Alex Inoue

Dead End, Zo's Journey, and more stories

Go-En Dama

Posted by on November 15, 2020

She pauses in our online call, then says, “You could come live here.”

“How?” I ask, curious and confused. “Like, should I just go move there? Can I even do that?”


I can’t even reply right away. Get married?

* * *

She arrives tomorrow.

I am so anxious, but in a good way. I don’t know about this marriage nonsense, really. But to see my, well, I guess she’s my online girlfriend, in person? I honestly can’t contain my joy.

I hope work doesn’t mind if I actually end up leaving. They’re ready to fire me soon, anyway. Me and the other fifty seasonal workers still left around.

Still, I didn’t think she was serious. Back when I told her I got kicked out. When I found out I had to live in my car, find a new job, and eventually a room when I could afford rent. Getting kicked out of my home was tough, but hearing from Saho everyday made it so much easier to manage. She helped inspire me to find work right away. And a place to live.

And, now, tomorrow, she’s going to finally come to live with me for a few weeks! I can’t believe it! After a year of touch-and-go talking and flirting, we’re finally going to meet!

* * *

Saho is sitting in the passenger’s side of my beat-up junker sedan.

I can’t believe I’m going in at 2 AM for a, as she called it, “sandoicchi.”

The gas station has the goods, thank goodness. I look around the silent store, just in case. I’m in the clear.

With a small box in hand, I decide to complete the “sandwich.” A pack of rope-candy and a bag of chips. There. I set down the set and pull out my wallet. A swipe of my card and my strategic sandwich now sealed in an opaque plastic bag, I hurry back to my car and pass the prize to Saho.

She smiles and comments on my successful completion of the “sandoicchi.”

I feel too embarrassed to reply.

* * *

Everything is so cramped in Japan. I can’t believe people can live in such small quarters.

Saho and I are walking through Yoyogi park, the only open space I’ve seen all week. And what a relief it is! Sure, it’s packed with people, but nothing like how it felt to bundle up on a busy train. Or even walk down a busy street.

At least I can comfortably stretch out and take in fresh air.

Saho pulls out our lunch from a clear plastic bag. Four sandwiches from a convenience store: two egg salad, one katsu, and one tuna. Finally, she pulls out our drinks. One jasmine tea and one cola.

I should stop drinking cola so much.

* * *

My fiancée’s grandmother waves me to sit down. “Chotto, Maikaru-kun. Prezento-ga aru yo,” she says in a soft voice. 

She speaks quickly in Japanese, saying something about that I shouldn’t worry about it among other things I couldn’t follow. Then, she pulls out a coin and grabs my hand. “Go-en wo,” she tells me as she places the bronze coin in my hand. “Good luck,” she repeats in stiff English.

I smile as I retract my hand. Her accent was thick, but she definitely wished me luck. And the subject is clear to me. After speaking something that I only picked out a few words, and then this, I realize she means Saho and me. I open my hand and inspect the coin. It has a round hole in the middle and kanji all over on one side. The other side has the number five in kanji and a picture of a wheat-looking plant bent around the hole. It’s soft to the touch, though it begins to feel a bit oily, like a penny.

I grip the coin tightly and think of good luck with my fiancée.

* * *

I can’t believe she convinced me to join her in that tiny bathtub. The ones back in America felt a little small to fully stretch out in, and they’re like swimming pools compared to our Japanese o-furo.

Saho grins and laughs at me. “Nani yattenda?

Completely naked and feeling a little cold now that I’ve finished rinsing away the suds out here, beyond the tub, I slowly dip my foot into the half-filled cup of clear, steaming-hot water. I finish entering with a red face while the rest of my body turns even more pink-red from the scalding heat.

I can’t decide if I’m more uncomfortably shy or uncomfortably boiling. My wife can’t help but make fun of me with another grin.

* * *

“Come on, Michael. Wake up! Hora, hayaku!

