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Honto ni gomen ne! Honto ni gomen ne!

It’s shock that allows Hannah to ignore the blood dripping down her cheek and focus on the terrified face of the guy who just sent her flying down a flight of steps.  People pass by, too worried about catching the next train to acknowledge the two of them awkwardly positioned at the bottom of the stairwell of the Nezu station.

Honto ni gomen ne!” he repeats, his hands hovering over her shoulders.

She’s had enough Japanese to understand he’s frantically apologizing, but anything else he says after that is pure gibberish.  Hannah reaches up, little stones kicked loose from the sidewalk peppering her palm, and touches the scrape above her eye, a token of face-planting on concrete.

“Ow,” she mutters, pulling back to stare at the red that drips down her finger.  He responds with more unintelligible Japanese.  She wonders if she should tell him that she doesn’t understand anything he’s saying, but he’s already scrambling across the pavement and dodging pedestrians as he tries to collect the books that went flying from her bag as she fell.  Hannah takes the opportunity to grab onto the stairwell railing and begins hauling herself to her feet, but he’s already back, books in hand, an arm reaching around her shoulder to help her up.

“Thanks…uh, I mean doumo?”  she says.

He shakes his head, “No.”

“No?” she responds.  Did she pronounce it wrong?  She suddenly wishes she had taken more Japanese back at Cal State.  The two semesters allowing her to study abroad in Japan were clearly not enough.  She’s sure, though, that her mediocre Japanese hasn’t failed her now even if the look on this stranger’s face tells her otherwise.

“No,” he points at her face then at himself, “My fault.”

“It’s fine, really!” she smiles, “Accidents happen!”

Hannah takes the corner of her jacket sleeve and presses it against her forehead.  It stings, but it’s far from the worst injury she’s had.  The stranger still seems distressed.  True, he did knock her over, but it wasn’t really his fault.  She was standing in the middle of the stairwell checking her phone when he barreled into her and sent her rolling down the stairs.  That reminds her, her phone went flying with the rest of her things, and she starts to panic as she realizes her only way of communication has probably been crushed under the feet of hundreds of smartly dressed businessmen.

“Oh shit, my phone!  Did you see my phone?”  she asks.

“Oh!  Phone!”  he says, reaching into his pocket and producing a cracked iPhone.  She grabs it and presses the home button.  The screen lights up and her German Shepard, Lady, grins up at her happily.  It’s damaged but still works.  A small blessing.

“Thank you for helping me find my things.  I appreciate it, but I’ve got to go.”

He lowers his head, and says, “No.  My fault.  With me.”

It’s clear now that his English is poor at best.  She’s doesn’t understand nor does she have the time and patience to try deciphering his broken English, much less  try to form a coherent sentence in Japanese.  She’s already late for class and walking into a lecture hall with two hundred students is embarrassing enough without a bleeding head and an eye that’s beginning to bruise.  It’s only her third week in Japan and she’s  had about enough of her bad luck.  Last week it was food poisoning, the week before that it had been tracking down her lost luggage, and now she looks like she’s been hit in the head with a brick.

“With me?  I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

He grabs the sleeve of her jacket and pulls lightly, “With me.”


He pulls again, this time harder.  The stranger turns around and gripping tightly to her jacket, he starts to drag her through the crowd.  Hannah lets him.  Class started twenty minutes ago and it would take another ten minutes to make it to campus, up the stairs, and hunt down the proper classroom.  What’s the point?

“Where are you taking me?” she asks, letting him guide her up the steps and onto the busy street where people are buzzing around like bees.  She’s used to crowds, and navigating cities is second nature, but Tokyo is nothing like her hometown of San Francisco. She feels just as helpless as the tourists back home who flood the streets during the summer months.

