Row Your Boat

Miyako had not expected to find herself in Yamagata Prefecture. All her life, she thought she would build her career in Tokyo and settle down there, but when her fiancé finally offered her a ring on her 29th birthday, she could not bring herself to say yes. The following day, she hurriedly boarded the train and never looked back. It did not make sense to her why she acted that way. All she knew was that she had to leave.

Not knowing yet what to do with her new life, she walked aimlessly around the city. Certainly, she would never go back. Although she could not explain her reasons for leaving, she felt like a different person. Overnight, it seemed that she had shed her old skin, like a snake preparing for a new stage in life.

Her mind was filled with so many questions, of which she had no answers to. If only life was a classroom with scheduled lectures and exams. If only there was an actual answer key for each person’s conundrums. Try as she might, she could not find answers. For now, all she could do was to surrender to uncertainty.

Without any plans, she was free to spend her time however she wanted to. She decided to lay down the grass and watch the clouds. She was in the middle of a daydream when it started to rain. She was in the middle of a meadow, with no shelter nearby. Instinctively, she walked briskly to her north, or what seemed north to her. No matter how many steps she took, it felt like she was still in the middle of the field. Her feet were getting wobbly, and she started to feel exhausted, yet she continued to walk. She realized that raindrops no longer touched her skin, and when she looked up, she saw a man holding a yellow umbrella up for her. Strangely, she was reminded of her own umbrella back home.

“A lovely lady like you shouldn’t spend weekends alone in a beautiful meadow like this,” the man told her. Miyako could not think of a reply, so she remained silent. “I’m Toshio, by the way.” The man extends his arm. “Sorry for the odd introduction. Most people find me strange.” “No worries. I’m Miyako. Thank you for sharing your umbrella with me.”

Somehow, they found shelter. “What were you doing in the meadow all alone anyway?” Toshio asked. “I ran away from home this morning, and I do not intend to come back. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do nothing for now,” Miyako replied. “You know, there’s a small island just past Mogami River. Not a lot of people know about this because it’s difficult to spot.” “What’s there to do on that island?” “There are baby dragons there, and if you befriend them, they’ll teach you how to fly. You can even be their master.” “Really? That’s amazing!” “Yup, and in that island, you won’t need anything else. Food is abundant and shelter is easy to find. I can take you there if you want,” Toshio offered. Miyako loved the newness of the situation. She may not have plans ironed out, but now it was easier to move forward, especially with someone by her side. Combining the money they had in their pockets, they purchased a little boat from one of the fishermen by the shore. Ecstatic, they rode the boat in no time.

“There’s only one pair of paddles,” Miyako announced, disappointed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll navigate and keep you company while you row,” Toshio replied. Luckily, Miyako used to go fishing with her father on Sundays when she was a little girl. Although several years have passed since she last held paddles, she clearly remembered how her father guided her on how to control water as they meandered along the stream. Keeping this memory in mind, she began rowing along the Mogami River.

“Careful now. This river may look calm, but eel monsters live in the depths of the water,” Toshio warned. Miyako gulped. Sensing his companion’s nervousness, he said, “We’ll get there soon enough, don’t worry. You’re going to love it there, Miyako!”

The rowing took longer than it should. The sun was already about to set. Miyako could no longer feel her arms, having rowed the entire afternoon. They needed to find the shore of the island soon, before it gets dark. Toshio guaranteed her that he knew the way. “Toshio, where are we going?” she asked.

There was no answer.

“Toshio, which way should I row?”

Still, there was no answer. Miyako heard the eel monsters swimming underneath.

“Toshio?”

She looked back and saw Toshio fast asleep at the far end of the boat. She wanted to reach him, but she couldn’t stand and let go of the paddles, lest they’ll sink. Who knows how deep this river is? What if there is an undercurrent? And how about the eel monsters?

“TOSHIO!!!”

The sun had already set. Slightly moving the paddles to keep them afloat, Miyako looks at the sleeping Toshio, feeling lost and desolate.


Author’s note: I began writing this piece earlier this year, but only got to finish it now. I’ve only been to Japan through Haruki Murakami’s novels and Google Street View.
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Modus Operandi

Women fall in love not with looks, but with words. Ask her about her opinions, her dreams, her passions — what she longs for and what she aches for. Listen to her life story, and when she tells you her insecurities, assure her by saying, “You are beautiful, nevertheless.” Send her occasional messages of how are you’s. Do not use flowery words. Say something as simple as: “If you need someone to talk to, please know I’m just here.” If she doesn’t want to share, tell her, “Tell on your own time,” so that she feels that you respect her space. Of course, you also have to tell your story, too. As much as possible, show her that you two have something in common: perhaps a bruised childhood, or an unrequited dream.