I blink slowly, untangle my earbud cables from my neck, and sit up. Saho is already up, and probably has been for a while. I wish I did a better job at getting up when my alarm goes off. “Sorry,” I tell her as I rub my face.

“You have your interview today. You don’t want to be late for the train, so you need to get up.”

I agree and get ready. Back home, I always washed in the morning. But because of the time and because Saho always liked to bathe at night, I conceded to brushing my teeth and changing into my suit without refreshing properly. I tried it a few times last week, but my body felt dried out and weird when I both showered in the morning and then again at night, and then also laid in the tub after Saho. The worst part was probably how tired I still felt everyday so far without a morning shower.

* * *

Unko,” she says with a straight face.

Did she just say…no, maybe I’m remembering the word wrong.

Then, Saho grins and speaks in a silly tone. “Unko nano? Toire iku?

I shake my head no, then awkwardly trip over my words as I try to ask why she would ask about poop all of the sudden.

All she could reply with was a laugh.

* * *

We say goodbye and I walk to the train station to head to my first day at my new job. The walk is short, only requiring around ten minutes comfortably descending down a narrow street that no cars seem to use. I pass by small storefronts and thin office buildings, all clean and distinguished. Even the signs that look aged still lack damage or dust. Seeing images of downtown Tokyo in movies and actually living here is such a difference, and I can’t help but feel out of place as a flood of other suited commuters fill the entrance of the train station.

As I recharge my Passmo, the electronic card thing that I previously just borrowed from Saho until I finally got my own, and finally pass through the electronic gates with my fare automatically updated and charged later when I left another station, I think back to the go-en dama I got from Saho’s grandmother. It didn’t stand out at first when I was pulling out a wad of thousand yen bills to put into my Passmo. The coin sat neatly in the now mostly empty wallet I got from Saho, though not in the coin pouch. I returned the wallet back to my pocked and felt the small round shape with a hole through the leather slip from its place in one of the credit-card pouches.

* * *

My company is finally giving me some proper work. I feel like the first three months were just to keep my busy while deciding how I could be useful.

I sit in a chair-bench between two older men and listen to a shuffled playlist of my “4+,” which currently has an anime song playing. But in my head, I’m not singing along like I usually do. I think of the go-en dama. The five yen coin. I learned from Saho that it’s a play on words in Japanese. The word for “five yen” is a homophone for the words “honorific” and “relationship.” It’s still a bit confusing, but she told me it’s a good luck charm, basically.

I wonder if we’ll have a kid soon.

* * *

“Why not?” I ask.

Ii-kara.” And that was that. She didn’t want me to help clean or cook, and that’s all she needed to say to shut me up.

I retire to my desk just ten feet away from the stove and watch videos until dinner is ready. I’m not happy about her doing all the work at home, but I guess she just wants me to work while she is a housewife? I really wish she would just explain why, though. I don’t think I make enough money on my own to support us, so we’re still using some of her inheritance to pay the bills. Maybe all of it, even. To be honest, she does all the paperwork since I’m still learning and official stuff is almost impossible to decipher.

* * *

Giving up using Japanese because I can’t understand, Saho quickly switches to English. “I can’t have a kid easily. I have a medical problem here. The doctor said it’s very difficult.” She’s pointing to right below her stomach.

I say I understand in Japanese.

I’ve gotten better at speaking, but not good enough. But how should I know medical terms, anyway? Even in a year, I can’t think of an occasion when some of those words I just heard were used. It’s a good thing she lived in Canada for a while, back in high school. Back when her father was still around.

We talk a bit more in Japanese. I say that it’s going to be okay, and that there’s no rush. She says we’ll just keep trying. But she seems defeated to me. I wish she didn’t look so unhappy.

* * *

After how Saho refused to go hang out and karaoke, I give up and retire to my floor-desk. I guess I’ll have to be content playing games by myself, again.

I never understood why she enjoyed sitting in the same room, feet apart, and in total silence. I think back to the first month or two. We used to walk around outside and get tasty meals together. And I swear she used to enjoy talking about funny shows with me.

