Thank you for travelling on the Shinkansen. This is the Nozomi Super Express bound for Shin-Osaka, Kyoto, Shin-Kobe, Nagoya, Shinagawa, and Tokyo.
The bullet train cuts through southern Honshu like a scythe through maize. You're going home to Gifu and I'm returning to Tokyo. The odds are stacked against us because of distance and circumstances. But we have to try. Don't we?
Hiroshima, the City of Water. The journey from Tokyo takes four hours by shinkansen. As I wait in the foyer, an elderly Japanese lady ventures up to me. Her buttercup- yellow bib reveals that she is a tourism volunteer worker.
"Are you lost?" she asks, beaming kindly.
"No, I'm just waiting for a friend. Arigatou Gozaimasu!"1 I reply.
"Where are you from? Germany? Many Germans visit Hiroshima."
"I'm from Ireland," I respond.
A look of bemusement crosses her face. My tiny island is barely a speck in the consciousness of most Japanese.
"Airulando," I say, giving the katakana form.2
"Ahhhh Aisulando! Very cold" she nods enthusiastically, before ladening me with tourist brochures.
I've given up explaining to the Japanese that I'm not from Iceland. Nor do I have the heart to tell her that heavy snowfall is rare in my country and that we're lacking in volcanoes.
Then you tap me on the shoulder. You're here! We stand awkwardly for a moment before hugging. The last time we met was the first time. You came to Tokyo visit a mutual friend. A group of us went out for nomihodai3 and on to a nightclub. We kissed on the dancefloor. The next day you had a few hours to kill before your train home.
"Do you want to grab some lunch?"
We went to an Italian restaurant outside Shinjuku-Sanchome station. You laughed at my struggles to eat spaghetti without using a spoon. Since then we kept messaging until finally we agreed to meet here, in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima Peace Park. A ruined dome remains, a harrowing relic of the atomic bomb. The searing heat scorched a human being's shadow into a set of concrete steps. Sculptures pay somber tribute to affected innocents: school children, Korean comfort women, people living their lives under the shadow of empire and war. Peace cranes bespeckle the ground like bird seed. It is deeply moving and after we walk along one of the rivers in somber silence.
That night we lie side by side on the futon in the darkness. I'm unsure of your desires, your expectations. I'm afraid of misreading the signs and making the rest of this trip awkward for both of us. I don't want to scare you away but then I see your outstretched hand and I reach for it.
Bodies intertwining, midnight-black hair cascades down your slender back, magnetized lips, we are one, we are one.
Afterwards, our bodies glisten with sweat under the moonlight. We listen to the low hum of the air conditioner and a chorus of cicadas. As we cool, we edge our naked bodies closer again and fall into an entangled slumber.
Miyajima Island lies just outside the city boundaries. After six months in Japan I thought that the novelty of temples had worn off. However, Miyajima is spectacular. A vast orange torii gate rises from the water in front of the island's temple complex. I wonder if our ferry will pass through the Giant Torii into a higher realm.
As we wander around the tiny island we hold hands. We didn't do that yesterday. Miniature deer roam around the island, scavenging food from tourists. We laugh as one tries to enter a noodle shop before a harassed waiter shoos it away. Then we follow a path up to higher ground where we sit and gaze out at the shimmering bay.
I like Hiroshima. The streets are wide and calm, a far cry from the frantic hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Trees line the paths and the pace of life is a relief after the overwhelming rat-race of the capital city. I feel like opening my arms wide like an albatross and running down the path. Then I notice you are gone.
A lady spots my confusion and points down a pathway.
"Your girlfriend went down there."
My girlfriend. The words are jarring in the morning air. Are you my girlfriend? I go down to the Ota River one of six waterways in Hiroshima. You grin teasingly at me when I find you. Then we silently embrace.
Now we're sitting side-by-side on the shinkansen. I love these trains because of their futuristic aesthetic and their amazing legroom.
"Can we take a picture together?" I ask you.
A shadow crosses your face.
"Well I've had a really nice time and I'd like to have a picture with you," I say.
You think about it. I can see the turmoil inside you. It's not long since you ended your last relationship and now I'm trespassing upon your affections.
I hold the camera in front of us and you stick your tongue out. It's not the most flattering photo of either of us. We're both exhausted after successive late nights and early mornings. But I don't care.
"Are we going to see each other again?"
The words hang in the air as though above a bed of nails. But I need to know because these feelings are too intense. We need to act on them or put them away and stop hurting ourselves.
You take my hand in yours and smile before you disembark.
1 Thank you.
2A Japanese linguistic form used to Japanify foreign words eg: hamburger becomes hanbuga
3Many Japanese bars (izakayas) offer all-you-can-drink deals for a set time and price.
Darren Ryding is from Ireland. He currently lives in Vietnam. His writing features in Dissonance, The Madrigal, and Ink, Sweat and Tears.