From Western Sahara to Marrakech, from Marrakech to Paris, from Paris to Osaka, from Osaka to Akashi: at sunset Aurora Tanabe stands in front of Hank Hashimoto's apartment door in Okubo-cho. She glances nostalgically at the Inland Sea and Awaji Island's first evening lights and unlocks the door with the key she has carried with her for the last eighteen months.
Hank is stunned, never having expected to see Aurora again. He heard nothing from her after she left Japan for their native San Francisco. He has a comparable surprise for her.
"You're sleeping with Booger Eater!" she exclaims. "Booger Eater? Booger Eater?"
This was the nickname Aurora gave Erena Wada when teaching at Hank's junior college in Osaka. The occasion was Erena's remark in Aurora's English conversation class, if you didn't have dried pickles, you could use your nose dirt to make your rice salty. Erena has not forgiven her.
"I'm not blaming you," Aurora says. "I blame myself for not contacting you. I was in the Amazon jungle in Brazil. Then I was working with refugees in Africa. I had other priorities. I know what you must've thought. But you are the last man I made love to."
"God, Aurora," Hank says.
"I half-expected you'd have someone when I took this chance," Aurora says. "But why Booger Eater? That stupid girl with her dyed hair and her crotch-level miniskirts. I still remember how she would call her boyfriend on her cell phone in class. And how she ate her lunch and drank her soda pop in the middle of my lessons—when she wasn't sleeping. Please don't tell me you love her."
"After you disappeared, I was like a ripe apple that falls into the first hands to touch it," Hank says. "Erena straightened out. She graduated at the top of her class. She's now a secretary at a fine arts university. She's happy there because everyone is kind of weird.
Aurora sighs and says, "Hank, darling, after I take a shower, make love to me."
"I can't. I have a commitment," Hank says.
Aurora speaks softly: "Darling, I am going to wash off the Sahara Desert in your shower. Then I will come out naked with my long legs, my perfect breasts, and my angelic face, and I will kiss you. If you can resist me, I will e-mail the Pope and recommend you for sainthood."
Later in bed with Aurora, as she drifts into sleep, he says, "Please marry me this time."
"I'm jet lagging, Hank," Aurora whispers. "Do something about Booger Eater before we get engaged again."
"I'll see her this weekend," Hank says. "I'll fix it."
Aurora mumbles something, nuzzles her face against his shoulder, and sleeps.
In the morning Aurora says, "I'm glad you saved my racing bike. And the tires are inflated. Has Booger Eater been riding it?"
"She's terrified of bikes," Hank says.
"Those inflated tires show you've always loved me. Cancel your classes, Hank!"
"It's summer vacation," Hank says.
They make love all day. In the evening they take a walk along the pedestrian and bicycle path paralleling Okubo Beach. The island of Shodoshima forms a purple silhouette against the orange ball of the setting sun. Aurora remarks, "There is no sight like the sun sinking into the Sahara Desert. But nothing else beats Okubo's sunsets. Do you remember our walks here, Hank?"
Hank remembered Aurora when walking with Erena on the path. Now he poignantly remembers his evening walks with Erena and how she would warn him about stepping in dog shit and complain about people who didn't clean up after their beasts when no one was looking. However beautiful the sunset is and however good it is to hold Aurora's hand, guilt nags at him.
In bed that night he wants to confess to Aurora his confused adoration for her and his lover whom she will only call "Booger Eater." Instead, he asks her about Brazil and Western Sahara. She replies, "It's all so deep inside me, I cannot bring it out yet. Just love me, Hank." She goes to sleep with a serene, dimpled smile. He drifts into a troubled sleep fretting about the two women he loves.
Before going off to Osaka to meet Erena on Saturday morning, he says, "Aurora, I'm going to be honest with her. I'll make a clean break."
"Do anything you think is right. I cannot put restrictions on you. I'm here on a tourist visa and I have my own responsibilities if I want to stay in Japan with you. I'll be on your computer all day."
"Carte blanche, Hank. I mean it."
Erena is wearing her usual miniskirt, a pink one, when she meets Hank at Umeda JR in Osaka. She also wears a matching pink tank top, which does much to reveal her ample breasts. She has dyed her hair platinum blonde again. Hank looks about to see if any of his colleagues are nearby.
"We have to talk," Hank says.
"I've got to meet my aunt in three hours," Erena says. "I reserved a love hotel in Namba. We have less than two hours for sex."
"People can hear you," Hank says.
"How do you like my hair? I went back to blonde after reading about Marilyn Monroe in a weekly magazine. She did it with President Clinton."
"Kennedy," Hank says. "And no one knows if it's true. Don't believe everything you read in weekly magazines."
"You know what?" she whispers into his ear. "I dyed my pubic hair. When you have your face down there you won't find a single black hair."
"That's my girl!" Hank laughs and takes her hand.
Her hand goes limp. "What do want to talk about?"
"Nothing special. Summer vacation."
Her hand tightens around his, and she says, "Let's catch a taxi."
In bed with Erena, Hank thinks of Aurora's taunt body and her breasts quivering as if electrified—and falls in love with Erena's body all over again.