He doesn’t answer, or maybe he does and she just can’t hear him over the honking cars and screaming street vendors.  She recognizes where they are going.  There’s a park not far from the main Tokyo University campus.  It’s small, but it’s a frequent stop for students after or between classes.  She wonders if he is a student as well.  It’s possible, he’s about her same age, and he has a bookbag slung over his shoulder, suggesting that maybe he was heading to class as well.

“Sit,” he points at a park bench, “Stay,”



Hannah sits.  Her head is starting to throb, the telltale sign of an oncoming migraine.  The stranger sits as well and reaches into his bookbag.  She feels like she should be worried and maybe a little bit more reluctant to follow the orders of this stranger, but he seems harmless and he’s obviously taken personal offense to injuring her.

“What are you doing?”  Hannah asks, leaning over  to look into his bookbag.  There’s a laptop and a few notebooks leading her to confirm her student theory.  He pulls out a small pencil pouch and unzips it, reaches inside, and produces one of those individual packets of alcohol wipes and a small tube of Neosporin.  

“You’re really the helpful type, huh?” Hannah can’t help but laugh.  She takes them from him and he reaches back in his bag, this time pulling out an iPhone.  He taps the cracked phone that’s cradled in her lap and then the screen of his own.

“You want my number?  You going to ask me out on a date after this?”  she jokes, knowing full well he doesn’t understand a word she’s saying.

“Phone,” he says.

“Well, alright.  What’s the harm?”

They exchange numbers quickly and the stranger begins to pack up his things.  She watches, dumbfounded, still cradling the alcohol wipes and Neosporin like she’s unsure of what they are and how to use them.  He slings his bookbag over his shoulder and gives her a quick wave before melting into the sea of pedestrians.  Just like that, he’s gone.  Her phone buzzes a moment later.  She looks down,  one new notification.



Hannah hovers over the notification then swipes right.  The message is simple, in Japanese, but understandable even to her.

Jā mata ne!

See you later.

~ ~ ~



Happy Morning!

Hannah ignores the text and rolls over on her side.  Like the past few Saturdays in Japan, she is  woken up by the sound of pots and pans banging together as her host family prepares breakfast.  She’s the Fujioka family’s first study abroad student, and the closest thing they have to a child other than their fat little terrier, Toshi.  They might be like smothering parents, but they’ve made it impossible for her to experience any homesickness.


A wake-up call.  Saturdays are meant for sleeping in, yet the Fujiokas don’t seem to understand that concept.  The door of her room opens and she cracks one eye open.  Fujioka Kyoko, a small wrinkled lady, no more than 4’5”, stands in the doorway and the smell of homemade bread that follows her is enough to make Hannah lift her head.


She forgets about the unanswered text and pulls herself out of bed to sleepily stumble down the hallway into the small kitchen/dining area of her host family’s apartment.  The floor to ceiling windows give her a good view of the city, and as the sun rises, the people of Tokyo begin to fill the streets.  Back home in San Francisco, her family’s townhouse faces another row of townhouses identical to her own.  She much prefers waking up to the sprawling city at sunrise than a row of identical houses.

“Eggs?  Rice?  Toast?  How about a banana?”

Kyoto piles her plate high before she can respond.  Hannah doesn’t mind.  Across from where she sits, Fujioka Shiro, Kyoto’s husband, is reading the newspaper on his iPad and pouring himself a cup of tea.

“I scrambled the eggs this morning because you mentioned you weren’t a fan of them fried.  Is that better?”  Kyoto asks, wiping her hands on her apron and sitting down beside Shiro.

Hannah smiles, “Yeah, scrambled is good.  Thank you.”

Kyoto babbles away as Hannah eats.  She nods along, not really listening, just enjoying the constant hum of Kyoto’s voice and the clink of silverware on ceramic.  She loves her host family.  Kyoto and Shiro lived in the US for several years after they married. They are fluent in English and more than happy to coach her through learning Japanese.  Her first day in Japan they took her on a tour of the city, taught her how to use the metro station, and gave her a list of the best restaurants in the city that, according to Shiro, her phone would never be able to find in a million years.  They welcomed Hannah into their family and made her feel like, for a time, Tokyo could be her home.

