The walk to the apartment complex looked treacherous. In the same place one could find cleanliness-obsessed, unemotional, patient, people with reserved demeanours and impeccable manners, Kate was shocked to look behind her as she exited the cab only to find that her polite taxi driver stepped out to relieve himself on a nearby pile of rubbish-a pile very much like the one that previously escaped her notise as she stepped off the plane in Narita International Airport. The sidewalk to her apartment complex appeared relatively peaceful and uneventful-the streets were bare and generally litter-free, though she couldn't help but wonder how much urine was in the nearby bush from which another cab just departed.
Kate recalled the moment when Michael had offered her the choise between Japan and China. She didn't reckon she would fit very well into either of the places: she was an athletic-looking Englishwoman, average height and fit weight and brown hair slicked back into an elastic. She'd simply stared at her boss and asked why she had to be the one transferred; he'd looked at her matter-of-factly—a perfect stereotypical picture of the average calculated computer programmer—and nudged his glasses forcefully further up on the bridge of his nose, informing her that she was the only person remotely qualified to go, and they had to send someone. Kate had scowled, protesting that just because she had taken a deep interest in Japanese language and culture while in university, she was far from fluent and would likely resort to using English words and probably-culturally-insensitive hand motions to depict what she meant.
Michael had told her that that if she did so, he would happily send her a pre-signed letter of termination without a final paycheque.
She passed a serene temple garden on the way to her new home, silent at the sundown except for the steady, driving flow of the beat of her soft leather suitcase's hard rubber wheels and the shuffle of leaves crunching under a passerby's feet. The silence was torn by a yakiimo man, hollering at her in his boisterous voice to buy sweet potatoes, but luckily, she was only steps away from her front door.
She'd escaped the sweet potatoes; the carpet looked so inviting in its plushy comfort as a welcome substitute for the bloody murder her 5-cm heels had been attempting on her feet. Kate removed her fashionable shoes (who said computer programmers could have no style?) not just because her feet had quickly learned the Japanese word for 'discomfort' and were screeching it at her consistently, but also because she wasn't sure how many taxicab drivers, exactly, had marked their territories in any of the flower patches she had stepped-in on the way to her complex. The carpet did not fail in the delivery of its promise—every centimetre of plushy goodness sent endorphins of pleasure to her brain. She started to think that this carpet could potentially take the place of a man.
Kate took a sigh of relief as she entered the sensory-pleasing apartment. It was plain, and small, but clean and not at all offencive to her nose, so she found it highly satisfactory and let her bags fall. They plopped to the floor, exhaustedly sighing air through the cracks in the zipper, hunching their leather wrinkles into their relaxed retirement.
After a long journey, all Kate wanted was to take a long hot bath in the famous spacious Japanese tubs about which she'd heard so much. She immediately rushed to turn the faucet on-
-a small plastic tub, providing no other comfort than the kanji telling her what company was its maker.
"Well," Kate said aloud indignantly to the silent walls, eyeing the kanji as if it were her newest mortal (or, rather, non-mortal) enemy, "I didn't need to leave England for this after all."
A firm knock on the door made Kate jump. It was lucky, she supposed, that she hadn't yet taken off her clothes, though she considered for a moment not answering the door at all (promptly followed by an urge to actually take off her clothes and answer the door naked—new place, new people…it appealed to Kate's daring side). But she sighed and resigned to generally universal social norms and switched off the faucet in order to answer the door.
The hinges in the door were silent; they offered no groaning complaint to a lack of oil or a failed promise in treating it right, and were obedient in their assistance in allowing Kate to greet her unexpected visitor. It was a Japanese man (or so her common sense said, rationalising that it must be the case since she was in Japan, though Kate wasn't one to be able to distinguish different sorts of Asian). He was slightly taller than her, looked to be about her age, and his facial symmetry was appealing to her. He seemed casual, sporting a laid-back tee-shirt and denim trousers, hair short but not exceedingly so, styled in a way that made it appear windswept.
"Konnichiwa," he offered, tilting his head slightly.
"Er, same to you?" guessed Kate, mimicking his head with her own.
He grinned. "I speak English, luckily for you. Would you mind helping me out here with the bags? I've got a few more trips from the van."
The Japanese accent on his tongue was slight, not very apparent; he could pass for an American. She was impressed. But—
"Bags?" Kate echoed, looking down by his feet. There were several, much like the ones she'd just brought in, and he was already handing them to her.
"Oh, by the way, it's a pleasure to meet you," he said, not allowing time for any sort of a response. "I'm Takashi, your roommate. I'm sure Michael told you about me?"
Michael had said nothing. Kate took the bags against her will.