The author has the ability to make the tension escalate throughout the story ... the kind of ending you will never forget.
***** 5-stars by Julia Hones, writer, blogging at My writing life
"Simon and Hiroko is an absorbing love story set in Tokyo at the beginning of '90s. The city becomes a character: it is carefully described through many details, like the crowded metro, the small flats, the Japanese food ... The cultural alterity of Japanese people, their kindness and self-restraint immediately attract the reader's interest. [Simon and Hiroko's] love is as delicate as cherry blossoms: it is made of walks, dinners, trips. It is also a passionate love ..."
- Amaranta, an Italian literary blogger at the Lalettricefelice blog
From the Author
EXCERPT. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Meeting at Narita
Narita was the place where they had first seen each other, on that afternoon of the beginning of '90s.
His next move out of the luggage area was to have been towards the taxi station, but suddenly horror stories of the prices, in the hundreds of dollars, between the airport and downtown Tokyo, read while in preparation for the trip, lifted their ugly heads from his memory. He switched mental compass and decided that the Narita Express train would just do, even with his five pieces of luggage, including two large suitcases.
And it was at the ticket area for this train, which was in fact a wall set with maps of the transit system and peppered with buttons to punch into machines which would spit the ticket under small plastic windows, that he met her.
Many stations were indicated in English too and some sparse instructions were also available; still, he was confused enough to have created behind him an accumulation of buyers looking at him with the hope of his making quickly a decision and vacating the place for themselves.
When nothing happened in two or, he feared, three minutes, he heard a clear soprano voice, nothing childish to it, closing in on him, asking in English "Do you need help, sir?" He turned, and saw her.
Tall for a Japanese, five-nine or even ten, pink-white-faced, the contours of the chin and the cheeks drawn in round terms, a straight small nose; all surrounded by closely-cropped black hair. Very - he would say 'terribly' later - soft eyes, the countenance a bit shy and embarrassed, but with a helpful question mark superimposed on her forehead just above slightly blushing cheeks. The blushing, later he thought, a matter of interfering with the business of a visitor, of a stranger, of, worse, of a gaijin, as she saw it.
"Oh, yes, I think so, Miss. I'd like to get to Shinjuku and I'm not sure at all if this train takes me there."
"No, please get ticket for Tokyo Station. Punch here, please, after you put the money here. From there you take Yamanote-Sen, you know - ring line, I think you call this in English." Her voice stuttered and had a lilt, which may have been, he thought, just how the locals spoke English, but he was able to follow.
"Ah, I remember Yamanote line. Will do that. Thanks."
He bought his ticket and drew his luggage, backing up one or two steps to the side, to make place for the others behind him, mostly Japanese, as far as he could tell. All black-haired, here and there a young girl showing off the artificial brown instead, most of them well-dressed for business, all serious and, to him, difficult to read. They certainly seemed to have their job faces on already for the next week, what with this being the weekend.
The young woman had been the second person in line behind him. Now that she advanced just a bit in front of him for her own transaction, he had time to throw a short glimpse at her while rearranging luggage on his trolley: exquisite - that, to him, meant round and spindly, with a certain softness of contours - but not too long, ankles, standing on medium-high heels; relatively high-placed hips, for a Japanese, not too narrow, on the contrary, intimating the hour-glass. She had a knee-length rainproof light gray coat on, Burberry-style, which impeded the free observation, but this much he had been able to tell with his pro photographer's eye. An umbrella and a shoulder bag. The latter called itself a good name. He had read about that too, status in Japan was a lot. Not that it was less back home, in America.
"Once again, thank you very much, you really saved me," he said, detecting a lively warmth, perhaps interest, in his own voice. "Could you tell me, please, where the platforms are?"
"You're welcome. I'll show you about platforms. I go myself Tokyo Station, to continue on Yamanote, but then I go somewhere not Shinjuku. Follow me, please."
She didn't seem to have any luggage, thus she could not have come with another plane. She must have been at Narita on other business, perhaps with seeing off someone leaving the country. Shadowed, sad, or indifferent eyes, the teeth not shown, short smiles with commas in them, reticence - might well be a lover then, a boyfriend, a husband. However, she seemed too young to be married, perhaps twenty; though, he knew, his experience in detecting age in Japanese persons was null. He also seemed to foggily remember that Asians are thought younger-looking by Caucasians.
They were finding their way now toward the platforms, on and on. He let her walk at the front of their small caravan, on account of his crowded trolley, also to better enjoy the view of her back and ankles swaying over the moderate impact of the heels of her shoes. Moderate in height they were indeed, the heels, but it seemed a very observant eye had made the choice, as the curved convexity of her calves, reminding of a spindle of yarn, was revealed at its best this way, he surmised, and she walked without stress or artificiality.
Weaving her way calmly but quickly ("We only have five minutes until the next? train," she told him with an hesitation, searching for the right English word) through the passages in the station, she turned a bit toward him here and there, so as to see whether he wasn't lost for the cause, her face a bit embarrassed, perhaps with leading an unknown man among those busy crowds. He wasn't trying to speak to her now, as he didn't want to shout - the noise around quite loud from the shuffling and pounding of so many hurrying steps over the imitation marble in this area or the cement in this other. Nor did he want to scare her in some strange way - he might have been the first American ever for her to talk to, even though the Japanese were known to travel quite a lot now. But perhaps she wasn't scared: it had been her who made a first approach, not that it had been personal at all - one unknown, nameless passenger assisting another.
The train wasn't yet at the platform when they arrived.
"Ah, we have to wait a bit." She turned for a second to him, flashing a guilty smile.
"Ah, that's not much. By the way, I'm Simon."
"I am glad to meet you. I - " She had stopped there and her face only sussurated the rest of her reply before turning away. "No use to get acquainted, mister, this is never going to work," would have been the articulation. He was starting to see the Japanese exquisite politeness at work, needling him. He registered a sudden drop of disappointment in his ribs. This was going to be difficult, it seems, if ever.