Most of the guests were young students from abroad, who travelled the country and stayed in the hostel for a few days or at most one week. There was one exception -- a French guy, about my age, who had been here since my arrival, and from what I could tell, it didn’t look like he was planning to leave anytime soon.
My first conversation with him occurred, oddly enough, while I was taking a shower in the common bathroom shared by all, exclusively male, occupants on the second floor. The water in the shower, cold or hot, ran on coins (100 yen for 5 min!) and featured a complex display in Japanese, which, I swear, had true evil in it. I was all soaped up when the water stopped running. After a few unsuccessful attempts to activate it again I punched the display box a few times, supporting my action with some heavy swearing.
Suddenly my shower curtain was pulled open and I see the French guy with a towel around his waist. “If you want to get an additional five minutes, you have to press dis button, then insert the coin and then press dis,” he explained with a slightly patronizing tone in his French-accented English.
“Thanks,” I replied and closed the shower curtain as his eyes lingered on my body a little too long.
I knew he was in the habit of leaving the hostel late in the evening, always dressed impeccably and wearing clothes that bore marks of expensive brands. His chin-length, black hair, coated in gel, was brushed to the back and tucked behind his ears, not a single hair out of place.
He was well built, not like a fighter, but like a person who regularly worked out. I could always spot the difference between people, who trained to look good, and people, who trained to smash somebody’s face.
Before leaving the hostel he usually first ordered a drink, a whisky or some other liquor, and scanned the lobby for female guests. If there were any, he approached them and began what looked like brief, flirtatious talk, which more often than not ended in an exchange of phone numbers or agreements about a later meeting. There was a certain cocky confidence about him, which I found irritable, and had I not been desperate, Miss Isoyama would have remained the only person in the hostel I bothered to speak with. But I needed help, and this guy looked like he got around well in Tokyo.
One evening the Frenchman, with a glass in his hand, headed towards an unsuspecting newcomer, a blonde, college-aged female, and I blocked his way.
“Hi! Do you have a minute?”
His eyes shifted between me and the girl, and he was probably about to turn me down when two guys came sprinting down the stairs and joined the female student. They looked like they all knew each other and began to laugh and chat in a language I couldn’t quite make out.
The Frenchman looked at me as if it was somehow my fault he lost his chance for female company.
“Sure,” he replied with a sigh of resignation and pointed towards a sitting area in the corner. We sat down and he raised his glass to clash with mine. I reciprocated with a glass of cold green tea, which was available for free in the lobby.
“I’ve seen you around. You’ve been here for a while,” he said.
“Almost a month. I guess you’ve been here much longer than I.”
“Yes, I have.”
His stare was pinned on me as he took another sip. “I’d like you to get to the point. I don’t have much time, and I have a feeling you’re not just a chit-chat type. What do you want?”
I was not, indeed, the chit-chat type, and felt quite happy to omit small talk and get to the point.
“You seem to know this place quite well. I need a job. Could you help me with that?”
He smirked as he brought his glass to his lips.
“You’re a fighter?”
Interesting. He was much more perceptive than I thought.
“I used to be.”
He made a sip and pointed his finger at me. ”Oui, yes, you look like it. I’m good at observing people. The way you carry yourself, your constant focus, your roughness, I recognize it. You’re the more quiet type. Those are the most dangerous ones.”
Clearly, he was into types.
“I sometimes go to watch local fights,” he continued.
“What kind of fights?”
“Your kind, I suppose. Street fighting, taken out of the street and placed in the ring for the crowd to enjoy.”
“That’s a common misconception.”
He chuckled and shot me a patronizing look. ”Panem et circenses. Give the public bread and circuses!”
I was humored by his misplaced analogy between the fighting scene in Japan and that of ancient Rome but I had no intention to start a discussion.
“So about the job--”
“Do you have a working visa?”
“That is a problem.”
“I plan to apply for one...after I sort some things out.”
“You can’t work legit if you don’t have a visa.”
If I had a visa, I wouldn’t be having this conversation. I leaned forward. “Are you sure you can’t help me?”
He smirked again. “You really seem desperate.”
I didn’t give him additional satisfaction by confirming it.
“Ok, perhaps, I could help you. Won’t be for free, though.”
Never expected it to be. I nodded.
He glanced at the fancy watch on his wrist. ”Merde, I’m late. We’ll speak tomorrow.” He downed the rest of his drink and stood up to leave. “I’m Emile, by the way.”