A simple story - their story (06) (END)

(DATE: April 2015)

At 30, Yossi was now the owner of a restaurant—an eatery which sells western cuisine and one which she co-runs with her mother. It was a humble business. One that wasn’t making a lot of money nor was it losing any neither. She had started the business four years before, thinking of just passing time and keeping herself occupied since she couldn’t think of what else to do.

It all happened six years ago when her artiste career had ended prematurely after her agency had suddenly gone bust, and for a long long time after she had found herself remaining jobless. She had tried to approach other agencies to take her in but they had turned her down, and when she had finally decided to leave showbiz and settle for simple OL jobs, she was politely that she was under-qualified. The rejections were shocking and discouraging but she knew she deserved it—it was the price she had to pay for compromising her paper qualifications when she chose to join showbiz at a young age of 15. She began to feel useless and before long, she was diagnosed to be suffering from depression. The illness worried her parents more than her and they had suggested she start a small business with the money she had saved over the years. She did, was glad that she did and felt depressed no more. And now she was grateful to her parents; her life had gone back to normal.

Still there were times when she would reminisce about her past, not for the expired glamour and fame of being a celebrity but for the happy times she had spent her teenage days and sadly too, the missed chances with her loved one. Fifteen years, that was how long she had known her. And for all these years, she had kept her feelings hidden; all because she was afraid. And she never stopped hating herself for her cowardice, for it was precisely this ‘afraid’ that was keeping them apart even till this day.

Her heart ached. She would feel this similar pain almost everyday, when she had to walk down the long stretch of shops in the shopping district to get to her restaurant. It was quiet times like these, walking alone, that set her mind wandering, making her think of the past. And she hated it. She wished she would stop the tormenting thoughts, but she couldn’t. Sometimes, she had foolishly thought time would blur the memories, easing her pain, but with each passing day, it became more evident that she was still missing her badly.

And life was ironic. Despite the years that made her learn not to be afraid anymore, fate had turned cruel; they had lost contact. If only she had a wish now, she would turn back the clock; she wouldn’t be afraid anymore and maybe, just maybe, things might end up differently.

She stopped in her tracks. Have God just heard her pleas?

She blinked and squinted then her heart stopped…

Indeed, God had heard her…

There she was, just ten metres away…

She couldn’t believe her eyes. She looked up in the sky and smiled.

Yes, Lady Luck was shining at her…
Yes, God had not forsaken her…

But when she saw the child in her arms she stopped smiling. She realised she had interpreted God wrongly. True, God had heard her but it seemed God had simply sympathized with her. God had hoped she would give up, thus arranging them to meet again… but in this way.

After six long years, after a fleeting moment of renewed hope, this was to be their ending.

Yossi closed her eyes, feeling distinctively her heart bleeding. No doubt she had longed to see her again, but now as she had, the truth was too much to bear—Rika was married. Perhaps it was now time for her to end this unrequited love. Quickly choosing a different path, Yossi hastened away, feeling the need to get away fast, fearing her legs would find no strength to do so or…


Yossi pretended she hadn’t heard Rika calling out to her.

“Yossi? Yossi?”

Rika’s voice was becoming louder and when Yossi heard footsteps running toward her, she stopped. She had to. She couldn’t bear the thought of her friend running with a child in her arms; it would be dangerous. So, she put on a smile and turned around. “Ishikawa?”

Un~ sono tori desu~

Hearing the cheerful voice and seeing the gleaming smile bring back nostalgic feelings, and Yossi couldn’t help but notice how beautifully Rika had aged. It made her lonely heart stir and at the same time, sad.

Aa~ ohisashiburi desu,” Yossi replied, trying to act surprised and happy. But when she saw how the cute child looked very much like her mother, a sad pang pierced her heart.

“Why are you here?” asked Rika, who still couldn’t hide her excitement at meeting her old friend.

“Oh, I work here,” said Yossi, pointing in the direction where she was heading.

“Where?” Rika asked again while she hoisted the child in her arms gently for a better grip.

The display of motherly love set off another tinge of sadness in Yossi. She tried not to let it show but knew her façade would collapse any time especially if she would to stay and look longer and be reminded of the lucky guy Rika’s happily married to. “A restaurant down this stretch,” she said. And then she pretended to check the time on her wrist watch. “I’m running late. Need to go…ermm… maybe next time—”

“But we just met,” Rika cut in, looking intensely at Yossi. “I… I’ve been trying to find you all these years. You just disappeared…”

Yossi’s eyes darted away. Her strong front was wavering and she knew she shouldn’t stay any longer. “Well…” she said. “We’ve met now. And I’m glad to know you’re living well.” She put on her best smile, still avoiding looking at Rika and her child. “I really need to go.” When she saw how Rika’s lips had worked into a pout she knew she was being ungraciously ‘nasty’… She thought for a moment and fished out her wallet. After pulling out a name card she handed it to Rika. “My contact, call me when you’re free,” she said tersely. But deep inside, she was hoping she would never see or hear from Rika again. There’s no point any more—she didn’t want to get more hurt.

