I called it “roxting,” because song titles were used instead of phrases, verses instead of paragraphs, lyrics instead of messages. A crazy repertoire, but one with a unique voice.
It all began in my dorm days at Tokyo University. While browsing music videos on YouTube, I found the song “Is Anybody Out There?” by Pink Floyd. What caught my eye wasn’t the tune but the uploader, Aika — the name of my girlfriend until a year ago. Could it be her? Aika was an uncommon name.
My pulse quickening, I checked her YouTube channel, but couldn’t find pictures of her or information in the “About” section. Next, I visited the comments section. Deserted. Half joking, half feeling pity for the girl, I posted a comment with a link to another Pink Floyd song.
From my 7-Eleven plastic bag, I fished out a Suntory beer and clicked it open. Had Aika seen my video? I hit refresh.
She had replied with the song “Who Are You?” by The Who.
To follow her game — or rather the one I’d started — I posted Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
I waited five minutes. Hit Refresh. Waited five minutes. Hit refresh. I did that for almost an hour.
I slumped back in my chair, my fingers damp with sweat. Why didn’t Aika respond? Because she was the Aika I had in mind? The Aika who used to make my heart ripple?
From that day on, I developed an obsessive routine: I would come back from class, buy a Suntory beer, and spend the whole night in my dorm refreshing Aika’s YouTube post. I did that for three tortuous days.
On the fourth day, she replied.
“Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye.
I blinked at my laptop. Did she mean that she knew me?
To cast aside my doubts, I posted Toby Keith’s “Do I Know You?” My full name and country showed on my YouTube account, so she had all the information she needed. I waited five minutes. Hit Refresh. Waited five minutes. Hit refresh. The screen remained unchanged.
I brought my fist to the desk and leaned my chin into it. Perhaps the answer lay in Aika’s previous reply, not in a new one. I googled for the lyrics of “Somebody That I Used To Know” and examined the first verse.
Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember
Yes, this was probably the Aika I used to be with. And no, we hadn’t grown apart because she’d gone to Australia; she had gone to Australia because we’d grown apart. But why had that happened? I played back the memory in my head and found a possible reason.
Back then, besides studying, I had a personal project: Ourse, a mobile game where couples could buy a home, then add furniture, build rooms, even raise a pet. It’d been designed to strengthen intimate relationships. Involving myself in it, however, weakened mine. I didn’t have time for going out or even meeting Aika. So to spend more time with me, she would come to my apartment to write her reports, prepare tea for me, and sleep in my bed alone.
The only form of communication we had was music (more specifically American and British rock). She would curate the playlist one day — Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Coldplay. Me the next — The Ramones, Nirvana, The Doors. Instead of talking, we let the songs echo our feelings.
One afternoon she put “Do You Still Love Me?” by The Dave Clark Five:
Do you still love me
It’s been such a long time
Since I held you in my arms
Do you still miss me
It’s been such a long time
I still need your lovin’ charms
That same night I played “Still Into You” by Paramore:
You felt the weight of the world
Fall off your shoulder
And to your favorite song
We sang along to the start of forever
And after all this time I’m still into you
Since Aika had neither complained nor lamented, I thought this dynamic had been enough for her. I was wrong.
I closed my eyes in regret but immediately opened them again. Wait, “Somebody That I Used To Know” had the line “But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember”. So I still inhabited Aika’s heart? And the ashes of her love for me?
On my iPhone, I selected “Where is my Mind” by Pixies and hit play. Somehow, this song helped me to sort out my thoughts — and most importantly, my feelings.
Truth be told, I still had affection for Aika. For the way her ear vanished under her frizzy hair, the way her lips quivered when on the brink of a confession, the way her voice fit every song under the sun.
I remembered those things. But worse, I missed them.
“Where is my mind” reached the line, “And you’ll ask yourself.” So I asked myself: why did our two-member band split? A band that was supposed to sing together forever?
I’d considered this question on different occasions, but the answer was still the same: long-distance relationships. It didn’t work out. Our text messages, phone calls, video chats — they kept our relationship afloat, but very soon it drowned in the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean. “Your voice is very low,” Aika would say. I’d tell her that the problem wasn’t my microphone but her earbuds.
This went on and on until our “barely speaking” became “not speaking.” And Aika had to be in Australia for a year.
However, those 365 days had already passed. She had probably returned to Japan.
My heart drumming, I turned to my laptop and responded to her last song with a music video of Jimmy Harnen’s “Where Are You Now?”
Aika’s reply came out on the first refresh. “Tokyo Road” by Bon Jovi.
This time, my heart skipped a beat.
Me: “I Really Want to Meet You” by Taylor Swift.
