“He’s not going to talk to us,” Lori said. They were half-jogging under the weight of hiking packs to the outfield, where seats were first-come, first-serve. “The players never talk.”
“But this is Japan,” Gary said. “We’re in the Tokyo Dome! Everything’s different.”
She smiled gamely, but the truth was she had hated his plan from the beginning. It was too much for one day: catch part of a baseball game in order to see a washed-up American hitter, make a pit-stop in touristy Harajuku, then take the bus to Mount Fuji. All in the oven of the August heat. Why so eager, she wondered. This wasn’t his first trip to Japan; he’d visited after the engagement—surprised her in Chicago with the ring on New Year’s Eve and surprised her again two days later, booking himself a ticket back to Tokyo to finally see the city she’d been living in for months.
She wasn’t wearing the ring now—the volcanic dust on Fuji would get into the setting—but she’d been careful to wear it every day of his visit. The last few months she’d fallen into the habit of leaving it behind, in its blue velvet box, while she worked. It looked appropriate in the box in a way it didn’t on her finger. Her mom assured her she’d get used to it. The diamond wasn’t particularly big, or the setting extravagant—Gary was still a student—yet the ring somehow felt too…substantial.
They stood at the top of the outfield stairs. Lori adjusted her backpack—not as large or heavy as Gary’s, which held food and water for the overnight climb—overlooking a sea of fans. Almost everyone wore the same blue cap, topped by a long-nosed, furry pink animal. The crowd clapped inflatable bats and the hat creatures wobbled in time. She saw no empty seats.
Gary said, “Japanese players hit an average of 11 fouls per at-bat. In the U.S. it’s 2.6.”
The guy at the plate drew a walk and the crowd cheered. Then the thud of the bats stopped.
“It’s him! Roosevelt White!” Gary stepped down and bumped into an elderly woman who’d been climbing the stairs.
Lori yanked his T-shirt. She apologized to the woman in Japanese; Gary apologized in English.
“Lor, let go of my shirt,” Gary said after the woman had moved on.
“Can you not act like such a foreigner?”
He rolled his eyes. “10 months here and you’re Japanese?”
Lori turned back to the game. Even from the outfield, it was clear the new batter was foreign—he dwarfed the catcher, and his uniform looked extra-bright against his dark skin.
The batter watched three strikes. He strode to the dugout, shaking his head.
“Bullshit,” Gary said. “They’re not even letting him swing.”
“Shh,” Lori whispered.
A woman jogged up the stairs and stopped in front of them. Her long black hair was crimped on one side. “Excuse me! Can I lend the hand?”
“We’re okay,” Lori said. “We arrived late”—she glanced at Gary, who’d had to return to the apartment for his grandpa’s Bible—“and now there is…no space.”
Gary touched his backpack. “We are big,” he joked.
“Yes,” the woman said, looking them over. “Very big. You come now.” She beckoned down the steps.
Lori felt hundreds of eyes as they descended the stairs. Her blonde hair stood out enough as it was; she didn’t like making a spectacle. They had reached the front of the seating area. Lori could smell the chemicals on the turf.
The woman stepped in at the front row. “I am sorry the location is poor,” she said, without irony. The woman spoke quietly to a skinny boy and a man in a tailored blue suit; the boy scooted in front of the man while the woman scooped a little girl onto her lap. “Please,” she said to Lori and Gary, gesturing to a space big enough to lie down in.
“My name is Ayumi. She is Maya.” Ayumi touched the girl’s bob and spoke to her in Japanese.
“How old are you, Maya-chan?” Lori asked.
Maya shyly raised her hands to her face, one finger of her right hand pressed to the spread palm of her left. She peeked at Lori through fingers ringed with bright plastic jewels.
“She is 6 years. My son is 11 years and my husband 48. I,” Ayumi said, touching the base of her throat, “am 39.”
“My name is Lori,” Lori said, and made a face at Maya, who giggled. “Nice to meet you.”
“Ro-ree,” Ayumi repeated, nodding. She looked at Gary.
