AUGUST 13th, 1954
NANKAI SHIPPING COMPANY HEADQUARTERS
Hideto Ogata was lost in thought.
As many times as he had dived in his years working for the Nankai Shipping Company, and as many times as he would undoubtedly dive again, he was sure he would never get over the curious experience of sinking down to the depths of the ocean within the confines of a pressurized suit. It was an uncomfortable yet exhilarating series of layered sensations that he had never truly gotten used to: the discomfort of being confined to a thick layer of rubber, the large yet claustrophobic helmet that afforded little range of vision to the wearer, the bizarreness of feeling the pressure change both outside and within the suit, and the focus he had to keep on completing his task without letting each stressful component overpower his concentration and get the better of him. However, as unusual as Ogata still found it to be, he could honestly say that the experience of diving had never frightened him. As a part-time reservist for the Japanese Navy, and an adept swimmer who had lived near water all his life, the handsome young man had never truly feared the sea. However, that lack of fear had, fortunately, never translated into a lack of respect for its power, nor the dangers it presented to even the most experienced divers. He had, of course, considered the dangers of his job many times. The thought that, if one component in his suit or on the boat above should go wrong, it would prove far more instantly lethal than the water around him had certainly crossed his mind, and more than once. However, Ogata never dwelled on these fears. He placed his trust in the men whose job it was to pump the air into his suit, and to make sure that he entered and exited the water safely. He never had reason to believe that a simple day on the job could end in tragedy.
This faith and confidence had rewarded the young man with a high position within the company. Despite only being in his early twenties, Ogata had worked hard to become one of Nankai’s most reliable divers, routinely trusted to ensure the seaworthiness of their fleet by repairing damaged hulls and even, on occasion, leading salvage operations that required the retrieval of cargo from sunken vessels. Having proved his loyalty and willingness to work time and again, Ogata had even been granted the privilege of having his own office at the company’s headquarters.
It was to this office that Ogata now walked, tired and wet after a morning spent mending one of Nankai’s many fishing vessels. However, as he quickly made his way past doors and down hallways, the exhausted young man couldn’t help but smile. He had no time to be tired.
He had a date to prepare for.
Ogata finally rounded a corner and found the door to his office. Wasting no time, he opened the door and quickly stepped into the room. Turning without stopping to face a small cubical sectioned off from the rest of the office by a hanging curtain, he reached out and swatted the thin sheet away, walking into the small space where fresh clothes waited for him. A mixture of sweat and sea water still clung to much of his thin body, and as he prepared to remove his wet diving clothes he reached out again, grabbing a towel from an eye-level hook on the wall. Within moments, he had replaced his wet clothes with dry ones, and as he worked his feet back into his dress shoes, he lifted his towel to dry his arms and neck, still wet and now exposed by his white tank top. As the young man continued his attempt to make himself presentable, he mentally ran through the list of things he still had to do before Emiko arrived, before the end of the work day and the beginning of his evening with the woman he…
Suddenly, the ringing of his office phone snapped Ogata out of his romantic revere. Now drying the water from his jet black hair, he moved quickly towards the phone, scooping it up in his left hand and bringing it to his ear.
“Hello, Nankai Shipping. Ogata speaking,” he said, his voice firm and professional. The voice that responded couldn’t have been more different from his own. It was a voice laced with stress, perhaps even fear. As Ogata listened, he felt a strange panic begin to flood into his usually confident mind.
“Hmm? What’s that? When?”
It was at this moment that, as Ogata continued to listen to the voice tell its tale, he became aware of another presence in the room. Without looking up, he knew who it was. And if this conversation continued the way he thought it would, he was surely about to disappoint her.
A few feet away, a young woman stood with her large, stunning eyes fixed upon the worried face of her lover. She wore a simple yet lovely dress that gave her an unmistakably modern look, as such western-influenced fashions were currently all the rage in her hometown of Tokyo. Her short, black hair, pulled back and away from her round and attractive face, was mostly hidden under a modest pink scarf. She continued to move slowly towards the desk as Ogata nodded and listened to his caller, and she could see him become tenser with each passing moment. As she waited for the conversation to end, she began to feel an odd and seemingly displaced feeling of dread begin to build within her. Before she could consider its origin, the sound of Ogata placing the phone back on the desk refocused her, and she again fixed upon his suddenly saddened face.
For a moment, his eyes remained locked to the phone he had just hung up. A few seconds later, his eyes finally rose to meet hers. “Emiko,” he began, “I’m sorry.”
Her large eyes grew larger as she continued to focus on Ogata. “What happened? Was it an accident?” she said worriedly.
Ogata looked back down towards the desk, feeling her eyes still locked on him. He lifted the towel back to his arms and continued to dry himself.
“An S.O.S. from one of our boats,” he explained. “I have to go to the Coast Guard office.”
Emiko’s eyes finally fell downwards. For a moment, she couldn’t tell which emotion she was experiencing with greater intensity: shock at Ogata’s news of possible tragedy, or sadness that their evening plans were surely doomed. As she continued to look downwards, Ogata finally placed the now damp towel upon his desk, and in its place he gently picked up a piece of folded paper – a brochure advertising for that evening’s performance of the Budapest String Quartet at a theater in Shinjuku, and the beautifully decorated envelope containing the tickets clipped to its left side. He held the brochure in front of him, staring down at it despondently. He had been so excited, as had she…
“I’m sorry I can’t go,” he said, still staring down the broken promise he clutched in his hands. After another moment, he looked up to meet Emiko’s eyes again, and lifted the brochure and tickets towards her. “…but you can still make it, if you hurry.”
Emiko briefly bowed her head before again meeting Ogata’s gaze. She could feel his disappointment, sense his guilt over something that, in the end, he had no control over. A smile slowly grew on her face as she reached out to take the tickets from Ogata’s hands. “It is disappointing,” she said as she looked down at the illustrations on the small envelope. A moment later, she looked back up at him, her smile widening. “…but work is work.”
She could feel Ogata’s tenseness loosen, if only slightly. Since they had started their courtship, she had become quite adept at reading Ogata’s emotions, and many times she could tell exactly what he was thinking from a simple glance at his handsome face. As she continued to meet his gaze, she began to see a smile appear, and moments later, any tension between them had melted away.
Still smiling, Ogata leaned closer to Emiko, and made a gesture down towards the tickets. “You’d better hurry,” he said gently. Her own smile widening, Emiko nodded, and finally broke her eye contact with Ogata as she turned toward the door. Together, the young couple made their way across the office, stopping only long enough for Ogata to grab his work shirt and Navy cap off his coat rack before stepping out into the hallway, where they walked in each other’s company for as long as they could before finally being forced to go their separate ways.