I don't know, maybe it was my hairy legs in khakis that spooked this lone Japanese tourist girl -- she kept staring at them. We began on the Greyhound red-eye from Vancouver to Banff. I boarded, found just one empty seat on the aisle, and there she was perched by the window. She looked up at me, her eyes widening, flushed in the cheeks, as though seeing me was an awkward surprise, an encounter with someone long familiar, like an old boyfriend, a celebrity, or even an exotic Canadian animal -- a cougar or a grizzly -- inspiring fascination, fear, and, I guess, need.
No way I could concentrate once we were underway, what with her eyes, her beauty, her restlessness. I tried reading, but the articles in Time failed against the excitement I sensed building next to me. I caught hints of it in the window across the aisle, glances in my direction, to my legs, her shy, failed attempts to speak. I waited for the lights to dim, the night to settle. I didn't want conversation; small talk would douse the embers, wreck her dream of me, if that's what it was. So I concentrated on letting her speak first, send the signal that would allow me in.
And eventually she did, asking if I was Canadian, a faint surrender or swoon in her voice, as though that simple fact could decide all things, nationality the only ticket I needed. She gave me her name, Manami, but did not ask mine, no trace in her expression that she could even think, 'I don't know you.' So I took her hand, gently, placing it on my knee. She stroked the hair on my lower thigh, giving a sharp intake of breath. I drew her close. We kissed deeply, all the way to Hope, not a word exchanged, just heady, coursing charges of desire and longing.
Then I decided to talk, ask who she was, her plans. I'd know whether she was a person I could spend time with. For the few days I'd have in Banff, we could together discover the top of Canada and perhaps much more. But after a restroom break in Hope, I found her fast in sleep, or pretending. With her head propped against the window, she looked serene, satisfied. One long kiss with a stranger was enough. If she'd ever wished for conversation, it was now something to dream of, alone. Oh well, I thought, something had happened. And it was not too much; we didn't go too far. All was still good.
Banff is such a small town and I was on the move, so I did run into her, chance encounters, two in fact. In a souvenir shop, I tried talking but she stammered and looked afraid, even repulsed. She made a face at my legs before looking up, her eyes darting around the shop like a bird's. Her difficulty with English, or my lame compliments, drove her out the door, which I held open, gentleman-like, watching her scurry down the street. Next, at the town's natural history museum, I played the docent, a more formal approach, which seemed to work. At least she stayed put as I attempted to describe the exhibits, a decrepit stuffed beaver chewing on a log, a petrified eagle forever poised to take flight. I even displayed my Japanese, saying "arigato," the only real word I knew, but that only confused her. She then looked me up and down as though I was another museum specimen. She said she was "fine," and I thought everything was indeed fine, but again she escaped, not an eagle breaking free, no, but a pitiful duck on the run. Best to stop pestering the poor girl, I thought, wondering if I was just a bit slow taking a hint.
I did see her one more time, though. It seemed we'd been riding the same gondola car to the top of Sulphur Mountain, not a comfortable trip, bodies crushed against windows and each other. As the crowd poured onto the platform, I saw her face. I'm not sure she ever saw mine, but what I saw in her eyes, in the sheen of sweat on her brow, the way her lips quivered, was a fear, or rather, a terrible and unfathomable panic, as though this ride to the top of Canada -- a ride that began with a kiss on a bus -- had turned her dream into some sort of hell. Too much, too far -- all was not good. Whether I was the cause or not, one thing was obvious: there was nothing to do but let her make her own journey: to the top of Canada, to the bottom of the world. Or back to Japan. Wherever Manami might arrive, I did hope someone she knew would be there.