The scenery outside the train window whizzed by us and reflected off of Maneki’s eyes as she stared through the glass in awe. We were passing over the Seta River near where it merged with Lake Biwa. We hadn’t been on the train for long, but Maneki was already so excited that she could hardly sit still. From what I understood, this was her first time outside of Kyoto. I was still watching her when Harumi looked up from her phone.
“Is there anything that you guys want to do other than shopping?” she asked. “I’m not sure if we’ll have time to go down to the lake.”
“Is there anything cool about the boat tours?”
“Yeah, they go through just about all of the canals so you get to see most of the town without walking. I think there’s fish in them too.”
Maneki looked at Harumi the moment she mentioned fish and clenched her hands into fists. She held them near her chest as she spoke, her eyes sparkling with determination.
“Then we have to go on a boat ride!” she stated.
“All right, we can probably catch one before we head home. We’ll figure out the rest when we get there.” Maneki nodded in agreement and looked out the window again. I resumed watching her while Harumi continued scrolling through her phone.
Ryoko, Harumi, and I stepped off of the bus that took us from Omihachiman Station to the old town itself, and the first thing that I noticed was how loud the cicadas were. The next was all of the trees and old buildings. I was looking around at it all when my eyes drifted over to Ryoko, who was smiling at me. She then looked away, her face turning a little red. I tilted my head before Harumi clapped me on the back of my shoulder.
“I’m starving,” she groaned, now pulling in Ryoko. “Why don’t we go get an early lunch before we explore?” My arm ended up behind Harumi and brushed up against Ryoko’s pants. Neither of them seemed to notice, but I felt my face begin to burn as I pulled my arm back in toward my body.
“S-sure,” I agreed.
We spent the whole day wandering around Omihachiman and shopping. The town was just as I imagined it. The streets were made with stone and paths lined the wide canals. All of the buildings were old and traditional-looking with tall walls and wooden facades. The tops of some of them had white walls and I wondered if they were new additions to the buildings as we explored. When the sun was beginning to set, we made our way over to the boat rides that Maneki was looking forward to.
At the edge of one of the canals, there was a boat that was secured to a short metal pole. It was a small merchant boat with an old man perched on the back of it with a paddle. He greeted us as we walked up and I paid him for my spot and Maneki’s. Harumi was about to do the same when her phone buzzed. We watched silently as she checked it and began to panic.
“Shoot, I completely forgot!” she shrieked. She looked at Maneki and me, finding us already watching her. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go on this one,” she said, bowing her head apologetically. “I have to go grab something from one of the shops for my sister and they’ll be closed by the time we’re done. Have fun without me!”
“Wait, Harumi!” I reached out my hand toward her, but before I could say anything else, she had started running down the stone path and disappeared from my sight. I sighed and looked at Maneki. “I guess it’s just us,” I said with a smile. The nervousness that I had tried to stifle began to creep in. Maneki nodded, a small smile of her own forming on her face. We took our seats on the floor toward the front of the boat, deciding to sit beside each other.
“I guess we’re off then,” the boat driver said to himself. I looked around us, taking in our surroundings as the old man untied the boat from the pole and we drifted further into the canal.
It had grown dark around the town and now most of the old building’s lights were on, causing their windows to glow. This light reflected off the water, making it impossible to see any fish but also making Maneki visible beside me. I was now looking at her as she typed something on her phone, the screen illuminating her face even more. Then, she looked up at me and held out her phone so I could read what she wrote.
Do you have an answer for me?
My nervousness reached its peak at that moment. It was true that it had been a week since she asked me to go out with her, but for some reason, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to come to a solid decision. But even if I did make her wait longer, there was no telling when I would have a definite answer. I couldn’t expect her to wait forever. I took her phone and typed something under her message before passing it back to her.
I’m worried that I won’t be good enough. I don’t want to hurt you.
I felt my face begin to burn as her eyes scanned the message. She looked at me again and shut off her phone. She placed it in her lap.
“Bad experience,” I admitted, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions. That was when she took my hand.
“It’s all right,” she whispered. “You won’t hurt me.”
“Maneki, I—” I was cut off by the sound of a firework screaming through the air, which then exploded in a burst of color in the sky. We both watched as it faded away, the embers fizzling out as they fell, and more fireworks burst around where the first one had been. The boat continued to drift along as we stared. I felt Maneki shift closer to me, her hip touching mine. She held my hand tighter.
When the fireworks finally disappeared, the world around us seemed darker than it had before.
“Pretty, weren’t they,” the boat driver remarked with a chuckle as he began to turn the boat around.
“Very,” I answered quietly, spotting Maneki’s blue eyes out of the corner of my vision. She was looking at me, waiting for me to say something to her. When the boat driver turned his attention back to the path ahead, I gave Maneki the attention she was waiting for.
“You have a lot of trust in me.”
“Well, of course. You’ve never broken a promise to me before.”
I realized that she was right. I had never even thought to tell anyone about her ears and I never backed out of anything else that we had planned before. I took in a deep breath and let it go in a sigh.
“Okay, I accept. Might as well give it a try, right?” At first, it looked like Maneki was going to cry when I said those words. She scooched closer to me and rested her head on my shoulder. She also squeezed my hand again.
“Thank you,” she whispered. I didn’t say anything back.
Not long after that, we made it back to the dock. Maneki straightened up and let go of my hand before we got off the boat. The old man wished us a good night as he secured the boat again and we found Harumi waiting for us at the nearest building.
“Sorry about that. Are you guys ready to head back to the station? The last train leaves soon.”
“Yeah,” Maneki answered with a smile. Harumi turned and began to lead us back to the station and Maneki and I walked closely behind her. I was almost tempted to ask Maneki for her hand again.