The test was not too difficult. I had ample time to check my answers (like, three times) before it was over.
As I walked out the hall and headed in the general direction towards the central train station, I thought I saw someone familiar.
“Shinji?” It was him. Took the same test I did. He looked really surprised to see me. I was surprised myself, since I’m not exactly buddies with the guy but I thought I’d say hi since he was a sempai, until he graduated about almost a year ago.
“Hey, do you want to get some coffee first? The train would only be here in 40 minutes,” Shinji was going to Fukushima too, to meet some friends. We had already talked the whole 15 minutes it took us to get to Sendai station. I was running out of topics to talk about but he seemed really sincere. I also didn’t know what excuse to tell him, since it’s most likely I’ll run into him again on the train.
When I first met him, I thought he was a bit snobbish – he was with a couple of Canadians exchage students having a laugh at the residence hall. But then I spoke to him in Japanese and he seemed a totally different person. Much more.. nicer. We often saw each other at events organised by the international students office and at the hall obviously.
I busied myself with coffee, thinking of what else to say. Shinji didn’t seem to mind it. Then he spoke of his job, which he was keen to change, hence taking the test earlier. As with many Japanese with good English proficiency, he wants a job that would give him a chance to use his language skill, and maybe end up overseas someday.
So we continued the conversation in the train, packed with the usual weekend crowd. Teenagers out of their school uniforms, husbands being husbands instead of salarymen, and old folks having a day out in the city. I am still amazed sometimes when I see so many people over the age of 65 milling about on their own. You don’t see it often in KL, where the younger population dominates.
As the train sped on southward, I realised this was the longest Shinji and I have spent in each other’s company actually talking. Maybe it was the surprise of seeing a familiar face among strangers. It was like the time when I literally bumped into Hafiz at one of the busiest streets in Shinjuku. Of all the places to meet an old friend. He spontaneously hugged me, and I felt his joy at seeing me after a long while. But Shinji barely knew me.
We spent the last 10 minutes or so before reaching our destination in comfortable silence, both with our own thoughts. It has been a weird afternoon for me, in the company of an acquaintance I barely knew.
Before we made our separate ways, Shinji said, “Thanks for the company. I know you were not exactly thrilled but I really appreciated it.” I just stared at him, speechless. “It has been a while since I met anyone from uni, you know. So it was kinda nice,” he explained.
Later after I graduated, I understood what Shinji meant. Once I met a really old friend, who called out my name just like I did with Shinji. It felt really good, and we could have stood in front of that store longer if not for the end of lunch hour and his girlfriend beside him.
Shinji and I exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch, which we did, for a while. Some new year cards and a handful of emails showed how some friendships are never meant to be pursued.