“The good news is that you don’t have ovarian cancer,” the ob-gyn said, his oval eyes locked on the pad containing my blood test results. “The bad news is that you have a low ovarian reserve.”
So my insufficient appetite, hyperactive bowel movements, and uneven period weren’t a death sentence. I would have jumped of happiness — if it wasn’t for the doctor’s last statement.
“Simply put,” he continued, “You have approximately 800 eggs left.”
I straightened up on the hospital bed. “800 eggs?” Was I at the Shinjuku Ladies Clinic or the supermarket?
“Let me explain,” the ob-gyn began. “A woman is born with a fixed number of 2,000,000 eggs, and she loses them as she ages. Only 400,000 remain when she enters puberty.”
“How about when she’s twenty like me?”
“200,000 or more.”
My eyebrows furrowed. “How come my count is so low?”
“You have a rare condition called ovarian underproduction syndrome. In other words, your ovaries created fewer eggs than they were supposed to.”
I slumped back on the bed to digest this sour news. No, it wasn’t that upsetting. “This disorder isn’t life-threatening, right?”
“Not to you, but perhaps to your future child, if you’re planning on having one. In the sense that he or she might never be born.”
“But 800 eggs are still a lot, aren’t they?”
“They are — except a woman loses about 34 eggs per day.”
I consulted my mental library. “I thought only one or two eggs were released each month.”
“Correct. But the rest die every day, like the other cells in the body.”
I used the immaculate ceiling as a whiteboard to make the calculations. “That means, I’ll lose all my eggs in about three weeks.”
The ob-gyn nodded. “Therefore, you should consider fertility treatments. Like oocyte cryopreservation, which consists of freezing your eggs to be used when you need them.”
“What’s the cost?” I asked.
He gave me an exorbitant number.
“I don’t have that money,” I said. “I’m just a university student.”
“How about adoption?”
“I would find raising a stranger’s child weird.”
“Then I suggest you start family planning as soon as possible.”
The advice was sensible — except I didn’t have a husband or a boyfriend.
766 eggs left.
I skipped my classes today. Instead, I went to a restaurant in Shinjuku and ordered a tamagoyaki omelet. According to my unscientific theory, if I ate eggs I would produce more or strengthen the ones I already had.
Of course, I couldn’t solve my problem only with food. I needed a plan. Family planning as the ob-gyn had put it.
And it was a real problem. One of my dreams was to have a daughter. So I could style her hair and buy her lovely dresses. And of course, hear her say her first “Mama,” teach her a second sentence, and change her last diaper.
All right. I had to stop dreaming and focus on my ovarian nightmare.
To become a mother, I would have to quit university — not that I’d mind since I hated animal science (I’d mistakenly chosen the department after having enjoyed a book about chicken. Turned out, I didn’t like poultry, but the poetry in the writing). Sure, my parents would beat me to a pulp — or I should say, scrambled eggs — but this was about my life. And my future child’s.
And my future partner’s, which couldn’t be any random guy or sperm donor. I had to find someone who aimed for commitment. And love.
732 eggs left.
I bought a yellow one-piece-dress (to make sure I caught men’s eyes) and went to an overcrowded underground bar in Shinjuku (so no one I knew would see me).
But which man to choose? My humble requirements were: round eyes, round cheeks, and round chin — in short, a baby face. I had no idea why, but a science magazine stated that we were attracted to people who looked like us.
After one hour and two egg white whiskey sours, I spotted a twenty-something who fit that description. He sat four stools away from me, gulping sullenly from a foamy beer. When he glanced in my direction, I shot him a come-here-stupid smile. But he didn’t. Just brought back his eyes to his beer and continued looking gloomy.
Screw indirect signals.
With a newly ordered egg white whiskey sour, I squeezed through the shoal of people, plumped myself on the stool next to the guy, and presented myself. Chika. Warily, he did the same. Eguchi.
Pleasantries over, I dropped my carefully crafted line. “Would you be kind enough to answer four questions?”
Eguchi narrowed his eyes into half circles. “Is this a survey?”
