Cor and I decided, after half a dozen texts on either side, to meet on Friday afternoon in Shinjuku to visit a major bookstore, and then go on to Yoyogi Park. So after a busy morning at the MC's house and a quick lunch, I headed to the train station, texting that I was on my way and would be there in 45, in 30 minutes. But Cor texted back to say that he was going to be unavoidably detained for some time, and that I should feel free to check out Kinokuniya without him.
Put me in a bookstore and I will get lost in the rapture of discovery till the cows come home, but after two or three hours I started to think that perhaps Cor wasn't coming, or had never meant to come. I'll just flip through the rest of this book, I thought, and then I'll go home. Just then my cell phone buzzed with a text from Cor saying he was so sorry to have kept me waiting, and where in Shinjuku should we meet? It took him a bit longer to get to the station, and I wasn't feeling particularly anything by that point. Still, I'd missed my chance to call foul and so I thought I'd better see it through.
As it turned out, a friend had been robbed and Cor had been making calls and inquiries about the stolen items. There, I thought; I knew he must have had a good reason.
We finally found a table at one of the crowded cafes and began to talk, at first rather awkwardly, like strangers, but after all we'd barely spoken in two and a half years. Soon the servers began to dim the lights and bring tealight candles around to every table. It was about 5pm and too late to enjoy the park, but we made instead for Shinjuku Park and a particular building where I'd had the privilege to intern five years ago. That company has since moved away, but the Starbucks was still there and so we had some more tea and coffee, still chatting. Around this point I ventured to ask whether it was not actually his girlfriend who had been robbed, and Cor replied that it was the person who used to be his girlfriend. They'd been broken up for a few months, in fact. I didn't press the issue, but felt genuinely sorry for her and for them in whatever complicated form of post-relationship they might be. On the way back to the station, we stopped for dinner at a jazzy sort of pizza bar and talked about our jobs and ideas for the future. We came to the conclusion that Cor should probably find work in Thailand since he was shivering in even the mild cool of that spring evening.
When we said goodbye at the platform, I was surprised that Cor should ask me to let him know if I had any free time during the rest of my stay in Tokyo, so we could meet again-- maybe get to Yoyogi Park, since we'd missed it that day. At the same time, I realized with some surprise that I wanted to.
Cor's company is close by to where I was staying, and on Monday night after he was done with work, we had an impromptu dinner at a simple family-style Italian place in the area. I told him about the video project I had started with Gabrielle and Noemi, and insisted that he be a part of it. We decided to meet the next afternoon at Harajuku, in order to shoot the video in Yoyogi Park.
Tuesday was my last full day in Tokyo, and although the skies threatened rain, I was determined to make the best of it. After a nice, leisurely morning with Mr. and Mrs. M, I hied me to the train station, texting Cor that I was on my way. I got off the train at Harajuku, threaded my way through the throngs of people crowding the tiny station, and looked around. Interestingly enough, there were quite a few folks with black and bright yellow signs standing around, one of them with a megaphone, proclaiming the reality of Hell and the importance of repentance and conversion. I almost went up to a couple of them, typical Japanese middle-aged women, to ask what sect they belonged to, but I didn't know how long I'd have to wait around the station area, so I decided against it.
Instead I picked a likely direction and set off, keen to find some lunch. At the table next to me a man and a woman, possibly European and Chinese, were speaking in English about Christianity, some conference they'd attended, and the woman's hardships. This is surely my day for evangelicals, I thought. They didn't seem unfriendly, but I thought I had better get on my way, and I headed back towards Harajuku station, pausing to take a few pictures here and there. Finally my cell phone buzzed. Cor hadn't seen my earlier text and was apparently just then getting ready to come. I would have to wait a bit longer. With some chagrin I reflected that we had very different ideas of "afternoon."
It began to drizzle--luckily I'd brought an umbrella-- and after hanging around the station for a while to observe the great variety of people coming through it, I found another cafe. Cor arrived a little after 4, and the rain was coming down in earnest, but we went to Yoyogi anyway, with some idea of finding a picnic shelter to film under. There was no such structure in sight, ultimately, but between thickly-foliaged trees and our two umbrellas, we made it work. The rain drummed on. For the video we talked about things like when and where we first met, memorable outings, and Tokyo's good and bad points. Then Cor took the camera and started interviewing me, winding up with a request for a final message for whoever would watch it in the future. Painfully aware that my attempts at eloquence in Japanese flounder in half-thoughts and confusion, still I fumbled through and said something about pursuing your interests across the earth, persevering with language study, and enjoying every darn minute of it come what may.
As I stumbled through all this, I wished I had the camera trained on Cor, instead. His eyes were round and quiet, as if I were really saying something worth listening to. Then the interview was over and I dried off the camera, putting it back in the safety of my waterproof bag.
We decided to get back to the train network via Shibuya Station, since Cor said it was about equidistant with Harajuku. As we walked, the rain pelting ever harder, we got to talking about things again, especially the problem he has to solve about how to return the pet hippogriff he and Cora had bought to where she is now living in St. Louis. Suddenly, out of nowhere he came out with this stunner, which even after all our history together caught me off guard:
"Because at some point down the line I may be living with that hippogriff, in St. Louis."
The rain was fiercer than ever, and we kept walking through it, I in tortured silence.
My gosh, I thought, he really loves her. Enough to cross the ocean and give up his country. Then like a beast the thoughts came snarling to the surface. I could never meet them in St. Louis. What was all this for? The hours I waited, the intense feeling that the most important thing was to see him again at all costs, the idea that something significant was happening-- it all seemed in an instant to be so meaningless and false that I could have torn myself in two like Rumpelstiltskin.
"Want to take a break at a cafe?" he said, interrupting the train-wreck in my head.
"Why not?" I said from the pits of gloom.
Who is this guy, anyway, I continued. Why should I care about this? I've done all right for myself; I know I don't need Cor to be happy and fulfilled; why, I've already independently decided I've had done with Japan in general!
We climbed the stairs to another cafe and sat down carefully, noting that not only our shoes and hems but also the backs of our jeans were soaked through with rainwater. I finished dawdling with my bag and sat up straight to face Cor across the rough wooden table.
And then it happened. Cor's kindness and genuine concern in making so many efforts to see me, by the grace of God, finally melted the ice palace of indifference I'd so foolishly allowed, and sometimes encouraged, to crystallize in my heart; it had towered over the plain and simple place where our friendship used to live. I remembered who I was, and I was Cor's friend. And as Cor's friend, the most important thing of all to me was that he should be happy and fulfilled, whatever and whoever he needed for that. How could I have forgotten it? With that realization I felt invincible joy surge inside of me, and I asked, with a real, honest-to-goodness smile, "So when are you going to propose, eh?"
Well, Cor's story wasn't as simple as all that. He wasn't sure he wanted to marry Cora; he wasn't sure of much of anything. What he needed was someone to listen, and someone to talk with. Just an hour before, I would have been the worst choice for this someone, but now I was free to listen and to give all the encouragement and advice I had in me.
Cor took the train past his usual stop to see me off at my connecting platform.
"We'll see each other again sometime, right?" he asked.
My old ice-queen self would have replied with a maybe, but I said, "Yeah, I think so. It was so good to see you and talk so much!"
We hugged, and I kissed him on the cheek, thinking Be happy, Cor. Waving goodbye, I touched my Pasmo card to the gate and walked briskly through the throng of people beyond, picking up speed-- a lifeguard's run, if you know the pace-- to enter the train a moment before the doors closed and pulled me away into the night. I looked past the heads of the strangers around me into the dark cityscape of Tokyo, and smiled.