Erena's voluptuous body wriggles and jiggles, and her breasts bounce and slap together. He cannot leave her, Hank thinks, as she straddles him and howls. He'll talk to Aurora.
"Let me blow you," Erena says climbing off. "I'll show you what I learned from a cool porno movie scene."
"Do your parents know you watch pornography?" Hank asks.
"Sure. I watch porno with my father. It is the only time we don't fight."
"Your father? What does your mother think?"
"As long as she can watch her Korean soap operas and cry, she doesn't care. Of course, if they knew I was having sex, they'd kill me. Lie back and pretend I'm Marilyn Monroe."
As they are leaving the love hotel, Erena says, "Do you suppose Marilyn Monroe dyed her public hair?"
Her deadpan seriousness makes Hank guffaw. Perplexed at first, she laughs with him.
There is no one more fun to be with than Erena, Hank thinks. With Aurora he shares interests in cycling, photography, and cooking, but he remembers few shared moments of easy laugher.
At Umeda JR she asks with the same deadpan seriousness, "What did you want to talk about?"
He tells her about Aurora.
"I guess I won't be seeing you," she says.
"Booger Eater to you!" she says and walks away.
Hank, holding back tears, watches her about to disappear into the hurrying crowd. Before she disappears, she turns around, cups her hands to her mouth and shouts, "I still have the best breasts in Osaka, Hank Hashimoto!"
On the Rapid Service train back to Okubo, he thinks, "Served me right. That was my girl, and I have lost her."
Returning home he finds a handwritten letter from Aurora. It says she has had a long-standing offer to teach at the University of French Polynesia in Papeete, Tahiti, and has decided to accept. The e-mail she got told her to come immediately. She is taking the next plane to Tahiti. She apologizes for disrupting his life, which she realizes she had no right to do. She closes with, "Be good to Booger Eater. I will always love you."
Served me right again, Hank thinks.
For days Hank does not have the courage to contact Erena. At his favorite coffee shop by Okubo JR, he finally texts her, using the best Japanese he can: "Erena-san, I made a terrible error. I'm sorry. I love you. Hank."
He immediately receives a text in English: "I'm Booger Eater!!"
He texts back in English, "I love you. Please forgive me. Hank."
There is no reply, and a week passes. He is in the same coffee shop when she texts a nude picture of herself, clumsily taken with a cell phone camera. He quickly deletes it and writes back: "Do you mean you want to see me? Hank."
Erena texts: "Umeda at 12:30 tomorrow. Booger Eater."
At the sandwich shop, Erena says, "I understand. You did it with Tanabe-sensei because men are like that. They stick out; that's why. That's what my mother told me."
"Remember when I said my father borrowed twenty thousand yen from me because he said he lost his money playing mahjong? Actually he went to a soapland and did it with a foreign girl who had red hair. My mother found her calling card with her picture in his jacket pocket. She didn't say anything to him. She just tore it up. She told me men have to have other women because they stick out. 'Don't forget that when you marry,' she said."
"I was a fool," Hank says.
"I understood you. But don't think I wasn't hurt. I cried myself to sleep every night before you texted. I really wished a handsome guy with a big one could come out of the shower and kiss me. Only I knew she would go away like before. I didn't expect her to disappear so fast. What's in Tahiti?"
"I don't know, and I don't care. Please forgive me. I will never, never do something this stupid again."
"Go to Tahiti and solve your business with Tanabe-sensei," Erena says.
"I don't want to go to Tahiti," Hank says.
"You're going anyway," she says. "And you had better know some French."
After Hank disembarks at Tahiti Faa'a International Airport, he takes a bus to the university. The University of French Polynesia is small. He soon finds a man who knows Aurora and speaks excellent English. He is a tall and muscular man of mixed Polynesian and European stock. Hank thinks he is the most handsome man he has ever seen and wonders why someone this beautiful should look so sad. The man tells him, "Aurora left for Africa yesterday. I came home expecting to see her, and there was this note."
Hank hurriedly shakes the man's hand and takes the bus back to the airport to have his return flight changed to the next available one. He then finds a computer and e-mails Erena, telling her what happened. "I'll be home in two days," he writes. "I love you, Erena mon amour. Hank."
After arriving at Narita Airport, Hank texts Erena, "I must see you. I got a present for you from Tahiti. Hank."
Just before catching the plane for Kansai International Airport, he gets her text: "Are you sincere? Booger Eater Mon Amour."
A few minutes prior to boarding, he texts, "What do you want? I already spent a fortune on Tahiti, thanks to you. I love you. Hank."
In the airport bus to Kobe, Hank reads Erena's latest text: "Risk everything. Booger Eater Mon Amour."
After coming home, Hank takes off all his clothes and puts a fifteen-millimeter lens on his Nikon D3. He stretches out on the bed, holds the camera as high as he can, and photographs himself. He uploads the image into his cell phone. Knowing he can be arrested for indecency and get fired, Hank sends the image to "My beloved Erena, a.k.a. Booger Eater Mon Amour."
Erena, naked, dyes her hair red.