“I’m gathering data to find a suitable partner.” I pulled out my phone from my purse and opened my note-taking application. “Question one: do you like girls?”
“Right answer. Question two: do you have a girlfriend?”
“Am I your type of girl?”
“Excellent.” I scrolled to the bottom of my phone’s screen. “Last and most important question: at what age do you want to have kids?”
“Kids?” he blurted, as if we were talking about elves. “Let me see — maybe at thirty.”
“Wrong answer.” I hopped off the stool. “Goodbye.”
“Wait, wait,” Eguchi called, flailing his arms at me. “Actually, any time’s okay, as long as I love the girl.”
“All right. I’ll let you retake the test.” I leaped back onto the stool. “Personal question: Why the long face?”
Eguchi fixed his gaze on his beer-holding hand. “My girlfriend and I broke up a month ago.”
“Improper question: why?”
“To sum up, she got pregnant, had a miscarriage, and blamed me for having defective sperms.”
“That must’ve been … hard on you.” I sipped my drink and asked, “It’s not true that you have defective … you know — ?”
He shook his head. “I had a test a few days ago. My sperms are normal.”
Eguchi lifted his face. “Excuse me?”
I cupped my mouth with my hands. “I mean, I’m glad you’re healthy.” Seclusion had atrophied my sensitivity.
He nodded, staring at me as though I were a turtle with two heads. “Speaking of reproduction — why the question about having children?”
I hadn’t prepared this part.
Since we had to get into a long-term relationship in a short time, I told him about my rare condition and my universal wish.
“Sounds a bit nuts.” Eguchi signaled the bartender for another beer. “But glad to know you selected me.”
“Not yet,” I said. “You gotta pass the test first.”
He leaned a few inches away from me. “Something tells me it’s gonna be insane.”
“That depends — if you dare to go to the women’s toilet with me.” I pretended to fold origami with the cuff of his dress shirt.
Eguchi gaped at me. “You kidding?”
“I have no time for jokes. I only have 732 eggs left, remember?”
“Okay, you convinced me.” He sprung from his stool. “Let’s go.”
“You go first.” I glanced at the neon-lit crowd. “Unless you want people to see us going inside together.”
“Smart!” Suddenly not looking sad anymore, he sauntered to the girl’s toilet and, shooting me a wink, vanished behind the door.
Five seconds later, I vanished from the bar.
Why? Because I only had three weeks. I couldn’t waste them with a man willing to make love at first sight. Those never lasted long.
For the whole weekend, I applied the same test in other bars in Shinjuku. 50% of the participants accepted going to the toilet, 30% suggested we go to the toilet of their apartments, 20% suggested we go to the toilet of a love hotel. Gosh. It seemed that the men of the night were better at mating than match-making.
Better hunt prey during the day.
630 eggs left.
I used any sources and excuses to meet men. University, public libraries, private parties. While doing so, I discovered that my “Find a Darling Before Your Eggs Die” game resembled gambling.
I bet —
102 eggs to Jojima, a biology major I met at Tokyo University. He had plenty of positive attributes: intelligence, diligence, and self-reliance. But in the end, he confessed he didn’t want to spread his genes at the moment.
136 eggs to Quincy, a thirty-year-old American who taught in a private school. He was an exotic, enthusiastic, and optimistic man. Unfortunately, he had to visit his home country for three weeks.
170 eggs to Kawamura, a wedding photographer with a receding hairline. He showed maturity, reliability, flexibility all the time. To my luck, he was married and planned to turn me into his mistress.
By the time I came out from this dating pachinko parlor, I only had 222 eggs left.
I was about to go bankrupt.
188 eggs left.
My gonadal clock was ticking. More than ever, I needed to find a man who was committed but not to another woman. Who would move my heart but not his country of residence. Who liked children but didn’t behave like one.
Children. That was the keyword that would lead to him.
120 eggs left.
Matsuyama Park had the air of a retirement home rather than a playground. It had a moldy bench, a dusty slide, and two rusty swings. Not even the natural elements lit up the place: mud-colored sand and balding ginkgo trees.
