Michi Ni Mayota (I've Lost My Way)

May 1, 2009
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“Mio! Get back in here! We’re not done--“
The door cracks like a gunshot, causing me to wince. Maybe I overdid it. But there’s no time for remorse. I sprint for the fire escape and fly down the steps. It’s only a block to the train station and hopefully I can blend in with the evening commuters. I may not make it. I can practically feel my parent’s breath as they close in for the kill. I can’t seem to move my legs fast enough, the blood pounds in my ears, my vision is only streaks…then I burst out into the crowd.
I’m immersed in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Suits and trendy clothes swirl around me. The smart click of heels deafens me. Perfect hair and cute accessories stab at my vision. I catch my reflection in a window, and I feel gawky in my khaki shorts, shapeless pink jacket, ratty shirt, and messy ponytail. Everything about me screams “tourist.” A sardonic smile crosses my lips when I remember that I’m not a bumbling tourist, but a full-fledged Japanese citizen. Ooh, lucky me.
I try to blend into the crowd: I straighten my shoulders, regard each incomprehensible sign with interest, and put on an air of self-assuredness. Too soon, I spot my parents at the edge of the crowd. They’re Japanese by blood but here in the ‘homeland’ they have a huge flashing sign above their heads that reads: “Caution: clueless, strange, American.” It doesn’t help that they’re rubbernecking. I duck down an alley, feeling childish for running away. It’s dim and I keep tripping: the alley is strewn with trash. The main streets seem to sparkle, but I guess the Japanese use the ‘Stuff Under the Bed’ method of cleaning. The alley opens up to another busy street and I break into a brisk walk, glad to be free of the grimy alley and my parents. The pounding of my feet drowns out my headachy thoughts and allows me to find some inner peace. However, reality is difficult to ignore. I pass a display of electronics but can’t read the signs or understand the words that blare out of the speakers. It sucks to be illiterate. Well, I’m not completely illiterate--if anyone is attacked by a ten-story monster, I’ve got their back. Anime isn’t the best way to learn conversational Japanese.
My wanderings take me to a residential area. The streets are silent, save for the incessant buzz of cicadas. The summer breeze brings the smell of meat and soy sauce to my stomach’s attention and it growls miserably. I rummage around in my pockets and come up with half a granola bar. Better than nothing, but not satisfying. I’m about to take a bite when I pass by a park and see an honest-to-goodness swing set. I let out a squeal of happiness and settle into the plastic seat, hooking my arms around the chains. I drag my feet back and forth to set the swing in motion. Finally, I take a bite of granola bar, but I pause mid-swallow. The bush across from me just moved. Suddenly, it seems too dark and silent. The cicadas have stopped screeching. Not good. I stand up, and I’m about to dash away when a Shiba Inu puppy bursts out of the foliage. I drop my granola bar and the puppy runs up to it. Then to my surprise it doesn’t gobble it up. Instead, it cocks its head and looks up at me as if to say, “May I?”
“Okay,” I say gesturing to the treat. Only then does it take the morsel. I expect it to leave after it gets the food, but it trots toward me. As it crosses the sidewalk, a bike comes whizzing by and hits it. My scream is drowned out by a bone-chilling shrieking. I look down and see that the outlandish sound is coming from the puppy. It’s splayed out on the ground, and one of its paws is bent at an angle. Damn. I look up, but there’s no one around. The pup is still shrieking, so I kneel down, whip off my jacket, gently transfer the puppy onto it, and gather up the bundle. Thankfully, its shrieks have faded to a pitiful whimper. Now, to find a puppy hospital…this should be fun.
I retrace my steps back to the shopping area. Unfortunately, most of the stores have closed and only harried businessmen and self-absorbed teenagers roam the streets. I start to panic. Then I trip. The puppy bundle goes flying and the pavement rushes up to meet me. Then, just before I become one with sidewalk, I see someone with headphones around their neck snatch up my jacket. When the pain recedes from my vision, I see a cute guy staring down at me. Pity he caught the dog instead of me. But then, that’s my luck for you. He asks me something, but I don’t understand.
“Americajin desu.” I’m American. Not the most eloquent of responses, but it gets the point across. I sit up and get a good look at the guy. He is beyond cute—he’s a living anime character, complete with dyed-brown spiky hair, milk chocolate eyes, and a rockin’ bod. I resist the urge to lick my lips, and point at the wriggling bundle. “Daijobu desu?” Is it alright?
“Hai,” he responds, handing the bundle to me and standing. He can’t just leave me! I make a desperate noise, but stop when I see he’s only retrieving a backpack. He kneels down, unzips the pack, and then extracts a pencil and a sketch book. Pictionary! He sits there scribbling for a moment, and then comes over to me and holds up the drawing. It’s a freaking work of art, so maybe not Pictionary. The wispy lines form the image of the puppy and a building with the word HOSPITAL printed across the top. I nod vigorously and he helps me to my feet. A female voice sounds from behind me.
“Ryuu-kun!” I turn and see a willowy girl with long flowing black hair approach.
“Ah, Satsuki-chan!” he calls and jogs up to her. They start speaking rapidly. I shift from side to side and the puppy whines. After a minute, the guy comes back over to me.
“Eto…?” he stammers.
“Watashi wa Mio,” I supply, hoping that an introduction was appropriate.
“Ah, konnichiwa. Boku wa Ryuu.” Ryuu, huh? Sweet name. He scratches his head before returning to the sketch book. When he holds it up there is a rough drawing of Satsuki in a lab coat holding the puppy with a bandage on its paw. I nod and Ryuu motions for me to follow him and Satsuki. We take several twists and turns before reaching a building with a sign covered in animals. We enter and Satsuki holds out her hands and I relinquish the puppy. She marches right past the front desk and into the back area. Guess she works here. Ryuu goes up to the receptionist. I look around and see a clock. Uh-oh, it’s 8:30. Ryuu fills out some papers, and then walks over to me. I figure I better call my parents, and I make the universal sign for telephone. He nods, and pulls out his cell. I thank him and call home.
It takes me awhile to calm my parents, but I manage to apologize and explain the situation. They’re mad at me for running away, but I promise to talk later. They tell I need to be home before ten and make me write down our address. I’m surprised that I got let off so easy, but I take it as their apology for being so crabby lately. I hang up, and turn to give the phone back to Ryuu. I smile when I see that he has drawn a bowl of ramen. My stomach rumbles in assent, and we both laugh. I point questioningly at the door that Satsuki went through, and he draws a cast on the puppy’s foot. I figure that the puppy is in good hands, and point to bowl of ramen.
We go to a cozy ramen shop, and thankfully Ryuu orders for me. We make small talk via charades, Pictionary, and stilted English and Japanese. I gather that he lives near here, he can walk me home, and that he thinks my Japanese is entertaining—especially my anime slang. When the noodles come I burn my tongue in my haste to put food in my belly. We finish quickly and split the bill. I show my address to Ryuu, and he walks me home. I’m a sad that my little adventure is over, but then he hands me a drawing of himself, me, the puppy, and Satsuki-san at the park. A grin spreads across my face.
“Tomorrow,” he says and then leaves. I’m a bit stunned, but I guess Japan isn’t such a horrible place after all.

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