“How is your face?”  Kyoto asks, sliding a plate of cut fruit towards Hannah.

She touches the spot over her eye and winces.  It doesn’t hurt, but she woke up yesterday with a new development— a black eye. She can’t imagine what she looks like now.

“Your luck will turn soon, I’m sure of it.” Shiro says, not looking up from his iPad.

“What about the boy?” Kyoto asks.  Ever since Hannah came back to the apartment, face bleeding and clothes disheveled, Kyoto had shifted from kind host to terrifying mother hen.  Shiro had to convince his wife that no, Hannah did not need to go to the hospital, nor did Kyoto need to try her hand at stitching up the gash.  Concern went out the window though when she learned the whole story.  Immediately, she shifted into worrying over Hannah to worrying over who in the world the “gracious gentlemen” could be that helped her up.  Hannah had let Kyoto have her fun while she quietly iced her head with a frozen zip-lock bag of leftover noodles.

“What about him?”  she asks.

“Have you heard anything from him?  Have you talked to him? You never told me what he looks like or anything about him.  Is he a student?  Do you think you have classes with him?”

Hannah peels her banana and shrugs, “I don’t know.  Seems unlikely we will ever meet again.”

Kyoto looks annoyed, but Hannah has no other response.  She’s just now realizing she knows nothing about him.  She doesn’t even know what to think of him.  The whole ordeal is a weird, blurry memory that doesn’t even feel real.  Only his name popping up on her phone every morning lets her know that Hikaru even exists.  She hopes the texts stop.  She appreciates his kindness, but she wants to forget what happened entirely.  She isn’t one to dwell on things nor make a big deal out of them.  Before Kyoto can ask any more questions, Toshi the terrier makes his grand entrance from the back bedroom and distracts everyone with his jiggling back fat and frantically wagging tail.  Breakfast ends and Hannah heads out into the city to explore.

She’s been knocking off the touristy sites one weekend at a time.  Today, Siri is pointing her in the direction of the Meiji Shrine. It’s located in a literal forest in the middle of Tokyo.  Kyoto offered to go with her, but she didn’t want to take up any of the woman’s time. Besides, forcing herself to be independent has caused her metro skills to improve.  As she enters the shrine, bowing once at an archway before stepping through as she saw the other patrons do, she wonders what it would be like to have a companion along.

She sticks her hands in the pockets of her hoodie.  It’s quiet except for the sound of feet crunching on gravel.  It’s a cool day, the sun hidden behind gray clouds and a slight breeze rustling the trees.  She looks around.  The few people who have decided to spend their day at the Meiji Shrine are a mix of locals and tourists, but  all are couples.  Maybe it’s a sign.  Back in San Francisco she doesn’t have many friends, just a few childhood ones that happen to go to Cal State. Her roommate and closest friend, Ana, is studying abroad in Germany.  Her boyfriend, Erik, broke up with her before she left for Tokyo.  Hannah sighs.  Her mind starts to wander  back to Hikaru and the first message he sent.  See you later.  Impossible.  She can’t take his message seriously.  In a city of thirteen million people, how can she possibly run into Hikaru again?  It’s a waste of her time to think about it.  Hannah shakes Hikaru from her thoughts and asks Siri for directions to the closest McDonalds.

~ ~ ~

One week later she sees him.  Hikaru is leaning up against the circulation desk speaking in rapid Japanese to the girl who sits behind it sorting books.  Like he somehow senses her presence, he looks up and catches her eye, a wide grin stretching across his face.  She tries to smile back, but she’s always found it hard to fake a smile.  If he notices, he doesn’t mind.

“Hannah!”  he shouts.

“Hello,” she responds, much quieter.  He approaches and points to her head, which is now little more than a small ugly scab and yellowing black eye.  


