PART 9- DREA: ASTRONOMICAL TWILIGHT
“Okay class, this is it for today.”
As I wrapped up my class, I got a text message from the assistant dean, and he was asking if I’d be able to go out and drink with the rest of the faculty tonight.
Normally back home, turning down an invitation of after-work dinner and drinks was easy-peasy, because most of the people know and assume that I am innately, selectively, sociable, which was not a big deal and never would they take offense. It is a different matter in this country though. I’ve got essentially no choice but to try my best not to decline, or else, come up with better excuses--- which I lack at this moment.
For the whole three months that I’ve been working in this university, I have used PMS, headache, and nasal congestion way too much already. I could not use my dead grandparents being dead for the nth time, or my pets having a check up with their vets as excuses, because obviously I live alone - with no single pet in my tiny apartment. My grandparents are buried in another country, and Reina had flown to the Philippines yesterday—another reason why I couldn’t use the “I-need-to-help-my-cousin-” reason because they could easily just ask Pierre if it is true. Sadly, all of my alibi cards have been cast-off.
Yes. Mirai-San. I’m going with you guys later. I texted back.
My introverted-ness crept up within me seconds upon riding my co-faculty’s car. Thank goodness, I have my translator device that Erisse gave me. If this thing could only record every mummed racial slurs I’ve heard ever since I arrived in this country, it would count mostly up to 300 more or less. Well, it is a smart move to just ignore these slurs and flash a smile to these people. It is what I call, “Adding insult to injury”, but in a classy, Drea Vela way.
So we arrived in an Izakaya , and to my amazement, I only see 2- 3 women in the whole pub and a total of 4 if I’m going to include myself. The Izakaya pulls-off a very casual, yet comfortable vibe. I’ve been living here for three months and for the very first time ever, I’ve stepped in a place that is considerably noisy. Although, compared to pubs back home, this “noisiness” is something that’s not even in the same level- it sounds more just like the usual daily clamor in our house.
“You can order now Bera-sensei” Mr. Mirai offered the menu.
“I’ll just get what you guys are going to eat, but if there’s some sort of a pork dish, please include it in the orders. Thanks.” I grabbed the very rare chance to order pork since it’s quite hard to get pork meat dish here.
An hour has passed and half of my workmates were already completely sober and drunk. I am the type of person who can’t tolerate much liquor that’s why I didn’t force myself to grab all the drinks that they were passing to me. Once a bit of dizziness hits my head, I have to stop, because I know for myself that I am complete wreck if intoxicated. Two of my workmates already dozed off on the table, and one workmate whose name I forgot, and who’s still going strong, showing off his impeccable alcohol tolerance asked me the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard. That made me activate the translate button on the app, so I can hear clearly their post remarks, since I am very much aware that what they tell in front of my face is the absolute opposite of what they feel, as if they can outsmart Jest Ears Translation Buds.
“Bera- sensei, I just want to confirm if it is true, that people in your country don’t use utensils like chopsticks when eating, you just use hands?”
I was totally in aghast with that silly question. “Sensei, most of the people in this world, except to those who don’t have upper limbs due to birth defects or an accident, use their mouths, feet or whatever. You can see, I’m using my hands holding these chopsticks.” I muttered back.
Seriously, I have no energy left to discuss elementary things in order to unlock the ignorance out of these people. My powerful sarcasm was enough and it was quite effective. This knuckle-head of co-worker clammed up. Yet, the interrogation is not finished, unfortunately. All I thought that there’s only one person who wanted to go into war and fight me, but surprisingly, there are people who seemed to be awake and are just waiting to attack.
"Bera-sensei, my friend told me that beer is cheap in your country and it tastes good. Is it true?” One of my co-teachers asked, it was a very neutral and innocent question, most probably just to mask the previous one that was ultimately rude and ill-informed.
"Yes it is cheap and it is good.” I answered deliberately and then, another question popped up, lightning fast. Man, these guys won’t let their grip loose. “Bera-sensei, I went to your country for a three-day vacation...Hmm that was in Cebu. Yes, I remember and I see, there were a lot of street children.”
Okay...political and social questions start pouring in...Though, I’m quite expecting it. “So, what were these street children doing sensei?” I asked bravely, and made sure that my tone sounds pissed.
I knew where this conversation is leaning. But I’m still here, giving these middle aged men the benefit of the doubt, that maybe, they are just “extremely” curious about the things that they find weird in my country but is normal to 70% of the world. Although, I really find these questions abhorrent and I am so sure I am not the right person to keenly entertain their witlessness. They are so wrong for even assuming a tiny bit of that.
