“Ouch…ouch…dammit…” I yelped, as I stretched my arms towards my feet.
“What’s wrong?” K squatted next to me, her eyes fully alert “Where does it hurt?”
I leaned backwards, resting my weight on my elbows. “It’s nothing…just a cramp.”
“Where? Here?” She pressed on my calves.
“Aaarrgh…yes, yes…don’t touch!”
She promptly removed her hands and handed me a bottle. “Drink this. It has magnesium.”
I took the bottle and drank. “I’m sure it’ll pass in a second.”
“You’ve been pushing yourself like a mad man these past three days. Saturday and Sunday you rest.”
How could I not push myself? Finally, I was training again like in my good, old gym, only it was way better. The coaches were great and their trainings were out of this world. It had been only three days, yet I felt I learned stuff that would take three months to learn in regular gyms.
K obtained permission for me to train alongside Yamada san’s fighters as no other free terms were available for the time being. Whenever it was possible I always stayed an extra time after the training and stole some precious one-on-one time with the coaches. If it was up to me I’d train all day long. My body, though, didn’t keep up with my enthusiasm and today its first signs of rebellion began to show. Knowing the next week other trainings would be added to my schedule, I didn’t mind taking a good rest on the weekend.
“Feel better now?” K kneeled beside me, folding her legs underneath her thighs. She was my constant companion at all my trainings, observing me and scribbling in her little notebook.
I nodded and boldly tried to stand up but fell right back down. My face twisted in pain and a gasp escaped my mouth.
“Don’t get up yet, first try to slowly stretch… very slowly—“
“Tsk tsk tsk…one training and you can’t stand on your feet?” Kentaro and his fighters encircled us. So far I managed to avoid him successfully, but since I stayed more time after my training, I must have hit their schedule.
“Do you need a hand to get up? Or perhaps my fighters should carry you to the dormitory?” asked Kentaro. His fighters, the four of them, as always, supported with sneers his mocking attitude like a pack of faithful dogs.
K hissed something in Japanese, while I got up on my feet, despite the pain. As I wavered a little K jumped to offer me support, but I gently pushed her away.
“So it’s true, K, you went to beg the old men to get the gym terms. You must have been really desperate to do this. We all know how much uncle hates being disturbed by such petty problems,” said Kentaro, increasing his smirk.
“And yet, he granted my request. You think he’d do the same for you?” retorted K. “Move, please.”
Folding his arms, Kentaro snorted and stepped to the side to let K pass. His eyes followed her then riveted on me.
“Hey,” he leaned toward my ear as I walked by him. “It seems she really cares about you, Nik. She must think you’re good.”
“I am good,” I said, emphasizing each word, and proceeded.
“So, wait, wait…How about a friendly sparring with one of my fighters?”
I paused, fixing on him a deep quiet gaze. From the corner of my eye, I spotted Yachi curling his lips up into a conceited smile.
“Don’t worry, I won’t pair you with my stronger ones,” added Kentaro in a patronizing tone. “What do you say? Don’t you want to show your proxy how good your fighting skills are?”
“Hey, Nik san…” I heard K. “Let’s go!”
I looked at her, then back at Kentaro, who provocatively tilted his head. “Is that a yes?”
“Tsk,” I clicked my tongue in dismissal and padded him on the shoulder. “I only do what my proxy tells me to do.”
Kentaro made an overly disappointed face and burst into laughter. Words like chicken and pussy were thrown at my back by his fighters as I continued towards the exit.
“Fuck!” I slammed my fist into the wall as soon as we were out of the hall. “What’s his fucking problem? I should go back and smash him and his fighter.”
K shot me a strict look. “Nik san, it’s all just a provocation. Promise me, you won’t fall for it?”
I calmed down and nodded. Since my talk with Sunny at the pond and with K coming through with the trainings, I had decided to stick to whatever K says and trust her. “Why don’t you tell me what’s between the two of you?”
“Kentaro is just being Kentaro that’s all…he’s an insecure little shit, always in need to prove himself by competing with me……just…don’t pay any attention to him. He’s not important.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know how you can stand this---your phone is ringing.”
The beeping sound drew both our stares toward my bag.
