I was thirty-two before I found love. I met a woman who said she was going to die before she was thirty. When I asked her why, she said she just knew. “Like the sky is blue,” she said, “or apple pie is tasty. I just know.” She wasn’t ill, she didn’t have any terminal disease, she was just going to die. Wasn’t she scared? Wasn’t she worried? She seemed so … normal. “Why be worried?” she asked. It wouldn’t stop her from dying. It would only give her wrinkles. When I met her, her thirtieth birthday was eight months away.
Aki was the sweetest, most patient thing in the world, and she was also one of my biggest fans. I’ve been in the music business since I was sixteen, hopping around the club scene until I landed in my first commercially successful band at age nineteen. I went solo at twenty-four, and by the time I was thirty-two, I had released six albums and almost two dozen singles. I say all this by way of mentioning that Aki owned every single one of them, and was the first, and to date, only, fan I’ve ever met who could, under certain specific circumstances, manage to contain herself in my presence.
I met her at a concert and book signing held to promote my first short story collection. Hundreds of girls, and even some guys, packed themselves in front of a small stage, which itself was packed into the atrium of a moderate-sized chain bookstore in Osaka, every single one of them desperate to have The DANA sign their copy of BOOK TITLE. Aki was eager, too, but she wasn’t screaming or waving or jumping. She just sat there while I sang, eyes closed, blissful half-smile on her face. Except about the middle of the first song, she gave the girl next to her a very dirty look.
In line at the book-signing, it was more of the same. She didn’t seem to mind having to wait hours in line with sweaty, over-excited fangirls, and indeed she was even polite to most of them. As each of them came up to me in turn, there was gushing, there were enthusiastic “I love you!”s, and one girl even asked if she could have my babies, but when Aki reached the front of the line, she simply slid her copy of my book across the desk at me, smiled brilliantly, and asked, “And how are you today, sir?”
I was instantly charmed. “Well I’m just fine. How are you?”
“I’m delightful,” was her reply.
I couldn’t keep my smile from growing, and so I started signing, my head lowered a bit more than stricly necessary. “Who do I make this out to?”
“Aki,” she said. She hesitated a bit before continuing, “Kamimura.”
My head snapped up, smile gone. My best friend in the world, Yuki Kamimura, died in a horrible motorcycle accident not too long after i left his band to go solo. I was devastated. I didn’t write anything for six months. The thing was, I had left the band under… shall we say less than ideal conditions, so when he died, no one called me. I wasn’t even invited to the funeral. I had to visit his parents on the sly just to find out where his grave was. Somehow, I’d managed not to meet anyone else with his last name since then, and I was a little surprised at how much it effected me.
“Yeah,” she said in response to my look. “A little freakish, huh?”
“Eh,” I stuttered, “yeah.” I stared down at the book, still a bit hazy. How many of these very stories had I bounced off of Yuki in their early stages? He had always encouraged me to write my stories down, had always loved hearing about them. And now I was supposed to sign something short and pithy to a remarkably attractive girl with his last name? Aware that I was holding things up, I looked back up at her. “Are you going to be here a while, in the bookstore I mean?”
She shrugged. “Yeah. I figured I’d make a day of this thing, anyway. Is there something I can do for you?”
“Can I hang on to this?” I asked, indicating the book. “I want to write something special, but I can’t seem think of anything at the moment. So, if I can hold on to it, I’ll think of something, and then I can find you later?”
Her eyes widened with excitement at the special treatment. “Certainly. Jeez, I’m not crazy, you know.” Then she leaned in towards me and said, with a conspiratorial air, “Anyway, it’ll make the rest of my day’s plans a little easier.”
I found the mischevious gleam in her eyes impossible to resist. “Your plans?”
“I figured half an hour for the concert, a couple of hours in line, and then a few precious seconds with you. And then I was going to stand around and gawk at you until you left, at which point I planned to stalk you until you had me arrested.”
My laughter was probably a bit too loud, but I didn’t care. Her frankness and easy manner were infectious. “That sounds like a wonderful plan. I’ll talk to security, see if we can’t work it out.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll try and end up in the cafe, but you might find me in the fantasy section, too.” And with that, she ducked out of line and disappeared into the store.