She nods, “Mhm.  Yeah, better.”

“Lunch?  I pay.”

Hikraru doesn’t waste time it seems.  She chews on her lip and glances over his shoulder.  Her study group is nestled in the far corner of the library, their heads already bent over books and fingers flying across keyboards.  She’s already done the assignment so she doesn’t have an excuse to say no, but it’s not like he would question her motives if she shook her head and slipped away.  Hikaru is smiling pleasantly and the happy morning texts she’s received from him all week without responding give her an uncomfortable feeling akin to guilt.  He seems nice enough and maybe at lunch she can ask him why he feels the need to send her the texts in the first place.

“Alright,” she says, “If you’re paying, how can I say no?”

The metro is the best way by far to get around Tokyo and Hikaru is a master at navigating the complicated system.  They take two trains further downtown, Hikaru chatting away in his broken English between stops and yelling in Japanese when someone happens to bump into her or step on her toes.  She wonders why he is so protective, but trying to put together the question in a language he can understand is beyond her capabilities.

Soon they’re back above ground in a part of the city Hannah has yet to explore.  It’s mostly businesses and shops, the buildings smaller and squat, unlike the towering skyscrapers that make up the impressive Tokyo skyline.  They enter a quaint noodle shop in between a boutique and a grocery store.  It’s prime lunch hour, but Hikaru manages to wrestle away a table by the front window from an arguing young couple taking their sweet time deciding where to sit.  A waiter throws them two laminated menus covered in the remnants of the last patron’s meal and Hannah settles into the seat to try  to decipher what she wants from the blurry stock photos of different noodle dishes.

“Good?”  Hikaru asks.

“Hm?  Oh, yeah I guess.  What does this mean?”  Hannah points to the text underneath one of the pictures.  He gives her a strange look and shakes his head.  She repeats the question and taps the menu a few more times but he can’t get a grasp of her question.  

“Oh,” he says, “Order?  Ready?”

“Wait, no I’m not…never mind.”

He calls the waiter over and orders for her before she can protest.  The menu is plucked from her hands and she’s left confused and a little disoriented.

“Good?”  Hikaru repeats.

Hannah sighs and rests her chin in her hands, “I guess.”

The seconds tick by in relative silence.  The noodle shop is loud with the sounds of spatulas beating against pans and cooks shouting orders.  Hannah looks out the window.  Across the street is an old temple sandwiched between two concrete office buildings.  The mix of old and new is something she has become accustomed to here in Tokyo.  It isn’t rare to see flashes of ancient traditions mixed in with the high-energy lifestyle of modern day citizens.  She glances over at Hikaru who is staring out the window as well.  He looks up when he catches her staring and smiles.

“Why are you taking me out to lunch?”

“No?”  Hikaru says.  He doesn’t understand, of course.

Hannah reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone.  “Why don’t we try this,” she says, “Google translate.  Maybe then we can have some sort of conversation.  You know how to use this right?”

She types her question about lunch and slides the phone in his direction.  He looks at it for a moment then realization crosses his face.  He hands her back the phone and she reads aloud his response, “I feel guilty for ruining your face.”

She laughs and types back, “You didn’t ruin my face.  I’m fine it’s no big deal, I promise.”

He takes a moment to respond.  When he does he slides it back and rubs his hands together nervously.  “It is my duty to repay you for my carelessness.  It would be disgraceful if I was to ignore my wrongs.  Until I feel that my debt has been paid, I will do everything in my power to apologize correctly for injuring you.”

Hannah frowns and replies, “So is this like an honor thing?”

Instead of typing he just nods.  Like the temples that dot the modern city of Tokyo, some traditions still hold fast in the everyday lives of its citizens.  One of the mini culture lessons her language professor lectured on back at Cal State was how honor and one’s duty to others remains a crucial part of Japanese society.  Suddenly, Hikaru’s exaggerated actions and puppy-like devotion makes sense.  

