Courage Under Water

Riki Kobayashi had only one purpose in life.  He would win Olympic gold in swimming at the age of twenty-three in Tokyo.  Doing so would bring worldwide attention to his home country for being more than just a suitable host country for the Summer Games, at least until China cleaned up at the Winter Games in Beijing two years later. 

Even if Riki wasn’t destined to be remembered as the tallest Asian athlete to hold more Olympic records than the American Michael Phelps, he remained at a distinct disadvantage whenever he left his training camp for a tall glass of passed-torch temptation in soda can-splicing shoes. 

Alice Young was an accomplished figure skater.  Born in upstate New York, she had recently relocated to Washington state to study dance and theater, but Beijing had never felt so close to the touch.  Allie had already racked up several national awards and scrupulous media attention before getting the call of her life.  She was officially an alternate on the U.S. figure skating team, but then again injuries happened.  Girls got sick.  Like Tonya Harding cancer of the brain sick, but before telling Riki about her plans to capture the imagination of a whole new generation of American dreamfetchers during the undisputed summer of Allie Young they went everywhere.  Mount Fuji.  A pop concert in Budokan.  The sock museum in Naigai.

A year later, Allie returned to Riki’s homeland.  Not to relive his record-setting time in the drink without standing fully concerned and cross-armed amongst a crowd of five foot strangers.  She just loved her American traditions and was ready to prove to Riki that she loved him even more. 

Riki had never pretended to understand how American girls thought, but any grinning goof standing six-foot-four with an entire forest of cut roses at his slender back knew how to act in a moment like this.  He’d follow his heart straight into the belly of a fortune-selling beast.  One he had left unnamed until the time came for him to dramatize his favorite myth from the Kojiji, a sacred text he was sure that Allie had never even heard of.

As a small child, he had been told about how the trickster god, Susanoo, had ascended into heaven to see his older sister, Amaterasu.  Upon his arrival, she suggested that they both prove their faithfulness to each other by bringing forth children.  They would each take a seed from the other, chew it up, and spit it away.  If gods rather than goddesses were born, this would be taken as a sign of good faith from one to the other.

Once Susanoo produced gods of his own accord, he was permitted to live in heaven rather than the sea bestowed upon his earthly rule down below.

On Valentine’s Day, Riki agreed to exchange gifts with Allie at the same place they had initially met, Athlete’s Village in Chuo Ward.  After cohabiting Tokyo’s new sky rise campus of champions, the two had spent New Year’s Eve in New York, which was Riki’s idea.  He knew the time had come for the real test.  Sure, Allie had been glad to visit his homeland again but she had shown very little interest in learning his native customs during the short time that they had known each other.  Would she be expecting diamonds?  Had she gotten him a fancy night garment made entirely of Egyptian silk just for her own amusement or was she ready to prove once and for all that their relationship had real promise after Beijing? 

When Allie offered to share her gift first, she grabbed Riki by both sides of his mouth and reached for neither the stars or the nodding horizon.  After forcing a smile on his hospitable face, she informed him that this was all she had gotten him for their big day.  She also quickly explained, “I’m pregnant!”, before stealing a quick kiss.

Riki responded by taking both holiday balloons she held in her hands and popping them in quick succession.  How could she be happy about this?  If what Allie said was true she was kissing Beijing goodbye for good, but more importantly did she really expect him to believe that the kid was his?

Asking her such a thing, especially in her recently elated state, cost him a hard palming, but Riki didn’t care.  He wanted proof.  He was a natural treasure.  High dollar TV deals, sponsorships, and commercial spots would be his for the taking for years to come.  He now drove a very fancy European car and would someday pay cash to replace nearly every organ in his head coach’s broken down body; why shouldn’t he expect his favorite American girl to eat her own unborn children before giving up the opportunity to validate herself on a worldwide platform just like him?  A platform synonymous with the awkward stare she had never afforded him before making her true intentions known.  She had done so with the twirl of a single finger, one caught up in their matching blond hair and nothing more.

Procreation wasn’t a doubles figure skating event with no set time limit.  Choreographing the best date ever without trusting your partner’s body to swell at the most inopportune of times would, however, lead all Olympic gold medalists back to the segregated gymnasiums of their youth.  Somewhere all boys and girls should’ve learned the dos and don’ts of regulated courtship on a Pacific iceberg with indivisible fault lines.

If only Allie didn’t have a girl, maybe Riki would’ve returned to the chlorinated seas of his expiring adolescence by choice.  Not to defy panting breath in all known pregnancy phases but to reckon with the god he’d never become in grown-up bachelor heaven.  Not as long as he refrained from swapping spit with American tourists in public for the next four years and beyond.

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