He had finally come to blows with his father over breakfast. Bowls of porridge fell, slow motion, to the kitchen floor: white blossoms on dark slate.
“Taro, where are you going?” his mother had said as he grabbed his gym bag and filled it with clothes.
On leaving, he saw the kitchen put back together: bowls on table, father behind newspaper. He stood on the threshold looking for a wrinkle in the white sheet. On seeing none he closed the door behind him.
As he walks, he puts a hand to his face. The pain is fading. It was out of shame, mostly, that he did what he did. He had failed and lost his father’s regard. He could not, with good grace, stay.
Ronin, he calls himself under his breath. He wonders if, like a disfigurement, it shows.
At the train stop, he tries to find a new destination on the map, but his eyes go to the usual spots. He chooses one.
As he rides to Shibuya, he hangs an arm on the strap to hide the side of his face.
At Shibuya, he wanders below buildings, in daylight, like a movie sets revealed. He concludes that it is difficult to enjoy Shibuya when one is newly homeless.
He sits on a bench looking upon Hachikō, the obedient dog, pondering his failure. He again comes to cover the spot on his face where his father’s blow had landed.
He is lost in it, caressing the side of his face, until he hears a voice: “Hello, I’m Ayane.”
At first he believes she is talking to someone else. Then, he looks up and sees finally, her silken legs, her suit skirt, her folded arms. No, she’s talking to him. She holds out her hand.
“Would you like to come with me?” She smiles.
He knows who this is. Some other boys had paid for one on a trip to Osaka. They had returned to the dorm late at night with a new aura about them. “She kissed me where I’m a man,” Hideo had boasted.
It is uncharacteristic, but then, just this morning he’d had a home: when she offers her hand, he takes it.
They do not talk as he follows her to a street that curves up a gentle hill. On one side, the pallets of love hotels flap like flags. She leads him into the lobby of one of them.
“Majide! Ayane, he looks fifteen,” a man at the counter says. He listens as they reach a price for the room: three thousand yen, one hour. She leads him down the hall and behind a pink door.
When she closes the door he begins to shake. She coos and smooths his hair.
“Have you ever kissed a girl like me?”
He shakes his head. She kisses him on the lips.
“Do you want to do anything?”
He can only shake his head, just barely. He is pasted against the door, terrified.
She pulls back and regards him, a look spreading over her face: she realizes she’s misjudged.
“What’s wrong?” She asks him.
He sighs down to the floor, the release of tension. “I have no home,” is all he can say.
“What do you mean?”
“Ronin,” he says placing his head down between his knees. He doesn’t look up. A silence pours between them. Judgement.
Then he hears the whisper of her suit skirt. She’s beside him, kneeling, reaching for his bag. He pulls back, but then realizes, she only wants money for the room. He opens his wallet.
“No. Here, give me something from your bag.”
She reaches for his bag again and this time he lets her do what she wants. She rummages through and in the end produces one matched change of clothes. She takes them and carefully folds them again. On the other side of the room she drags a pink chair under the air vent and with a little piece of metal undoes the bolts. From above she removes a small bag. She unzips it, and puts his clothes inside, among her things. Then she carefully bolts the vent back into place.
“There you go. Don’t tell the old man,” Ayane says, eyes twinkling.
He begins to cry. She comforts him. He thanks her and begs to pay for the room. She refuses and sends him off with more kisses.
He catches the late train back to his town. On the ride home he hangs one hand on the strap. With the other he touches the places that she’d kissed.
Y.G. Yen lives in Clear Lake City, Texas and works as a contractor in aerospace.