She types back, “You don’t have to regain your honor back, Zuko.  I’m sure the Fire Nation will take you back after lunch.”

He laughs and slides the phone back after a few seconds, “Thank you, but it is not as easy as capturing the Avatar.”

Hannah raises an eyebrow and quickly taps away at the keyboard, “I’m sure you have more to worry about than me.  I’m assuming you’re a student.  What’s your major?”

“That’s right,” he types back, “I study economics at the University of Tokyo.  This is my last year.  And what do you study?”

“International affairs,” she answers, “I’m studying abroad here for the semester.  I’m a junior back at California State University, San Bernardino.”

“Oh!  So, you’re from California!  Have you ever been to Hollywood?”

Hannah can’t help but laugh.  It’s a question she’s been asked a thousand times, but it’s a question she doesn’t mind, “No,” she types back. “I haven’t been to Hollywood and no, I’m not related to anyone famous.  Though, I once saw Robert Downey Jr. in a coffee shop when I was in Los Angeles with some friends.”

She passes back the phone and waits patiently as he reads the translated Japanese.  She struggles with her chopsticks and noodles for a bit but when he doesn’t respond, she looks up from wrestling with a noodle to see him staring at the phone, head cocked and a horrified expression on his face.

“What?” she asks, alarmed.

Hikaru shakes his head and points at the phone, “Wrong translation,” he says.

“What do you mean?  Let me see,” she grabs the phone from him and flips the translation so that the Japanese is converted back to English.

“No, I do not see Hollywood and no I do not relate to celebrities.  But I sex Robert Downey Jr. in Los Angeles with friends,” she reads out loud, “Holy shit!

Hannah quickly types back a different message, trying to explain the misunderstanding in the least amount of words he can.  She’s actually enjoying herself and she hopes she hasn’t offended him.  Hannah chews on her thumbnail nervously as she waits while he reads the new message.  A smile spreads across his face and he begins to laugh.  Not just a small chuckle, but a loud laugh that turns the heads of other patrons in the restaurant.

“Funny mistake,” he says.  “Good one.”

Hannah smiles, then begins to laugh along with him.  She’s secretly relieved that he took the bad translation as a joke rather than an insult.  For all her annoyance with his constant texts and overly helpful nature, she likes him.  She can’t remember the last time she went out to lunch with someone her own age and had a normal conversation.  Ana was  always busy with the theater department, and Erik found his fraternity responsibilities more important than her.  It’s nice to actually talk to someone, even if the conversation is a bit unconventional.

They talk back and forth until Hannah’s phone dies.  But Hikaru isn’t finished.  He brings up Google Translate on his own phone, and even when their food comes they pass the phone across the table, their fingers going numb from tapping the screen.  She learns that he is a native of Tokyo and wishes to travel after school instead of going directly into the workforce  like most students.  He has an older brother, an accountant, and he lives with his mother at the edge of town.  Hikaru is easy to talk to, even when Google Translate confuses their words and replaces them with phrases that are either downright embarrassing or so wrong the meaning is lost.  He just laughs, tries his best, and carries on like nothing ever happened.  Hannah tells him about her time in Japan and the hellish weeks that have led to her sitting in this noodle shop opposite him.  She tells him about San Francisco, a city he’s always wanted to visit, her dog Lady, her dream of living in wine country back in California, and her similar plans to travel the world after graduation.  They have more in common than she could imagine.  

Lunch slowly turns into late afternoon and the shadows cast across the sidewalk outside start to shift and change and the sun moves across the sky.  The doors of the temple across the street have been opened and a short, older gentleman sweeps the porch with an old straw broom.  Their bowls are empty of noodles and lunch hour is long gone.  Hikaru’s phone eventually dies and they are forced to face the reality that it is time to depart and head their separate ways.

“Walk with you home,” he says.

“You want to walk me home?”

He nods and points in the direction of the metro station.