I don’t baby- drunk, ignorant people who are very racist to say the least. Yes, they are racist or to put it lightly, stereotypical as I’ve heard murmured, Japanese phrases that instantly translated into “poor foreigner" “also a dirty country” “a teacher from the boondocks” “jungle Asian” which were masked by hoots, side-eye glimpses, and fake smiles. Thank you so much Erisse Gamboa! I am in love with Jest Ears at this very moment. I felt like throwing it, but at the same time, I wanted to hear more.
“Uh-Oh nothing, they are just wandering in the streets, begging for money. So poor children who don’t have parents just beg for money in the Philippines? Asked by another professor who is obviously so sober, he could not find more decent words to use.
I let out a sardonic laugh, because I couldn’t even fathom the level of ignorance rooting from that incoherent question.
“Sensei, how did you know that these children don’t have parents? Did you ask most of them? It is funny that you already made incredulous assumptions that these children don’t have parents when you did not even dare ask them. So, where did you get this source... This source that these children don’t have parents? What was your primary source?” That was my post-graduate pride speaking. Thank God, I didn’t drink much or else these guys have already received F bombs. As of now, I can still hold these F-bombs intact in my thoughts.
These middle aged-men looked at each other with utmost disbelief. It is also incredibly surprising in my behalf, that they would be astounded like this. I mean, haven’t they had conversations with foreign female teachers before? Now I wonder, how do their wives handle them? I bet half of the people in this table have already married twice, thrice or not even married at all. Maybe I was just a bit too blunt, but I could care less.
"Ah no, I didn’t ask. I just thought that they don’t have parents to take care of them, because they are out in the streets begging.” The drunk professor answered back with a smirk.
That was enough to make me lose it.
“Didn’t it occur to you sensei, that maybe these children have parents but their parents are drug-addicts and use them to beg for money, to beg for food? Or maybe, that these children runaway from welfare, just to go out to the streets, beg...and the money that they get from begging, funds their drug addiction? Oh well, what do you know? You are lucky, you are born in a pampered world wherein the government owes you a lot. How does it feel, going to a country that unexpectedly showed you what surviving really means?”
It was the last straw. I finally had enough of this silly, out-of the world, ludicrous conversation. I raised my hand for the bill and paid all the meals and drinks that we had. This is my grand exit. A grand exit that cost one week of my salary, but there are no regrets. No regrets at all.
“Bera-sensei, please do not do this. We are going to pay. Are you going home? Let me walk you at least to the station.” The professor who asked the most decent question a while ago, politely offered. But these people already ruined my mood that they instantly made me want to go straight to Reina’s omise and sing my irritations out.
“Thank you sensei, but I’ll be okay. Thanks for the offer. I also really need to head somewhere else.”
I stood up awkwardly, gave these middle-aged, sober men a bow, and quickly turned my back from them and went out.
I was already fifty steps away from the izakaya when the gracious professor whom I am sure, whose name I forgot, ran towards me, panting. Surprisingly, he held my elbow gently and said, “I am sorry for what happened tonight Bera-sensei...How can I make it up to you? I wasn’t also expecting them to behave like that.”
“Sorry sensei, but I forgot your name. What was it again? I am so bad in remembering names. I am so sorry.” I couldn’t help but ask, even though not knowing a person’s name is quite disrespectful, I don’t mean to forget it, I am just really bad at remembering names.
“Ebihara, Jin. From the digital graphics faculty. You can just call me Jin. Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you to the nearest station?” He asked again.
I couldn’t help but think, that this guy is hitting on me. He is cute, he can be my type of guy, but I don’t want to risk my job that Pierre trusted me with. There’s just three months left for me to behave properly and not put my teaching profession in jeopardy by sleeping with a co-professor. But I must admit, I am quite tempted even though I am not really expecting to get laid in my six months of stay here.
Yes, this is what blew my thoughts although, I am not stupid not to be aware that this guy likes me based from the way he stole glances when we were still in the restaurant. Should I take the risk? Hmmm, maybe not. My brain tells me to control myself, but the mysterious territory down under is telling me otherwise.
“Jin-san, ahmmm I am sorry but I really need to head somewhere. I’ll just see you in the university on Monday. Thank you for the offer.” I said, as I gradually took off his hand from my elbow. Hope he gets this little hint of skinship that implies, we can do whatever dirty things in his thoughts, but most probably after my contract as a substitute professor is over.