When Rika said no more Yossi bade goodbye and turned to walk away, but her heart tore; this was to be their last farewell, despite them meeting again after six years. She quickened her steps and when she felt Rika have lost her in the crowd, she slowed down. Is this what I want? No… but what should I expect? She had moved on, I should too, she thought.

Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but feel lousy. She realised her limbs had gone numb, her chest was becoming hard of breathing and she felt like dying. Although she had come to her restaurant she just walked on and past it. She just wanted to keep walking, until her legs tired out or until her breath passed out, and hopefully she would feel the pain no more…

So, she treaded up and down the same street, and she had no idea how long she’d been doing it when she heard the familiar voice again.


She stopped. Even from the single word, she could sense the anger and worry in the tone. She quickly turned around and immediately hated her own weakness. It surprised her she was actually happy to be able to see Rika again. Such is her weakness.

“Where are you going?” Rika asked as she quickly caught up with Yossi. “I just went to your restaurant and they said you weren’t back.”

“I…” Yossi stammered.

“I think…” Rika said as she took a step closer to Yossi. “There is a misunderstanding…”

When Yossi backed away brusquely Rika was hurt but she braced herself. “Your mom told me to find and get you back.”

The surprise in Yossi was evident. “You’ve met my mother?”

“Yeah, and she said when I get you back, you’ll have to give me a treat.”

Yossi thought it was a great joke. “Only you?” she mumbled under her breath. Then she realised Rika wasn’t with her child. “Where your son?” she asked audibly.

There was a mischievous glint when Rika smiled. “Oh! You mean my nephew? He is with his mother now.”

Yossi looked up, surprised.

Rika wasted no time to explain. “After my sister returned from the washroom, I told her I’d met you and she knew immediately that I wanted to go find you. So… here I am.”

The words sounded heavenly and Yossi unconsciously leaked a smile, but she suddenly turned solemn again. “But… you do have your own kids, right?”

Rika giggled. “That’s tough, considering I’m still left on the shelf. What about you?” she asked cautiously.

“I’m STILL single,” Yossi blurted out. When she saw how Rika was laughing at her eager reply, she paused for a moment to think. Then it dawned on her—she had misunderstood things. She couldn’t hold back her joy and broke out into laughter, feeling silly and at the same time, relieved. She could feel Hope beaming at her again…

Rika continued to laugh. She knew Yossi had misunderstood her. She knew it the moment when Yossi had walked away sadly and her nephew had begun to cry looking for his mother, she found a connect between the two matters almost immediately.

Rika stepped forward and this time, Yossi didn’t try to back away but was looking back intensely. Rika shied away. She could sense something more in those eyes, something she too, was feeling. She struggled a little before speaking. “You know, I really mean it when I said I was trying to find you all these years.” As soon as the words left her mouth, the area around her eyes began to feel warm. She looked up, trying to keep her emotions in check. A tear flowed when Yossi leaned closer.

“And these years…” Yossi took Rika’s hands in hers. “I’ve been praying…”



A simple story - their story (05)

(DATE: beginning of YEAR 2002 - the rumor – part three)

No one was talking when they turned a left corner into an awaiting lift. Yossi waited, and then stepped forward to press on button ‘4’, watching as the steel doors closed before the lift started descending. She now knew why the meeting was held at the highest floor—for its privacy. The importance of it heightened. She watched their reflection in the polished steel walls, aware that Rika, whose eyes were looking at the ground, was avoiding her, and she began to wonder why they hadn’t talked, or rather, why they had stopped talking.

She reached out again, pressing on the ‘open’ button when the lift came to a gentle halt, its doors opening. She waited, allowing Rika to step out before her, her mind still wondering when they would start talking again.

Her prayers were answered, almost…

ano,” Rika said as she turned back.

Yossi looked up in earnestness, feeling all her initial dreads banished. Her happiness was short-lived; it wasn’t to make up.

“Why don’t you head back first? I’m hungry, will get a bite from the canteen.”

