Sunday, January 14, 2007

Man Hunt: Part II

I’m in love. Unfortunately, I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me back. Not yet, anyway.

The object of my affection is a 28-year-old art teacher (see “Exhibit C” in Man Hunt: Part I). Our relationship is developing slowly. Very, very, very slowly. But we’re making progress. He actually talks to me now. I still have to initiate every single one of our conversations but at least he no longer stares at his feet and giggles when I talk to him.

The turning point came when I gave him a copy of my newspaper column -- the one that was little more than a thinly disguised personal ad.

I sat down next to him in the staff room and opened up my notebook. I pretended to act surprised when a copy of my column fluttered out and landed on the floor (“What’s this? Oh, look. It’s my column in the town newspaper. How did this ridiculous thing get inside my notebook? Here, read it!”).

When he finished reading it, I asked him what he thought. I was hoping he’d say, “I liked the part where you said you were looking for a boyfriend,” while sweeping me into his arms and smothering me with kisses.

Instead, he told me he liked the bit about the cockroaches.

But then the floodgates suddenly came crashing open. He started telling me all sorts of things about himself. He told me he grew up in a small fishing village. That he has a younger brother and several pet shrimp. His favourite music is reggae and his favourite singer is Bob Marley. He’s never traveled outside of Japan but if he could go anywhere in the world he’d go to the Netherlands to see the windmills. He plays basketball and goes fishing every weekend. He only paints abstract art.

Emboldened by his sudden interest, I decided to invite him out for a drink after work. (This, by the way, sent the school gossip mill into overdrive. “You two are going drinking alone?!? Just the two of you?!?! No one else?!? Hey! Everyone! Sarah and Kashida-sensei are going drinking alone!”)

It was a fun night. We talked and flirted and drank and sang bad karaoke songs. Even though he doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Japanese, we understood each other perfectly. I was smitten. At one point, I looked at him and thought, “This is the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”

But as the night wore on, I started to think he was too good to be true. How could someone so shy and sweet and kind and funny and smart and cute and talented and interesting be single? Something wasn’t right.

Instinctively, I knew exactly what the problem was. I had asked him five months ago if he was single and he said he was. But I have since learned that when a Japanese person says they are “single” what they really mean is that they aren’t married. So even if they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, they will answer “yes” when asked if they are single.

I realized what I should have asked him was not, “Are you single” but “Do you have a girlfriend.” And so, I asked him the question I should have asked him all those months ago.

Yes, he said, nodding his head, he had a girlfriend. They’ve been together for six years. But, he added, she lives near Tokyo, more than eight hours away.

I asked him if he was going to marry her. He hummed and hawed for a few minutes and admitted it was a difficult question to answer.

“I am poor,” he explained.

He said that money is important to Japanese women. He is only a part-time art teacher so he can’t get married until he has enough money to support a wife. I told him I thought this was sad. That love was so much more important than money.

He asked me if I had a boyfriend. I told him I didn’t. And then, in perfect English, he said, “But you are so pretty and beautiful.”

He could have left it at that and gone home. But he stayed. He stayed so late that he missed the last train home. This meant he was stranded in my town. There were no cabs. No way to get home. I assumed he intentionally missed the last train because he wanted to come home with me.

But when he walked me back to my apartment, he froze at the bottom of the stairs. He bowed and bowed and bowed and kept repeating something in rapid-fire Japanese. I told him he could stay at my place but he refused. I tried to explain that I had two bedrooms, that it was freezing cold outside and that he had no way to get home. But he said he would call a friend to come pick him up. A friend that would drive an hour each way at two in the morning? I told him he was being ridiculous.

But he refused to budge from the bottom step. He wouldn’t even come inside to call his friend. He kept bowing and bowing. I was so caught off guard that I just walked up the stairs to my apartment and called out, “Okay. See you.”

I haven’t seen him or heard from him since. Then again, he only works at my school on Tuesdays so it will be another couple of days before I see him again.

The whole thing has left me totally confused. Why did he agree to go out with me in the first place? Why didn’t he tell me he had a girlfriend? Why did he miss the last train home? Why did he tell me I was beautiful? Why didn’t he come inside my apartment? Why can’t I get him out of my head?

The smart thing would be to move on before it all gets complicated. But I really like him and I think he might like me too.

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