Its been a week since I moved to japan now. To me it felt almost alarming as to how quickly I adjusted. Everything stills feel new and fresh, and I’ve learned alot of new stuff about living here, mostly through trial and error. Like that one time when I learned that you don’t tip in a restaurant.
“That would be 1800 Yen please!”, the lovely cashier handed me a bag with my takeout and I grabbed my wallet.
“Make it 2000 Yen please, I really love this place”, I held out the money and smiled.
What I didn’t expect was the cashier looking at me with a twisted smile, obviously uncomfortable.
“I am terribly sorry Miss, but I cannot accept any tips”, she bowed respectfully and I felt every single customer in line behind me stare.
Ah , yes the infamous stare. It sounds ridiculous, but I really believe it’s a thing. The “foreigner” stare.
Shivering as I thought about the cringe compilation in my head, I threw the thought out of my head.
Some other personal highlights of living in japan where the clean streets, amazing customer service and the best thing: the food.
I learned to relish in all kinds of delicacies.
I wasn’t used to such a calm atmosphere, living alone in such silence that I have my all to surround myself with people that reminded me of home. Since arriving, two idiots in particular have caught my eye. Tanaka and Nishinoya didn’t leave my side since I arrived in japan. I have to say, my niceties were slowly clawed off by them bit by bit and I was honestly glad to get a place where Ifelt welcome.
Sometimes I would catch either of them on the way to school, I learned that they both lived very close to school so that was another bonus. Even though i was so faar from everything that was familiar, this new environment almost enveloped itslef around me.
Headphones in my ears and a skip in my step I watched the sun start to hide into a bundle of clouds, casting lilac waved across the sky. I stopped to take a quick picture.
That’s for dad.
I slid the phone back into the pocket of my sweats when I got a notification.
“Coming?” from Nishinoya.
I quickly texted an affirming text back and quickened my walk. After skipping on visiting practice today Noya almost demanded to at least hang out at the convenience store. Which was actually convenient for me as well. It’s the first time I had to get proper groceries after my dad took care of me last time. Again, I basically survived on take-out for a week. Not a bad thing, but I really should cook something healthy again.
Carting my shopping trolley behind me since I didn’t want to get a myriad of plastic bags I already saw the familiar storefront.
“Aya!”, the small guy called and jumped up and down, still in practice shorts.
“Whatsup Noya-kun! Where’s Tanaka?”, I asked before I got up to him to get a high five.
“Already inside, I was waiting for you!”, he smiled giddlily.
I chuckled, “Wow, what a gentleman!”
He turned around in a flash to look at me almost vibrating with energy, “REALLY?!”
I grimaced at the fact that he didn’t catch my sarcasm, “Uh- not really?”
Playfully dejected he entered the store and I laughed behind him.
As I entered the store. The bright fluoresent light was a stark contrast from outside, I blinked a couple of times before befoe taking some more steps into the first aisle.
“Nishinoya-kun?”, I asked without looking at him directly, loosing myself in thought at all of the different coloured shelves in front of me.
He looked at me in interest, as if to urge me to continue.
“I thought this was supposed to be a small convenience store?”, I seriously should at least buy something to eat for today, but I did not expect all these options!
“Uh, yeah I guess?, it’s the coach’s store so I really don’t know what you expected?”.
The coach’s? He was the one with the blonde hair right? Amazing that he coaches these guys and still works in a market! Was his name Ukai? Yeah, I think that was the one.
I peered around the aisle to actually find him sitting on the cash register, smoking leisurely and dusting off some shleved over him.
“Well, where I’m from convenience stores are more like small kiosks?”, I spinned around, taking everything until I stopped at a cold drink shelf.
“Oh my god, how are there so many flavours of milk?!”, I crouched down to grab some grapefruit flavored milk. In awe I looked at the other oprions ans squeeked when I found my absolute favorite.
I grabbed the carton wit utmost delight and grabbed a small basket to put it in.
