Domoto Koichi believed in fate, but only because memories existed. He never fell asleep hoping tomorrow would bring him love or a golden opportunity. It’s not just because he was often too tired to even know where his bed was, but because he didn’t think he would understand until much later – when the tomorrow of today would already be in the past – that something significant, a gift from the heavens, had been offered to him.
If he hadn’t been thinking of the incident from where he stood now, he wouldn’t have considered his meeting with Tsuyoshi at the Hikaru Genji concert as fate. Especially not as the meeting of two fated lovers, which the spyglass of time had also told him they were not.
Whenever someone would say, “What kind of story is that, it’s not romantic at all,” Koichi took their word for it. He, after all, was not qualified to argue otherwise. He hadn’t been raised to be a romantic.
In movies or on television, dramatic music would often start to play when two lovers first met. They would utter words like, “Here, use my umbrella.” Or, if it wasn’t raining, “Aren’t the stars beautiful tonight?” Or, if there were no stars to look at and the sky was dry, someone would ask the question, “Can I help you?” And the answer would be, “I’m looking for my dog/cat/grandfather. Did he pass by here? He’s frail and doesn't know the way home.”
Nothing like that ever happened to Koichi and as he matured, he learned nothing like that ever happened to anyone except those who did live their lives looking for that romantic moment and wouldn’t mind creating it. He supposed, for some people, fate – like opportunities – was something one had to create.
Humans were creative. Most of the time, he had a hard time believing his guests’ answers about their first love. It wasn’t that he thought they were all liars. Like any memory meant to be significant, that of one’s first love had to be the best pick of the bunch. Instead of the rakish boy who had stolen the guest’s lunch money, it had been the boy sharing her bench in class. Instead of the girl who had said yes when the guest had wanted to treat her to ice cream, it had been the girl who had helped him mop the hallway every day for three years. Instead of the boy whom the guest had met playing tennis, it had been the older sister of the boy he had met playing tennis.
If there was a selection of such memories to choose from, all of them evoking a thrill whenever they came to mind, the ranking could not be true, Koichi thought. In such a set, there could only be one ‘first’, not two or three or four. And all mathematicians would agree on the matter, even those in middle school who had heart-shaped lunch boxes or dreamed of marrying instead of sleeping with a gravure idol.
Besides, the show hosted entertainers who were there to sell their latest work. If the actress was promoting her role in an office love story, the answer would be set at the middle school library. If the actor was promoting a cop drama, he would mention the schoolgirl he had known as a varsity sportsman. If the idol was still a teenager, he or she would say it hadn’t happened yet, even though teenagers met their first love at least once every few months.
The neighborhood girl whom Tsuyoshi would always say was his first love, was she truly the first person who had captured his heart? Even if it were true, and Koichi would not doubt Tsuyoshi in such matters despite whatever facts lay before him, he knew his partner’s way of loving had changed. Anyone passing through a long life was not immune to the demands of the body and the twisted workings of the mind. After having been battered and stepped on, the shape of a healing heart could never return to what it once had been. The love it would give from then on, too, would not be the same as the love it had given before.
How much did first love matter after all, Koichi wondered. The only thing pure was the memory of it, and even then, one could pick and choose, coming up with a truth suited to one’s needs. As for memories themselves, surely those made as an adult were no less pure or less important than those of childhood days.
Of course, if he ever made the mistake of speaking his mind, people would call him a sour old fart who had never experienced true, heartfelt love in his youth. Never mind that he was only in his twenties and his heart was already no longer whole.
“What are you watching on TV?” Whose shy question it had been in Yokohama, he did not remember anymore; but it was Tsuyoshi who was asking now, years later, and much changed.
“What did you say?” He leaned against the wall and looked out the window, where the moon was no longer full. The ladders of light in the Milanese sky knew nothing of his past, would not know how to bring him back there, but he wanted to hear its echo again.
“Is the connection bad on your end? It’s fine on mine… Well, anyway, I said, what are you watching on TV?”