“Huh, it’s mine…” I said surprised. Squatting down I began searching through my sports bag. “Who could that be…I didn’t give my number to anyone…hell, I don’t even know my number…Ha!....Here it is!”
I dangled my phone in front of K. “So if it’s not you, who can it be, mmm?”
She uttered a little huff and shrugged.
“Let’s see…It’s Sunny! She sent me a message. How does she know my number?” I murmured to myself while reading the message.
“She asked me and I gave it to her,” said K.
“I see. Well, she’s inviting me for a lunch tomorrow… at her place…she’ll wait for me at… Shinjuku station at 11 o’clock. So,” I looked up at K from the phone; “do I say yes?”
“If you want to,” she responded.
“We go together?”
“No, I have things to do. But…you should go…” Averting her stare sideways she made an encouraging gesture with her hand.
“Well,” I looked up to the ceiling thoughtfully. “Since you said no trainings tomorrow I think I will.”
“Yes, I will. I’ll answer her right now.” I started typing into the phone.
K sighed impatiently. “Finished?”
Finished and sent!” I flashed my phone at her face before I threw it back into the bag.
“We’ll skip the mind and body coach today,” she said.
“Really? That’s great! I mean… if you say so.” That was the one training I wasn’t sorry to miss.
“I’ll take you somewhere else instead. Take your bag and follow me.”
For the first time since I had been practising in this gym, we took the stairs that led to the lower floor and arrived in a large locker room. Putting on a pair of plastic slippers, which were arranged for visitors at the entrance, K headed to one of the lockers, pressed a code on a display, and the door popped open. I slid my feet into another pair of slippers and approached her.
“Use this locker. Undress and put your stuff inside. To lock it you have to first put in a code, then press this…..” She went through a lengthy and meticulous explanation about the locking system as if I was a complete idiot.
Did she say undress? “Yes.”
“You want to try once again the whole procedure?”
Patience, Nik. “No need.”
“Okay, here…” She took a neatly folded robe with a thick sash out of the locker and handed it to me. Then she pulled out a small, plastic bag and placed it on the top of the robe. “If you don’t have spare underwear or a swimming suit, use fundoshi.”
She cleared her throat, trying to avoid looking at me. “Do you know how to use it?”
“I’ll manage,” I said, staring uncomfortably at the bag, which contained some kind of white brief.
“You go through there, and you’ll get to the Ofuro room,” she explained, pointing her finger at the door.
“ Ofuro, is that--”
“Japanese hot baths. It’s like a small spa and sauna complex.”
“Really? That’s down here?” I asked genuinely surprised.
She nodded. “Hot bath will relax your muscles. You can only enter with this robe and you can leave the slippers by the door. You’ll see the signs. And shower before you enter the pool.” Then she looked at the big clock above the door. “You have exactly thirty minutes. After that, be sure to leave.”
“Cool.” I put my bag inside the locker and started to take my shirt off. “You’re not coming?”
She scowled at my question. “No, I’m not coming. Remember, you got thirty minutes. See you Monday, at the breakfast.”
“Have a nice weekend,” I called after her as she hurried up the stairs.
“Hmm, a spa….just what I need…” I mumbled contently to myself while undressing. After putting on the robe, I tore the small plastic bag open and looked at the white thingie. It looked like traditional Japanese underwear, a loincloth of some sort with a long stripe, which needed to be fastened. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I stashed the fundoshi into the pocket of the robe and decided to ask somebody inside the spa how to tie it properly.
As soon as I slid the door open pleasantly warm and humid air burst in my face. Thin clouds of steam gathered above the rectangle pool in the middle of a spacious room. Few candles were placed around the wooden décor, providing a sweet scent and a discreet light. Moist, steamy heat that lingered in the air felt nice against my strained body. I looked around. I was the only person there.
I headed directly to the pool when a big sign with bold red letters ‘SHOWER BEFORE ENTERING THE POOL!’ prevented my intent. Being written only in English, made me think it was written specifically for thoughtless foreigners like me. Following the arrows, I arrived at a dividing wall behind which were a few showers. I hanged the robe on the wall and quickly splashed water over my sweaty body. Since nobody else was there, I decided to forgo the complicated fundoshi tying and rushed to the pool.
