Where the hell is he? Thought Roman as his eyes frantically scanned the train station terminal. The trains were on time; this, Roman Price could trust. The name began to flash in a faint red on the overhead screen:
I’m getting on this train with or without him, he thought. Roman looked across the platform at the meticulous lines of people, patiently waiting as if they enjoyed it. He maintained a direct stare — he didn’t want to let Othello know he was worried about him.
The swoosh of the incoming train was unmistakable. Roman felt the cold gust blow through the station that accompanied the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. Within two blinks, the shimmering white bullet train flashed a few feet in front of Roman’s face, a symbol of Japanese ingenuity that the United States couldn’t match.
“Made it!” exclaimed Othello as he bumped into the back of Roman. He’d been running. With a bottle of sake and a tall metallic can of Sapporo in his hand, it was apparent where from.
“Barely, and you didn’t even get me one?” replied Roman sarcastically without looking away from the train coming to a standstill.
“I didn’t think you’d want to drink the night before your match. Besides, we can share the sake if you need a little knock out punch.”
“I may take you up on that,” said Roman as the train doors opened. The train attendant urgently ushered them on. Roman took a seat by the window. Othello stood standing as he made a great effort to squeeze his duffle bag into the overhead compartment. Roman looked at him and gave a slight smile. At least he keeps things entertaining, Roman thought. Othello was his best friend, the only one he had on this side of the globe.
The train gave a sudden jolt and flew at 200 miles per hour within fifteen seconds. Outside the window, the Tokyo outskirts went by so quickly that Roman couldn’t fix his gaze on one single thing. That is until Mt. Fuji came into view, a mountain perfectly symmetrical with a cap of white snow laid on top irrespective of the season. Usually shrouded in fog, Mt. Fuji was commonly referred to as “the shy mountain.”
Tonight it was absolutely beautiful, thought Roman, set against the darkening orange winter’s sky. In two and a half hours Roman and Othello would be in Osaka, the boisterous Japanese city known for its food, its people, and the ancient castle where battles raged for hundreds of years.
Get there, play the tennis match the next day, and likely go home after a night of partying to forget why they were there in the first place. That’s how most of their trips went. Unless Roman won his match, which, seeing as he was playing an opponent in the top 100 for the first time, seemed unlikely.
“So,” Othello chimed as he cracked open the tall Sapporo. “What’s it going to take to beat this guy. Burns is his name, right? An Englishman. I read that he has a whipping forehand that he favors big time. But his backhand isn’t very strong. You should be able to capitalize on that, my man.” He took a long drink of beer and followed it with a sip from the glass sake bottle.
“Ya, I noticed that,” said Roman as he zipped his jacket up to his chin. “I guess just hammer his backhand and see what happens.” Roman didn’t have much of a plan. Like most of his matches, he would try to use his natural speed and let the chips fall where they may. He looked outside of the window which began to fog up from the cold night.
The Japanese countryside seemed like a dream, Roman thought. In twenty minutes, they were far from Tokyo, the most populated city in the world where he decided he’d go try to find himself amongst the neon lights and endless hordes of people. Even better was that he could live cheaply on the outskirts in the neighborhood of Koenji, much cheaper than in his home city of New York.
He could be perfectly lost. Perfectly unhappy.
Tennis brought Roman to Japan. It was a country he’d always considered living in; something about not having to speak English if he didn’t want to for an entire day, an entire week, even a month. He knew he could make money if he did decent on the satellite tour, a win here and there to keep him alive. What enticed him the most was the Japanese aesthetic.
The philosophy of Wabi-Sabi fascinated him since he was a kid, the appreciation of imperfection and honoring the different stages of life and death, growth and decay. He shared this appreciation with his father. He’d told him how he loved Japan and the resilience of its people. Life, just about every aspect of it, had meaning in Japan, his father realized when he was young. Yet at home, he couldn’t seem to find any. His father never made it back, nor did they ever get to visit Japan together while he was alive.
In a way, coming to the island to try his hand at making it on the tennis circuit was for his dad. They couldn’t, or rather didn’t, see eye to eye on much. But they did share a common fondness for the island nation and its recognition of the fleetingness of life. Most of all, they both loved tennis, the thing which made life possible to endure.
He put an earbud in each ear as darkness enveloped all that could be seen outside the window. He looked over at Othello. He was fast asleep. The sake bottle was drained on the folding table in front of him. Roman, too, fell asleep, thinking about tomorrow’s match.
How am I going to win this thing, he thought.
6–4, 5–7, 6–2. In the player’s locker room, Roman couldn’t keep his knees from bouncing up and down. He wasn’t depleted like he usually was after a match — he felt possessed.
“Rome!” Othello broke through the door of the locker room with both hands stiffly in the air. The door slammed against the wall with a reverberating thwack.
“Dude, take it easy!” Roman exclaimed to his less than inconspicuous friend.
“You killed it! I’ve never seen you play like that. His backhand was trash, and you fully exposed it!” Othello grabbed Roman by the shoulders and began to shake him as if he’d just won the entire tournament. “Honestly man, your pops would be proud. I don’t know exactly what your relationship was like, but I do remember him at our high school matches and he was always the loudest in the stands. Actually, he was the only one in the stands most of the time!”
His dad was always there. Perhaps he wasn’t there for much of Roman’s growing up, but he wouldn’t miss a match for his life. Roman did he best to hold back a flurry of emotion he hadn’t felt since being away from home. For this first time in a long time, he felt responsible for himself, for his past, for his future.
“I know he would,” said Roman. “Thank you, Otto.” A sense of pride filled Roman from the inside out. He was in his body; he had won. He knew he could do this.
“Of course man, I mean it,” said Othello with a beaming smile. Roman looked up into Othello’s eyes. They were shimmering.
“No. Thank you for being here.”
Othello felt that Roman had dropped the guard he spent cultivating since his father’s death. He was at that moment, a new person. They were brothers on the onset of an adventure.
“There’s no place I’d rather be.”