“Alright,” she says, “Fine with me.  Would hate to get knocked over again during rush hour.”

He smiles as if he understands and leads her across the street.  They aren’t far from her host family’s apartment and all too soon she must say goodbye to Hikaru and return to her normal routine.

“Lunch again,” he says before she opens the door of the building.

Hannah smiles and nods, “Yes.  We’ll get lunch again soon.  Promise.”

Sayonara!”  he says with a wave.  Just like the first time she met him, Hikaru disappears into the late afternoon crowd.

~ ~ ~

Lunch meetings turn into study sessions, and study sessions turn into late nights eating pizza in the library while exchanging messages through Google Translate.  Her Japanese gets better and his English is no longer as fractured.  He tells her one night that he’s picked up another English class at a local high school in hopes of being able to carry on a full conversation with her before the end of the semester.  She’s been doing the same, but she’s too embarrassed to admit it.  He easily becomes one of her best friends. Not even her English-speaking friends can compare to the easy company of Hikaru.  She doesn’t know what it is about him that’s comforting, maybe it’s his obsession with western pop culture and their same taste in music, or perhaps it is their passion for travel and unagi sushi.  Whatever it is, the days they spend together speed by and the days where Hikaru is absent drag on painfully.  

Tuesday night she meets him in the corner of the library in their designated study nook.  When he sees her he looks up from his laptop, smiles, and lifts up a greasy McDonalds bag.

“Did you get me dinner?” she grins, dropping her bookbag and settling into the large comfy chair across from him.

“Only if you split chicken nuggets with me,” Hikaru says.

He sets out the food as Hannah sets up her laptop and takes out her books.  The more time she spends with him, Hannah finds herself comparing him to Erik.  Not on purpose, of course.  Hikrau is just too nice, too perfect, too considerate.  Erik, a frat boy that she met at a party, was attractive, but arrogant, inconsiderate, and overall an awful person.  Looking back, she doesn’t know what she ever saw in him in the first place.  She rests her chin in her hand and watches Hikaru.  He’s typing away on his laptop, a French fry sticking out of the corner of his mouth.  Erik once left her blackout-drunk in the middle of a frat house floor.  She can’t see Hikaru ever leaving her that defenseless and helpless.  She wonders why all of a sudden Erik is so prevalent in her mind and why she can’t stop comparing him to Hikaru.

“French fry?” he asks, catching her eye.

“No, I’m fine.”


She smiles and shakes her head, “No.  I don’t have a question.”

He frowns, “Something wrong?”

“Oh, no!  Nothing’s wrong.  Just thinking.” Hannah says.


“Nothing important,” she says. “I’ll be quiet now so you can study.”

He doesn’t seem convinced, but he goes back to his work.  She tries to focus on her essay.  The semester is starting to wind down, but the amount of work she has keeps piling high.  She can’t stop thinking about Erik.  Now that she thinks about it, he was awful, but charming. One of the reasons she involved herself with him in the first place.  He liked to surprise her with gifts and trips to wineries and day hikes in the mountains, but on a day to day basis, he never paid her much attention.  At parties, they would drift apart and she pretended that all the girls he hooked up with didn’t exist.  She didn’t enjoy his company, just the things he gave her to patch up their frequent fights.  Hikaru on the other hand, is genuine.  His company is a welcome change.

“You are staring again,” he suddenly says. “You want to talk?”

Hannah’s cheeks turn pink, “No, I’m just thinking about how nice of a person you are.”

He smiles, “You’re a nice person too, Hannah.”

A compliment.  Erik never gave her compliments.  They fall silent again but Hannah glances over the top of her laptop every few seconds to glance at Hikaru.  He’s attractive too.  Why has she never realized this before?  Maybe even more than Erik.

~ ~ ~

Nevertheless, the end of the semester comes too quickly and both she and Hikaru avoid  the obvious reality of her approaching departure.  Instead they focus on exams and planning the first leg of his trip to China after graduation.  He invites her one night to dinner with his mother and she eagerly agrees.

