The plane prepared to bank and the passenger in front started to splutter back into wakefulness. She had been wrestling with her own conscience about whether or not to wake him for the past hour, the sole witness (unless her fellow passengers were very good at acting asleep) at first horrified, then amused, then incredulous, as a small boy (parents either dozing themselves or, perhaps more likely, too grateful from the respite afforded by their offspring’s departure to question his actions or whereabouts on the craft), systematically balanced the constituent parts of his in-flight meal onto the slumberer’s features. Thus far, a tomato slice hung poised and juicy from an ear, a bread roll acted as small hat, and a comb-over of thick ramen noodles swept gelatinously across his forehead. The child risked adding one final decorative flourish, a singular shelled tiger prawn tucked deftly and gently between part-opened and slightly snoring lips, before scuttling back to his own seat, turning just once to glance back at his work with an eye not of mischief, but of an artist appraising his masterpiece. She hid her own stare as best she could behind the airline’s magazine, pretending to peruse an advert for some gaudy jewellery.
The momentum of tyres on runway sent the prawn and tomato sliding downwards onto the man’s beige chinos (an unfortunate colour choice in hindsight, but having foodstuffs falling from your visage whilst asleep is hardly a likely wardrobe consideration when dressing), whilst the roll skittered down the aisle. The ramen comb-over, however, remained satisfyingly intact, ready to be greeted by the hot Tokyo air, an eccentric hairstyle that no-one, not airport staff nor fellow travellers, had the courage to question.
It was a surprise to her, along with everyone else, that she had actually done it. Made the move abroad and to a place so far away. The decision was borne from an almost equal mix of apathy, monetary need and an inbuilt peculiarity that she had always possessed of not being able to turn down a dare, even one made silently and only to herself. She had applied for a job that she didn’t think she would get six months previously and had simply continued on in the vague notion that something else might come along. It did not and, like her adolescent self shivering with near hyperthermia after being challenged to skinny dip, the harsh cold of the North Sea a glistening burn on her skin as she dragged herself, a most bedraggled siren, onto the damp sand and stone, she once again found herself surprised and shocked by the consequences of her stubborn personality.
Despite her hatred of invertebrates, she could not help but compare herself to some larval creature that had shuck off its protection and now sat, soft and exposed, in the small bar she now found herself in. Like the small bug, its shell formed by carefully selected grains and stones that it had placed around itself, that she had pulled, wriggling and indignant, from the murky waters of the school pond during 8th grade Biology, she imagined her own shell of part-truths, memories and past actions that she had previously wrapped tight around herself against the chill of other’s scrutiny had somehow fallen away over the ocean during the journey, leaving only vulnerability. And whilst she had attempted all day to become exotic, poised and mysterious in the eyes of this new population of strangers, she had only succeeded in being clumsy and idiotic. So far, in just a few hours, she had got stuck in a revolving door, scared a large number of commuters by screeching, flapping her arms and running through a busy Harajuku throng pursued by a hornet so large she had at first mistaken it for a bird, thrown ice cream over an old lady (she had been expecting the taste of pistachio and not the bitterness of green tea) and, perhaps the most inconvenient, put her foot in a toilet. In her defence, she had not expected it to be on the ground and for it to start playing loud music as she walked in. The bruise on her shoulder, the one soggy shoe and the memory of the geriatric woman, ice cream melting in emerald rivulets across her horrified expression was not in any way reassuring evidence that her that the decision to emigrate had been a wise one. All in all, a bar in any country, beer in hand, seemed like the only correct place to be.
Only one vow had been made on the flight. One strict resolution that, whilst not wishing to limit herself in any new endeavours, she determined to stick to. That was that she would never sing in public. Not sober, not drunk, not alone, not in a group and certainly not on a stage. Unfortunately, attention dulled by a fog of regret over the day’s proceedings and the distraction of her one soggy sock (she had been contemplating whether or not trench foot might be a concern), she had neglected to notice that just twenty minutes’ previously at 8pm on the dot, the bar had turned the lights down and the voice of the woman on the CD in the background had been replaced by a much less melodious yet enthusiastic live vocalist. A vocalist who, having completed the third track of his rather limited repertoire, had spied the girl by herself in the corner and was now walking, microphone outstretched, toward her table.
Although she was quickly becoming desensitised to unpleasant surprises, she was nonetheless horror-struck to see the man’s advancement. Seeing her look up, his face broke into a grin as the opening bars of Hello, Goodbye started up across the bar’s speaker system. Glancing around nervously, she realised that, a) everyone was focussed on her and b) she was too far from the exit to make a run for it. She also realised that not only was everyone looking at her, but they were all smiling and happy that she was there.
Singing The Beatles out of tune, surrounded by drunk Japanese businessmen clapping along, she wasn’t sure whether leaving home was a bad decision or not. But at least it was an interesting one.
Hannah studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and currently works as a Marketing Manager in London for a not-for-profit organisation. She is from England but she has spent some time living in Japan. However, she would like to stress that although some events in the story may be loosely based on real life, the story itself is fictional. For example, she may have been chased through Tokyo by a hornet, but she has never put her foot in a toilet or thrown ice-cream on an old lady. At least that she remembers. She is currently working on her first novel.