(VII) LOST in KOBE
Earlier today I wandered Umeda's cramped hallways looking for breakfast. Many stores were still closed, but finally I found a place serving kushi katsu, skewers of fried stuff. I had a bad feeling as soon as I ducked under the short curtain across the entrance. The place was dirty and the proprietor, clearly drunk at ten in the morning, took an instant dislike to me. He gave me such a startled, resentful look that I thought he might still be setting up.
" Uh, are you open?" I asked uncertainly.
"What do you mean, 'Are you open?'" he said derisively. "There are customers, aren't there?" He indicated two men drinking beers at the other end of the bar. They looked embarrassed.
"He's open," one said mildly.
"'Are you open...'" the proprietor muttered to himself. "Of all the... Well, whatever. What do you want to drink? Beer?"
"Water's fine, thanks."
"Water?" He spit something white in the direction of his kitchen equipment. "Can't you at least get an iced tea or something?"
"Ah," I said, and ducked back out of his store. Laughter followed me through the halls.
I walked through Umeda this morning with my eyes half-full, thinking about Naoko. Turmoil and confusion. It's not that I want to get back together with her. She's one in a million, though, and that old magnetism is still there, at least for my part. Hell, maybe I do want her back. We called things off because of distance, and now that distance is all but eliminated.
But there is another distance between us, born of six years' passage. Many things felt the same: comfortable, fun, sexy. Yet we're not the high school students we once were. We've both done some living in six years. I don't know her anymore. She doesn't know me. We are different people now.
She wants to have kids soon. She wants to quit her job and raise her adorable children. She'd be a wonderful mother. If I were to try to win her back somehow it would have to be for the long haul. There's too much history to be casual. But I doubt our goals in life are compatible.
For these and other reasons it's best to accept things and move on. Yet it's tempting to have other ideas.
I went to Kobe, which improved my mood considerably.
This city is too sad for me. Tokyo was the right choice; Osaka may forever be Naoko's city. She's everywhere I go. There is no place for me in her life, nor for her in mine, but in Osaka I still belong to Naoko.
So I went to Kobe, which I did with twenty rowdy exchange students almost exactly eight years ago. I had just met Naoko and she came with us. We all shared a bottle of Finnish vodka at eleven in the morning and hopped a train to Kobe, aiming for Chinatown. I went to remember, to try to feel that again.
All I've been doing, since I got here, is remember things. I've chased memories, visited old haunts, communed with old ghosts. I've seen faces I barely remembered. I've wandered cities I no longer know.
Like Kobe. I got lost and went in the opposite direction for ten minutes. There are worse things than being lost in Kobe on a lively Saturday afternoon. A few inquiries corrected my course and soon I was hip-to-hip with shoppers in a covered arcade lined with stores. I knew Chinatown was close but I wasn't sure exactly where. I don't usually realize my height but here I noticed it as I looked over a sea of black hair. I glanced to the left and saw a line of yellow lanterns at the end of an alley. There. I changed course and waded through people. After some more maneuvering I found myself under the huge stone gate at the entrance to Chinatown.
The narrow stone road was even more packed, human traffic moving five steps a minute. All the signs were red with gold kanji. Vendors sold noodles, dumplings, buns and skewers. I ate a steamed bun with a thick slice of bacon in the center. It's considered boorish to walk while eating but in this festival atmosphere everyone had abandoned that stricture.
One pass was enough. I was full of food on skewers and didn't feel like dealing with the crowds again. So I headed back to the train station and got a good seat on a train back to Osaka. Tiny houses, clinging to the side of mountains, flashed past the window for forty minutes.
I'm in Cafe Yamamoto, in the Umeda warrens. It feels inexplicably Cino-Russo-Turkic, all yellow lamps, low ceilings and dark, carved wood. I like to drink coffee in coffee-colored surroundings.
My departure is a few hours away, but I find myself wishing I could stay here with Naoko. We will have dinner again tonight and then I will I will board a dark bus back to Tokyo, where nothing will have changed. My rotten guesthouse and my dreary job will slap me back to real life. This cozy cafe and its yellow lamps that match the leaves on the trees outside, these are a dream I will long for some day.
I wish I had some damn friends in Tokyo. I'm growing weary of this constant solitude: work, study, sleep. It's depressing to realize that even though I'm going back, it's still not home. Minneapolis isn't home either, anymore. Nothing is, or maybe Osaka still is. I'd like to feel about Tokyo the way I once felt about Osaka. It would be nice to be comfortably settled somewhere, with some good friends and maybe a good woman. Eyes half-full again.