[We had all known each other for years. Some I knew better than others, and at least one I was hoping to get to know better. I had met Akiko on campus, of course. Nothing became official until after her graduation, at which point I introduced her to the rest of the group. “They would be good friends to have,” I had told her. She was always so shy, uncomfortable mingling with people she didn’t know. But she always put on a brave smile and a happy disposition around them, doing her best to find what comfort she could. Some days she seemed a natural fit with the group, and some days she seemed as different from them as a cat is from a dog. But she always tried. She was always doing her best, trying her hardest for me…
I knew she didn’t really want to go. The trip seemed a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, from the incessant noise and blaring lights of the city. I needed a break. We all did. We all seemed to agree that Tokyo was becoming somehow… inhuman. Unappealing. A mindless, senseless place where people moved and worked without seeing or hearing. Where they lived without really living. Perhaps I was putting too much thought into it. Perhaps I still am. But in all honesty, I doubt it.
And so we set sail, heading out into the South Pacific for a bout of rest and relaxation. Smiles abounded. A feeling of frivolity and joy mixed with the sea air, filling our lungs and minds with a sense of peace and relief. It was as though we had left the confines of a small, crowded room and found our freedom in another world. Yes, Tokyo truly did seem to be a world away. And we relished that separation.
All of us, except poor Akiko. She had never sailed, and found the first day difficult. Land was nowhere in sight, and there she was, surrounded by people she hardly knew, in a situation that left her uncomfortable and anxious. There was little I could do to comfort her, and the occasional snide comment from the other five passengers didn’t help the situation. I did what I could, said whatever I could say, but no amount of friendliness could ease her discomfort, or the growing sense of guilt that began to plague my mind.
If Akiko was struggling, the remaining members of the group were experiencing the opposite. As the sun shone bright over Kasai-san’s yacht, laughter filled the air as each passenger found their own entertainment and enjoyment. Yoshida-san lay on his stomach, a pile of papers stacked in front of him as he continued writing yet another story. I must confess, I don’t believe I ever finished a single story he ever wrote. That’s not to say they were poorly written, but that they simply didn’t grab my attention. Even more so than that, they were derivative in the extreme. Something always reminded me of something else, another story written by another author. Yoshida-san always claimed that there was no such thing as an original story, that someone had already thought of anything you could imagine. I always saw it as an excuse on his part for being lazy. I never told him as much, of course.
Yoshida didn’t write long. A gust of wind and a playful confrontation with Mami-san sent his manuscript into the sea. Before long, Mami-san had taken advantage of the shift in attention from Yoshida-san to her, and began to sing. It didn’t take much for one’s attention to be drawn to her, even when she wasn’t singing. She was beautiful. Beyond beautiful, in fact. What’s more, she knew it. She craved attention, especially from men. She and Kasai-san had been involved for some time, which is how she had become a part of our group. Kasai-san seemed to be the only one of us unaware that Mami’s attraction to him was based entirely on his wealth. If he knew, he didn’t seem to care. I suppose most men probably wouldn’t, either. Like I said before, she was beautiful. At least on the outside.
But even I have to admit, it was hard not to watch her that afternoon as she walked across the deck. I heard her song from the cabin below, the plucking of her ukulele carrying down the stairs. Even her voice was beautiful, and I knew every eye would be on her as she continued to perform. She had worn a two-piece swimsuit the entire day, despite the fact that she had yet to enter the water. She instead preferred to lounge on the deck, where the men could see her body in the light. The thought had crossed my mind that she might have also been trying to intimidate Akiko, or to somehow make her jealous. I wouldn’t have put it past her. Any attention was good attention for Mami-san.
I sometimes wondered if she ever stopped to think about what that attention might lead to, or how it was affecting the rest of us. More than likely she didn’t. But I had seen some of the looks given to her by several of the men that day. Yoshida-san seemed harmless enough, but his jealousy of Kasai-san was no secret. The issue never surfaced in conversation, but it existed all the same. Mami-san certainly didn’t seem to care. More concerning to me was Koyama-san, the member of our party about whom I knew the least. I knew he and Kasai’s hired skipper, Sakeda-san, had been together for many years, sailing, fishing, and likely losing any respect for women along the way. Sakeda-san seemed a perfect gentleman, but something about Koyama always left me unsettled. His constant leering at Mami-san was nothing new, but I had seen him sneak glances at Akiko on more than one occasion since our departure. I tried to convince myself that I was imagining things, that I was simply being overly protective. And after all, even if he made some kind of advance, everyone on the boat would know about it instantly. Safety in both numbers and proximity. But within the first few hours of our journey, I had let the issue go altogether. There was too much fun to be had, too much relaxation to catch up on. In fact, in many ways, I had never felt safer than I was on that day, with the beautiful ocean surrounding me on all sides, and the laughter of friends mixing with my own in the warm Pacific breeze.
The day wore on, the sun beating down on our little boat as we continued to sail farther and farther away from our obligations and troubles. The laughter continued. We ate and drank, toasting our new-found freedom. Nothing could touch us where we were, not the drudgery of Tokyo or the tedious people that called it home.
We were on top of the world.
And we were fools.