Zelda's Inferno exercise: imagine the backstory

Posted on: Sun, 08/08/2010 - 20:23 By: Tom Swiss

Zelda's Inferno exercise: imagine the backstory of someone you've seen on mass transit.

I cheated, in that the first part of this is a blog entry from three years ago.

Here's the end of the story: "On the plane out of Osaka on Thursday, young man, maybe mid-twenties, sitting next to me. Before takeoff he reaches into his bag, pulls out an envelope, puts it in his lap and looks at it. Doesn't open it. I see a girl's name written on it. I figure that he met a girl over here, this is her farewell letter and he doesn't know what it says. For about ten, fifteen minutes, he looks at it, picks it up, puts it back down, trying I think to gather up his courage. I was actually getting worried for the guy. Finally he opens it, breaks out in a big smile as he reads,throws back his head and laughs. I tell him, 'I don't know what it is, but I'm glad it's good news.'"

*   *   *   *   *

Inside the huge hall of Kansai International Airport, they embraced one last time before he got into the long United check-in line. He took her hands. "So, um. I'm going to miss you. Have you had a chance to think about...?"

He really didn't know how she felt. The cultural clues, the gender roles, so different! And then add the language on top of it. Like most gaijin he'd never bothered to learn more than a dozen phrases of Nihongo. Her English was good but they never teach you to talk about deep feelings in foreign language classes.

But over the past seven months she had come to mean so much to him.

She pressed a note into his hand. "Hard for me to find the words, ne? So I write -- I wrote -- it down. Okay? You can read it on the plane."

"Oh. Okay. Thank you."

"Okay. I miss you Joey! Ok. Bye-bye!"

"Good-bye Michiko. Take care of yourself."

He tucked the note carefully into his bag. It seemed to weigh twenty pounds one second and be lighter than air the next, full of possibilities and fears. Like the cat in that box in that quantum physics thought experiment, his heart was both alive and dead at the same time, and he wouldn't know which until he opened the note.