The school bell finally tolls, and our day of mental indentured servitude ends. I put my indoor shoes into my foot locker, change into my outdoor shoes, and head out of the school gates. I belong to the ‘stay-at-home’ club now so I march down the street fully intending to head home, but somehow my feet take me back to school, back to the gym. I suppose old habits die hard. I’ve walked here so often I guess my feet simply don’t know how to act otherwise.
The school gym. My second home. If there’s one thing I love about this school, it’s this. I know it so well I can walk through it blindfolded. Thanks to the popularity of the tennis team, our gym gets generous funding from the district. As a result of that, we even have our own training room.
WE, as in the judo team.
I joined judo as soon as I entered high school. We have only a few members, barely qualifying as an official team. Unlike the more popular tennis or track teams, we never win any awards. I think I was actually the most hopeful judoka we had in years. Yet literally nobody in school knows I do judo. It’s not that I keep it a secret. Simply, most of the school don’t even know we HAVE a judo team. We used to joke around that we're the second least known sport in our school, after the bobsled team (and no, we don’t have a bobsled team).
Keika and Miki know about the judo, but since neither of them care about sports very much, they would only ask out of politeness from time to time, “Hows that, uh, judo thing that you're doing?” As all true athletes know, we decline to speak seriously about our labor to muggles. It’s sufficient to respond with the canned 'Same old, same old.' routine and let it rest at that. The one time I tried to enlighten them on the beauty of judo, their eyes glazed over after only five minutes. That taught me never to do that ever again.
Being at the dead end of the popularity scale, it goes without saying that we also receive the least funding from school. Our area can’t begin to compare to the shining, high tech stadiums of the other teams. Besides the mats, we have a motley collection of secondhand free weights from somebody’s brothers and/or uncles. Next to them sits a wheezing treadmill we got at a bargain price from a gym that was going out of business. In the corner lies a multi-patched monster truck tire we dragged back from the dump last summer. An absolute disaster of a room. We’re terribly proud of it.
And now I no longer need to be here.
Before, life was an endless cycle of school, training, home, and school again. I had no time for much else. Then I missed Nationals, and judo, for all intents and purposes, ended for me. Next year I will start my third and final year at high school, a year solely dedicated to preparation for college entrance exams. In other words, I won’t have time to seriously train anymore. Like a ship adrift at sea, I no longer have a clear destination. Perhaps that’s why I agreed so readily to Miki's 101 day challenge. I crave something to do. Any destination to set sail to.
“Machida-kun!” A voice shakes me out of my reminiscing. I turn to see Keika walking towards me.
“Oh hi, Keika.” I wave. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” she chirps. “Why are you here?”
Before I can answer she says, “Oh, I know! You came to watch my boyfriend’s moves!”
“He’s really good at basketball,” Keika gushes. “He’s the team’s MVP! Even his team captain admits they can’t do without Shoichi!”
Yes, I know, because she only talks about this every other day. From the way Keika tells it, her boy wonder should probably fly to the US and join the NBA right now. I try not to roll my eyes.
“Where is your boyfriend anyway?” I ask.
“He’s probably just late.”
“HE’s late?” I look at her in utter disbelief.
Someone else is later than Keika. I never, ever expected to hear THAT in my lifetime. Keika is the queen of late. When we had our gatherings in the past, Miki and I would usually just begin doing whatever we were supposed to be doing, and Keika would join in halfway. Keika’s late show has been going on ever since I’ve known her. Maybe in cultures where people don’t care about lateness, Keika’s behavior wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But we’re in Japan, where the definition of on time is 15 minutes early. I seriously wonder how Keika survived this long without being shunned completely.
I guess Miki and I just got used to her. Miki, being totally laid back and airheaded (one of her good qualities in this case), just waves off Keika’s lateness with "Oh, she means no offense. She's just scatterbrained." She says that it must be a 'rich people' thing. Since both of them see Keika’s lateness as the most normal thing in the world, I too came to view it as a natural phenomenon. I should probably call it the Keika Zone. Beware all! Know that when in the Keika Zone, time has no meaning!
“Aren’t you supposed to be the one who is always late?” I ask.
“I am,” she replies.
“How does that work?” Now I’m confused.
“After Shoichi got used to me always being late for our dates, he started showing up late himself. Then I figured it was all right for me to show up a little later than I used to. That caused him to adjust again so that he shows up even later than me.”
“So now it’s a toss-up which one of you is gonna be later than the other for any given date?”
“When were you supposed to meet?”
“About an hour ago.”
“What? You’re sure he’s just late?”
“Yes. It’s my fault though. I should have come even later than this,” she smiles apologetically.
I stand speechless at the absurdity of this. At how such a thing can even be happening. At her meeting a boy who respects time even less than she does.
I finally say, “That can’t be healthy.”
“What do you mean?” She frowns.
“It…it can’t be healthy for your relationship. I mean, if the two of you aren’t even punctual for one another.”
“But it shouldn’t matter as long as we care about each other,” she says dreamily.
“But it does!” I shout.
She’s shocked at my sudden outburst. So am I.
An unexpected anger flares, overtaking my person. At her. At her stupid boyfriend. At this stupidity. Perhaps all that pent up resentment over her lateness over the years decided right then that it had to have its say today. I am suddenly sick of catering to her because she's a spoiled ojou-sama. Why can't she be punctual like everyone else? Why does she have no respect for other people's time?
I say, more harshly than I intended, “Put it this way. When you care about someone, do you think that person is important to you?”
“Of course.” She nods slowly.
“Being punctual says to the other person, ‘Your time is more important than mine.’ In other words, there’s no better way to say ‘You’re important to me.’ than being punctual!” I finish, with my hands in the air, as if that made what I said more important.
“No one ever told me that,” she whispers.
I have no idea why I went off like that. Who am I to tell her what to do? It's not like I'm her boyfriend. The adrenaline wears off and a flush begins to creep up my face. Before I make a total fool of myself, I say, “Uh. What I mean is, it’s better to be punctual. Yeah. Look, I gotta go.”
Then I wave a hasty goodbye and flee.