We made our first trip to Kitsuki, Ōita a week later.
You may not have known it at the time, but my stomach was in knots waiting for you to arrive at the station.
I knew from past experience that half of the students in the seminar were not going to show up. Instead, they—the ones with a conscience, that is—would mail me to say they had a fever or had caught a cold. A cold in May? The more creative students would kill off a distant relative, uncles being the most popular to dispose of when groping for an alibi.
But you came, a few minutes early at that, carrying a furoshiki full of homemade muffins and bread in your hands. You were the first person who had ever gone to the trouble to prepare something to share with the others on the journey.
“Sawajiri-kun, I think you may have just earned yourself an A in my seminar.”
“Oh, these aren’t for you, Sensei.”
“Just kidding!” And with a devilishly playful smile you added: “You can have as many as you like . . . Sensei.”
We waited until we could wait no longer, and with only half of the seminar assembled made our way toward the platform where our train was preparing to depart. On board, you sat with one of the other co-eds, and I remember wishing you had sat down next to me, but it was just as well because I could see you and every now and again during the long trip, I would look up from my notebook computer and watch you smile or laugh as you talked to your classmates. And every now and again, our eyes would meet. Rather than look away embarrassed, though, you would maintain that eye contact, then smile, and every time I could have just died.
Two months later in early July, we returned to Kitsuki to present the results of our study and offer suggestions on how the town might better preserve and promote its heritage.
Typical for the rainy season, it had been unbearably hot and muggy all day. And as we were walking up a cobbled slope between century old samurai houses, lightning flashed, followed immediately by a deafening peal of thunder. The heavens unloaded its burden, sending all of us scrambling for cover. Soaked to the skin, the two of us huddled under the thatched eaves of a home. There, you pulled a terry cloth hand towel from your bag and offered it to me. I took the towel from your hand and began to gently wipe your brow, your ears, your cheek, your chin, your long neck. You turned your face towards mine, raised your chin, and ever so slightly parted your lips . . .
Just then, an official from the city came scurrying through the torrential rain towards us.
“Sensei! Sensei!” he said, handing us two convenience store umbrellas. “Please, use these!”
“How thoughtful of you,” I replied. But, in my mind, I was cursing the man: Thanks for nothing, you knucklehead!
Later, on the train back to Fukuoka, you chose the seat next to mine and, like many of the others in our group, quickly nodded off once the train had departed. Before long, your body was leaning against mine, our arms touching, your head resting against my shoulder. My heart beat like a hummingbird’s keeping me wide awake and aroused all the way back to Hakata.
 A furoshiki (風呂敷) is a Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport gifts, bentō boxes, and so on. Furoshiki were first used in the Nara period (710-794) at public bathhouses to wrap one’s clothes to prevent them from being confused with those of other bathers, hence the name furo-shiki (Lit. “bath” (furo 風呂 + “cover or spread” shiki 敷).
The first installment/chapter of Tears can be found here.
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