Sou loved the Japanese countryside.
It wasn’t the city, to be sure; it was nothing like the thriving bustle of Tokyo, with its skyscrapers and fast trains. Public transportation was rare to find, slow to take, and quite often late to arrive.
To put it in even more relatable terms, one only had to look at a place like Akihabara and contrast it with, perhaps, Yuwa.
In one, a hop off the train brought you to a popular but seedy cityscape, semi-pornographic leaflets and billboards littering the walls, and middle-aged businessmen drooling vaguely at women-shaped body pillows, visions of easier-to-legally-obtain-than-gay-civil-union ‘man-and-pillow marriage’ dancing in their heads.
Whereas in the countryside, one could enjoy large expanses of sky, rice paddies, maps that encompassed approximately three houses and two roads within the surrounding 20 miles, rice paddies, rice paddies, a single gas station that opened for three hours on Mondays only, and rice paddies.
Quite frankly, it was exactly her kind of place.
So loved the countryside as well, but unlike Sou, she was a practical sort who enjoyed conversation – particularly conversation with Japanese people, who were too polite to tell her to go away – and often looked down her vaguely turtle-like nose at Sou’s flights of fancy.
And yet, for some inexplicable reason, they got along smashingly – indeed, to the extent that Sou began to use words like ‘smashingly,’ which are stupid and British and she blamed this on So very much.
So with So on her roller skates and Sou on her bike, they sped about the countryside, moving from town to town, leaving behind nothing more than a vague impression of a bike helmet with cat ears, the echoes of their shrieking honking laughter, and rather too much of their money.
One fine day, they came upon a hot spring. Well-versed in the practice of seeing one another naked (not like that you perverts) (well, mostly) and indeed having no shame or boundaries left after having been sleeping together for the past two months (not like that, you perverts) (well, mostly), they checked in at the front desk. After a quick scrub down, during which time there was liberal and pleasurable use of Kiritanpo-sensei (Kiritanpo-sensei is a sponge, you dirty-minded -) they tiptoed, wet and shivering, out to the bath.
A sign on the door brought them up short. It read:
“Do not feed the stray cats. It will bring more and more of them around and then we will be full of stray cats.”
So and Sou laughed. (Somewhere at the other end of the building, the receptionist dropped their pen in shock and wondered where the peacock and walrus noises were coming from.)
Then Sou sobered slightly and said, “What the fuck.” She then added, “Ow,” because So was a prude and had pinched her for cursing too much.
“I think I want to find these cats, and I want to feed them,” said So, withdrawing her cruel fingers. “I do not think I would mind being full of stray cats.”
“I wonder what it means,” said Sou, still contemplating the sign. “Will we open our bags and find stray cats? Will we find stray cats in our jeans? Will we explode one day and stray cats will come pouring out everywhere?”
Then they realized they were standing naked in the cold, and ran outside, sinking joyfully into the warm steamy goodness of the hot spring.
“Meow,” said a cat.
How amusing! Sou shrieked; So honked.
So fed them bits of chocolate and sweet mochi.
“Hey Sou,” she said, “Do you think it’s starting? Do you think we are becoming full of stray cats?”
“Maybe,” said Sou.
“Meow,” said another cat, then another.
“Shitballs,” said Sou, then, “Ow,” as So pinched her again.
After becoming properly raisined, the two girls got out, dried off, chugged milk and munched persimmons, and continued on their merry way.
“Meow,” said a cat from inside So’s sweater. There were more as well; in the basket of the bicycle, in So’s backpack, in both their pants pockets. “Meow. Meow. Meow.”
“I sense that this is not a good thing,” said So. “In fact, I sense that this is a very bad thing.” A cat fell off her head.
“So,” said Sou, “I believe we are full of stray cats.”
“So do I, Sou,” said So. “So do I.”