“I’m Gah-ri,” he said, the way Lori had instructed. “I’m 23,” he added.
“Gari! Delicious for sushi!” Ayumi and Lori laughed.
“Gari means pickled ginger,” Lori said.
“I thought my name meant diarrhea.”
“Geri is diarrhea. Gari is pickled ginger. Neither is really a winner.” Lori leaned into Ayumi and they laughed again.
The husband waved down a vendor and exchanged a handful of coins for three pink plastic cups. He passed two down the row, took a long sip and raised his. “Good!” he said, tapping the bottom of the cup. “Good!”
Lori drank, the taste of plastic mixing with the whiskey. “So good!” she agreed. Gary did the same. Ayumi nodded, as if a ritual had been properly completed, and then turned once again toward the field, pounding her bat with the crowd.
A couple innings later, Gary unzipped a side pouch and pulled out the Bible he’d carried everywhere since arriving in Japan the week before. “Would you like to see this?” He held the book out to Ayumi, who looked confused.
“I noticed your crucifix,” he said, tapping his throat.
Ayumi looked down and touched her necklace. She laughed, covering her mouth with one hand. Her daughter, who had hidden herself behind her mother’s knees, squirmed onto Ayumi’s lap, shooting Lori a tight-lipped smile.
“To tell the truth, this is for only style. Japanese think this symbol is kakkoi—cool.”
“Is that right?”
“But, it is a very beautiful book.”
“Thank you. It was my grandfather’s. He wanted to come Japan and climb Mount Fuji, but now he is too old.”
“You bring his book to Fuji-san for him? The excellent grandchild!”
“I’m going to send him a postcard from the top, too.”
“Yes, there is postbox on top. Very famous.”
“We’re going tonight.” He patted his pack.
“Oh my God!” Ayumi said. She spoke to her husband. He looked at his watch and said something that made her laugh. Just then, the little girl pulled a pink ring from her thumb and thrust it at Lori.
“What’d he say?” Gary asked Ayumi.
“Old saying,” she said. “If you miss the sunrise on top of Fuji-san, your journey is wasted.”
“In other words,” Lori said, pushing the ring onto her pinkie, “don’t be late.”
During the next inning, the Ham Fighters changed pitchers. The new pitcher walked solemnly onto the field. He stood beside the mound and stretched his arms up, out to the side, and back up.
“Here we go,” said Gary.
The outfielders stood in the grass, feet planted. Roosevelt White windmilled his arms.
Ayumi said, “Pitchers take much time.”
Gary nodded. “To intimidate the opponent. Like sumo.”
“Sugoi! You know Japanese baseball!”
Gary stood and cleared his throat. “Roooosie! Hey Rooooosie!” he shouted. “He should have you swinging!”
Lori nudged him. “He’s not going to—”
But White turned and took a few steps toward them. He donned his cap. A layer of gray covered his head. The skin beneath his eyes hung loose and pouched around his cheekbones, reminding Lori of the aging bloodhound her grandfather had continued to take birding, not because the dog was useful in the hunt, but because he so clearly loved the sport.
“I’m about ready to swing at the manager’s head,” White called in a slow, carrying voice.
A small man in uniform jogged down the third base line. He shouted something to White, who waved him off. The man walked over to him, and with his eyes on his spotless cleats, spoke softly.
White threw down his glove. “Ain’t no game to pay attention to!”
“They’re taking him out?” Lori said.
“If you’re smart”—White turned to the stands—“you’d get outta here too.”
He stalked off the field to polite applause. Gary booed until his voice cracked.
They left shortly after White was ejected. During the 20-minute train ride to Harajuku Gary talked non-stop about his interaction with the “major leaguer,” repeating every word White had said and speculating as to whether he’d tell off his manager. Lori tried to be happy for her fiancé. He had always been more earnest and outgoing than she; these were qualities that had drawn her to him. She glanced at her bare ring finger. The pinkie beside it still wore the ring from the little girl—Maya.
