The Temporal Podcast #2: Chapter One
The Temporal Chapter One by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
Sam left the building feeling great—better than he had in weeks. His new boss was suitably impressed with his résumé and apparent work ethic. His soon-to-be coworkers—most younger than he by a decade—were pleasant and the office coffee was good and strong. He was now officially an English teacher in Japan.
Sam Williams had landed at Narita airport the previous day. He had time to shave, shower, and slip into a fitful night’s rest after the long flight. But he had made it to Tokyo.
In his mid-thirties and bookish, he could turn a banal conversation about sports into a philosophical brawl. Recently divorced, his wife left him for a friend, a friend he had introduced to her. His other friends, spineless as they were, tried to play Switzerland. In a crushing moment, Sam came to realize that he had no true friends or anchors back home. With the choice of trying to hang on to the past or create a new future, he decided to let go, get out of the country, and start over.
He wasn’t the adventurous type, preferring instead the quiet—where evenings were spent with a glass of wine and an old novel to intoxicate. Yet here he was sober and on the outset of what many would call a bold adventure: moving to live in a foreign country without so much as an acquaintance.
He had applied for teaching positions at a dozen English conversation schools throughout Asia. His first bite was in Japan. He had the urge to accept it immediately. But he researched the school online and even contacted a teacher who had previously worked there. After a few questions by email with the school secretary, he felt confident in his decision. Japan was, after all, a logical choice; his parents were military and he had lived there as a child. His Japanese was far from fluent, but he knew his tofu from his miso.
When he had entered the building earlier to meet his new boss, it had been sunny, hot, and humid; but opening the door to leave, there was an avalanche of water plunging to the earth from a sunless sky. The erratic weather perfectly matched his recent manic change of moods.
A cool, wet mist slapped his face waking him from any possible remnant of slumber or jet lag. He dropped the smile and pulled his arms up into his chest.
The English conversation school happened to share an awning with a corner convenience store. As Sam entered, a blast of cold air from a vent made him shiver. There was a display of a dozen or so umbrellas on sale for 500 yen. He indiscriminately grabbed one and walked directly to the clerk. It was a cheap umbrella; one of the tips of the ribs had already broken off. He noticed that fact just as he was handing the clerk a big 500 yen coin. Had he been in the States, he probably would have demanded a replacement, but his mood was affected by the rain and his new surroundings.
“Arigatou,” he said and left the store in search of a taxi.
Tokyo seemed quieter and smaller than his memory or media shaped imagination had led him to believe. But it was the rain keeping people inside or hurrying them by on the sidewalks. The rain made things seem small and distant, he thought.
With the umbrella hoisted above his head, he stepped into the downpour and hailed a cab. Confirming his theory, he instantly felt smaller and… wet. The umbrella was barely wide enough for his broad shoulders; the far ends of Sam’s suit coat were soaked before even getting to the taxi.
Rushing to avoid the rain, he forgot that Japanese cabs have automatic doors. Even though his leg was smarting from the impact, he profusely apologized to the cab driver making stunted, quick bows. The driver just nodded and held up his right hand for a few seconds never looking back or even making eye contact in the mirror.
“Hotel Washington made onegaishimasu.” Without a word audible to Sam, the robot-like driver turned the wheel and the cab was swallowed by the stream of traffic.
The windshield wipers whooshing back and forth, up and down were like a great maestro passionately conducting a symphony in perfect time. Occasionally, the orchestra seemed to lag behind the unflappable conductor—even still, it was a melodious sound.
The rain pelting the roof was the percussion; the engine, only audible during acceleration, was the string section building up to a crescendo and then quiet again as a supportive element in the background; there were of course horns and other street noises adding to the sound. The wipers continued whooshing with a constant rhythm.
It had been just a few months ago in April, he reminisced, when he took his wife to New York City. A few days of vacation leave and a long weekend made for nearly a week of first class flights and first class sights.
It had been their third wedding anniversary and he had especially surprised her with tickets for the opera at the Met with orchestra premium seating. The opera was Madama Butterfly—the one opera she had told him on their first date that she had always wanted to see—and was a complete surprise. At the time, he had congratulated himself for pulling it off so flawlessly.
There was one moment in particular that came to mind. On stage, the young geisha Chocho-san renounced all for the American Pinkerton’s love and, as a result, was renounced by all as well. Pinkerton deceitfully comforted her tears with “sweetheart, sweetheart, do not weep” even as his thoughts were on his return to America to marry another.
It was at that moment that Sam noticed her right hand wiping a tear from her cheek. He had been startled to see his stoic wife so moved. Perhaps it was the music—he had thought—or the underlying emotions bubbling to the surface that are always inherent to anniversaries.
But she was seeing him then…
It ended as quickly as it had started. There was no applause. The windshield wipers took one last bow before retiring off stage. The rain was over.
Moments later, the driver stopped at the hotel, mumbled something in Japanese, and crooked his meter so Sam could see the fare. He paid the automaton and entered the hotel.
He spent the rest of the evening drying in the hotel’s restaurant, bar, and later in his room watching Japanese television. There was a slap-stick do anything for fame show on that made him laugh despite the melancholy and the language gap.
Sam didn’t sleep well that night. He chalked it up to jet lag—had to be the jet lag.