“Noya-senpai-“, I didn’t even realise what I said or if it was just out of excitement until I looked to my right.
There they were, Noya and apparently Tanaka who joined him as well. Looking absolutely flabbergasted. Nishinoya more so than Tanaka, the latter just looked shocked and appaled not to get the same.
“SENPAI?!”, Noya choked out, slowly walking towards me.
I took a step back, and braced myself for the worst.
What is wrong, what did I say? Was it the senpai? OH- Is it a pervert thing to say that to a guy? Is it like I would’ve called him “oppa” in korean? Or habibi? DId I just pummel myself into a cultural clusterfrcik of honorifics? AM I NOW HIS SCHOOL WIFE?!
“Ah- you misunderstand, I really uh- it slipped I’m”, I helplessly looked to Tanaka, “Is it rude to say that? I thought you could call upperclassmen that way, or like older collegues? I mean Noya-san you’re older than me-“
Noya stood still in front of me, looked down to the floor dramatically and held one hand on my shoulder.
Stay strong Aya, this is a well populated area. You’re probably gonna be fine.
“Yes?”, my voice was shakier than I wanted it to be.
“I would gladly be your senpai. And for that-“
I was ready for any curse to befall me. Anything. I wasn’t ready for this small guy to get me. I had to do something.
I brushed off his hand and looked fiercely at him.
“Look, I’ve been here a week. I just want to make good friends from the get go, and you guys reminded me of my friends okay? I really like you guys but- but, if you’re gonna keep acting all creepy all day I-“
This is too mean oh god, Noya’s face already looked crestfallen.
Save this Aya!
“I’m really not interested in romance right now!”, My hand were streched far from me now and I realised how ridiculous I must look.
“See, I knew I shouldn’t have let you go hang with her alone”, a calm and familiar voice cut through us.
I turned around only to see a annoyed face behind me.
“Sugawara-san!”, somehow I was relieved.
He sped towards me and took a step to the side until he reached the two rascals. He grabbed them both by the ear, which must’ve been painful regarding the scream and exclamations of pain they were uttering.
“I told you both to dial it down. I’m glad you found someone who’s okay with your swooning but PLEASE!”, he let them both go and sighed.
“Aya-san? Im sorry for their behaviour”, he approached me while the second years sulked and stayed behind, probably not to get another beating.
“It’s okay! I think they’re not half bad, it’s just they’re-“
“Clingy?”, he asked and I nodded profusely.
“I’m glad though”, I looked back to them and again to Sugawara who was intently watching me.
“I’m glad because I met those dorks, and everyone has been so nice so far it’s incredible!”
Sugawara smiled a heartwarming smile and nodded to himself, “I mean I can get that. You came all the way here to a whole different country and you want to make friends of course”.
I nodded again, feeling happy to hopefully have made another friend.
“My classmates are super nice too, and I guess you are as well”, I grinned at him and got the same reaction back.
I was baffled for a second, the genuine grin os his face and his eyes that screwed shut.
Oh you treacherous heart, stop being so greedy.
I’m not here for this.
To distract myself I went back to shopping.
“Is everything in japan tiny?”, i said maybe a little too loudly to myself, coming to the obvious conclusion that that was probably very offensive. I heard a chuckle coming from Sugawara again and I grumbled slightly.
Milk, eggs, bread, cheese, marmelade, tea, juice, and some ramen, because why not? Live the stereotype Aya!
Most of the times I make my own meals and prep properly, but as school was getting more and more stressful I’m okay with some instant food.
I quickly checked for seasoning, letting the to do list dance through my head. I should get snacks.
“Sugawara-san! What kind of snacks should I get?”, was it too much to ask? No way. It’s just a nice question right?
“Well”, he said tipping his head up and touching his chin in thought, “what do you typically get? Do you want to try something new?”