Once they’d left the station and walked into the sun Lori felt her T-shirt grow damp under her pack. The narrow, overrun street was crammed with storefronts, each an oasis of aggressive air-conditioning. In front of a 100-yen shop a group of kids wore French maid costumes and neon stockings. One boy’s hair was bright yellow, another’s stuck out at comic book angles. A tiny girl wobbled on boots of clear plastic with live goldfish in the heels.
Lori felt Gary trying to appear casual. These were the Goth kids tourists loved, and the reason Gary had wanted to stop here. When they’d passed she looked over her shoulder and caught the girl in the boots peeking back with an expression naked and curious. Her eyelashes were like a giraffe’s. Lori’s heart jumped. She smiled, then glanced away.
“That was so awesome,” Gary whispered. “Let me take a picture of you with them in the background.” Before Lori could protest—it was obvious what Gary was up to, she thought—he had whipped out his camera and snapped a couple shots.
They continued down the street, away from the Yamanote-sen, the line that would take them to Tokyo Station and the last Mount Fuji bus of the night. Outside a tiny café a banner showed a monkey using its tail to bring a chunk of something brown to its mouth. The banner read: COFFEE GEL. He pulled her inside.
They found two empty stools at a counter overlooking the Levi’s shop next door. Lori picked at a dry cuticle and checked the time. They would be fine if they left now, but if they waited much longer, and caught a long space between trains, it would be close. The buses to Fuji were reservation-only, booked two weeks in advance. Gary flew back next week.
She’d been up Fuji once already, on a welcome trip organized by co-workers last year. She recalled the cold, the darkness as the group hiked single-file most of the way—climbing season was short on the mountain, and tourists jammed the trails each night to make sunrise. It was like waiting in line for something. No one had dressed quite warmly enough and no one had slept. At the summit one of her group bought a can of coffee from a man who fished it from a vat of boiling water. The man who’d bought it didn’t open it but instead passed it around so people could warm their hands. Then they watched the sky burn: purple, then pink and red, then orange and yellow over the mountaintops poking through broken clouds. For the first time, she had felt completely at peace in Japan. The memory was strong. She felt it in her chest, smooth and warm, and like the can of coffee, a comfort.
Gary was talking about his boss’s sister’s friend, who’d started a business buying up old Levis from thrift stores and selling them in Japan at outrageous prices.
“They love the Levis,” he said, and spooned a quivering brown cube into his mouth.
She looked at her watch and cleared her throat.
“Guess we should get going,” he said.
The street seemed to have grown more crowded, and they had a hard time reaching the train station. Gary kept hitting people with his pack. Lori buckled her waist strap and wiped her temple. She hated sitting on an air-conditioned train feeling her sweat turn cold, and wished she hadn’t agreed to stop.
They topped the platform as the train was ready to depart. Lori ran, lunged and stuck her hand between the rubber-edged doors just before they met, causing them to pop apart. She and Gary stepped in to annoyed stares. The station clock read 19:56. Yes, it would be close.
15 minutes later, they pushed out of the train and climbed a staircase spattered with sticky pink liquid, emerging at the station’s side entrance. Steam hissed from a takoyaki stand across a wide intersection, filling the air with the smell of fried octopus.
“The guidebook said the stop is right outside the train station,” Gary said. “Now we just have to find the right bus.”
“Which leaves in three minutes.”
People swarmed around them. It was hard to tell the street from the sidewalk. Several buses, all marked with stylized, incomprehensible logos, idled within view. Ribbons of heat rose from the pavement, the cars, the people; it seemed the whole world was melting. Lori looked up: the electronic display above Mizuho Bank read 34°C.
“Why are none of these buses marked? Shit,” Gary said. He shrugged off his pack. “Don’t move.”
A strange satisfaction rose in Lori’s chest as he trotted toward a store with knockoff purses in the window. He needs to learn, she thought, remembering the morning. I don’t want to go through life late all the time.
Lori recognized the grocery store with the red star logo across the street and halfway down the next block. A bus bearing the faint outline of a mountain in front. She turned her gaze away as Gary returned.