Yossi could barely manage a nod when Rika walked past her, her eyes avoiding contact. When she heard the steel doors close, she felt her heart sink; her feelings inexplicable yet strangely unbearable. Her thoughts were drawn back to the conversation they were having after they had left the meeting room…

“I wonder why Sakimoto-san said there might be someone you like?”
“That’s not important, I wanna know what you think?”
“Hadn’t you already said ‘no’?”
“Ya, but…”

“I just find it funny.”
“That he hadn’t asked me the same question.”
“What if he did?”
“I would have said ‘NO’ too.”

Perhaps Rika’s answer was the reason she was feeling hurt, though she had no idea why she had said ‘no’ in her answer. Was she afraid? Was Rika’s similar answer retaliation? But why had she feared? She knew why. It was the truth she feared. The truth that she would lack the courage to face things even if they turned out the way she wanted, but, now that things definitely weren’t the way she thought they might be, it seemed to hurt her like never before.

She opened the door to the gakuya, finding the usual noise and chatters suddenly intolerable. When someone groped her from behind, she snapped.


Her fists were clenched, pressing hard against the walls, the small enclosure not helping much; her battle raged on. She closed her eyes, feeling her internal struggles; her knees locked in a sitting position her only relief. Then she heard it. Sounds. Soft at first, getting louder as if emotions, long controlled, were finally released. She rolled her eyes. Why do women like to cry in the toilet?

When the sobbing persisted she found herself getting increasingly agitated, mainly from the fact that she now knew she wasn’t very alone while engaging in something she considered private. She was saved when she heard a plop sound against the water. She flushed and recomposed herself, ready to meet the weeping girl outside, someone who she thought had come to hide after a dressing-down by her boss. But what she hadn’t expected was to see this someone she was so familiar with. “Rika-chan!”
she cried out.

Rika looked up, equally surprised, but quickly turned away so that Yasuda won’t see her wiping her tears.

Yasuda saw it though. She walked forward, tapping on her junior’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Rika said, shaking her head, keeping her back turned.

“Come on, nobody cries for nothing.” Yasuda peered over Rika’s shoulder and saw the eyes red with tears. Rika dipped her head lower.

“Now...” Yasuda pondered before continuing. “Could it be you and Yossi had quarreled?”

There was shock in Rika’s eyes. “No,” she said feebly.

“No?” Yasuda narrowed her eyes. “Sure?” she asked again. “I just saw Yossi behaving weirdly.”

“She did?” Rika asked, knowing her tone had betrayed her feelings.

Yasuda now knew roughly what had happened. She placed a comforting arm around Rika’s shoulders and said: “Yeah~ she shouted at Tsuji when the kid tried to grope her from behind.” Then from the reflection in the mirror, she saw Rika turning pale. It was understandable—everyone in the group knows how Yossi dotes on Kago and Tsuji and how she always tolerates their pranks. “Aha~ so I’m right?” She gripped on the shoulders. “You two had a fight?”

Rika bit into her lips as she shook her head, an action that vexed Yasuda.

“Oh come on~” Yasuda threw her hands in the air, suddenly aware that she hadn’t washed them. She walked to the nearest basin, not feeling an iota of apology for having already touched Rika, and washed her hands.

With Yasuda’s back now turned Rika quickly wiped away her remaining tears and tried to recompose herself. Her efforts futile, she remained as unsettled as she now knew Yossi, too, was behaving weirdly, and that had made things worse; it had made her even more unsure of the situation.

The tap was turned off. “Now shoot! What happened between you two?” Yasuda said as she tore a paper towel from the dispenser.

“Nothing, really.”

“Yeah, yeah. Try telling that to Yaguchan.” She threw the damp paper into the wastebin and stood looking at Rika.

Rika wavered. She knew she was trapped, and Yasuda would not let the matter rest until she learned the ‘truth’. But to tell the truth was the last thing on her mind. So, she went on and on, telling a lie, with a storyline conjured impromptu. Though it only lasted a few minutes it turned out to be a convincing lie, until Yasuda could hear no more of it.

omae baka darou,” Yasuda chided. “If you’re going to let stuffs like these affect you, you’re never going to survive in this business.”


Yasuda raised her hand to cut Rika off. “Think on the bright side. As least you get the camera on you.”

Rika looked back, without the faintest idea what Yasuda was driving at.

“Look at Kaorin. That man jeers her all the time but it’s all thanks to him that people now know Kaorin is the one who sings ‘waratte’ in Summer Night Town, right?”

Rika remained expressionless.

“Now.” Yasuda held on to Rika’s shoulder to turn her around and then she looked into Rika’s eyes. “Say you’ll never let these things upset you again.”