New? I’m all for reinvention. Still, my favorite snacks were mostly salty or savory,
A myriad of names and suggestions was thrown at me, and I laughingly decided to get milk bread and some crisps. Are they good for me? No. Should I treat myself nonetheless? Absolutely.
I would see other students roaming around the store while exploring the isles.
I think I’m done.
I went with Tanaka and Nishinoya to the checkout because they seemed to follow me everywhere, and I started to undertsand what Sugawara meant. I didn’t mind their company though.
When I fumbled for my wallet, I saw Tanaka lightly tapping my hand and asking if he could pay.
Stunned silence, someone somewhere was laughing.
Maybe he just wanted to be nice, but I just bought bags full of groceries and I didn’t even know the guy! But maybe its japanese custom? Am I supposed to let him pay? I screamed in my head, not knowing what to do.
“I am so sorry fir being rude, but I really like paying for my own stuff”, I bowed and payed quickly to get out of the situation that made my gut want to wrench itself. Oh God.
Tanaka looked like all life had been sucked out of him. I think Noya gave him a hearty smack on his back.
Was that ment to be consoling?
Better explain myself, I’m not ready to break this young mans heart.
“It’s all good, I just like paying myself you know? I’m new here, I don’t understand customs and japanese culture, It’s just what I’m used to!”
I turned around to face Tanaka and bowed again: “I am really sorry. I had no intention to offend you, you seem very nice.”
The last sentence seemed to revive his body and soul, and I felt less bad.
Nishinoya asked me abstubtly if I thought he was nice too, and I quickly nodded.
Hollering of the two and a highfive was heard.
“You’ve all been very welcoming, I am very thankful. Thank you,” a deeper bow this time, followed by a lot of “It’s all good” and “It was a pleasure”.
I smiled and and jumped slightly when my phone vibrated in my pocket. The caller ID showed my fathers number and I apologetically gestured that I had to take that.
“Hello baba, what’s going on?”, I of course talked to him in morrocain and didn’t realise until I heard astonished and curious noises from the rest. I smiled at them and continued to focus on the words popping out of my phone. “I was already grocery shopping, but you can pick me up if you’re around!”, I nodded, “Busstop? Yeah I’ll find it, sure. K, Salam!”
I pressed the red button on the display and let my phone slip back into my pocket. I laughed at the still wondrous looks they gave me. Grabbing my bags and stepping outside I continued to talk with the group and tried to help Nishonoya pronounce an arabic word.
“It’s salam which means peace.” I nodded at his really bad attempt to pronounce it, but I was happy that the conversation was flowing so well.
As we went outside and I asked for the busstop, Tanaka was so nice to ask if he should accompany me.
“Do you live close by?”, I asked him. I really didn’t wanna inconvenience him, and my dad was going to drive me anyways.
“Uh well”, the temperature dropped while we were inside, and Tanaka’s breath turned into a cloud and evaporated into the sky, “kind of uh, I mean”
Was he trying to be nice and accompany me even though it would make him walk longer?
I was amazed by how dependable he seemed, it’s not like we’ve known each other for long.
“It’s probably in a whole other direction right?”, I asked with an awkward smile and shoved my hands into my pockets out of habit.
“Uh-, I mean I don’t mind either way so…”, he fidgeted himself and there was a blush blooming on his face.
Abort. Abort mission!
That was way too fast and way too personal for my taste at the moment. I took a step back and bowed quickly, as if to shove the awkward encounter away.
My eyes struggled to find contact with anything higher than my hands and I just asked for the location of the busstop with an app on my phone.
“Ah, it’s right there”, Sugawara saved the day as he leisurely tapped onto the phone and smiled after I’ve found the location on the display.
My heartrate started slowing down as I found my escape route and I realised I was just uneasy for a second.
I tentatively looked up and caught Tanaka with a smile and Sugawaras attentive eyes and relaxed.
No reason to be so on edge, Aya.
