Akiko chewed her pencil, then her nails and then, finally, the end of her ponytail. She had never asked a boy out before. But he was perfect. Had anyone ever been so perfect? She doodled another heart in the corner of her exercise book. Akira. Akira and Akiko. Akiko and Akira. Perfect. They were made for each other. Yesterday he had smiled at her as they picked up their bikes after school. Today there had been a space next to his. It was fate. She had slid her bike in beside his and they were nestling together right now, touching. Just like she and Akira would be soon. She blushed. She would ask him today, after volleyball club.
Akiko was a pretty girl, in a cute kind of way, like a mascot, or an anime. She smiled a lot and had dimples and wore short skirts and long socks and neat bows in her shiny, bouncy, hair. She was adorable. All the girls said so. They gathered around her desk at lunch time looking at the hearts and the blushes and giggling supportively. Akira was such a lucky boy! And so cute! Those cheekbones! He could be in a boy band. He and Akiko would look perfect in matching sweaters. Akiko demurred;
‘Do you think so? Really? I don’t know, I’m so ugly today!’,
which set them off into a twittering chorus of encouragement.
‘You can do it! Be brave! He loves you! Don’t give up!’
But late that afternoon, when she got to the bike racks, she nearly lost her nerve. Akira was there, leaning casually against the wall and chatting to his friends. The gentle sun shone from behind him, outlining him in gold, like a vision. She walked hesitantly over to get her bike, lifting it carefully away from his, and lingered, gazing at him with what she believed was her best possible expression. When he left his friends and came over to her, her heart raced.
‘Akira’ She stuttered.
‘I have something to ask you. Will you, really, maybe, could you, I mean, I WANT TO BE YOUR GIRLFRIEND’.
With that, she cast her eyes to the ground and clasped her hands together, waiting anxiously for his reply.
On the other side of the campus, Haru was leaving English club late. As he walked, he thumbed through his dictionary, deep in thought, trying to memorise some new words by applying them to his life. The world’s first Pokèmon theme park, Pokè Park, was due to open next Spring. It was his life’s dream to go, but he had nobody to go with him, since his best friend had moved on from Pokémon to girls. Were they really getting so old? The thought depressed him. His life was becoming … what was that word? Prosaic. Prosaic when he wanted poetic. Work when he had not yet tired of playing. Elegant when cute was what made him smile. He flipped through the pages, arriving at fulsome just as his attention was seized by a desperate cry. He glanced up to see a bike careering out of control towards him, weaving dangerously back and forth. The rider’s eyes seemed to be tight shut, her legs suck out sideways away from the pedals.
‘Watch out!’ he shouted, just too late.
Bike and rider were upon him. Literally upon him. He fell over backwards, the girl with the ponytail fell over forwards, and the bike skidded off to the side where it span twice in a circle and then collapsed exhausted on the ground. The girl was on top of him. She felt … fulsome. He struggled, quickly, to disentangle himself and get up. She stayed on the ground crying.
‘Are you hurt?’ Hiro asked, awkwardly.
She sobbed for a while before answering.
‘Yes’, she said, ‘I have a broken heart!’
‘Uh, I’m sorry to hear that?’
She looked up at him, finally.
She was perfect. Adorable. Dimpled. Cute. He blushed. She blushed. He offered her his hand.
Let’s leave them there for a moment. I think we all know where this is heading. It’s Autumn when they meet and fall in love. They’re going to lean over the bridge to admire the river full of Autumn leaves, aren’t they? They’ll walk hand in hand through smoky streets to eat eel together after school. When Winter comes, they’ll huddle under her kotatsu to do their homework. Hiro will show Akiko his sacred folder of Pokémon cards. They’ll lounge against Akiko’s Hello Kitty soft toys and kiss. There will be snowballs and red dimpled cheeks. Their families will likely go out together on New Year’s eve to eat mochi and ring the temple bell. By spring, Hiro will be known as Wigglytuff. Akiko will be his assistant, Chatot. Please don’t ask why.
Let’s go back to Akira. Those cheekbones deserve a second glance. Or maybe we could see him as a complete person with a personality and a soul. Whatever. Akira was not interested in going out with Akiko because they had exchanged no more than five words before her proposal, and because he had never really seen her outside the knot of girls she went around with like a tight school of fish, and also because, truth be told, he was secretly more into his classmate Hiro. So when he inadvertently broke her heart and then, in consequence, was forced to watch Hiro fall for her, he felt a degree of discomfort. He was a sensitive character, our Akira, for all that he was one of the popular crowd. He responded by looking inward, avoiding social events, spending more time with his family, and throwing himself into both study and sports. When the Pokè Park opened, he agreed to take his two small nephews along to give his older sister a break. He was not interested in looking for girls.
The park was crowded. His nephews were beside themselves with excitement.
‘Uncle Akira! Uncle Akira! Help us download Fishing Rally!’
‘Uncle Akira! Uncle Akira! Can we go on the Rascal Railway?’
‘Can we have candyfloss?’
‘Can we get a drink?’
‘I feel sick’
And so on. By mid-afternoon, he was exhausted. With stern warnings to look after each other, he dropped them off at Pikachu’s Forest and found a bench to sit on, and a warm can of coffee from the vending machine. He had just closed his eyes to relax when a familiar voice greeted him.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I came with my nephews. What about you?’
‘I was supposed to come with my girlfriend but, uh, we split up.’
Akira sat up a little straighter.
‘Sorry to hear that, man. You OK?’
‘Oh, you know, these things just happen. Sometimes, life isn’t like you thought it would be, you know?’
‘Yes, I understand. Honestly, sometimes I feel my life is becoming … do you know that English word, prosaic?’
‘I do! That’s exactly how I feel. My life is becoming prosaic. When I wanted something more.’
Their eyes met, in surprise. Their eyes and, behind their eyes, for a moment, their true selves. A hum of energy. A spark of electricity, a meeting of souls. Something more.