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MBA student like Fumiko shouldn’t be hiding in a PE storeroom. But at least no one would see her — or so she thought until the door hinged open and an athletic backlit figure emerged from it.

Her friend Aida.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“What are you doing here?” she echoed back.

“I followed you.”

Fumiko tucked her chin between her bent knees. “I came to … tell myself ghost stories.”

“You’re a bad liar, you know? You wouldn’t even be able to lie to yourself.” Aida slid past the basketball baskets and knelt before Fumiko. “Now confess.”

She let out a breath. No use lying to Aida. “I’m hiding because Royama told me he wants to talk. In private.”

“Are you aware, Miss Fukada,” Aida teased, “that you are a twenty-three-year-old woman?”

“I’m not afraid!”

“I thought you liked him.”

“I do, since last year.” Fumiko’s cheeks heated up.

Aida squinted his almond-shaped eyes until they became pea pods. “Then what is it?”

She had always told everything to Aida, even her embarrassing moments. Like when she sneezed into the lunch box of a girl, or when she burped before making out with a guy. But this issue wasn’t embarrassing. It was mortifying.

Aida placed his hands gently on her shoulders. “Look, this is one of the few guys who isn’t intimidated by your beauty. Don’t let him go.”

“I’m not letting him go.” She stared at her purple pumps. “I’m just not going to him.”

“So what you gonna do? Stay here until Royama dies of old age?”

“Until he gets tired of waiting for me.”

“Be careful, Fumiko.” Aida lifted himself to his feet. “If you run away from happiness for too long, it’ll get tired of chasing you.” He left, closing the door behind him, making darkness return to her surroundings.

Aida had it all wrong. She wasn’t running from happiness, but from sadness. Awkwardness. From a typhoon that could destroy her love life.

The light came back, together with a voice. “Fukada?”

Royama.

Fumiko crawled behind the kick-boxing team’s equipment box. From there, she peeked at his towering figure. “H-how did you know I was here?”

“I followed Aida when he was following you.” He stepped forward until his shadow climbed onto the box. “Why are you hiding?”

“W-well, I … I — ”

“I know why.” Royama’s head dropped. “Because you’re not wearing anything. Because you and Aida were — ”

“No, no, no. He’s just a friend!”

“I understand. A friend with benefits.”

Fumiko stepped away from the box until she was face to face — or rather face to chest — with Royama. Pulling on the sleeve of her yellow summer dress, she said, “See? I’m clothed.”

He blinked. “So what are you doing here? And why were you hiding — oh, I know. It’s because I told you I wanted to speak with you, right? Anyway, I think this is the best moment to say what I want to tell you.”

Aida. Help. Aida.

“Fukada,” he began, his cheeks turning into ripe peaches. “I’ve liked you for a very long — ”

Frrrttt.

Fumiko and Royama stood in silence. Unmoving. Unblinking.

Finally, with a cry, she ran past Royama and out of the PE storeroom. Unbelievable. Two years of affection gone down the drain in only two seconds. With only one sound.

umiko didn’t go back home after the incident. Instead, she darted to the girl’s restroom and sat on a toilet seat, wishing she could flush herself away.

“Fumiko,” Aida’s voice said, coming from he the entrance of the toilet. “I know you’re in there.”

She gawked at the stall’s wall. “How do you know that?”

“I saw you rushing in.”

Why was everyone always following her around? Did she look like a mother duck?

She heard approaching steps, followed by the opening and closing of the stall next door.

“W-what are you doing?” Fumiko stuttered.

“I know you. You’re not gonna come out.” Aida made a clanking sound. He sat on the closed toilet lid. “All right, let it all out.”

Driven by exhaustion and frustration, she told Aida about the horrendous encounter with Royama, without sparing any details.

“Guess that didn’t make you look so good. I mean, sound good.” Aida made a twisting noise. “Look at the bright side. At least you didn’t fart in the middle of sex or while exchanging marriage vows.”

“This is serious,” Fumiko scolded. “It’s something that’s been chasing me my whole life.”

“You mean this happens every time you’re into someone?”

“Whenever I’m face to face with that person.”

“It’s easy for a guy to know you like him.”

“Aida!” Fumiko covered her face.

“Okay, okay,” he said, “All jokes aside, what happened those other times? After, you know, the atmosphere between you and those guys changed?”

“Same as now … I ran away. Later, I avoided eye contact. None of them talked to me again.”

“What about you? Did you speak to them?”

“What was I supposed to say after farting in front of them?”

“Maybe a little apology?” he offered cautiously.

“I thought of that, but didn’t have the guts to do it.” Fumiko sighed toward the ceiling. “Why did God have to create farts?”

