Geoff sat at a table in the open foyer of Shiga Dai. It was mid-afternoon, and darkness was already encroaching on the glass doors of the center. He faced the windows, and his feet felt cold even inside his thick slippers, as he watched a grey snow heavy with wetness accumulate weakly on the sidewalk outside. It was not enough snow to be charming, but more than enough to make the entire atmosphere raw and damp.
The kanji book in front of him drifted in and out of focus, as he fought to contain his thoughts to the present, to the situation before him, the long-sought dream made reality of being-in-Japan. As his hand traced each radical, he could feel Claire's hand curled inside his own, as when he had taught her to write the hiragana the semester before she formally took up Japanese. Her hand was warm and steady, and the comforting pleasure of her touch far surpassed her need for his physical assistance in writing. They still had 15 left to go when the book came back into focus, and he found that he had filled his workbook page with hiragana instead of kanji. He would have to find some white-out, or whatever they made in Japan that served the purpose of covering up mistaken writings.
Her absence hung over him like the heavy clouds that never lifted, a paradoxical presence too weak to spur him to action but strong enough to cast every activity, every task, every moment into a dank mist that obscured goals and dulled senses. His knowledge of Japan was itself a knowledge of her, but she was not in Japan, she was in Virginia, riding her bike down the right-hand side of the street, wearing shoes to class and eating with a fork. Or maybe not eating with a fork - she did like using chopsticks a lot.
Was that all they had right now? That they might both use chopsticks to eat their meals? She wasn't even awake right now, it was 3am back home.
He needed to forget, if only for this moment, for the next few weeks. He'd come a long way, and it would be foolish and immature to throw away his energy on what might as well be an imaginary friend. Claire was not here, but other people were. It was simple really, and they were probably perfectly good, friendly people with whom it would be fun to discover Japan.
The spring would be amazing. Suddenly, it would be April, and the sun would filter through the cherry blossoms as they floated down through the breeze, getting caught in Claire's hair. She would laugh and he would kiss her lightly on the cheek.
No, but surely some other girl would end up with cherry blossoms in her hair.
He tossed down his pencil in frustration. It was getting dark. He needed to turn a light on if he was going to get work done. The light would driver her image away; it would help him focus.
He glanced around, looking for a light switch. A movement from the hallway attracted his eye, gradually took shape.
A silhouette against the darkening windows, slender and strong, with softened edges in the fading light. Forgetting washed over him in a rush of heat.
"Konbanwa. Diana itashimasu," she said with a sly smile and a hint of ironic emphasis on the excessively polite ending of her introduction.
Keigo. She must be advanced. "Konbanwa. Watashiwa Geoffdesu," he stammered. Three years of Japanese, and that's the best he could do?
She giggled, and flicked on the light. "You're crazy, working in the dark like that." Black hair hung over her shoulders, perfectly, naturally straight, and her dark olive skin was smooth and full of the energy of her smile.
"Yea. I guess I am crazy." She approached, and stood over his shoulder.
"Hiragana! How cute!" She was laughing again, and she smelled like passion fruit shampoo.
"Yea, I'm actually in level 3, but I was..." He couldn't remember anymore.
"You were what..."
"Oh I don't know. Just playing around I guess, but now I've messed up the whole page."
"I can see that. You should probably take care of that. I'm off to Lawson's to get some beer; you should come by later - there's gonna be a little party in my room, 2nd on the left down the hall."
She pointed with her graceful right index finger. "Mattane! See you!"
Diana. He'd have to remember that. A party invitation - maybe things were beginning to take shape.
The days were getting longer, and wet, blustering wind promised to drive the winter away - eventually.
It was Saturday morning, and Geoff slept deeply as the sun rose over the newly thawed Biwako. Claire was with him, nestled in his arms under an overpass in Tokyo. They were lost.
She lifted her face to his. "Couldn't we just ask someone to give us directions back to the hotel? Or just the nearest station?"
"There's no point. No one knows where they are here."
"I know that I'm with you..."
"Maybe that's it. We can know who we're with, or where we are, but not both."
The bathroom door slammed, and Geoff started. He grasped at Claire's warmth, and found his arm draped across Diana's stomach. She sighed, rolled over toward him, and opened her eyes, dark and bright.