Late afternoon was over and Akihito kept running through the warm evening. Through the narrow streets with endless rows of shops, past restaurants, down the crowded sidewalks. All around him was the chattering of voices, the noise from advertising videos, and the sound of traffic. People shouted at him as he shoved past but he paid them no mind.
The running helped. His labored breathing, the burning in his quads and calves kept the humiliating situation at bay for a short time. When he remembered himself shouting at Asami, “You belong to me!!” he ran harder.
He finally stopped, unable to run anymore. He leaned on a bench, panting. He wanted to get far away. He felt as though a storm was trying to break out of him and he gripped his quads to hold back the onslaught. His cell phone rang. He turned off the ringer without looking at it and put it away.
When he finally caught his breath, he saw he was standing in the shadow of the Tochō. He glanced up at the top of the twin towers of the building then across the street at Shinjuku Chuo Park. He made his way to the park across the street, passing couples and tourists on their way to the observation decks at the top of the towers. He had gone up there many times and taken some great shots of the city views. When he entered the park he walked along the path towards the familiar sound of the waterfall. Akihito trembled as he walked, swallowing the lump in his throat. The storm inside him was starting to break through. He felt as if the enormous pressure might rip him apart.
The sound of the falling water was surprisingly loud but Akihito was grateful for the noise. He walked up to the water’s edge. Homeless people sat on benches around the perimeter of the open concrete space, young people strolled by, tourists took pictures. The evening was cooling down and the light was changing as the sun sunk lower in the sky. Akihito stood on one of the large rocks in front of the falling water, willing himself to hold back the storm struggling to get out of him. Sprays of water splashed on him here and there. When he could no longer stand it, he went to a bench deep in one of the corners of the open space next to the falls and sat curled up, holding onto his knees. He buried his face in his knees and the storm broke through, pain raking through his body. There was anger and humiliation, of course, but they were nothing compared to the painful feelings of tenderness and longing. His shoulders shook and he fought to hold back his voice, curling tighter into himself.
He wondered why it hurt so much and why these terrible tender feelings seemed to be increasing. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him, nor could he understand why he wanted to see Asami so badly that he felt like he was going to die.
He stayed where he was, silently shaking and streaming tears. After the worst part of the storm passed, Akihito became aware that his legs were sore from running. He stretched out his legs, wiping his eyes. He saw that a man was sitting on the same bench with him. He hadn’t even heard him approach. The man was holding out a handkerchief.
“Don’t worry, it’s clean. Come on, take it,” the man said, watching him. Akihito took the handkerchief and wiped his eyes. The man looked about the same age as Asami. He was dressed decently enough in jeans and a blue button down shirt but with his scuffed black shoes, he gave off that aura of homelessness. His hair was shaggy; he needed a haircut. He had very dark eyes and an angular face. He was wearing rectangular wire rim glasses.
Akihito tried to give the handkerchief back to the man.
“No, I don’t want it. It’s yours now,” he said.
“Thanks,” mumbled Akihito, “How long have you been sitting here?”
“Since right after you started bawling your head off,” said the man. The man was solidly built but he gave the impression of being much larger. He seemed to take up most of the park bench. “Having a bad day?”
“Something like that,” Akihito said, blushing. His eyes felt slightly swollen. There weren’t many people around them now. The open space in front of the waterfall was almost empty.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it. Still, you look like you could use some company right now.”
“Wh-What do you mean?”
The man crossed his legs. Akihito felt a jolt. Something about the man’s movement reminded him of Asami. “I don’t mean anything. Sometimes people need company when they feel like their world is falling apart.”
“My world isn’t falling apart,” said Akihito.
“Uh huh. Let me guess, girl trouble, right? You’ve gotten into it with your girl and now you’re realizing your feelings are more serious than you thought.”
Akihito gulped. “Not exactly.” He shifted in his seat.
“Ah. Okay, guy trouble. You got into an argument with your guy and now you’ve realized the full extent of your feelings for him,” said the man. He pushed up his glasses even though they weren’t sliding down.
Akihito stared at the man. “Who are you?”
The man laughed, showing perfect white teeth. “I love being right. It’s written all over your face, kid. The weeping of a young man in love. Precious. My name is Maseo, by the way.”
“I’m Takaba Akihito,” he paused, “Are you homeless?”
“Yes, I am. Not so bad now. The weather’s good. I’ve got my things around here, wrapped up.” Akihito glanced around and could see the familiar blue wrapped packages the homeless people left in the park until sundown. “Don’t worry about crying like that, Akihito. All men go through it when they’ve realized their guy or girl is the love of their life.”
“He’s not the love of my life,” said Akihito stretching out his legs again. Maseo reached into a small backpack next to him. He pulled out a new bottle of water and handed it to Akihito.
“Sure he is. No, that’s your bottle now. You need it more than I do,” he said. Akihito broke open the seal to the bottle and gratefully drank the water down.
“Thanks for the water, Maseo-san,” he said, pouring a little of the water on the handkerchief and wiping his face with it.
“You’re welcome. Now, as for your guy—”
“I wasn’t being jealous, not really,” Akihito said, surprising himself. “Sorry I interrupted you,” he added, “I don’t know where that came from.”
Maseo merely smiled at him, eyebrows raised.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” asked Akihito when Maseo didn’t continue his train of thought. The coming sunset was bathing the waterfall with warm colors.
“No, you’ve pretty much figured it out,” he said. Though the sounds of the waterfall were loud, they could hear each other just fine.
“I haven’t figured out anything. We have nothing in common. We don’t even like each other. As people, I mean. And I’m not in love. At all. And he…he’s pretty much incapable of any real human emotions.” He wondered why he was being so honest with Maseo, a complete stranger. Something about him made him feel like opening up.
Maseo grinned. His teeth seemed almost too white. “Yep, it’s true love, all right.”
Akihito ignored his comment. “I wasn’t jealous. Not really, well, when that other guy kissed him I might have gotten a little angry.” Akihito fell silent. He wondered about Ravi and Asami’s feelings for him. He was afraid he’d caused more problems for Asami even though Ravi deserved what he got for touching him like that. Still, the man was obviously important, so important that Asami hadn’t done anything to keep him off. What if he, Ravi, really was important to Asami but in that other way? Feilong had said there was no love between men but what if Asami loved this Ravi? Another wrenching pain cut through him. It was true Ravi was of a much higher status than himself. It was also true he knew almost nothing about Asami’s private life except for what was directly related to himself.
“If that’s tr-true then I don’t have a right to be jealous,” he said out loud. He was surprised to hear his own voice, just like he had been stunned to hear himself shout “You belong to me!!!”
“If what’s true?” asked Maseo.
“Nothing,” said Akihito. His stomach growled. “I don’t care what he does…with other people,” said Akihito more to himself than Maseo.
“Is your guy with other people?” asked Maseo.
“I don’t know, but I don’t care. Not really. He can do whatever—” Akihito stopped. Asami…with other people. He really didn’t like this thought. He closed his eyes to blot out the sudden surge of anger. It didn’t help. He opened his eyes again.
“Hey, are you hungry?” asked Akihito looking at Maseo, “I’m going to get something to eat. I’ll buy you some ramen.”
“Sure. Why not? Lovesick young men aren’t usually so generous. Very wrapped up in themselves.” Akihito straightened his cramping legs, wincing as he stood up. Maseo stood up, shouldered his backpack, and they walked out of the park together.