With a sigh, I launch my favorite online game and prepare to grind for higher ranking. Work was stressful, so I really let myself get into gaming when there was nothing else to do. Sure, I got upset when I loss. But I was climbing the ranks and getting better! I hope that today I can reach the next tier of the ladder.

* * *

I squeeze the go-en dama.

It’s cold outside despite being in the middle of summer. I can’t believe she would say something like that. “Like a brother.” It’s so confusing! The first month, when she came to Seattle, it was so much fun! She came to me several times a week when I wasn’t even comfortable, yet. She’s the only person I’ve ever had sex, and I’m not sure I even feel comfortable about it even now. But at least I’m trying! I had to learn about kissing and all that you do after. Then, after we came to Japan, got married, and spent about six months being lovey-dovey, it just seemed to die off. Especially since we moved out here, just beyond the downtown sprawl.

* * *

“Maybe you should go back to school.” The words sound innocent for a moment, but something feels wrong. Saho just randomly spoke aloud while we’d been sitting quietly at our computers. Why would she say that?

I can’t help but reply honestly. “That’s true. I’ve been looking at schools here in Japan, on the American bases. My grandma was telling me about them. I’d only need another two years or so.”

But she doesn’t talk after. It’s strange that she would bring up something like school out of nowhere. I go back to my game for a while. I don’t have work for the next two days, so I’m looking forward to the break. I’m doing some stupid project and I’m the only one assigned to it. Any time I get to relax is, now more than ever since I had been hired, greatly welcomed.

* * *

Saho has a job at a university in Tokyo! Just in time for classes to pick back up. Something about being a lab assistant. I’m so surprised considering how down she’s been for almost a year, now. Ever since we moved out of Tokyo, it seems. But that didn’t matter anymore because she’s now so much more happy and cheery. I can’t help but feel excited along with her.

She turns away from the stove with a smirk. “You should get some kinniku. Like, maccho.”

“What does that mean? Maccho?”

She flexes her arms like a bodybuilder. “Kou-dayo.

* * *

I’m not sure how I’m going to do it while working, but at least my grandma has been trying to help me find some options. I guess Saho was right, though. I feel like I need a better job than just 1300 yen an hour. Her new job pays a little less, but she says she still has plenty of money left over from her dad.

At least she’s been happier, lately. Ever since she started working. She never told me before, but it’s the first job she’s had since she was in high school. Ever since, well…but I guess I never really asked about it. Or about her father.

* * *

Ja, mata getsuyoubi-ni.” With that, she left.

Something about going to a concert with her old friend from highschool. “Laibu” or “live” concert, I think she called it. It was sad to hear she’d be gone for the rest of the weekend, but it’s only going to be a day and a half. I look around our small apartment. It feels so cold and lonely, now.

Well, there’s nothing better to do but rank up, I guess.

* * *

“You should go back to the US and study.” Saho had been quiet for hours again, but she was back about school. Was she trying to get rid of me? Was it because we argued about what kind of relationship we had? That was over a month ago, though! I thought things were fine!

But all I can manage to reply with is plain and dejected. I tell her that I guess I can in Japanese.

She replies in English, “We’ll stay married. I just want some time apart.”

* * *

It’s nearly winter. Nearly two years since I met her.

Now, I’m sitting across from my ex-wife in Narita airport. She has tea while I have a cup of cola. We both have a warm bowl of udon. After ceremoniously saying ittadakimas, we quietly eat lunch. It’s going to be the last lunch with her I’ll ever have.

We talk about nothing interesting. She asks me about my family, and about what I’ll do. I tell her my plans for school and work. She doesn’t tell me about her plans, even though I ask.

It’s time to go, already. We’ve already cleared the table. I can’t make myself go to hug her. She doesn’t move, either. We say sayonara and turn away.

On the plane, I pull out my wallet I got from her. But when I open it and search the circular impression with a hole, it’s flatter than it should be.