My friends who were there tell me I didn’t seem distracted during the remainder of the event, but honestly I don’t remember much of it. I was stuck on what to write to Aki. There was so much to say, and so much of it so silly. I felt an instant attraction to her, something that had never happened to me before. I usually take so long to warm up to people that they just give up. Most everybody I’ve met has found me abrasive and anti-social upon first meeting me. My irrational desire to see this girl again, perhaps even to ask her out, on this one meeting seemed more likely to come from a toad than from me. And then there was the fact that she was the only person to ask me how I was doing at a fan event. Just a few words, but their presence seperated her from the rest of the world in my mind. And of course there was the entire last name issue. That was the silliest of all.
At length, the line thinned, and I set out to find Aki, her book still blank. She wasn’t at the cafe, and I didn’t find her browsing the fantasy section, but I did see a certain head of blonde hair slouched down in an overstuffed chair by the back window. She had fallen asleep, a thick fantasy novel closed in her lap.
“Aki?” I whispered. Nothing. “Aki?” I tried again, touching her arm. Still nothing. I shook her gently and called her Kami-sama, my old nickname for Yuki, and she sprung to alertness.
“Oh my God,” she said as she began to wake up. “Oh my God, I am so sorry. I just– I finished my book, and I just fell right asleep.”
Her embarrassment was cute, too, though. “Don’t worry about it. I do have a little bit of bad news though.”
“I seem to have some kind of mental blockage. You’re book’s still blank.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed, but making a valiant effort to hide it. “Well, that’s okay, I guess. Maybe I can give you my mailing address or something?”
“Actually I was thinking about lunch.”
She frowned, so cute. “What?”
“With you. If that’s alright.”
“You’re kidding, right?” When I shook my head no, she said, “Of course I’ll have lunch with you, I’m not crazy, you know.”
I smiled. “You keep saying that. I’m starting to think maybe you protest too much.”
She flashed me a devilish grin. “Well, maybe I am just a little crazy.”
She took her seat in my car gracefully, but with an odd timidity, like she was afraid she’d break the thing simply by sitting in it. During the short drive to the cafe, she unabashedly oogled my interior. When I asked her what she thought of it, she said, “More conservative than I would have imagined, but I like it.”
The cafe wasn’t busy, it never is, so our server came right up and took our order. I should say, tried to take our order. Aki had no idea what she wanted.
“What’s good here?” she asked me.
“Basically everything,” I answered, unhelpfully. “I’m having the fish sandwich, which is so much more incredible than the words ‘fish’ and ‘sandwich’ would imply, but I’m weak for anything fish.”
“Well,” she said, “I don’t want to get the same thing you’re getting, because if I decide it looks good, I can just eat yours.”
“Oh can you?” I said, smiling.
“You can eat off mine, too. If you weren’t getting the fish, what would you get?”
The waiter interjected, hoping to avoid some pointless standing about. “Perhaps you’d like to start off with some drinks?”
“Oh!” Aki said. “That sounds good.” She turned her attention to the menu while I ordered my drink, but I didn’t take nearly long enough.
“And what can I get for you, Miss?”
“Oh man,” she answered.
“Are you always like this?” I asked.
She looked up at me with a pained expression. “I really am. I’m sorry.” She glanced back at the menu with a sigh. “Oh Lord, enough already.
Will you just order for me DANA, please?”
I could feel her cuteness beginning to overwhelm me, like a big fluffy blanket that I didn’t want but couldn’t resist. “She’ll have a strawberry lemonade to drink, and for dinner she will be having the tuna salad.”
The waiter thanked me and left, a relieved expression on his face.
“The tuna salad’s good?” Aki asked me as he left.
“The tuna salad’s incredible. They put something in it.”
I cocked my head in thought. “Maybe. I was thinking onions or peppers or something, but it could be crack.”
We laughed and the akward silence we’d both been dreading fell across the table. We studied each other for a moment before we started laughing again.
“If I just stare at you for the entire lunch, that’s not going to be a problem, is it?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Depends on how much you talk about me.”
“The more the better? I can keep going for a while.”
“Ah, the less the better, as it turns out. I’m assuming we both already know all about me. I’d like hear about you. Your English is incredible. You live here in Japan?”
“I’m here with the JET program actually. Teaching English to the super advanced students. I live in Boston.”
“Are you a teacher in the states, too?”
“Heck no. I’m a horrible teacher. Truth is, I’m probably doing these poor kids a hideous disservice, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come here.”
And our conversation didn’t pause again. We talked about everything, our mutual distaste for children, her fascination with languages, my gadget fixation. When our food came, we spent fully twenty minutes debating which national cuisine was the best. I’ve always been partial to Japanese food, with the way they handle seafood, but she claimed to be addicted to pasta. It was the most delightful lunch, and when we were done eating, neither one of us wanted to go home.