“No one has any fucking idea! We’re gonna miss it. What should we do?”
She put out her hand to balance herself on the black marble façade of the building behind her. The surface was hot and she jerked her hand away.
“I guess you’ll plan better in the future.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the bus depart. The outline of Mount Fuji grew visible as it motored closer, passing half a block behind Gary. Before it turned out of sight, two fingers thrust out a window in the peace sign.
The train was less crowded now. Lori studied the pattern in the felt seats beneath them: a busy pattern of green interrupted by orange and purple, as if to keep passengers awake. The Japanese were always utilitarian. Neither she nor Gary had spoken since boarding this train back to Lori’s apartment.
“Mr. White? Excuse me?” Gary’s voice.
“Been a while since anyone called me Mister.”
Lori looked up. It was Roosevelt White, still in his uniform, a blue duffel at his feet.
“Tonight, that was us in the stands.” Gary laughed. He sounded nervous. “Are you just getting out now? It’s past eight.”
“Son, they play a four-hour game here. Got a rule where they call it a tie if it’s over four and a quarter. Wife’s going to be upset. She hates when I run late.”
White reached inside his jersey, pulled out a checkered handkerchief, and blew his nose. A teenage girl who’d been feigning sleep opened one eye.
Gary widened his eyes at Lori, who looked away. She didn’t want Gary to think he was off the hook and she didn’t want to bother White. He so large and dark that, she realized, her problems with being stared at in this country were nothing.
“Pollution,” White said, shaking his head. He folded the handkerchief into a square and tucked it back inside his jersey.
Gary leaned in. “So, what’s it like playing here? Any easier?”
“Just different. They sure don’t make it much fun. Follow us around, get in our personal business.”
A young woman’s automated voice announced the next stop.
“That’s me,” White said. “Takadano-foo-foo.”
“Before you go,” Gary said, reaching for his bag. “Could I bug you for an autograph?” He pawed through his bag and pulled out a pen. “Lori, do you have some paper?”
“Don’t think so. Sorry.”
“Oh—well, here,” Gary said, and slid out the Bible. He handed the pen to White, then folded over the book’s thin leather cover.
“Whoa,” White said, waving both hands. His palms were badly calloused. “You got nothing else?”
“It’d be an honor. It’s my grandpa’s. He loves baseball.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that, treat a Bible like a scrap of paper. I feel guilty enough not even having brought my own book.” White picked up his duffel and stood.
Gary stood as well. “Do you—do you need a Bible? You should take this one. We gaijin have to help each other out.”
“It was my grandpa’s, and he’s a big baseball fan,” Gary repeated. He held out the book with both hands, and in a tone Lori had heard only once, when he proposed, he said firmly, “Please take it.”
“Thank you, son,” White said, reaching for the book. “I’ll take good care of it.”
“Thank you,” said Gary. The train was slowing. “You have no idea what this means to me. We just missed the bus to Fuji and I felt so shitty—bad, excuse me, about it…”
The doors opened. “Good luck,” White said, and stepped out. Through the window she watched him walk away. As he reached the escalator, he raised the Bible up high.
When she turned Gary was watching her intently, and for a second Lori felt he could read her mind, could see the pressure that had built in her head. She dropped her glance to their packs and recalled how casually he’d persuaded her to let him carry the heavy things. Something small and hard popped against her hip and she pulled the pink plastic ring, now cracked, from her pocket. Was she the only one without something to give so freely?
Without looking at Gary, she ran to the door, pushing past a group of teenage girls that smelled of tart watermelon. She wanted to tell White something about Gary, to thank him, maybe, or to share something he already knew—had known upon taking that Bible. Something she had only just discovered.
She slowed as she met the turnstile. There, under a streetlight, stood White talking to a round black woman in a red hat, the Bible tucked under his right arm. He was shaking his head. To Lori the woman’s face seemed firm, angry even, but when a car passed, illuminating her eyes, Lori recognized the expression. It was one of forgiveness, the best kind and the worst: unasked for, and given just the same.