Manabu had been standing in front of this convenience store for almost half an hour. His feet shuffling. His heart rattling.
He wasn’t going to rob the cash register. Or hit on the clerk. Or buy condoms. This feat would be more daunting than any of those.
It was okay. Manabu was wearing sunglasses, a surgical mask, and a loose hoodie (with the hood up). It’d be hard to recognize him. Remember him. Even tell whether he was a man or a woman. Also, he’d chosen a convenience store far away from his apartment — it was in the outskirts of Tokyo — so he might never set foot back there.
Armed with these thoughts, he sucked a deep breath and strode past the automatic glass doors.
The clerk greeted him with a welcome (judging from the voice it was a she), but he didn’t look at her. The less contact with people the better.
With a shopping basket in hand, Manabu checked the bread shelf, the ice cream shelf, then the alcohol cooler. He tossed a few products into his shopping basket. A chocolate twist, a strawberry popsicle, and a peach cocktail in a can. They were just a masquerade. Manabu would pile them on the item he wanted to conceal.
He waited until the only other customer, an apple-shaped middle-aged woman, exited the convenience store. And until the clerk was busy hanging a discount in the window.
Now was the time.
Manabu crept to the sanitary pads shelf and scanned each product. He’d done basic research.
Panty liners: designed to absorb vaginal discharge, spotting, and urinary incontinence.
Regular: normal sanitary pads.
Super: useful at the start of the menstrual cycle (when menstruation was often the heaviest).
Overnight: long sanitary pads suitable for laying down.
But looking at the options now in front of him, Manabu was confused. He studied the details.
Whisper: Ultra Soft. Odor control.
Cool: Irritation-free period. Extra long.
Super Girl. By Soft girl. 2008 Certified company.
Shiny Girl. Classic sanitary pads. 100% dryness and comfort.
Now that Manabu thought of it, it didn’t make much difference which sanitary pads he chose. He slipped a box of Super Girl into his shopping basket.
Now it was time for the harder and most embarrassing step. With the sanitary pads buried under the other products, Manabu stepped to the checkout counter.
The clerk scanned the chocolate twist, strawberry popsicle, and peach cocktail. When she came across the sanitary pads, she stared at them for a few fleeting seconds. Manabu’s heart thumped in his throat.
Finally, the clerk scanned the sanitary pads, smiling as if to say, You’re buying sanitary pads for your girlfriend. So cute.
Manabu mentally replied, O-of course. Why else would I buy them?
When the ordeal was finally over, he stuffed the sanitary pads and his other purchases into the plastic bag and darted out of the convenience store. Panting and perspiring.
Back at his apartment, Manabu fished out a sanitary pad and followed the instructions on the box.
He lowered his red briefs.
Peeled off the sticker from the sanitary pad.
Positioned the sanitary pad on the crotch area of his briefs.
Wrapped the wings under them.
Finally, he pulled them up and closed his eyes. Cherry blossom petals wafted inside him. Tickling him, caressing him, permeating his nostrils with their elusive aroma. All the while, in a distant background, a song played in his head. “Spring Is Here” by Hank Jones.
Floating in this feeling, he slid on his slim jeans, put on his red sneakers, and ambled out of his apartment.