Rika hesitated, wondering what would happened if her senior knew the real reason behind her unhappiness. She gave in when she felt the nudging on her shoulders.

“I’ll never let these things bother me again.”

“Good.” Yasuda nodded. “One more time.”

Rika cringed inwardly. She took in a deep breath. “I’ll never get upset again.”

“Very good.” Yasuda patted hard on Rika’s shoulders. “So, can we go out now?”

Rika nodded. “Thank you,” she said, but when she saw Yasuda have broken out into a genuine smile her heart was suddenly torn with guilt…


A simple story - their story (04)

(DATE: beginning of YEAR 2002 - the rumor – part two)

“Alright, that’s about all for today. Dismissed. Oh Sakimoto-san, can you stay? Need a word with you.”

Soon, the meeting room was vacated except for two stoic-looking men seated opposite each other around an elongated oak table.

The older of the men cleared his throat. “I received this fax from corporate comms this morning.” He retrieved a piece of paper from his folder and handed it over to Sakimoto.

Sakimoto accepted the paper and began to read it.

“I see,” he said after reading. “And you want me to?”

“I want to hear your opinion.”

“Then I would say it’s just those normal gossips.”

The senior man waited, hoping to hear more.

“And it’s not that damaging compared to Abe’s…” continued Sakimoto.

The chief still looked skeptical. “That’s true. But actually, I’m not asking for these. I just thought, maybe You, as the girls’ manager know some things I don’t.”

“Well, since you have asked, I’d dare say there’s no truth in this,” Sakimoto assured.

“I see.” Nakamura locked his brows, thinking. His facial expression depicting he wasn’t quite satisfied with what he had heard. “Even so, I still hope some action will be taken.”

Sakimoto paused for a moment. “How does Tsunku see this?” he asked, but when he saw boss looking affronted at him, he knew he had over-stepped his boundaries—he shouldn’t have questioned his superior. He smiled back weakly. The silly grin further agitated the older man as he slammed his fist on the table.

“Tsunku thinks the same as you. But I wanna see things done. You understand?”

Despite his sitting position, Sakimoto quickly bowed his head. “Yes, yes, of course, I’ll get it done. Do wait for my report.”

Acknowledging with a slight guttural grunt from his throat, the angry man stood up and strode out of the room. Sakimoto didn’t look up until he heard the door close. Not wasting any moment himself, he stuffed his papers into his folder and left the room. Thoughts filled his mind: there were things to be done—serious things to be done—if he wanted to keep his job. And most importantly, he had to find a smaller meeting place and get hold of the two girls, and he had to do it quick…

The atmosphere of the room was sombre though not as icy as the one he was in earlier. Sakimoto looked at his girls, trying his best to maintain his smile, his mind contemplating if this was the right approach.

“Read or heard anything recently?” he asked.

The two clueless girls looked at each other and then back at their manager, they shrugged and shook their heads.

Sakimoto was drawn back to his thoughts. Now, it would be difficult to bring up the matter if both girls had no idea what everything was about. And since they knew nothing, which was a blessing, he had no wish to break the bad news to them. To him, the girls are young, innocent and blissfully ignorant, which is why he couldn’t understand how they have become the target of those baleful paparazzi. Why couldn’t they just leave his girls alone?

“Sakimoto-san, did something happen?” Rika asked cautiously after seeing her manager had gone quiet.

All right! Sakimoto slapped his thighs. What was to be done had to be done. But when his eyes met two angelic pairs, his heart softened and he began to stammer:


An inexplicable bad omen rose instantly inside Yossi and Rika. Rika turned to Yossi, and when she saw how Yossi had an equally worried look, she gingerly reached out her hand under the table and held on to Yossi’s. They held each other assuredly and continued to watch Sakimoto quietly, their heartbeat doubling.

Sakimoto straightened his back. He knew he had to do it carefully. “Ok. Nothing much actually,’ he began. “Just a routine get together, to know how my girls are coping.” He smiled. But judging from the look on Rika and Yossi, he knew they didn’t believe him totally. He further explained. “I only called the two of you here because I thought there might be things you won’t say if others were around. You know, like conflicts with other members?”

“Oh,” said Rika, visibly relieved.

“Everything is fine,” Yossi added, and felt a light squeeze on her hand.

“I see. I believe so.” Sakimoto laughed. “Anyway, just a routine reminder again.” He became serious once again. “Okay, I just had a meeting and some points were brought up. Like I said, routine, just routine stuffs and some short reminders. Well, in the meeting, we discussed about the company’s policies.” He observed his girls who appeared to be listening attentively. “We want to know if you girls actually knew the reasons behind your group’s success?”