The light from my phone glowed faintly in my hand and I knew this was the awkwards stage of having to say goodbye.
The sun had compleety vanished now and the sky adopted a dark colour that wasn’t black, but close to it.
A newfound feeling of serenity overcame me as I bowed again to excuse myself and saw three smiling figures waving when I looked back again.
I went left, they went right and with a smile on my face I could now think about eevrything that happened.
First of all I had food.
The snacks and groceries in my bags dangled while I struggled to hold my phone close enough to read the instructions.
A sceam escaped me as I almost got mowed over by a bycicle.
“Oh my god are you okay?!”, a familiar voice chirped at me.
“Yeah, yeah I dodged I’m okay”, my voice sounded more annoyed than I actually was, but what is this luck I have huh?
Looking who was the culprit of my “almost accident” I gasped as I saw orange hair in front of me.
“Oh my god, you’re the one that jumps so high!”
Beign recognized seemed to be a fuel to his energy, as he started grinnign and introduced himself.
“I’m Hinata Shoyo, a first year!”, he shot back proudly.
Right! The coach of the team had told me about him.
“It’s nice to meet you Hinata-“
Uh… A first year right?
“Hinata-kun!”, I finished and the small boy looked at me with a bewildered expression.
I waved it off and it turns out he was on the way to the same busstation, so we started walking while he pushed his bike.
“Do you like volleyball Hamawi-san?”
Making a humming sound I replied:” I used to play it in elementary school. I forgot most of the rules and stuff, but I really like to watch! You can call me Aya by the way.”.
“You have to come over to practice and games then!”
“Maybe I will, I really liked the quick attack you guys did!”
“It’s amazing right? It feels so swooosh when I hit the ball the feeling is amazing!”
A swoosh feeling?
“I totally get it! I get that feeling sometimes as well. It’s addicting right?”
“Aya-san, how do you know what I’m talking about? I thought you didn’t play volleyball?”
“I don’t, but I do gymnastics. I still know how the rush of adrenaline feels. Your heart thumps wildly and you can’t catch your breath and all you can think abou is: again! I want to do it again!”.
Hinata jumped in excitement: “That’s excactly how it feels like! I still don’t get how you feel it though”.
I laughed and replied: “It’s not just volleyball players who understand this feeling. It’s just normal to feel that way when you do something passionately. The rewardig feeling that bursts trough you everytime you do something you love. See, I get that when I’m on the trapeze”.
The mere thought of the trapeze brought joy to my heart, and I ached to fly in its heights again. It’s been about a month since I’ve practiced due to studying and moving here, but I was determined to implement acrobatics in my schedule again.
“What is a trapeze?”, Hinata asked cautiously.
“A trapeze is a ring or a stick-like device that hangs in the air. The trapeze artist does acrobatics around it.”. I grinned wholeheartedly and continued: “I once did a crazy number in which it looked I almost tangled myself in the ropes of the trapeze. I then let go and twirled down so fast my heart was about to stop! In the last second I grabbed upwards and stood still in the air. That’s a swoosh feeling for me”.
For the rest of the way to the busstop I talked with Hinata, who was so eager to let me know everything about volleyball. He also insisted that I should come to the games and watch practice. I felt my head brimming with all sorts of information, and I started mentally getting ready for bed. Just as I was about to ask for the busstop again I saw the sign. A car was already waiting there, and I saw my fathers silhouette through the windows.
“I’ll be off then. That’s my ride!”, I turned around and bowed my head. ” I will see you both tomorrow right?”.
Hinata nodded and smiled widely and I finally plopped myself into the carseat.
“Who was that?”, my dad asked with a smile on his face.
“Someone from the volleyball club. We had to go to the same busstop”, I replied while my eyes already started to close.
“Volleyball? That sounds exciting, wanna tell me about it?”, he asked while the streelights rhythmically trailed over my face.
“Maybe tomorrow”, I yawned and he chuckled.
What a day.