Plus, there were no kids.
I climbed up the slide and surveyed my surroundings. Did I get the time wrong? According to its website, the orphanage nearby brought the children here every Friday at five p.m.
Just when my hope was dwindling away, I heard tiny steps behind me. I spun around. At the bottom of the slide stood a girl of four or five. She had silky straight hair that reached her waist — not a difficult feat since she was shorter than a mailbox (I thought of a mailbox because she wore a red dress).
“You’re adorable!” I let myself fall down the slide and knelt before the little angel. “Want Big Sister to tie a fishtail braid for you? I’ll make you look even cuter.”
“You’re not Big Sister,” she corrected in her Minnie Mouse voice. “You’re a stranger.”
“You’re … right,” I said. “And it’s dangerous to talk to strangers. But that’s true mainly with men.”
“Not true. Papa is a man, and he is not a stranger.”
Hold on a second. “Your father is here?”
With a miniature nod, she pointed behind me.
I followed her finger, standing up. At the top of the slide sat a man in his thirties. He had a baby face — round eyes, round chin, and round cheeks. However, his soft qualities made him look more elegant than juvenile. Or perhaps this aura was cast by his clothes: blue denim jeans, green turtleneck sweater, black blazer.
When he slid down the slide, I told him my name. He disclosed his: Hasemi.
“I apologize on behalf of Toshiko.” He bowed forty-five degrees. “She doesn’t get along well with strangers.”
At a loss for anything witty to say, I said, “How about you? Do you get along with them?”
“Depends on the stranger.” He beamed at me, his face becoming even more egg-shaped.
Should I consider this man a potential mate? (If he didn’t have a wife, of course.) He seemed good-hearted and good-looking. True, he had a daughter — but a lovely one!
“Don’t get close to Papa.” Toshiko squeezed between Hasemi and me, her palm up like a police officer.
“Toshiko.” Hasemi rested a hand on his daughter’s shoulders. “Go play with the swing for a while, okay?”
Pouting her slim lips, Toshiko stomped to the swing and sat on it. The act awakened a motherly pity in me.
“Apologies,” Hasemi said. “She inherited her father’s temperament.”
I tilted my head. “But you look like a calm guy.”
“Actually, I’m not Toshiko’s father. She just calls me that because I’ve been visiting her since she was a baby.”
I straightened in the chair. “You volunteer in the orphanage around here?”
“You were looking for it?” In a playful pitch, he added, “To become a volunteer? Or to adopt a kid?”
To have a kid with a volunteer, I’d have confessed if those words wouldn’t sound crazy.
Instead, I asked, “How about you invite me to dinner?”
“You’re a daring darling, aren’t you?” Hasemi said, daring darling in English.
“I like dares but not games.”
He offered a nod. “I don’t like to rush things, but time is precious. So why not?”
My heart warmed. Few people took their time to appreciate yours.
“But first tell me,” he began. “Why are you in such a rush to date me?”
I lowered my eyes to the sand. Should I tell Hasemi about my undersupply of eggs? No, since I had only a few days left of fertility, I had to make myself as desirable as possible. Plus, revealing that I’d soon become menopausal wouldn’t increase my sex appeal.
“Can I tell you after we know each other better?” I requested. “This is a sensitive issue. One that has to do with a deep part of me.”
“No problem, I have all the time in the world.” Hasemi lifted his index finger. “Right, we have to schedule our date. How about this Saturday? Same time, same place.”
“Deal,” I chirped.
“Where would you like me to take you?”
“To the izakaya over there.” I pointed to the wooden establishment decorated with unlit paper lanterns.
He rubbed the back of his round head. “Seems like you planned everything.”
“I don’t have time to improvise.”
“I’ll follow your script then.” His eyes switched to the set of swings. “Okay, I should attend the spoiled little princess. See you soon.”
I waved goodbye to Hasemi as he darted toward Toshiko.
When I left the park and plunged into the subway, it hit me: I’d have to wait three days to meet him.
And we had forgotten to exchange contact details.