The girls nodded.

“And so, you will understand that to carry on with this success, you will need the continuing support of your fans but then… sometimes fans do get upset over things. And…” Sakimoto let out a slight sigh when he saw the girls looking lost in his words. “Okay. How about we do a recap of the clauses in your contract?” He uncapped his pen and began to scribble on a piece of paper.

Yossi and Rika nodded subtly, leaning forward to have a clearer view on the white sheet of paper.

“One…” Sakimoto started writing. “You are not allowed to be in a relationship.” He dotted a period at the end of the sentence with his pen and looked up.

Instinctively, the pair of hands under the table let go of each other quickly.

“Now, this is really important.” His pen proceeded to mark a few circles around the word ‘not allowed’. At the same time, Yossi and Rika began to hold their breaths.

“In showbiz, this is really taboo. I am sure you have seen many examples around you: idols falling out of fame when a bad scandal hits them. Get it? No? It is simple: if your fans’ hopes were dashed, they would stop buying your stuffs. You will lose your market value and then your company won’t see any profit grooming you anymore. You are back to square one, and most probably, you’ll end up regretting what you have done. You see, it is this cruel in showbiz and, sadly too, this is how things work.” Sakimoto stopped to take a breather and also to allow his words to sink deeper into the youngsters’ minds. “Although I had never brought this up to you, I did warn your senpai about these. You see, I thought they are more prone to making this mistake. But recently, as I realise both of you are approaching the age when you start thinking about matters of the heart, I feel that, as your manager, it is my duty to ‘inform’ you about these ‘dangers’.” He looked at both girls, expecting some response.

When Yossi nodded, Rika followed so.

“Good.” Sakimoto, too, nodded. However, he suddenly peered over at Yossi and asked an unexpected question. “Could there be, well, someone you like now?”

“No!” Yossi shouted as if she was truly taken aback. She then looked away, feeling greatly uneasy with her outburst. Rika, on the other hand, tried to keep her eyes straight even though she wanted very much to see Yossi’s expression when she had said ‘no’. When she realized her manager’s attention was now on her she softly said ‘no’ too, but suddenly felt sad, and before she knew it, she felt like crying.

Sakimoto lay back in his chair and breathed out loudly, feeling apologetic for his weird behaviour. He knew his girls weren’t lying, the reason was simple: their crazy work schedules simply don’t allow them to indulge in other activities, let alone date. But he had asked, perhaps just to put his mind at ease. He admitted that he had had his reservations when he had noticed how his superior was pressed on the matter, so he thought there would be no harm in asking, at least now, he knew the truth and could report back to his boss. However, as he looked at the girls again, he felt a great sense of guilt; Rika’s face was turning white while Yossi’s eyes were darting. He had, never before, seen such serious expressions on his beloved girls, and he started to regret his decision to call them into this meeting room, and also his cowardliness. It was his duty, as their manager, to protect the girls, what he had just done, was the opposite…


A simple story - their story (03)

(DATE: beginning of YEAR 2002 - the rumor – part one)

Nothing could wipe the triumphant grin from her face as Yaguchi slammed the magazine on the long table around which Yasuda and Abe were seated. The rude gesture drew immediate frowns from Yasuda and Abe which didn’t bother the perpetrator.

“I TOLD you. Didn’t I tell you before?” Yaguchi’s grin had grown wider.

Yasuda and Abe peered over at the folded magazine on the table. The page showed two out-of-date photos of two girls they were familiar with, one of the titles in bold read ‘よっすぃー「大切な人」は男の子?それとも女の子?

Abe quickly grabbed the magazine. As she read her eyes widened and her brows danced rhythmically. When she finally put down the magazine she exclaimed: “Goodness me!”

“And you said I was wrong?” said Yaguchi.

Abe smiled awkwardly. “I didn’t. Yasuda did.”

Yaguchi needed no reminder on that as she now looked reprovingly at Yasuda, who was frowning as she picked up the gossip tabloid to know what was causing the big fuss.

“Now you see?” said Yaguchi eagerly. To her, revenge is sweet.

Yasuda just gave the article a quick skim-through. “Yeah, I see how you’re as ludicrous as these tabloid reporters,” she said nonchalantly as she threw the useless magazine back onto the table, crossed her arms and leaned back against her chair. Her stance was challenging. “You should be in this business long enough to know you can never trust these tabloids.”

“Is it alright?” Abe asked nervously, not truly understanding a word of what Yasuda had said. “Are they going to get into trouble? I mean if they think it is ‘true’ enough to be published?”