“Coverage of today’s race, of course.”
He could hear Tsuyoshi chuckle.
“Do you remember the swatches for the suits? Did you say you liked the third one or the second one?”
Koichi fell onto the bed. He was hungry. “Which one looked better on me?”
“Then you know which one to order.” He stretched and got up to search for a room service menu.
“But you said you didn’t like that one.”
“You’ve never listened to my opinion when it comes to clothes. There’s no reason to start now,” he said, going through the bedroom from one end to the other starting from the southwest corner.
“Order something with a lot of fat in it. You’re getting too skinny again.”
Koichi stopped for a moment. “How did you know I was getting food?”
“I can hear you opening drawers. What else would you be doing other than looking for the room service menu?”
“Oh.” Smiling, he used the hand holding the phone to close the drawer. He glanced around and, satisfied the menu was not in the bedroom and certain it wouldn’t be in the bathroom, crossed into the next room.
“Kenshiro wants to say hi, but he can’t reach the phone.”
“That’s child abuse, you know,” he told Tsuyoshi.
“Did you hear that, Ken-chan? Ko-chan thinks Papa is abusing you.”
He felt better knowing Kenshiro was there. He himself was in constant communication with Tokyo, but being the only person handling their group projects at such an important time must be difficult for Tsuyoshi. It would have been difficult for anyone, but the song in the works and the troubles they had... If Koichi said he had come to Monza only to watch the race and commentate, he would be lying.
“Didn’t they put you up in a suite? Check the coffee table in the living room.”
“That’s what I’m doing right now,” Koichi said, rolling his eyes.
“Don’t make that face. It’s so ugly I can see it all the way from Shinjuku.”
He hated it when he forgot Tsuyoshi could always tell what he looked like on the other end of the phone. But hate could be too strong a word. “I can’t wait to get back.”
“Your juniors are champing at the bit. They want you to show them the dance moves already.”
Koichi sank into the armchair and opened the leather-bound menu. “And you, do you want me back?” He thought those words meant nothing anymore, but when Tsuyoshi spoke to the staff in the background instead of replying, he added, “You want me to be there to help you, I mean.”
“Of course. And I want all the things you’re bringing back for me from the stores.”
Koichi swore at him and Tsuyoshi laughed.
“I have to go, but don’t forget, order the fattiest thing on the menu.”
He stared at the empty bed across the suite and the outline on the sheets marked by his hunger. There had been a time - not too long ago - when the feeling had not always been so easily inscribed. Under Tsuyoshi’s hands, the map would wind itself out of his body and carve its lines on Tsuyoshi’s own. It had moved along with their bodies, snaking up the curve of his moist back, encircling the mark on Tsuyoshi’s shoulder, kneading a prospector's path their palms had followed. It would skate the friction of skin against skin to avoid erasure until it lay itself down to rest in their mouths, the taste of it extant in his, as bitter as only ink could be.
“I’m on the other side of the world, why are you still telling me what to do?”
“You have to take better care of yourself.”
He shook his head and waited until Tsuyoshi seemed to be done with his farewells.
“Kiss Kenshiro for me,” Koichi said.
“Just kiss him for me, alright?” Koichi said, running his fingers down the inner spine of the menu. “Kiss him good morning, kiss him good luck, kiss him for being loyal to an idiot like you, which makes him what, I wonder. Oh, kiss him for whatever you want and however you want. Just kiss him for me.”
For a while, there was the sweet silence Koichi had longed for miles and miles away from where he now sat. It was broken by Tsuyoshi asking someone about the time.
“Koichi, do you know how late it is over there?”
“It’s early.” The pillow flew from his hand in an arc to bounce off the bed, leaving a crater on a nameless plain.
“Don’t you have to drive to the track from Milan? You’re driving like a maniac there, too, aren’t you?”
“I’ll talk to you later,” Koichi said, ending the call with the finest laughter he could manage.
If the questions stayed the same, he thought, the answers would never change.