After a few weeks or months, when she has become used to talking with you regularly, ask her out. Do not refer to it as a date so as not to appear intimidating. Still, bring her to a cozy restaurant — not too fancy, but somewhere conducive enough to have a good conversation. Make things interesting by asking her questions like, “If you were a word, what would you be?” or “What is your contradiction?” Be prepared to answer your own questions as well. She will only lay down her cards if you do the same. You can tell her: if you were a word, you’d be “reserved” because you play within the lines. Your contradiction is that you are open-minded, but deep inside you are judgmental. Let your wavelengths intertwine. Physically, keep distance, but stay close enough to brush your fingers against hers. Do not expect her to respond immediately. If she does not move away, then it means that she is interested. Keep at it until she reveals more of herself. On your first date, do not kiss her yet.

When you do this, she will daydream about you. Perhaps she will not say how she feels, but you will notice it. She will allot some time to hangout with you, no matter how busy she is. Ask her, “What are your plans today?” Listen closely. When she says something like, “I have to go to a meeting this afternoon, but aside from that, I have no other plans,” then it means you are on the right track. Another sign will be if she never tags a friend along with her in any of your hangouts. It means that she is comfortable with spending time with you alone. At this point, she trusts you. You can hold her hand, hug her, and kiss her already.

Strengthen your hold on her by showing her your world. Introduce her to your closest friends. When she seems nervous, assure her by winking at her across the table. Level up by bringing her to one of your family dinners. Talk about long-term dreams together, and while you’re at it, make sure that your eyes sparkle. Do not forget to hold her hand or to put your arms around her while you are walking in a public place. She will take this as a sign that you are one hundred percent committed. At this point, she will be sure: you are the one for her.

Women believe that love is the underlying of a relationship, not mere attraction. If you are a singer, sing songs for her. If you are a writer, make her the subject of your poems. More importantly, tell her that you want to make love with her, not screw her. She will hold your hand tighter. She will kiss you more passionately. Her clothes will become shorter. Come full moon, take her to a hotel, or to your own mansion. Never bring her to a motel, because every woman wants to be treated like a queen. Touch her gently until she no longer feels the need to cover herself up. Take off your clothes, as well. When she is finally naked, lick the parts you have never seen nor touched. Hold her arms so that when she resists vulnerability, she can find comfort in your strength. Keep caressing her until she is completely lost in another world. Ride her rhythm. Moan when she is moaning. Show her: you two are in tune with each other — that you can be lost in her, as much as she is lost in you.

Before the sun rises, get fully dressed. While she is wrapped in white sheets, tell her the truth: she is beautiful, but the touch of a man is better.

Snippet 0405

Three friends at a bar

Anna: I found my soul mate. I know it’s him, but he isn’t the one I’m with.

Francesca: We just click, you know? I never thought I’d find myself in this situation. He said he wants to stay with me, but his wife doesn’t want to sign the annulment papers.

Robin: I’m divorced. I really thought she was the one.

Sleep

The night is wide-awake. The street lamps illuminate the roads that promise wide-eyed discoveries. The wind invitingly whispers the name of your love. You want him here but he is somewhere else, at work or in another planet. You drive alone, one hand on the passenger seat, the other on the wheel. Perhaps imagination will be enough. You craft an image of him in your mind. He is here beside you in his usual V-neck shirt and jeans, holding your hand, his eyes reflecting the glow of the city lights.

The roads are wider now, the highway welcoming you to an adventure. You squeeze his hand tightly, only to receive no response from the passenger seat. Suddenly, there is no reason for adventure. What use is it to drive alone when you want to be with the one you love?

He isn’t here, and driving becomes a chore. Every kilometer is a heavy step taken. The weight of your car falls upon your shoulders. Where to go? You make a U-turn and head back home.

At home, it is dark. The street lamps try to illuminate your windows. Not enough light is let in. The shadows have won. You head to bed, making sure that you are completely wrapped in your blanket, using it as substitute for skin. And for all it’s worth, you sleep to rest, to escape the limits of this world. You head over to dreamland, where there is no cost for adventure, where fantasy meets fantasy. You find the one you love, and although it is not real, at least he is there.

You sleep, because you cannot bear the pains of longing. You sleep until the one you love touches you back to life.