Yasuda was inflamed. “Oh, come on. This is a small-time tabloid, there’s no credibility involved. You know they’ll write anything just to boost sales,” she retorted.

Yaguchi shifted in her chair and looked at Abe, who had turned solemn. From the facial expression, Yaguchi knew Yasuda’s words had brought back painful memories to Abe; nobody should know better than Abe who had been a victim herself.

When Abe looked down and sighed, Yasuda realised she had been insensitive. “Sorry,” she quickly apologized. She didn’t mean to drag Abe into the picture. Then she looked chidingly at Yaguchi—if only the petite gossip-monger hadn’t brought up the topic. She raised her brows urging Yaguchi to say something, anything.

Yaguchi got the cue. “maa~ I guess it is all rubbish.” She retrieved the magazine, closed it and stuffed it back into her capacious bag.

“Yeah~ this is all crap,” Yasuda reiterated. “We’re idols and idols should be reading informative stuffs, not stuffs like these; we should be paying more attention to national or political news. We can’t make Morning Musume look like a group of uneducated ignorant girls.”

Yaguchi went ouch! while Abe just sank deeper into depression.

“You know,” Yaguchi finally said to Yasuda after looking at Abe. “You should just keep your mouth shut.”



A simple story - their story (02)

(DATE: near the end of YEAR 2001)

Everyone appeared to be absorbed in their own doings, but like vultures eyeing their prey the seniors were in fact watching the juniors surreptitiously, meticulously capturing and remembering their every little action. And in this room, one particular lady was starting to get restless.

She made a wink at Yasuda and then at Abe, but that was all she could do as she deemed the room to be too crowded for any serious talk or, in this case, gossip. She pretended to go back to reading her magazine, though she would look up from time to time, anticipating when the kids would leave the room for their lunch break.

Half an hour later, her prayers were answered. As soon as the room was left with three women, Yaguchi slammed her thick fashion magazine on the table and burst out: “Now, what you girls think?”

Though equally piqued, Abe and Yasuda pretended to be unbothered and continued to flip their magazines casually. It worked because it irritated Yaguchi more.

“Come on~ We won’t be alone for long.” Yaguchi glanced over at the round clock on the wall. They would have, the most, ten minutes of privacy before the kids would come back to the gakuya.

Yasuda lazily lay down her magazine and looked at Yaguchi. “What’s it?”

Yaguchi tried not to roll her eyes, and had to use more effort to contain her climbing anger. How could Yasuda not know? They were talking enthusiastically about it just an hour ago until the crowd started coming in, interrupting their discussion. Yaguchi, in an attempt to leave Yasuda out of the chat, diverted her attention to Abe and said: “For me to decide, I think it is true.”

“Are you sure?” Abe asked, peering over her magazine. Yaguchi almost laughed at the speed how Abe’s pretense had faded. “I am not VERY sure. But I do trust my intuition,” she said, straightening her back and getting ready; she knew she had successfully started the ball rolling again.

Abe pouted her lips and nodded silently, and seemed to have fallen into deeper thoughts. Yasuda made a little cough. Yaguchi, who was still feeling sore, purposely ignored the attention-seeking gesture and continued to just talk to Abe. “You would have noticed it going on for some time now, if you’re observant.”

“I don’t think so,” Yasuda interjected loudly; she was now bent on being part of the conversation.

Yaguchi gave Yasuda a dirty look; she couldn’t stand girls who would act classy when they were, in fact, inveterate gossipers. But being a magnanimous girl that she was, she decided to give Yasuda another chance. “Why?” she asked Yasuda.

A smile flashed across Yasuda’s face. She cleared her throat, ready to share her views. “Because you can’t gauge, based on things like that! They’re from the same generation. Just look at you and me. We’re from the same gen too, which makes us generally closer, though…”

“Though?” Yaguchi challenged, raising an eyebrow.

Yasuda took a quick moment to think of a better euphemism. “We have nothing in common,” she finally said, secretly pleased with her new-found sensitivity, knowing it was better than saying they actually hated each other’s hobbies or they could never see eye-to-eye in their views.

Yaguchi paused momentarily, clearly lost for words. She couldn’t believe how easy Yasuda’s seemingly innocuous statement had refuted all her beliefs. Yasuda was right: there was no doubt that she was close with Yasuda, and if she was to see Yossi & Rika’s closeness as being an item, wouldn’t others felt the same for her and Yasuda?

She looked at Yasuda, and mimicking a retching face. She just couldn’t entertain the thought of Yasuda and her being buddy as dating. It was simply revolting.

