“I Did Not Know” (fiction), Part 4: A Space for Oneself

Deer near the entrance of Yakusugiland, Yakushima, Japan.  Photo by Sara K.

Deer near the entrance of Yakusugiland, Yakushima, Japan. Photo by Sara K.

March 6th, 2003

Myrna had done a careful yet awkward dance to pitch the tent in the rain without getting the inside wet, and failed. However, it was not too wet inside, and at least it did not soak all the way through into her sleeping bag. Thank goodness that the sleeping bag had been inside a waterproof bag!

As the sky grew darker, and the rain started falling harder, the interior of that tent was Myrna’s world. She hoped it would hold through the night.

She was anxious about the weather, the uncertainty of her shelter, the darkness, being a ten-minute walk away from the nearest fellow human, and the fact that she was on an island she had not even known existed until the day before. And even so, something inside felt more relaxed than she had been for a long time. How odd.


After spending her first night in Ana’s apartment, Ana took Myrna out to Dazaifu (yet another place featured in her beloved manga) to see the plum blossoms. The plum blossoms were beautiful. The blossom season is short, and it was a weekend, so the shrine was crowded … Myrna was not sure whether that made her more or less comfortable.

There was still a distinct tension between Ana and Myrna. Ana set up for Myrna to stay with her friend Lou Clarke in Kagoshima, and Myrna was happy to leave.

The train to Kagoshima was the first non-high-speed train Myrna had taken in Japan (well, except for the local trains to Mojiko and Dazaifu, but they were just suburban lines). Myrna had been fond of trains since a very young age, but somehow, the high-speed train had not felt like a real train to her.

The train ride to Kagoshima was not particularly exciting (well, aside from seeing a volcanic eruption, but Myrna soon learned that it was nothing remarkable by Kyushu standards). On the contrary Myrna felt calmer on board than she had felt in weeks.

Lou Clarke originally came from Jamaica. When Myrna arrived at the train station in Kagoshima, Lou gave her a very warm welcome.

Myrna spent her first day in Kagoshima at Sakurajima. She also went to one of the public baths, but as soon as her toe dipped the water she found that it was painfully hot, and she turned right back around to the dressing room.

Lou strongly urged Myrna to visit some of the islands of Kagoshima prefecture. Myrna was resistant at first – she was not inclined to go alone on a ferry to some place where people probably did not speak English – but Lou kept on talking about island after island, and showed off photos from her albums. Lou said that, at a minimum, Myrna should go to Yakushima, which was only 1-2 hours away from Kagoshima by boat, and Lou offered to lend Myrna her tent and sleeping bag, as well prepare a detailed English-language itinerary explaining how to get around the island.

Myrna took up Lou’s offer mainly because she was still running. She came to Japan in the first place was to run away from her … problem, and even here, though she was in unfamiliar territory and was not at all the kind of person who would go exploring a foreign country alone, she also felt an urge to keep on running away. Going to an unknown island definitely felt like running away.


Myrna somehow got through her first night on the island without getting wet. This was undone as soon as a giant gash was suddenly torn out of her tent in the morning, and a bunch of water splashed inside. She shrieked.

After a few minutes, Myrna stopped being completely freaked out, and worked up the courage to see what had happened. She looked out the new hole in her tent, and saw, about a hundred meters away, a deer crewing on the ripped-out portion of her tent.

Myrna did not even want to think about how she was going to explain this to Lou.

Thankfully, Lou had given her a plan B, which Myrna initially did not want, but now, the prospect of perhaps having a dry place to sleep tonight made her reconsider.

Myrna packed the ruined tent, returned to the main road, got a bus to the town on the east side of the island, and then transferred to a bus going to Yakusugiland. It finally stopped raining, though there was still fog in the air. The young man who sold the tickets was kind enough to accept her pack and hold onto it.

Myrna was afraid that she would not be strong enough for the hike, but it turned out to be not bad at all. The ancient trees reminded her of the old growth sequoia and redwood forests she had visited as a child.

Then something leaped in front and startled her. It turned out to be another deer. Myrna shrieked again.

Myrna picked up her pack, took the bus back to that eastern town, transferred to a bus heading back north to the major town where she had gotten off the ferry (and where she went camping), and then took the last bus heading to Shiratani Unsuikyo.

Like Yakusugiland, Shiratani Unsuikyo was a little park for tourists to see some of the tall, ancient trees, as well as experience the forest of Yakushima without too much strenuous effort. Apparently, it had also been an inspiration for the movie Princess Mononoke, which Myrna had seen at the college anime club.

This time, Myrna did not try to enjoy herself – she needed to get to shelter before sundown.

Lou said it would only take an hour to hike from the bus stop to Shiratani hut. Well, it was an uphill hike, and even though Myrna was moving as fast as she could, it took her more than an hour and a half. It felt like a much longer time to her, especially since she was in constant fear of being assailed by deer.

Inside the shelter, there were other people.

There was a group of young Japanese men, a group of older Japanese men, as well as a few couples (Myrna assumed they were boyfriends and girlfriends). Myrna knew the hut was free and did not require reservation but … even so, she felt anxious about simply walking into such a space. The fact that they were all staring at her did not help.

There were three rooms with bunks, and Myrna ended up in the once with the couples. No hope of privacy tonight. Myrna did not even bother changing clothes, since her clothes were just about the driest fabrics she had with her at the moment. Her sleeping bag was even more damp than when she had crawled out that morning.

One of the Japanese women pulled out a dry blanket, and put it on Myrna’s bunk.

Myrna knew it was a gesture of kindness, and she was going to use that blanket because she needed all the help she could get to stay warm, but it still bothered her. It was the fact that the Japanese woman had put it in her space – Myrna already thought of the bunk as being her space without permission.

Myrna then realized why, in spite of everything, she had felt relaxed in the tent. For the first time in a long time, she had been able to sleep in a space which was truly hers. Even with the rain threatening to come it, even though it was ultimately violated by a deer, it had still been her space. It was not a hostel dorm, it was not Ana or Lou’s apartment, it was not with family, and it most certainly not the apartment she had shared with Sebastian.

Tonight, she would be dry, but it would not be her own space.

To be continued…


Sneak preview of Part 5: Trains

There had only been a few people on the train with her. As Myrna walked through the station, she found that one of the passengers – a middle-aged woman – was lying down amid blankets. Was she homeless?

Then again, Myrna was homeless, though she had never thought of it like that before. She certainly was no longer paying her share of the rent for the apartment, nor did she have any intention of returning. She had stashed her most important belongings either in her luggage or at a (former) co-worker’s home.

Myrna found a place to lie down in the station herself. At least she could rest while she was waiting for the train which kept on not coming…

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