The night before, they go to dinner at their favorite noodle shop and Hikaru drills her on custom and etiquette.

“My mother is very old fashioned,” he says, “It is important that you are careful.”

Hannah smiles and sips Coke from her straw, “Are you worried she won’t like me?”

He looks nervous, “She does not know you are American.”

Hannah straightens, “Oh?  Why does that matter.”

Hikaru looks away uncomfortably and rubs the back of his neck, “Well, you are a girl and I am bringing you home…”

“Oh so she might think we’re like…dating?”

“Yes,” he says.  “Dating.”

Hikaru quickly changes the subject with the topic of table manners, but Hannah is hooked on the word dating.  Throughout the semester, she has thought about casually bringing up the topic, but never did, scared that she might scare him off.  He’s the only person she spends time with and she doesn’t want to jeopardize her only relationship.  Now she’s wondering if staying silent is the right choice.

Friday night comes and after their nightly meeting in the library, instead of heading to her apartment, Hannah follows Hikaru home.  

“Are you nervous?”  he asks as they climb up the steps to the door of the building.

Hannah wrings her hands and nods, “A little.  I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

Hikaru smiles, “You are sweet.  My mother is excited you are coming.  She has even brought out the good dishes.  Do not worry.”

His words give her some relief, but her heart won’t stop banging around in her chest.  He knocks on the door and it opens almost immediately, as if Hikaru’s mother has been standing behind it all night waiting for them.  She’s shorter than Kyoto and the smile on her thin lips is forced.  If she’s surprised that she isn’t a nice Japanese girl, she does a wonderful job of not showing it.  Hannah quickly greets her and bows.

Hikaru’s home is much smaller than Kyoto and Shiro’s apartment.  The couches and chairs have been pushed against the wall, set aside for the card table and mismatched wooden chairs.  Hikaru’s mother, Ayumi, leads them to the table and gestures for them to sit.  Hannah follows Hikaru’s lead and she begins to relax as the meal progresses.

Ayumi doesn’t speak English,  Hikaru acts as her translator.  Hannah can barely get a word in.  Ayumi has a lot of questions like where is she from, how old is she, why is she in Japan, how did she meet her son, and what type of people her parents are.  It’s more like an interrogation rather than a dinner conversation.  Despite her nerves, the dinner goes well. She doesn’t forget how to use chopsticks and she remembers how to correctly thank Ayumi for the meal when all their plates are wiped clean.  

“How’d I do?”  Hannah asks Hikaru when Ayumi begins taking dishes to the kitchen.

“Perfect.  I think my mother likes you.”

Hannah grins and bumps his elbow with her own, “I mean, who couldn’t like me?  I’m nice, remember?”

“Do not be too confident.”

“You mean don’t brag?”

“Exactly.  Do not brag.”

Hannah and Hikrau take the remaining dishes to the kitchen where Ayumi is beginning the process of cleaning up.  She easily falls into the routine of scrubbing dishes while Ayumi dries and Hikaru rearranges the dining room back into a living room.  It’s a familiar routine and she relaxes fully, even humming to herself.  But her moment of calm shatters when Hikaru’s mother begins screaming.

It’s nonsense.  She can’t even pick out one word.  Hikaru’s mother, the smallest lady Hannah has ever seen in her life, is suddenly filled with so much rage that her presence is overbearing.  She stabs a finger at the plate in Hannah’s hands.  She doesn’t understand.

“What?  What’s wrong!?”

Then she notices.  Some of the paint on the china has rubbed away under her vigorous scrubbing.  She’s panicking now and Hikaru comes running into the kitchen shouting in Japanese.  It’s all too much.  Hannah lets go of the plate and backs away with her hands up in the air, but if she hadn’t already screwed up she’s royally screwed up now.  The plate shatters as it makes contact with the ceramic sink.  His mother wails like a banshee.