She pushed her plate away and sighed. “That was really good. You picked well.”
“I had to keep you away from my plate.”
She smiled and blushed. A pleasant silence lapsed between us. After a few moments, she caught my eye. “I’m glad I met you,” she said.
“I’m glad I met you, too. This is probably the best lunch I’ve ever had.”
Her smile this time was different, sad. “What?” I asked.
She hesitated before answering, “Have you ever known something was going to happen? Even though there’s no evidence that it’s going to happen and it’s highly unlikely that it would really happen, but you just know it will?”
“Like, what if you predict when you were going to die.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Is this going to turn out to be some creepy TV show?” When she shook her head, I said, “I’m not sure I’d want to know. What are you talking about?”
“This is going to sound silly,” she said, looking off to the side. “I’ve always felt like I’m going to die before I turn thirty.”
My eyebrows shot higher.
“It’s a little silly,” she said again.
“It’s certainly an odd thing to know. Are you ill?”
“No. In fact I haven’t been sick in a long time.” She took a deep breath. “Ever since I was sixteen or seventeen though, I’ve had the feeling that I need to get things done really quickly. Like there’s not going to be any time later on. When I was about twenty-three, I realized that it was because I’ve always assumed that I was going to die really young. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised I made it this far.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-nine. My birthday’s in November.”
I didn’t quite know what to say to that. “Eight months?”
I sat back, my head swirling with questions. “How could you– I mean, what are you even–” I took a breath and tried again. “How could you know such a thing?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t know. At first, I told myself it was ridiculous. Even if I was going to die that young, how would I know it? But, the closer I get, the more certain I am. Like the sky is blue. Or apple pie is tasty. I just know.”
“Are you going home again before…” I almost said “before you die,” but caught myself. “I mean, before your birthday.”
She shook her head. “No, actually. I signed up for another year over here.”
“Why? I mean, wouldn’t you want to go home?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s kind of boring at home. Anyway, I’ve always felt more comfortable here than I did in the States. People over here are way more polite.” She flashed one of her brilliant smiles. “Maybe it’s just because I’m blonde.”
The waiter came with our check, and took some of the dirty plates with him.
“Actually,” Aki continued, “I read somewhere that politeness and reticence are embedded into the Japanese culture because of the population density.”
I looked up from the bill. “Really?”
“Yeah. Some sociology site I was reading the other day. Cool, huh? Now if we could only get that embedded into American culture, we’d be set.”
I raised a suspicious eyebrow and fished some cash out of my pocket. While we waited for the return of the waiter, Aki studied the cafe, and I studied Aki. She looked younger than twenty-nine, but felt older. She was twirling her hair like a teenager, but her eyes were flicking back and forth over every surface as though she were going to write a novel on each and every person in the cafe. As the waiter left with the bill, she caught me staring at her. She blushed and put her hair behind her ears.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s a dumb habit. Makes me look like I have bubble gum for brains.”
I chuckled, and we lapsed back into silence, Aki’s eyes straying back over the cafe. The waiter came back, we exchanged pleasantries, and he left.
“So,” I said to Aki, “ready to go?”
“I guess so,” she said with a sigh. She gathered up her bag, we stood, and I noticed something odd. For a second, I thought it was just my imagination, but she was indeed swaying.
“Ugh?” was all the response she managed before her eyes fluttered up into her skull and she collapsed. I dove for her, barely catching her before she hit the ground. Almost instantly, she was awake again, and we sat there for a moment, collapsed on each other, the entire cafe staring at us.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah. Uh, sorry.” She struggled to get off of me, and I helped her to her feet. She was a little unsteady, but at least managed to stay upright.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah,” she said. She was blushing madly. “Yes. I’m fine. I– I should get going. I’m sure you’ve got places to be. It was really nice to meet you. And thanks for the wonderful lunch.” She turned and nearly ran from the cafe.
“Hey, wait up!” I called, following after her. She wasn’t hard to catch up to. “Are you alright?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sorry,” she said, blushing again. “I’m just tired. I could hardly sleep last night, big surprise.”
“What about your book?”
“Oh!” She fished one of a card out of her bag. “Well, here’s my address. Just sign the book whenever and you can send it back to me. I’ll be here. Well, for a while anyway.”
I took a second to look down at the card, and when I looked up again, she was stepping into a cab.
“Thank you so much for everything, DANA-san. Sayonara.”
And just like that, she was gone.