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The Last Room

    It had been raining--a driving, splashing, windswept torrent of water--all after noon. Muddy rivers cascaded down the mountain roads, engulfing and threatening to submerge the abandoned automobiles scattered randomly in the newly formed lakes and ponds on the countryside valleys.
It’s the “tail of the typhoon,” everyone said comfortably, as if knowing why the heavens had opened in such spectacular fashion was enough to banish concern.
    I, on the other hand, feeling for all the world as Noah must have felt, surveyed the situation with considerable worry.
    Under less threatening conditions, I normally enjoyed being given tours of interesting places in Japan. So when one of my students in my English class, Reiko, had asked if I would like to see a “beautiful country place,” I responded affirmatively. It didn’t hurt that she was cute and laughed at all my jokes. We had never really flirted, but our eye contact had, on occasion, been communicating a mutual interest in getting to know one another better. We seemed to connect even across our different cultures. But where this would lead neither of us was sure.
    Reiko and I bounced along the mountain road as she navigated the hairpin turns. When we had left earlier that afternoon after I had finished my morning classes, the sky had been a mixture of gray-white clouds and blue-gray sky. But as we had neared our mountain destination, the clouds won their battle for the sky, and were now celebrating their victory furiously. Due to the gushing rain, great stretches of the road were underwater, thereby blurring the nice little guidelines one considers when navigating in the mountains. We had not made great time getting out of the city, but we both had excited and had no trouble keeping an upbeat conversation going. Our progress had slowed even more, however, due to the winding road and heavy rain.
    I saw the jumble of stalled automobiles at the same time Reiko did. My foot slammed on imaginary brakes; Reiko hit the real ones. The car slid sideways, its rear end clipping the boulders at the very edge of the cliff. Sliding and banging in this fashion, our car entered the lake formed in the hollow of the roadway. It came to a stop against a dark blue Toyota.
    Eight other cars were in the lake, and about a dozen people were standing under trees on the “upside” of the cliff watching the action. A question was raised in my mind regarding the situation. Why wasn’t someone, or a group of someones, standing up the road a few meters signaling drivers to stop? These were, after all, their vehicles that were being plowed into. When we attempted to evacuate our slightly damaged vehicle, I learned why. Water gushed into her car as soon as I opened the door. I shut it quickly and we exchanged a look of surprised amusement. Someone would need a life jacket to stand here and wave off approaching vehicles.
    We sat there for a moment reluctant to get out in the rain. I was not really worried about finding help. Back in America, one could be stranded far from civilization. But in Japan there’s always bound to be a camera shop or pachinko parlor for gambling just over the hill. After consulting a map, Reiko and I decided to get out and walk toward a village that appeared to be about 3 miles away. Once we had decided what to do, we got out of the car as quickly as possible
    The rain, demonstrating its power, gushed with renewed vehemence. The wind and rain blowing in our face was bad enough, but as the sun began to set, the temperature dropped down to about 45 degrees. With our heads down, water sloshing around our ankles, we soon began to shiver. Reiko, wearing only a thin blue blouse and skirt, was even worse off. We had escaped the flood from below, but not the one falling on our unprotected heads.
    Upon arriving at the village, which did indeed turn out to be about to be a very long and arduous three miles away, we were able to locate an inn which had seven rooms. It wasn’t surprising that other travelers had sought refuge from the typhoon there. Fortunately, Reiko and I were able to take the last room.
    We sloshed our way to our room with shoes sopping wet.  It felt wonderful to be able to take them off.  Our first reaction upon entering the room was to head for the bathroom. With some embarrassment, I offered to let Reiko go first, but she did likewise for me. Desperately having to pee and figuring I would be quicker about it, I decided to accept her offer rather than waste anymore time arguing about it. I felt that there had been more than enough flooding for one day.
I quickly finished my business and allowed Reiko to use the toilet. Now I faced the problem of wet clothing. I was still shivering somewhat. We had nothing to change into. Keeping our drenched and muddied clothes on was unthinkable. Taking them off, on the other hand, would be extremely awkward.
    In our cold and dripping condition, what we both really needed right then was a nice hot bath before either of us caught a pretty serious cold. Reiko apparently had been thinking the same thing because I heard her turn on the hot water that flowed into the bath. Like most Japanese houses, the room containing the bath tub was connected by a sliding glass door to the room containing the sink and toilet. She slid open the door leading to the living room, and leaned out with hair dripping, teeth chattering, and her soaked clothing clinging to her shivering form.
    “We should . . . take . . . hot bath . . . now.” She emphasized the “now” through her chattering teeth
    “I agree.” I had meant to continue with the words “Why don’t you go first?” but somehow they never quite made it out of my mouth. I was waiting to see what Reiko would suggest.
    She looked down at her own drenched condition, looked back at me, tilted her head, gave a slight smile and a shrug, then turned and went into the bath area. She had left the door open, and I could clearly see that she began to undress. I hesitated, not quite sure what to do.
    “Well, come in,” Reiko laughed. “You must not stand there and turn blue color.”
    Clearly our relationship was about to move to another level. Going to college at U. C. Berkeley I had made many international friends. I had even gone on an occasional date with some of them. But I had never “known” a foreign woman before. Beneath the cold and goose bumps on my limbs, an inner heat was coming up. But with it came some anxiety. What were we getting ourselves into? Is this right with a student, no matter how adult and sensuous she looked just now?