“He must’ve decided it was the most efficient way to get rid of gases.”

She heaved out another breath. “But not the quietest one.”

“If they bother you so much,” he began in a matter-of-fact tone, “why don’t you go to the doctor?”

“I went to three,” Fumiko said. “None of them could find the cause of the condition. Or cure it. They tried anti-acids, also anxiety drugs in case the problem was my nerves. In the end, they sent me home since my life wasn’t in danger.”

“You know what?” His shoes made a sound as they landed on the floor. “If doctors aren’t gonna help you, I will.”

Fumiko looked at the wall of the stall. “What? How?”

Before Aida could answer, a girl yelled, “There’s a guy in the ladies’ room!”

After a frightening silence, Aida said, “I’ll tell you later — if I don’t break my neck while jumping out the window.”

or this to work — ” Aida wiped katsu curry from his arched lips. “You gotta follow my directions without any questions. Promise?” He extended his pinky.

“When did you become an expert in fart treatment?” Fumiko peered at her miso soup. “And by the way, do we have to talk about this while we’re eating?”

“If you want, we can discuss this in class.” He winked with a wicked grin.

Groaning, she locked her pinky with his. What was the worst that could happen after having farted in front of her crush?

“Okay, step one,” he said. “Pick a guy in this room. One that you find attractive.”

Fumiko winced. “Your plan isn’t appealing to me.”

“You promised …”

“All right, all right.” She glanced around the student-packed cafeteria until she spotted a handsome man — tall nose, toned arms, tousled hair. Wait a minute, that was Takashima. She shared a course with him.

“I chose one,” Fumiko said. “Now what?”

Aida dug his hands into the pocket of his chinos and produced two tickets. “Invite him to this.”

Fumiko bent toward them. “Tickets for One Ok Rock? Where did you — ?”

“You agreed …”

“All right, all right. But for what?”

“Think about it.” Aida rubbed his angular jaw. “It’ll be hard to hear a fart in a rock concert.”

“Smart. But what if I … while inviting Takashima?”

“You only like his looks. So you’re less likely to let out your emissions.” He tucked the tickets between her fingers. “Okay, enough talk. Go, go!”

With ant-sized steps, glancing a couple of times at Aida, Fumiko walked toward Takashima until she stood right on his left.

He craned his head and stared at her. Instantly, her stomach began to turn and churn. Gosh, why did she have to do this after eating?

“Fukada,” he said in a cordial voice. “What’s up?”

Fumiko had to be fast and subtle like a breeze. “Um, Takashima. My friend gave me these tickets.” She waved them at him. “And told me to go to this concert with you.” She pointed at her table.

“What?” Takashima peeked at Aida, who gave him a wink and a thumbs up.

“Here’s yours.” Fumiko shoved the ticket against his chest. “I’ll be waiting for you in the toilet — I mean, at the ticket counter. See you there!” She bolted her way into the girls’ bathroom, into a stall, then onto the toilet seat. Poot. That was close.

“You broke the record for the fastest date invitation,” Aida shouted from outside of the bathroom.

Fumiko agreed internally. And the most painful one.

“What did you tell him?” he asked.

“I don’t remember.” She cupped her belly with her hands. “My mind wasn’t in my head.”

“The important thing is that you did it. You’re awesome.”

Fumiko beamed. “Thanks for helping me. You’re awesome too.”

“Ahhh!” a girl yelled from the stall next to Fumiko’s. “A pervert is peeking inside the bathroom!”

umiko and Aida arrived twenty minutes earlier at the concert so that he could give her his anti-gas advice. What if Takashima saw Aida? No, he wouldn’t be able to in this flock of rockers.

“Listen,” Aida said loudly enough to be heard, “you don’t have to worry. Remember, he won’t notice your farts. Unless they — ”

Fumiko covered his mouth. “I don’t eat cheese, cabbage, or cauliflowers. And I don’t drink alcohol. So my gases don’t smell at all, all right?”

“Got it. You expel rose-scented breezes.” He checked the time on his chronograph watch. “Romeo is about to come. I’m leaving.”

Fumiko readjusted her white winter dress while Aida disappeared among the crowd. Why did he have to leave? But most importantly, what would she do if he left her life? He was the only person in the world who knew her foul secret. One she couldn’t easily share — at least not with words.

“Here you are, Fukada.”

Fumiko spun around to face Takashima, who wore tight jeans and a tank top. They exposed his tough arms and thick abs.

Gurgle, gurgle.

“Oh, you didn’t eat?” he asked.

