Somewhere between Onioshidashi-en and the hostel, you take a wrong turn, or several. It would not be hard to do – few of the road names are posted, and the arrows on the signs point in directions that make no sense to you, even if you could read them. You recognize the kanji for north, 北 kita, but it is hard to navigate from only one point of the compass. You stumble on for an hour for two, for four.
Now dark is falling, and you are nowhere near anything you recognize. At times you catch glimpses of Asama-yama through the trees, each time in an unexpected direction. You grow frustrated, you curse the hand-drawn map you made this morning. Anger drops you into sadness, and sadness into that slow sinking that you have never learned to pull yourself out of.
The smell of woodsmoke –
black dirt freshly turned over
in a cabbage field
You have just turned down the road you are sure the hostel should be on – the fourth time you have been so certain – when who should pass but Satoshi driving the hostel van, with Keiko and Shin in the back? They laugh with real delight to see you, without a hint of malice. First we run into you wandering around there, now we run into you wandering around here! What a riot this is! Shin and Keiko are actually heading to the station, to catch the bullet train home to Tokyo, but they offer to drop you by the hostel first. It turns out to be on the next block – you have walked around it several times already, probably even passed it.
You say your goodbyes, and Keiko presents you with the most enormous apple. It is not a kind you especially like, but you take it with thanks, thinking that you might save it until you are hungry enough to really appreciate it.