CH 6 DODGEBALL (Jiro)
“Left side ready?”
“Hai!” the left side yells.
“Right side ready?”
“Hai!” yells the right side.
“Dodgeball!” cries Wataru dramatically, throwing his hands down to his sides. The wooden floor of the old elementary school gymnasium rumbles as the opposing teams race toward the center to grab their ammunition.
Jiro swiftly grabs two rubbery balls and retreats, throwing one back to a teammate as he shuffles back, scanning the other side for weaknesses. On the outside, he is the picture of quiet athleticism. On the inside, he’s jumping up and down like a ten-year-old kid, excited beyond belief that he’s barely been in town for forty-eight hours and he’s playing sports! Well, he wouldn’t call dodgeball a sport, per se, but it was fun, and he couldn’t wait to beat the other team, flex some of his muscles, expel some of his limitless energy.
“I can’t believe you’re not tired,” Hanako had said in aw, following him with her eyes as he packed-up his gym gear at the apartment. “We’ve been walking around all day! My feet, are killing me.”
“You’re not use to this lifestyle yet, but you will be,” he said. In LA, he and Hanako had driven everywhere. It was the culture. Meeting friends for lunch a mile down the road? Car. Grocery store at eleven o’clock three blocks down? Car. It wasn’t far, but maybe it wasn’t the safest thing to do in the middle of the night. Plus, who wanted to carry all those bags?
Matsuki told him there wasn’t a place in Tokyo people couldn’t walk by themselves at all hours of the night. “Safest place on earth bro.”
“Sure you don’t want to play tonight?” Hanako had shaken her head, made a big show of packing a book into her bag. Jiro admired girls who were athletic, but was content enough with Hanako’s less active pursuits. The truth was, he still enjoyed impressing her with his more physical abilities. Friends had at different times accused him of just not wanting to be outdone by a girl. This wasn’t true. He hated to lose to anyone.
Jiro’s eyes land on a five-foot-nothing Japanese girl across the line who weighs maybe one-hundred pounds and this curbs his enthusiasm a little. Maybe he wouldn’t get to throw the ball as hard as he would like. Less than five minutes later, Jiro changes his mind when the girl hits him with a ball where he least expects it--right on top of his feet.
Canoes, Hanako liked to call them. The girl’s eyes gleam with satisfaction and he laughs and shakes his head, joining a few of his teammates on the sidelines. Alright! He thinks. This is going to be fun! He can hear Hanako laughing from her seat on the stage, tucked safely behind a net.
“Where you from, man?” says a guy about his age with an Auzzie accent.
“California,” Jiro says, extending his hand, giving the guy’s a firm shake. “Can’t believe I’m ‘out’ already! What were we? In the game about five minutes?”
“Oh yeah, that’s Akari that got you out, mate. She’s a quick one. First time?”
“Just got here yesterday.”
The guy looks thrown. “You got to Japan yesterday?”
Jiro laughs. “I was lucky. You know Matsuki? I met him through a friend in LA, and he got me set-up here. Said dodgeball was a good place to meet people.”
“Here every week,” the guy says. “I’m Cooper, by the way.”
“Jiro. What brings you to Tokyo?”
“I’m working for a software company just down the street. Been about two years now. You?”
Before Jiro can answer, the team is calling Cooper back in. He gives Jiro a quick nod before dodging a couple of balls on his way back to center court.
Jiro wipes the sweat from his face, smiles as another person joins him on the sidelines. It is still about 85 degrees outside at seven-thirty in the evening and there is no AC in the gym. Somehow, it feels better to be moving in this humidity than standing still. “Whew, it’s hot here!”
The guy smiles, nods his head, says something to Jiro that he can’t understand. “Sumi masen…” Jiro’s voice trails off.
“Ah, okay,” the guy says in broken English, shoving his hair off his forehead, “I speak…little.”
Jiro is at first drawn to the guy’s cool hair, the dude looks like Cowboy Bebop, and then his open smile. “Watashi wa, Jiro des,” he says, offering his hand.
“Yasuto. I think your Japanese better than my English.”
Jiro laughs. “I doubt that, man.”
The rest of the game goes like that. Play as hard as he can, get tagged out (that Akari girl from round one had managed to get him once more and he had hit her at least three, not that he was counting), and then meet someone new as he waited on the sidelines to get back into the game.
By the end of the night, Jiro has met three players from France, a couple Australians, a guy from Holland and at least twice the number of Japanese players.
This, Jiro thinks, as he and Hanako follow the rest of the group to a nearby pub for drinks, is life. In under forty-eight hours, he feels like he has a ready-made community. A community of people like him, seeking relationship, connection, over a grade-school game of dodgeball.