I waited, I called…nothing. Forty minutes past breakfast hour and still no sign of K. My anger building up, I strode across the compound towards her quarters.
“Could you please just let me go up to her room? She’s probably still asleep, that’s why she’s not answering. It’s really urgent,” I begged the guard to no avail.
I stomped off, deciding to have a look around the compound in case she might be elsewhere.
Turning toward the voice I saw two familiar figures in the distance, one of them waving their hand.
“Sunny, is that you?” I called out.
Her big smile and cheerful voice…I didn’t think I’d be so happy to see her.
“Nik san! You look fantastic!” She practically ran toward me and squeezed me in a big hug.
Holding her by the shoulders I took a look at her and smiled. “Sunny, what a nice surprise! Great to see you! Oh, and you too, Shin,” I nodded to the other person that just caught up. He answered with a quiet stare. “Perfect timing, by the way. I need to find K. Could you help me with that?”
“Have you tried her room?” Sunny asked.
“I was just there. The guard called her, but she didn’t answer the phone, and he wouldn’t allow me to go in. But maybe she’s somewhere around here…Haven’t looked yet.”
Sunny pursed her lips. “Hmm, you sure? She messaged me last night to meet her at her place. Let’s give it another try.”
Shin took off at once, while Sunny put her arm around my elbow and pulled me toward the wooden mansion.
“What’s with the mask again? Is he sick or something?” I whispered in Sunny’s ear, staring at Shin’s back a few steps ahead.
Sunny chuckled. “Can’t say for sure. Perhaps a symbolic thing of some sort.”
“He’s a weird one. But, he’s K’s friend, so I’m not too surprised.”
“Hey!” Sunny punched my arm and we both giggled.
I was impressed by how crafty and convincing Sunny could be. While she and Shin were on the list of allowed visitors, I wasn’t, and the guard certainly didn’t look very happy to see me again in such a short time. But whatever she said to him, with that irresistible dimply smile, it worked, and the guard permitted me to go with them upstairs.
The interior of the building was almost entirely made of dark, massive wood, which could be smelled and heard as we ascended the squeaky stairs. Sunny knocked on one of the doors at the end of a long, dark corridor on the second floor. When there was no response, Shin pushed past us, pulled the door handle, and entered.
Feeling awkward to invade K’s home in this way, I paused by the door. Sunny beckoned me to come in and put her finger to her lips, shifting her eyes toward the sofa. I took two steps forward as quietly as possible and saw K on it, sound asleep in her usual, daily clothes. Lying on her back she was hugging a pillow in one arm, while her other arm hung stretched over the edge of the sofa. An almost empty bottle lay right beneath her hand, with some of the beer spilled on the carpet.
Even though I wasn’t the tidiest person, the mess that reigned in the room took me by surprise. Bottles, cans, bento boxes, and clothes lay all around the place. The adjacent small kitchen was filled with dirty dishes and several garbage bags, which should have been taken away days ago.
Sunny walked to K and shook her shoulder. At first, she just turned on her hip, hugging the pillow closer and continued to sleep, but then Sunny gave her another, this time a stronger shake.
She lifted her head, squinted her eyes at us, and then pushed herself into a sitting position. After clearing her throat a few times, she looked at me, her eyebrows all scrunched up: “Why are you here?”
“Training…after breakfast, remember? You didn’t show up.”
She placed the pillow she still held in her arm to the side and muttered something in Japanese.
“How are you, K?” asked Sunny and sat on the sofa next to her. “Last night you called me and told me to come to see you.”
“I did?” she scratched her head and then searched among the clothes and other pillows on the sofa until she pulled out a very big, pink alarm clock. “Listen, for the training,” she said, fixating her eyes on me. “There’s still time. I forgot to tell you…we start later today.” Then she got up and disappeared into the bathroom.
Sunny found a plastic bag and started picking up the bottles. I didn’t know where to put myself so I kept moving around the room, trying not to get in her way while she was tiding up. I came by another door in the living room, which was ajar, and peeked inside out of boredom. Despite there was not much light, it was obvious this room looked very different from the rest of the apartment. It was incredibly neat. On one side of the room was a futon with bed sheets folded and tucked like in army barracks, and a larger closet. On the opposite side were several wall shelves with books ordered by size, and an empty desk with a chair. The thing that caught my eye was a small altar-like shelf near the window that had a wooden stand with a sheathed Japanese sword on it. In front of the stand were a candle and an incense holder in the shape of a lotus. A scroll with Japanese calligraphy hung on the wall just above the shelf. The room, sheltered from the sun by closed shatters, had a pleasant cold air, scented with the sweet smell of half-burned incense stick.