The warm water slowly covered my body as I descended the steps. It felt great, and once I was inside the pool, I dipped my head beneath the surface. The water temperature being too hot to stay submerged, I moved towards the edge of the pool and leaned with my back against its wall. I spread my arms over its edge and covered my face with a small, humid towel. Tilting my head backwards, I closed my eyes. My body relaxed and the muscle ache almost entirely vanished. My mind became peaceful, expunging Kentaro and other annoyances from my thoughts completely.
Enjoying the tranquil bliss, I thought of Mrs. Yamamoto. I remembered her in the lovely, black dress and I remembered pulling that dress off her. It had been a while since I’ve been close in that way to someone…a while since such intimate touches. Thinking of Mrs. Yamamoto’s sweet smile, I smiled too beneath the towel. I imagined her sighing and giggling as I touched her. The giggling suddenly sounded very real. Too real. I promptly removed the towel from my face and saw two women standing on the other side of the pool.
Barely believing my exes, I recognized one of them -- Miyu Akizawa, the top female fighter of Yamato Damashi.
I never took much interest in female MMA fighters. In the Netherlands, there were very few and none in Peter’s gym. I considered their level of fighting pretty much a joke. But Miyu Akizawa was a decent fighter, for a woman, and was also very nice to look at, which was a rarity among the MMA women. And now she was standing just across the pool, covered only with a towel. Her friend, who looked more like a short-haired feminine guy than an actual woman, was also a known face among the top female fighters, but since that was her only attribute, I never bothered to remember her name.
After some giggling and whispering to each other, Miyu addressed me in Japanese.
“Uhh…I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese…Are you Miyu Akizawa?” I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some mirage conjured up within the bath steam.
“Hai, Akiwaza Miyu desu,” she said softly and bowed. “This--” she pointed at her friend; “Kurogi Hana.” Hana bowed as well.
Staring at them with my mouth open I thought what a lucky bastard I was that out of all the fighters it was Miyu that came to this spa tonight. “Umm...I’m Nik Torsten.”
“Ooo…” They both nodded. “New fighter…Fujiwara house, ne?”
“Yes.” I smiled, my confidence increasing due to the fact that they’d heard of me. The prospect of lovely Miyu joining me in the pool provoked an array of feelings in me, ranging from innocent delight to some very primal desires. My stare shamelessly travelled from her long, breaded hair toward the curves of her bosom, and down her athletic body… if Miyu would eventually take that towel off---
“You have to leave!” Miyu’s words were like a cold shower for my heated thoughts.
“Seven p.m. No men allowed after.” She pointed to a clock on the wall. Her friend nodded in support.
Shit! I completely forgot about my thirty minutes limit.
Do I really have to go? My pleading eyes tried to convey that question.
“Please, go now!” Miyu’s tone of voice and her finger mercilessly pointing at the exit left no doubt. And then I realized something even worse. My robe was still hanging by the showers with the damn fundoshi in its pocket. I was naked, and that was not all either. The pleasant thoughts about Mrs. Yamamoto as well as the sight of the fighting goddess did not leave my body indifferent.
How could I possibly explain it to them? “Could you bring me my bathrobe?” I asked, but they continued staring at me like they didn’t understand.
“Please, go,” Miyu repeated, sounding very serious.
“Oh fuck…” I muttered to myself and tried again in a louder voice, pronouncing the words one by one: “The robe…over there…” I pointed towards the showers and moved my arms around, trying to show them what I meant. “I need to… dress up….Look, over there… showers, white bathrobe, bring it to me.”
Their heads finally turned toward the showers. Whispering something to each other, they threw at me a few suggestive glances.
“We wait outside,” they decided and started to walk away.
As soon as the door closed behind them I bolted out of the pool towards the showers and put on the bathrobe. I tied the thick sash as low as possible at my hips, not wishing to give Miyu and her friend more reasons to think the worst of me.
“You…hentai… per-vert,” they uttered giggling as they returned to the Ofuro area, leaving me behind in the locker room.
So much for relaxing at the spa. Images of Mrs. Yamamoto and Miyu continued to persist in my mind that evening, creating a tension, which I was forced to deal with within the privacy of my room before I could claim my sleep.