I am off to Reina’s, and I am about to meet her newly-hired assistant manager, because unfortunately, her former assistant manager, ghosted the bar unreluctantly, two hours after Reina had flown to the Philippines.
It took three stations and two bus stops to get to her omise although, the 20-minute bus ride was sufficient enough for a well-deserved nap after the unnecessary discussions that happened in the izakaya.
I finally arrived at the omise but it seems quite dark. The disco lights are not yet on. I slowly walk in. The store is empty. The only thing that light up the whole place are the electric altar candles that are placed on top of the goblet racks. This is one thing that I really find hilarious. You’ll know in an instant that this shop is owned by a Filipino, if there’s an altar with a picture of Mary holding a baby Jesus, or a framed picture of Jesus Christ with a scared heart in the middle, electric candles on both sides, and a rosary that hangs on its frame.
“Excuse me, is there anything I can help you with?” A lady who’s beneath the shadows asked, but her voice is something I heard before. If there’s anything that I can retain and save in my long term memory, these are scents, voices, tunes, texture, color, patterns, and even taste.
“Hi! What time is this bar going to open?” I curiously asked, as the lady slowly stepped out from the shadows. Wait, she is very familiar...
“SARI!?” I could not believe my eyes. The newly hired assistant manager is Sari Melendez. The lady whom I bumped in the Japanese embassy back in Manila.
“Drea?! Hey!!! How are you?! Oh my God I could not believe it’s you! You slimmed down a little. Gosh. I knew we’re going to see each other but I didn’t expect that it would be in this place!!” She said in a giddied voice and hurriedly gave me a tight hug as if we’re the best of friends. It is a bit unusual to me that she’s so excited, but nevertheless, I hugged her back.
"Sari... are you the newly hired manager of this omise? I mean, my cousin owns this place. Oh well, all the walks that you have to do in this country are enough work out.”
“I see. That’s why her last name is kind of familiar to me as if I heard it somewhere else. No wonder. Well, please come in. I just actually arrived 10 minutes ago. I didn’t expect to work here until next week, but your cousin called me and she said that the omise is expecting a VIP guest for this night. So I hurried my ass from Suginami to here.” Sari explained in a huff.
“VIP guest? It’s every unusual for Reina to have a VIP guest. Must be a Filipino or a Japanese lifestyle Youtuber.”
“I do not have any idea Drea. I just said yes and quickly went here. I was expecting to at least come earlier but I didn’t anticipate that the rush hour was going to be so bad! I had to wait for empty trains, but never did I thought that waiting for empty trains in Tokyo during rush hour is a burden itself, it was a terrible idea.” Sari ranted.
Sari finally opened the omise. I sang three songs in the karaoke until a group of men came. There’s still a bit of shame left within, for me not to continue my stint, specially in front of people I do not know. I decided to just sit on the bar, and chat with Sari. It was like a catch-up with an old friend. I narrated all of my adventures coming to this country; from the rudeness that I encountered in the airplane going here, to all of the shenanigans that happened a while ago. We exchanged experiences and the next words that came from Sari’s mouth shocked my core a bit.
"Drea, I tell you, that it’s kind of lonely that you already let three months passed by without experiencing Japanese men. You know, they are very different from the ones back home. Say, they’re more fun than what they seem outside. You got to try this...”
Sari took a flyer from an acrylic stand and handed it to me- proudly. It’s a flyer of what looks like a sketchy service. Handsome boys, with glittery accents, a rainbow-gradient background, hyper-edited facial features, all the flamboyance you can imagine graphically are illustrated in detail. Their names are written in Kanji, so I didn’t bother to read it, but below their names are their phone numbers.
I looked closely at the flyer again, with their hyper-edited faces that looks like anime nonetheless, no one really seems interesting to me. They all look the same. Most of the boys look good, but not appetizing enough for me to waste 5,000 Yen in one night. They don’t look like they are worth my precious juices.
Then my curiosity arose, “Aren’t these things illegal?”
“Not, when it is done in the bathroom.” Sari answered.
"What do you mean Sari?” Everything sounded weird to me. I could not understand. Why bathroom?
“Drea, do you have a single idea that this omise ran by your cousin is just a front? This business is just a cover for a bigger business. Didn’t Reina tell you that the most famous Soapland here in Roppongi is owned by her?” Sari continued explaining but all of her words suddenly become very vague. I felt that I wanted to refuse hearing on what she’s going to say next...But there’s a sudden urge inside my head that I want to know more, and little by little, unfold these skeletons that Reina have been keeping for a long time. It is scary to even have the faintest thought of it.
“What on earth is a Soapland?!”