Intrigued by the sword I was about to go in when Shin closed the door in my face.
“Nik san, please don’t go into that room. It’s K’s bedroom and she keeps it very private. No one is allowed in there,” said Sunny from the other side of the living room.
“Sorry, I didn’t know,” I responded still locked in a stare with Shin. Seeing he wasn’t going to move, I put my hands up and retreated to the kitchen area.
K sprung out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body and dashed past me to the bedroom. In no time, she came out fully dressed, wearing clothes, which didn’t differ significantly from the clothes she had slept in.
“So?” she gave us all a look. “What are you all staring at? The training starts soon, let’s go!”
Sunny decided to stay behind and clean the apartment, which earned her a very appreciative hug from K. Shin, unfortunately, came with us. During the silent walk to the gym, his presence was louder than usual.
I was soon in for another disappointment - the mind and body coach. Again. The training lasted for an hour but felt like an eternity. My eyes often wandered to K and Shin, who sat on the mats and were mere observers, while I had to endure more of the coach’s ridiculous methods of training. K now and then scribbled something in a notebook and made comments to silent Shin, who answered with a nod, a shake of his head, or didn’t react at all.
What is she telling him? Is it about me? Have they just laughed?
“Hey!” The coach snapped his fingers at me. “Your mind is scattered today. Where were you just now?”
“Umm…sorry…I’m right here.”
“Nik, perhaps these exercises are not very interesting for you.”
“Not all methods are suitable for everybody, which is why I always improvise with each fighter on the spot…”
God, this is so boring!
“I’d like you to try something else now, something that will stimulate your mind in a different way and bring the attention back to your body. Focus on breathing…”
Fuck, just tell me I’m lazy and give me 50 pushups….
We continued with stretching exercises - forcing my body into awkward, painful poses and then telling me to relax. No wonder this coach was always available.
After the training, K took out her little notebook. “So this is what’s you’re going to do…” she said, flipping a few pages. “From now on, you jog every day before breakfast for one hour minimum and-“
“I already do this-”
Her stern stare stopped my words. “- AND every second day you do interval jogging…I want you to do this sequence…” She tore a page from the notebook and gave it to me.
I skimmed over her neat handwriting. It was a pretty standard program. “Ok.”
“After this, you have breakfast – a proper, healthy breakfast, and keep lunch and dinner regular. I recommend Japanese food, ok? I don’t want you to build up fat. Eat in-between trainings if you need to and make sure you drink enough. Due to your injury, all this is very important. Do you still have the medicine Sueno san gave you?”
“Good. Keep taking it.”
With the food that was available at the compound, I had no fear of gaining weight, but I did need to gain muscles and proper eating habits were vital for this. Also, I didn’t want ever again to experience the odd feeling I had on that day in the dining room, so I made sure to take Sueno’s potion regularly.
“The mind and body coach, you’ll continue to train with him--“
“Is that really necessary? I mean, I felt like in a fucking yoga class today.”
“Yes, it’s necessary. You need to strengthen your body, inside and outside, and this is a good way to do it without getting injuries. Mind and body coach stays.”
I rolled my eyes and puffed out a breath. I had a feeling Shin, who stood next to K all this time, smirked beneath his mask. His presence began to annoy me.
“Sundays you have no trainings and you can do as you please. Saturday’s is an open schedule,” K continued.
“What does that mean?”
“It means you need to be on stand-by for any possible trainings or other things.”
“O-k-a-y…what about my regular gym trainings?”
“I’ll make a schedule. That’s all for now.” She tucked the notebook in the pocket of her jacket. “After lunch meet me by the pond behind the temple.”
“Wait, wait, wait…” I caught her by her arm as she started walking away. “Why there? Does this mean no gym again?”
“We’ll start by the pond and then we’ll see…”
“Don’t you worry, I got it,” she said and patted me on my shoulder. A gesture of reassurance, which was anything but reassuring.