Mushi-atsui. Miranda thought the Japanese word sounded like what it meant—hot and humid. She escaped the mushiatsui life when she moved from sultry South Carolina to Southern California, but there was no escaping the steamy, suffocating heat of Sado Island, Japan, in August.
She sat on a crowded bus dabbing the sweat off her brow with a hachimaki, a Japanese bandana that she wore during taiko drumming classes at the Pasadena Buddhist Church. Her sensei at that class was the one who encouraged her to venture to Sado for a week of beating drums among the best percussionists in the world.
After a two-hour bus ride, she arrived at a Japanese woodblock gallery. She planned to purchase a print for her small mid-century modern home in a funky area of Altadena, just north of Pasadena. Her friends thought it was austere, but she preferred to think of it as serene, almost Zen-like.
Miranda made her purchase—a stylized print of taiko drums by a local artist—and then sat drinking hot green tea while she contemplated the long ride home. She looked down at her rumpled shorts and dusty running shoes and then ran her fingers through her sweat-drenched hair. When she looked up, she caught the eye of a handsome Japanese stranger, who looked as cool and serene as the Sea of Japan. If the heat didn’t wilt her, then his smoldering look would.
She spoke to him in the limited Japanese she picked up from two semesters of language study at Pasadena City College. “O genki desuka?” she asked, the English equivalent of “How are you?” Miranda laughed and made a “time out” sign with her hands when his answer sounded like a 78 rpm record. He didn’t know that her ears only worked in 33.
He offered to drive her to the bus stop, one mile away, and she gratefully accepted. She figured she could make five minutes of slow-speed Japanese conversation. But the short lift to the bus stop turned into a five-hour island tour. They drove along the jagged Sado coast while listening to Japanese jazz. They explored secret coves on deserted beaches.
She felt a shiver when he put his hand into the small of her back as they walked up a flight of stairs to an old monastery. For a split second, their hands accidentally touched, and then for a few more seconds they held hands. It was long enough to convince her that her life in Pasadena was wrong, all wrong.
When they reached Miranda’s minshuku, a poor-man’s version of a Japanese Inn, he gave her a gift—two of the CDs that were the soundtrack of their afternoon adventure. They agreed to meet the next night at the final drumming concert.
She spent the night pining and plotting. Pining for Masahiro, the handsome Japanese man who showed her the beauty of Sado. Plotting a way to turn her weeklong visit into a lifelong adventure. Pining for a life of beating drums instead of beating her head against the wall of her cubicle at her dead-end job in Pasadena. Plotting a way to bring an end to the equally dead-end relationship with her fiancé, a Caltech physics boy wonder.
She couldn’t wait to see the object of her infatuation at the concert the next night, but the more she thought about him, the more she panicked. She saw three possibilities, and didn’t like any of them.
What if Masahiro was a no-show? Would she leave Sado Island in despair?
Or what if he showed up, and the spark was gone. What if the fairy dust from their magical evening evaporated? Could she bear it?
And, worst of all, what if he showed up and the spark was still there? What if the spark turned into a flame? What if she quit her dead-end job and relationship and pursued a fantasy relationship and life on Sado Island, an island so remote that it was once the Japanese version of Alcatraz? What if she returned to Pasadena and spent a lifetime considering what could have been?
She didn’t like any of the possibilities or what ifs, but she played each one over and over again the next day. She turned over possibility one as she ate her breakfast of grilled snapper, steamed r
ice and pickled cabbage. She pondered possibility two as she wrote in her journal while gazing at the tranquil Sea of Japan. She considered the third possibility as her calves ached from pumping up a steep hill on a rental bicycle.She reached the top, looked down and thought, “Ganbatte.” Go for it, as the Japanese say, and she did. She gave it everything she had as she raced down the steep hill. She felt airborne and, for at least 30 seconds, Miranda forgot about the three possibilities.
But then she hit a rock and lost control of the bike. Her face broke her fall when she flew over the handle bars. Hot tar from the black top road became embedded in her shoulders and knees. “Mushiatsui,” she mumbled as paramedics lifted her from the road into the ambulance. “I’m very uncomfortable. It must be because it’s so mushiatsui. Mushy-hot-sweaty.”
On the gurney, she went back to turning over the three possibilities while she listened to the siren. Should she pull over? Wait, no, the siren was too close for that. And then it struck her. The siren was coming from the ambulance and she was riding in that ambulance. She was hurt and was on her way to a hospital.
A smile spread across her aching, broken face. At that moment she knew that everything was going to be OK and that the three impossible possibilities no longer mattered.
It hadn’t occurred to her before then that there was also a fourth possibility. “I don’t have to go to the concert,” she whispered to the ambulance attendant. “I don’t have to go.”
© Copyright 2009 Susan Carrier. All rights reserved.