    I summoned up a resolve in my heart, pushed out my lower lip and raised my hands palms up. “Okee-dokee.”
    I stepped into the bath room and likewise began to peel out of my wet clothes, modestly trying not to look at Reiko as she continued undressing. In our shivering and numb condition, covered with clinging, dirty garments, removing our clothing was impossible to do in anything resembling a graceful or sexy manner. We were both just struggling to work our fingers on the buttons and hooks that held together our modern modesty.
    She grabbed a wash towel from beside the bath and gently stepped down into the hot, steaming water. I followed her lead and stepped into the large sized bath after her. Our cold skin made somewhat painful contact with the hot water. Reiko, a veteran of Japanese hot springs and bath houses, barely flinched. Being a guy, I tried my best not to show exactly how my nerve endings were screaming out in protest against this new assault. Besides, I knew I’d adjust in a minute, and there was just no way I was going to back out now.
    I settled down on the opposite side, facing her. The bath was deeper than American tubs and made of a smooth, sand-colored tile. This being an inn, the bath tub was clearly built to accommodate more than one person. We could comfortably stretch out our legs next to one another with our bodies submerged up to our shoulders. Still, our legs lay floating against one another. Her skin felt like melting silk against my legs and arm.
    Reiko, after wetting her towel, folded it up and placed it on top of her head. She settled back with a blissful smile on her face. Amazingly, despite the storm, the crash, and the long, wet, cold walk, she looked content.
    As I closed my eyes and let the hot water bring feeling back to my limbs, I was surprised to find that what could have been a miserable experience was actually turning into something approaching sensual ecstasy.
    The bath was nearly full now, so I reached over to turn it off. Reiko remained still with her eyes closed and a calm look on her face.
    She had never looked more beautiful to me. Strands of her dark hair floated on the surface of the water. Just below her gently billowing hair, I could see that her breasts also had risen close to the surface. I had always thought of Reiko as having exceptionally full for a Japanese woman. I could see more clearly now how true that was.
    Reiko opened one eye and caught me staring at her chest. She smiled and lazily brought her right arm up and flipped some water towards my face.
    “Jiro-jiro minaide. To stare, it’s not polite,” she scolded. My face turned as crimson as the rest of my body, which the cold rain and steaming water had both reddened considerably this evening.
    “I was just admiring your beauty,” I responded. I hoped it didn’t sound as lame to her as it came across to me.
    Her eyes were closed once again, but the corner of her mouth was raised in a slight smirk. Upon her face was a look of calm pleasure. I was feeling quite warm and comfortable now as well. Despite the potentially arousing situation, at the moment I was thinking only of how nice the bath felt in this quaint, old Japanese inn. Reiko seemed to share my feelings.
    “Kimochi ii, ne. It feel so nice” Reiko said in a low, dreamy off voice.
    “I’m glad we came.” We sat they way for quite a while, soaking the heat deep into our bodies. Although we spoke no more for a long time, we were interacting on a deeper level with one another and with our surroundings.
    I would have been content to remain that way for quite some time more, hands and legs gently touching hers, but Reiko opened her eyes and said, “Enough for me. Please turn your head while I get out.”
    I did as she wished. Reiko moved out of my view, took a towel and dried
herself off. Just outside the bath room was a two-tiered closet with sliding doors. She opened up one side and took out a yukata--a summer kimono--off the shelf. With the feeling now returned to her slender limbs, she smoothly slid her arms into the sleeves, and with no break in her motion, pulled the robe closed and tied the belt at one side.
    “Would you like some tea?” she asked.
    “Sounds great. Thank you.”
    Once she had left the bath room, I pulled the plug and climbed out. I dried myself off and also put on a yukata. Whereas Reiko’s yukata had come down to her ankles, mine barely went down below my knees. But at least it fit, one of the few items of Japanese clothing that did.
    I joined Reiko at the low table in the center of the room where she sat with her legs underneath her. The water was just beginning to boil. A lot is made of the Japanese tea ceremony. I had experienced it twice under formal conditions, once at the tea house around Nagoya castle and again outside a temple in Kyoto. But no one had ever performed it for me in such a personal way.
    Holding the long, loose right sleeve of her yukata in her left hand, she slowly and deliberately used a long, thin bamboo spoon to place the tea powder in a cup. With the spoon resting in the V between thumb and index finger, she gently replaced the spoon on its stand. Next she picked up the pot of hot water and poured it over the powder lying so green and promising at the bottom of the large, handleless cup. With the cup half full, she stopped pouring and once again took up the spoon. She used it to mix the tea, and she seemed to be counting or listening to some ancient musical beat as she did this, so graceful and peaceful were her movements. I had some awareness of the spiritual elements of the ceremony, but Reiko brought them to life for me. This intimacy was even more delicious than the hot bath we had shared.
    With both hands, she gently picked up the cup and offered it to me.
    “Now, you drink.”
    I remembered to turn the cup, drink, turn the cup again, and offer it back to her. She received it with a smile, and partook of the contents of the cup. Within the calm walls of this country inn, we enjoyed a communion of sorts. Although the love-making would come later, we had already connected in far deeper ways. And though the storm winds continued to rage outside and the black clouds spit their fury, there was only peace, warmth, and understanding in the last room.

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