Yasuda smirked, knowing well enough that the rude gesture was something Yaguchi could only do whenever she was on the losing end of a deal.

“But Marippe and you are different,” Abe said innocently.

Yaguchi’s eyes brightened up at Abe’s timely intervention. She looked toward Abe, her eyes beseeching.

Abe felt herself momentarily flustered by the sudden attention. She looked at Yaguchi and then at Yasuda before clearing her throat. “I can’t really explain. It’s more about feeling…” She stopped, continuing only when her listeners had shown no signs of interrupting. “Now, where am I?”

“You said we ARE different!” Yaguchi and Yasuda both said at the same time. They quickly looked at each other, surprised at the rapport they suddenly shared.

“Oh yah! You see, when you’re talking or bickering or doing things together or just being beside each other and doing nothing—like now—the way you look at each other is different from the way they look at each other,” explained Abe.

“Yah!” exclaimed Yaguchi. “So, you agree with me?” she asked, feeling herself getting excited all over again now that she had found someone who shared her views.

Abe nodded subtly.

It was now two against one, but Yasuda wasn’t going to give up without a proper fight. “Nonsense,” she challenged. “They look at each other normally. As far as I’m concerned they are just girls who happen to be good friends with each other. And the word I’m talking about here is Kinship, KINSHIP. I wonder how long the two of you had left school.” Yasuda looked disbelievingly at her friends as if their existence were as archaic as samurais. “When I was in high school, I knew girls who were very close but it was just about kinship, being sisters. People thought they were together but later, and most of the time, too, they would end up dating boys. Everything is, but a passing phase.”

Yaguchi was annoyed; she couldn’t understand why Yasuda was being obstinate. “Haven’t you heard of the word lesbian?”

The casual mention of the word made Abe cringe; in her mind, blasphemy was the other word that had popped up.

“They’re not,” Yasuda rebutted. “They’re young. They just enjoy each other’s companionship, but they don’t love each other in the sense a girl is attracted to a boy or vice versa.”

“I saw them hug each other!” Yaguchi almost shouted.

Yasuda’s look was one in great shock and it was not Yaguchi’s words that surprised her but Yaguchi’s naivety. “SO? If you still remember. I had kissed you on before! Does that make us lesbians?”

Yaguchi wanted to talk back but she looked as if she had lost her voice.

Yasuda continued on her ride. “I didn’t kiss you in the way I was attracted to you. We did it out of fun—pure fun. And I don’t see why by simply hugging each other makes you think they’re sexually attracted to each other.”

“Then how do you explain they’re always together? Or why can’t they speak normally but have to whisper into each other’s ears? Or why are they talking softly, but laughing out loudly? And their hands are all over each other!”

“You mean like this?” Yasuda suddenly struck her hand at Yaguchi’s bubby. Yaguchi dodged quickly and slapped the offensive hand away. Seeing that Yaguchi’s face had turned red, Yasuda and Abe burst out laughing.

Yaguchi felt chagrined. The tide had turned; it seemed Abe was now on Yasuda’s side. “Why can’t you believe my theory?” she insisted, stomping her feet.

“Because I was young before, I’d seen more than you. So, I am telling you they’re not!”

“Why can’t they be in love?”

Yasuda rolled her eyes. She knew the argument could go on forever. “Marippe,” she said, her tone turning serious. “We’re Morning Musume. We have fans. Teenage girls all over Japan look up to us. We’re role models. There’s a reason why Tsunku has chosen us. There is one thing I can tell you for sure and that is, ‘They are’—read my lips—‘no lesbians in Morning Musume!’”

As if to mark a dramatic closure to her statement, the door swung open with a loud thud. Tsuji and Kago, with others following behind, marched into the room, looking gleefully at their bentou on the trays they’re holding, oblivious to three pairs of startled eyes looking at them.

maa~” said Abe to her comrades, glad that their tension-filled conversation had come to a premature end.

Iida, who had walked into the gakuya, joined their table. She placed her bentou on the table, sat down and rubbed her hands together. As she looked around she wondered why three women were staring at her. “Aren’t you all hungry? You better hurry before all the nikus are snapped up.”

“I’m on diet,” Yaguchi said spitefully.

Yasuda and Abe wanted to laugh; Yaguchi never knew that she actually looked cute when she was angry.

“We’ll get her one,” Yasuda said to Abe as they left the room.

But Yaguchi wasn’t feeling an iota of gratitude. And no, she wouldn’t touch the lunch they would bring back. She was still feeling sore, her lips pouting. Why didn’t they believe her? She looked around the once-again crowded room, her eyes soon locked on the couple sharing a double-seater sofa and food.