“I’ll do that later, let’s go inside.” After they handed their tickets to the counter, Fumiko dragged him to the dim bar. Inside, they were as packed as a train during rush hour. But she didn’t care. The music was so loud, she couldn’t even hear her racing heartbeat.

If I try not to lose what I have grasped tightly …
(Fumiko couldn’t catch the rest of the lyrics.)
… The pain, I can’t escape it …

“You’re really in a hurry to know me, aren’t you?” Takashima said into her ear.

“I am,” Fumiko replied with a smile. “But I can slow down from now on.”

He moved closer still. “You know, I wanted to know you too.”

“So you’ve been noticing me …” The butterflies in her stomach started to flutter — and threatened to fly out of her.

“It’s hard not to, considering how gorgeous you are.”

“What did you say in English?” Fumiko asked. “Gaseous?”

Takashima chuckled. His lips touching her ear, he added, “Gorgeous and hilarious.”

Fumiko held her stomach. The silent butterflies had become noisy cicadas. No, she didn’t need to worry. Aida had told her she wouldn’t have to.

Suddenly, the lead singer of One Ok Rock said, “May I have your attention, please? As most of you know, a member of our band passed away last year on this exact day. So I would like to offer a minute of silence for him. Starting from now. Thanks.”

The bar became as silent as a morgue.

No. Why? Now? While Takashima and the rest of the people closed their eyes and lowered their heads, Fumiko stared at her watch while holding her boisterous belly. She could do it. She could do it. It was only a minute.

4:54:05 PM. Her stomach had turned into a car engine, but the exhaust system wasn’t active yet.

4:54:14 PM. She was releasing drowning bubbles in her colon.

4:54:40 PM. Fumiko doubled over. Her intestines were about to burst.

4:54:50 PM. Help. Aida. Help.

Aida. That was right. Each time the world was about to end, she started to think of him. Even if he couldn’t come to rescue her. Even if, like now —

Ppprrrtt.

In a second, everyone in the room focused on Fumiko, with eyes and laughter scarier than that of monsters, because they weren’t the oddity. She was. What to do, what to do? Become invisible? Dissolve in the air? As soon as reason kicked in, she scooted out of the bar and onto the short bridge across from it.

Aida was leaning on one of the railings.

Instead of telling him what had happened, she showed it with tears — tears that only he could soak up.

He fished out a tissue from his chinos and passed it to Fumiko. Placing a warm hand on her arm, he said, “Guess that concert wasn’t loud enough.”

“I don’t wanna talk about that.” She wiped her tears. “Not that I need to. It’ll become gossip all around town, anyway.”

“C’mon, a fart isn’t that newsworthy.”

“Let’s change the subject.” Fumiko continued sponging her eyes with the tissue. They had dried, though still stung. “Why did you come back?”

“I never left,” Aida said, giving her an ample smile. “I stayed here in case, you know, you blew up.”

Fumiko stepped next to him. Below, sakura petals floated downstream like little boats. “Thanks for always supporting me — and making fun of me. Especially with my farting problem.”

Aida beamed again. “That’s my hobby: to never let you feel depressed or stressed or distressed or embarra — ”

Ppffft.

Fumiko and Aida fell silent.

“I didn’t expect that declaration of love,” he said, calmly.

She buried her reddened face in her hands. “The truth is, Takashima wasn’t the only reason my belly betrayed me at the concert. But also you. I realized that you make me feel protected, relieved, blessed, love — ”

Muak.

Fumiko touched her moistened lips, gaping at Aida. “You feel the same?”

He nodded, his forehead still joined with hers. “I have something to confess. I lied. I didn’t stay here to make sure everything went well for you and Takashima — but because I wanted the opposite.”

“When did you realize you had feelings for me?”

“After seeing you have feelings for other men.”

Fumiko’s stomach stirred again. Luckily, it was already empty. “You don’t mind about my gas issue?”

“Not really,” Aida said. “Everyone farts. You, me, Royama, Takashima. It’s something natural. Not entirely environment-friendly. But natural.”

She gazed into his eyes as if they were newly-discovered galaxies. Was her problem invisible? Had she been fighting with air all this time? Well, that didn’t matter anymore because —

“I can finally breathe.” Fumiko let out a sigh, the longest one in a while.

“As for me, I can’t yet,” Aida said, “Sorry, for wishing you’d failed with Takashima.”

“I accept your apology.” With a shy smile, she added, “And I accept you.”

He wrapped his shielding arms around her. “I’m so glad. But I’m gladder that you accepted yourself.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself.” Fumiko hugged Aida back tightly.

Thsss end.

Writer of fictional words. Admirer of Haruki Murakami. To be notified of his upcoming novel, click here: https://mailchi.mp/6b5f800d7eb0/alexandrochen

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