“Oh my god!  I didn’t mean to!  Hikaru, tell her I didn’t mean to!  Oh my god!  It was an accident!”

If Hikaru is trying to apologize for her, it isn’t working.  Ayumi has backed her up against the wall.  His mother continues to scream, spit flying from her mouth.  The room feels too hot and too small.  She’s well aware of how close Aymui is to her and how badly she has ruined this night.  

“It was just a fucking plate!”  she screams, covering her ears.  This angers Ayumi even more and she closes in, jabbing Hannah in the chest with one of her long, wrinkled fingers.  Hannah is close to tears when Hikaru grabs her by the shirt and pulls her away from his mother and herds her out of the apartment, Ayumi on their heels waving around a dishrag like a weapon.

The door slams behind them and locks with an audible click.  Hannah is shaking.  She runs her hands through her hair and wipes away a few tears that managed to run down her cheeks.  Hikaru has her things and he throws them at her roughly.

He points at the stairs, “Leave now.”

Hannah stares at him, “What?  What do you mean?”

“Leave,” he takes a step forward.  “Time for you to leave.”

“Will you at least walk me home?  I don’t think- ”

“No,” he says.  “Not only did you break one of my mother’s wedding bowls, you shouted at her.  You are no longer a guest here and you are no longer welcomed in my home.”

Hannah struggles to find words, “It was just a plate.  I-I didn’t mean to break it and she just kept yelling, what else was I supposed to do?”


“I’m sorry,” she says through tears.  “I’m really, really sorry.”

“It is too late.”

She opens her mouth to protest once more, but he cuts her off in Japanese and she knows no matter what she says, she has done something he cannot forgive.  Hannah shoulders her bag and hurries down the steps and out the building.  Without Hikaru’s normal guidance, traversing the metro is difficult and it takes her the longest hour of her life to get home.  There are no texts from Hikaru.  At eleven each night, on the dot, he always texts goodnight.  But eleven o’clock passes, then twelve, then one, and no text comes.  She takes it upon herself to send their customary goodnight.  She taps send and watches the blue line cross the screen.  It doesn’t send, instead a notification pops up.

iMessage to Hikaru failed

~ ~ ~

Exams come and go.  Hannah sees Hikaru only once.  It’s in the Starbucks on campus.  She spots him first and she takes the opportunity to approach him and catch him off guard.  She’s scared he might try to run off if he sees her.  Hannah has tried to send him texts everyday but they never go through.

Hannah slides in line behind him and taps him on the shoulder.  Hikaru turns and upon realizing who she is, the smile on his face disappears.

“Hey,” she says.  “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks.  How were your exams?”

He takes a while to respond, and when he does she can see he’s uncomfortable, “Good,”

“We were never able to talk about that night.”

He looks away, “No need to.”

“Why not?” she asks.  “I want to apologize again.  More importantly I want us to be friends again.  I leave this Thursday and I don’t want to leave with us hating each other.  You’re my best friend, Hikaru.”

“Not need to apologize.  Waste of time,” he says simply. “Safe travels.”  Hikaru steps out line and heads for the door but Hannah isn’t going to let him off so quickly.  She grabs his jacket sleeve and forces him to turn around.

“I don’t understand,” she says.  “I just broke a plate.  I didn’t mean to yell at your mother I was just surprised and honestly, a little scared.  How else was I supposed to react?”

Hikaru yanks his sleeve away, “You’re inconsiderate, Hannah.  The plate didn’t matter.  You do not think outside yourself.”

She’s shocked, “I don’t understand.”

“Of course you do not.  I am just a translator for you.  Someone to study with so you are not alone.  Someone who will compliment you and will follow your commands.  I’m not a friend.  If I was a friend, you would have treated my hospitality with more respect.”

“But I am sorry!”

Hikaru shakes his head and turns around.  She watches, helpless as he walks out of the coffee shop.

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