was simply having none of it. All of a sudden it felt as if she was taking care of me since I was a foreigner and it was late out at night. Alright, I guess I can accept common courtesy.
Surprisingly, she seemed pleased when I told her the name of the inn I was living at. “That’s an amazing place to stay overnight,” was all she said before she began to drive in silence. She seemed lost in her thoughts along the journey; as if she had forgotten that I was sitting beside her. I kept my silence along the way, giving her space, thinking maybe she was tired of playing babysitter the whole day. It wasn’t until she stopped the car in front of the inn that she spoke to me.
“They have a small sushi shop nearby. While it isn’t necessarily high class, it is still better than those that you would get from those restaurants earlier on.”
I simply nodded, feeling awkward with her silence moments ago and unsure as to how to carry the conversation. She seemed bubbly the whole day yet seemed slightly distant at the moment.
Maybe I was overthinking it once again.
She took me to a small diner that was just a stone throw away from the inn. It had a kind of nostalgic-feel to it as it reminded me of the movie Midnight Diner that I had watched a couple of years ago. The menu was limited, yet she reassured me that the delicacies offered was more than enough to keep me satisfied.
A bit curious as to why she was so confident with the food there, I agreed when she offered to order for me. After all, I wouldn’t know what to order anyhow. She picked up the conversation once again as we waited for the food to be served and I was quite conscious to the stares that I was getting from the locals. I guess they were quite unused to seeing someone speak their language fluently.
“Ignore the stares,” she said. “They’re just fascinated with you.” As if in an afterthought, she added, “How come you speak fluently anyways?”
“I learned the language in university, about three years ago? And I use it quite regularly in gaming, manga and anime sites.”
“Oh, so you’re quite interested in things like that? I thought you were just playing tourist earlier on, you know, asking me about Akihabara and Shinjuku earlier on.”
“No, I’m really interested in all kinds of games, especially those hack-and-slash and adventure genres. I guess you can say my brother introduced me to this part of the world and I can’t seem to get away from it? As for animes and mangas, that’s something I picked up from high school.”
“Why the interest in Japanese then?”
“I had to take up a third language in uni and well, since I’m interested in all of these, I thought why not? It’ll help me tremendously in pursuing my interest.”
“You speak quite fluently; I wouldn’t be surprised if you come up and tell me that you’re working here instead.”
I smiled at her wryly – I was already working here – or, well, I will be, in two days.
The conversation seemed to stall all of a sudden once again. We ate in silence, only speaking when we wanted the other to pass the soy sauce bottle to us – or the wasabi. I wondered if I did anything wrong; subconsciously, my mind was already making up illusionary scenarios that did not happen in which I had somehow offended her. Nothing made sense though and so I ended up brushing it aside.
I couldn’t do anything about something that I had no knowledge on – I can only wait for her to speak about it, if it actually happened.
I paid for the both of us this time around, brushing her protest aside. I wanted to repay her at least for her kindness, for playing my tour guide. It seemed as if she had spent too much of time with me just because she had accidentally bumped into me.
She followed me into the inn, taking me by surprise. I had thought that she would have simply walked me up until the door – surely she was taking this a bit too far?
Before I could say anything, someone hailed her name.
I glanced at the direction of the caller; it was the innkeeper.
“Obasan! Ah, it’s so good to see you,” she said as she launched herself onto the inn owner, giving her a big hug.
“What are you doing here? Escaping to the sea again?” the innkeeper asked.
“You know me so well.” Glancing at me, she broke off from the hug and gestured at me, “I made a new friend. She’s renting a room upstairs.”
“Ah, Mahit-san. I didn’t know you know our Ritsuko.”
“I had just met her this morning, Obasan. I’ll take her upstairs and get everything settled in so don’t wait up for me.”
Both of them exchanged glances, leaving me in the dark. What was going on?
Ritsuko gestured to me to lead the way up the stairs, following me as I moved past her. My mind was noisy with all kinds of questions – I was suddenly wary; was she some sort of a stalker?
I stopped in front of my room door, turning to look at her, fully intending to bid my farewell to her.
“What’s wrong – why aren’t you going in?”
“I … How are you acquainted with the innkeeper?”
“Obasan? Oh, didn’t I tell you earlier? My family lives here still – she’s my mother’s eldest sister; my aunt. I used to come here all the time to visit whenever I got tired of the city.”
I tried comparing her looks with the innkeeper’s – though I can’t find much of a similarity, I couldn’t deny her claims. She did inform me beforehand that she had family living here.
“Okay, I guess I believe you – though I feel you’re probably taking the whole hospitality thing a tad bit overboard. You didn’t have to see me until the front of my room door. It’s late for you too; you should head back now. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” I said, turning to unlock my room door and head in.
I must say – there’s nothing ordinary about Ritsuko Tachibana – nothing at all. She was pushy and suspiciously friendly. She spent so much of time with me for something so trivial – appointing herself as my tour-guide without even asking me. She continued to surprise me – and it wasn’t a feeling that I would term as something pleasant.
She continued to surprise me; which is why I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself pushed into my room all of a sudden and have the door close with a thud behind me, with her locking the doors with my key and keeping a tight hold on them.
“What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?”