Arghh! she screamed inwardly. Fate was playing a fool on her. Why had Yasuda and Abe left the room at this time? She pricked her ears and listened…

“Why are you giving me your ebi-fry?”
“It’s your favourite, isn’t it?”
“How about you? Your lunch box now looks empty.”
“I don’t like ebi.”
“But there are other choices just now…”
“It’s all right,” Yossi told Rika.

Then Yaguchi saw Rika looking at Yossi, smiling.


A simple story - their story (01)

(DATE: YEAR 2007)

The loud slamming of the door startled everybody in the makeshift canteen. Like everybody, Rika quickly looked around. When she failed to find her friend who had said was getting another plate of salad, she began to worry. She knew her friend had left the room, and had slammed the door when she did; perhaps she hadn’t like what she had heard. In fact, nobody else did, and somehow, the person who everyone thought possessed the best composure had been the most affected.

Not wasting another moment, Rika stood up and bolted after the escaping girl. Out of the canteen, she shouted when she saw the tall girl striding down the corridor on the left.

Half-running Yossi stopped and turned back. “What?”

Rika hastened her steps to catch up. “Where are you heading?” she said, paying extra attention to Yossi’s facial expressions as if it would tell her exactly what her junior was thinking right now.

“Toilet,” Yossi said, her tone sounding calm. When Rika said nothing, she turned and continued on her way to the washroom. She slowed down her pace though as if expecting Rika to join her. Rika did; she quickly caught up and they walked side by side. Although Rika had tons of things to ask Yossi, the latter’s body language told her that she had no wish to engage in any conversation, at least not at the moment.

She quietly followed Yossi into the ladies washroom that was located inconveniently at the furthest end of the winding hallway. Once inside the privacy of the washroom however, Yossi’s cool demeanour took a sudden change. Resting both her palms on the sink counter, she dipped her head below her shoulders and sighed loudly. Rika anticipated it; Yossi wasn’t taking the news too well.

“Why do I feel that my graduation is a jinx?” Yossi said under her breath.

Rika walked up to Yossi. She raised her hand, hesitated before putting it back to her side again.

“Why can’t she hold on to it? Is it too much to ask of her?”

Rika tried to speak, but no word came out of her mouth. When she saw Yossi’s raised head in the reflection, her heart tugged; those beautiful eyes were red. There weren’t tears, nonetheless, there was pain, or was that anger?

“I hate to see the group reduced to this state. I don’t know why bad news keeps coming. I don’t know what’s wrong with everybody. Why are they doing this? We don’t used to be like this…”

Rika knew exactly what Yossi was saying, or why she had felt sad or angry. “But people do change.” she said.

Yossi turned, looking deep into Rika’s eyes. “You didn’t. I didn’t!”

When Rika averted her eyes, Yossi turned back to face the mirror. When she saw Rika still looking away, she turned on the tap and placed her hands under it.

Silence ensued, except for the gushing sound of running water.

Rika spoke after a while, “you know things will never be the same when Tsunku-san started graduating us one by one—”

“I don’t care about them graduating!” Yossi said, looking up again, catching a glimpse of Rika in the mirror. “I just hate him for putting me in the group for seven years. Seven long years. Two years longer than you.”

When Rika remained quiet, Yossi looked back down. “I hate being a leader. I never liked to lead. I never liked to be in-charge. I never liked to make decisions. I was never good with all these. You should know better…”

“But you did a great job, didn’t you? Everyone loves you.”

“The HELL I had to go through just to do this great job! I hate it!” Yossi gripped the tap tightly to turn it off. “Why? Just when it’s time for me to pass it on she pulls this feat.”

Rika was rendered speechless; she couldn’t agree more. But she hoped Yossi would understand that not everyone shared their same way of thinking.

“I tolerated it for two years, yet she couldn’t even last for two weeks. And she makes it look like it is ALL my fault again.”

“She’s just careless. As long as, I mean, it’ll soon blow off,” Rika tried explaining.

“Shouldn’t she have known better?”

Rika looked up, appalled. “Do you mean you already knew about it?”

Yossi turned to face Rika. “No! Isn’t that ironic? That the tabloids know before us? US! As in everybody else who is supposedly close to her.”

The sound of a flushing toilet startled them. Rika and Yossi looked at each other, visibly alarmed. They had been careless to assume that they were the only ones in the washroom. Before someone would come out from the cubicle, they mustn’t make the same mistake again…

When the part-time staff stepped out of the cubicle to confirm her guess for whom the speakers were, she found the washroom already empty.