A Letter from Aiko
“I’m forty,” I thought aloud.
Middle age. The second and last half of life. I couldn’t be called a boy anymore. In fact, some people might call me an uncle.
What about feeling young one last time?
After work, I walked to Akihabara and into a game center. I hadn’t been to one since I was in university. Back then, I’d come with my classmates to play with gashapon machines. I decided to reenact this memory — alone.
There were all kinds of gashapon products here. Video game toys, anime-character key chains, risqué female figurines, even …
I stepped to a gashapon machine that caught my eye. Round pink characters read A Letter from Aiko. Below hung a photo of a girl, only showing her sakura-patterned dress. And her rice-white hands, which hid behind her back an envelope sealed with a heart sticker.
My interest piqued, I inserted two-hundred yen — the required amount — into the coin slot and turned the crank. A capsule landed on the collection tray. I picked it up. It had a pink bottom. And a transparent upper part, which enclosed a folded square of paper tied carefully with a red string.
I cranked open the capsule, pulled off the string, and unfolded the letter. The characters were written in fuchsia, punctuated with hearts and smileys here and there.
Ai! It’s me, Aiko.
You don’t know me (obviously). But I know you. In fact, I’ve been watching you for a very long time.
You don’t believe me? Well, let me tell you some things about you.
You work very hard, but sometimes you wish you worked harder; you feel you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
You often feel lonely. When you’re alone. Or when you’re with people.
You wish a girl were there for you. To say goodnight and good morning to her. To share what you ate for lunch and dinner with her. To create a past and present with her.
That girl is me. I’m here for you. Well, not here but close enough to make you feel my presence. At least that’s what I wish.
I also hope you continue reading my letters. That will make me very happy. And I’m sure it’ll make you happy too. In fact, that’s what I’m here for — to make you happy.
The letter wasn’t bad. But it hadn’t impressed me. This was like astrological signs or palm reading: it had to be general enough to apply to most people but profound enough to strike a chord in them. The marketing was smart, though; in the end, subtly, it prompted you to buy another letter by exploiting your emotions.
I folded the letter and tucked it into my pocket.
After work the next day, I stopped at yesterday’s game center. At the gashapon machine. I’d feel foolish buying another letter — but I was curious about what the others would say. Anyway, I’d be the only one who would know about me doing it. No one else would. Not even Aiko.
I operated the gashapon machine and retrieved the letter. It had the same handwriting as the previous one.
Ai! It’s me, Aiko.
I know you don’t trust me entirely. And I totally understand. After all, you’ve never seen me. You don’t even know who I am. So how about I tell you a little about myself?
I have silky long hair, milky white skin, and dreamy big eyes. And — I’m shy to share this — I have a mole under my armpit.
I can eat two steaks, half a chicken, and an extra serving of noodles (not all once, of course!). My friends wonder where all that food goes, especially since I’m thin. They call me Black Hole.
I like horror movies, but I like them even more if there’s a strong arm next to me. I like romantic songs, but I only truly enjoy them if they remind me of someone I love. I like hot baths, cold drinks, and warm people. I like hard work, soft towels, and firm mattresses.
But what I like the most in the world is you.
Aiko described herself in a way she could fit almost any romantic ideal. And while on it, revealing an intimate detail: the mole. She also mentioned a charming quirk: eating a lot. But that despite this, she had a nice shape.
Then she shared what she liked — finally telling you something you’d like to hear. Correction: what you wanted to hear the most.
Aiko — or rather, the person who created her — must be an expert in human psychology. With a Ph.D. in men’s desire.
Still, I reread the letter on my way home.
Ai! It’s me, Aiko.
We’ve known each other for a while already. What do you think, should we take things to the next level?
I want us to eat the same food. Breathe the same air. Share the same warmth.
I want us to fail at cooking together. Watch silly TV shows together. Be happy and sad together.
At night, we’ll fall asleep talking. And share the same dream.
In the morning, we’ll greet each other with our sleepy faces. Then, before parting ways for the day, we’ll say, “See you soon,” or “Talk to you later.” But we’ll never say goodbye.
I was bewildered. We’ve known each other for a while already. Aiko seemed to be aware that I’d read her letters. That I knew about her (and apparently, she knew about me too). But we didn’t really know each other. Or maybe we did know each other? Through words? Through the emotions those words stirred?
Nonsense. The gashapon machine must have a way of identifying me. Maybe with face recognition or a similar technology. That was a crazy theory — but it was more reasonable than the first one.
Despite this, I read the letter again.
I know you’re impatient to see me. See what I look like. I’m also impatient to see you. See what you look like.
Let’s do this. Let’s meet at this gashapon machine tomorrow at 7 p.m. There’s no need to tell you what I’ll be wearing. You’ll recognize me immediately. And I’ll recognize you immediately too.
I’m so looking forward to seeing you. Don’t be late!
I dropped the letter. Aiko must be playing a prank on me. No, not Aiko. It was probably a creepy old man, who was laughing his ass off while writing these letters.
On top of this, the meeting didn’t have a date.
But what if …?
When I reached the game center, the gashapon machine wasn’t there. In its place stood a girl with rice-white skin and a sakura-patterned dress. Aiko. Unlike in the photo, she wasn’t showing her back but was facing forward. Unlike in the photo, she wasn’t holding a letter — but was waving at me. Wearing a radiant smile. Despite this, despite being in front of her, I couldn’t perceive her face. I knew she was beautiful, but I couldn’t put her facial features together to form a definite, unified shape.
“I was worried you didn’t get my last letter.” Her voice sounded like someone I once knew, but I couldn’t remember who. “Or that you’d read it and decided not to come.”
“I thought you wouldn’t come.” Strangely, I wasn’t nervous. Just elated.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Aiko came over and, with feathery gentleness, held my hands. Hers were cold. “I was the one who wanted us to meet.”
“I thought you …”
“I wasn’t real?” She chuckled, covering her mouth. “I wasn’t sure you were real either. In fact, I wasn’t sure you existed at all. After all, I didn’t get a single letter from you.”
“That’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay from now on.”
She nodded. “Nothing bad will happen as long as we’re together.”
But we weren’t together. I realized that when I opened my eyes and was greeted by my apartment’s ceiling.
Groggy, groaning, I readied myself for work.
After getting off it, I headed to Akihabara and stood outside the game center, as a series of questions played in my mind.
Was Aiko standing in front of the gashapon machine? Was she waiting for me? Was she real?
Should I trust her? Should I trust my heart?
In the end, I trusted my feet — which led me away from the game center.
I couldn’t get stuck in this fantasy. In this naive love. I had to move forward. Become an adult — or rather, a middle-aged man.
I never went back to that game center. To that gashapon machine. But now and then, my mind would return to Aiko’s letters.
That’s what I’m here for, she’d written, to make you happy.