Aika: “Are You Sure?” by Kris Kross Amsterdam & Conor Maynard.
Restless Heart — I’ve Never Been So Sure
Jukebox The Ghost — My Heart’s the Same.
Yes! Without hesitation, I posted “Meeting Place” by Last Shadow Puppets.
Enough time passed for me to hit refresh fifty times, drink five Suntory beers, and play out thousands of scenarios in my head. Just as I was about to propose the place, Aika replied.
“Tokyo Garden” by Froski.
At last — but what song was that? I shuffled through my mental record collection, but couldn’t find it. Neither on Google. No lyrics, no song, not even the band or singer.
Should I ask Aika? No, she surely wanted me to figure out on my own. She was like that: preferred to give you catchy clues rather than forgettable facts.
Therefore, I put my gray matter to work. Did Aika mean the Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo? That would be odd because, although we knew the place, we’d never visited it. Also, why suggest a hotel? More privacy? That didn’t justify paying such an extravagant price.
Perhaps I was barking up the wrong building?
I googled “Tokyo Garden,” finding a sushi restaurant. Aika loved them. Loved to devour salmon sashimi, tuna nigiri, and avocado temaki cones.
I slumped back on my chair, butterflies I’d deemed as dead fluttering in my stomach again. I would reunite with Aika.
Listen to her voice. Listen to her sing.
I shifted my eyes from the paper lanterns dangling overhead to the high school students guffawing nearby, then to the sushi chef chopping tofu in front of me.
No, it was useless. I couldn’t distract myself from my anxiety. What if Aika looked different? What if I looked different? What should be my first word? A friendly “Hi”? An awkward “Hi”? It didn’t matter what I chose, nothing would suit the situation. Maybe because — just like there was no proper way to break up — there was no proper way to get back together with someone.
I stole a glance at my watch. Aika was ten minutes late. She always used to be late and apologize for it. “Sorry, I couldn’t find shoes that matched my rainbow dress. Did you wait long? I couldn’t find the right song to listen to on the way here.”
For the next few minutes, countless people came through the door. A businessman with a thinning hairline, a housewife with her son, a boyfriend with his girlfriend.
Also, a university girl — probably around my age — with red dyed hair, a black T-shirt, and a black patched backpack.
The T-shirt had a stamp that said “Froski.”
Rapidly, I rose from my stool and darted toward the girl.
“Oh, there you are.” She waved with a sheepish smile. “I knew you’d know who I was.”
“No, I don’t … where’s Aika?”
I stared at the girl in front of me — an Aika that wasn’t Aika. Her eyes didn’t resemble a domestic cat’s, but a wild fox’s. Her nose didn’t resemble an arch bridge, but a playground slide. Her lips didn’t resemble ripe strawberries, but young peaches.
“S-so,” I stuttered, “you’re the one I’ve been exchanging videos with?”
Aika tucked a strand of hair behind her pointy ear. “Yup.”
“You can’t be — you said I was someone you used to know.”
“Did I?” As if silencing herself, Aika brought a finger to her pink lips. Then, pointing it toward the ceiling, she said, “Oh, you’re talking about the song I posted. It’s my favorite from Pink Floyd.”
“It wasn’t for me?”
“It was,” she said. “I wanted to share it with you.”
“But the lyrics don’t mean anything?”
“Well, it depends on how you interpret them.”
How didn’t I see it? Perhaps my hope and excitement had blinded me, deafened me to the truth. As I tormented myself with these thoughts, a song came to my mind — “Hollow” by Tori Kelly.
Aika looked down, her flaming hair covering her face. “Something tells me I’m not the person you wanted to see.”
“Sorry, it was me who misread the situation. Or I should say, who tried read too much into it.”
She winced. “Guess I should leave.”
I closed my eyes, taking in Aika’s voice. Although not soft and melodious like my ex-girlfriend’s, it was daring and audacious, inevitably infecting me with the courage it exuded. The courage required to face the present. Or visit an old friend. Or listen to a new song.
With a deep sigh, I said, “So, Aika — you like rock?”
She nodded, pinching and pulling her T-shirt forward. “I even sing in a band. It’s not very famous, but rock stars gotta start somewhere.”
I smiled. “I’d love to listen to one of your songs.”
The corners of Aika’s lips curled into a Cheshire moon. “Sure. Hope you like my style.”
We sat at the bar and ordered chicken ramen — this Aika preferred warm noodles over cold sushi. While we waited, we got to know each other. We properly introduced ourselves. We talked about our crazy “roxting.” We listened with my phone to one of her songs, which later became one of my favorites.
It was called “A New Beginning.”