“Can I join you?”
I looked up to see Ritsuko smiling awkwardly at me, a tray of food in her hands.
“Yeah, sure.” I began moving my things off from the only seat beside me.
“Akagi-san said I would find you here. He told me that you’re bringing convenience-store-bought-bentos for lunch – why is that?”
“It’s more because of my religion; I’m not sure about most of the food here as while it doesn’t have pork in them, they use rice wine still so I prefer to stick with food that I am sure of its ingredients.”
“That must be difficult then, especially in a foreign setting.”
“Well, you can see it in such a way but as for me, I prefer looking at it as something positive. I don’t waste time in deciding what to eat. Of course, it makes things difficult in a social aspect as I can’t simply follow my colleagues or other friends out to grab a bite or a drink, however, since I’m antisocial, I guess that works out in my favour as well.”
“Man, you’re quite complicated. If it’s already this problematic when it comes to food, how about the rest of your life?” Ritsuko asked, jokingly.
“It’s complicated,” I answered, making her laugh out loud.
“I didn’t know there’s this side of you. Then what about when I took you out for lunch and dinner two days ago?”
“Didn’t you see me studying the menu as if I was studying for a test? Of course I was paying attention to the food there as well. And it’s expected for you not to know anything much about me, Tachibana-san. After all, you made it pretty….obvious as to what you were after from me.”
Blushing, Ritsuko hit the back of my hand softly.
“Don’t bring that up here, please. You don’t know who’s listening to our conversation. Office gossip sells well, in case you didn’t know. And you don’t have to call me with my surname; I already mentioned that. You can call me Ritsuko, just as I’ll continue calling you Akhila.”
“Wouldn’t your superior and other colleagues wonder why you’re close to me?”
“Well, as Akagi-san said, I’ll be leading the next project, so it’s only natural for me to want to know more about the story so I can sort of get a rough figure as to what to expect when it comes to designing the characters. It’s not weird or anything, though you being a foreigner would definitely make them wonder.”
“Well, you didn’t really answer my question. They’ll wonder, yes, I’ve mentioned that so shouldn’t I treat you just the same way I treat others?”
Smirking suggestively at me, she snickered while asking, “Are you able to, after what we’ve shared and been through together?”
I lifted my brows at her as I glanced around me, “Didn’t you say you want to keep it hush?”
“Well, the cafeteria is empty at the moment and well, sitting here, talking to you brought back memories.”
“They’re just that; memories. That’s the whole point of a one-night stand right?”
She pretended to be hurt. “You mean to say there isn’t going to be a repeat performance?”
“You made it such a way, remember? Plus, I don’t think it’s wise to sleep with colleagues, especially when we’re going to be working together until the project is over. If it turns sour, then we wouldn’t be able to continue our professional relationship any longer.”
As if suddenly remembering, she interjected, “Yeah, how could you be a lesbian and not drink or eat pork?”
As if I’ve never heard this question before.
“It’s complicated,” I repeated my earlier answer. Obvious to the reaction she had on her face, I added, “My belief is such, I can’t change the way I am. It’s complicated ‘cause it’s hard to explain – everyone’s beliefs are different after all. What I believe in and who I sleep with doesn’t necessarily need to overlap. It’s between me and a higher power, that’s all I can say about it.”
She contemplated my answer before replying, “Well, I guess you have a point.”
“Of course I have a point. Now, if you’d excuse me,” I began as I stood up, clearing my things. “I need to buy some cigarettes before I head back to the office.”
Not waiting for a reply from her, I took my leave.
Akagi-san insisted of sending me home once again yet I somehow managed to convince him that I wanted to get used to the public transportation system as soon as possible. To be honest, I wanted a break from all of them, just for a while. The day was hectic enough, without adding in all the interaction I had to do with my other colleagues. I spent too much of time on the computer today, so much that I was seeing pixels everywhere.
I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I completely missed her standing at the entrance of the building.
“Hey!” she jogged beside me, bringing my attention to her. “Didn’t you see me standing there, waving at you? You just walked past me as if I wasn’t there.”
Did I? “I’m sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. What is it?”
“Where are you staying at currently? Let me send you home.”
What is everyone’s obsession with sending me home?
“No, it’s okay. I want to get used to moving around with buses and trains as soon as possible. Thanks for the offer though.”
“Come on,” she said, not letting me off the hook. “I was waiting for you. You could at least accept it for that reason alone.”
“I didn’t ask you to wait, did I?”
“You know what, you’re being rude, and mean.”
“Well, I don’t like you so I don’t want to spend time with you.”
She gaped at me, completely taken aback with my words. Where did that came from, I asked myself internally. I didn’t know my feelings for her were that strong, to an extent that I was slightly loathing her.
“Why? I don’t understand – you sound as if you hate me.”
Come on, Akhila. Your first day at work; you can’t screw it up on the very first day.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just tired and cranky so it’s all coming out wrongly. I just want to get home as soon as possible so I don’t want to socialise or anything.”
Still looking dejected, she followed me as I continued walking. She was starting to irritate me – and that was making me confused at the same time. The annoyance that was suddenly washing over me in waves was too intense and too sudden; where was all of this coming from?
Stopping, I glanced back at her.
“Ritsuko…” I began.
Someone called out her name all of a sudden.
We both turned to face the caller; it was one of Ritsuko’s colleague from the same department as her. I fleetingly remembered watching her dance to a weird internal rhythm this morning when I went upstairs.
“Oh, Kyoko-san. What is it? Did I forget something?” Ritsuko asked.
“No, I was just wondering when you’re going to bring Himawari-chan over to play with my Hiro.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry; I haven’t seen Hiro-kun for a while now. How is he?”
“He’s fine, but he asks about Himawari-chan often. After all, she’s his only friend,” Kyoko added sheepishly.
Ritsuko simply laughed at that.
“Oh, I can see that he got his cuteness from you. She’s been spending some time at my mother’s, so she hasn’t been coming home even after I finish work. I might bring her home by the end of the week, so I’ll bring her over during the weekends?”
Kyoko simply lit up at Ritsuko’s answer. “You would, really? Hiro-kun would be so happy to hear that. I’ll look forward to it then.” As if she had just noticed me then, she addressed me as well. “I’m so sorry for bothering your talk with her, Mahit-san. Have a good day,” she said, waving at us as she walked away.
“Sorry,” Ritsuko said, bringing my attention back to her.
“No, it’s okay. Who’s Himawari-chan?”
She blinked at me for a few moments, as if surprised that I would think of asking her such a question. Relenting, she looked at me guiltily as she gave me her answer.
“Himawari is my daughter.”