“But I don’t understand why they want to hit the ball with a bat.” Conrad shielded his eyes from the sun and looked up. The sky was clear blue and endlessly far away. His hair tickled the back of his neck. “What’s the point of it? Are they training for something? Is it some sort of exercise to develop hand-eye coordination?”
Jose rolled his eyes and showed their tickets to the young girl at the turnstile. “Hitting the ball with a bat is the point of it,” he said, “and then running around the bases. It’s a game, for fun. Just enjoy it.”
They made their way to their seats, far in the back. “Wait here,” Jose told Conrad, returning a few minutes later with hotdogs from the concession stand. He bit into his with glee, ketchup dribbling out the back and down his fingers. Conrad took his own and stared at it, not quite sure what to do with it.
“It’s food,” Jose said, “you eat it.”
“But what’s it made out of?” Conrad furrowed his brows and poked at the hotdog a little.
“I don’t know, beef or something. What does it matter? It’s not going to hurt you.”
“I like to know what I’m eating,” Conrad said, but Jose had already finished scarfing his down and was noisily licking the ketchup off his fingers. Conrad took a bite.
“It’s starting, it’s starting!” Jose scrambled to his feet. “That’s the anthem, Conrad, you’ve gotta stand up. Come on, put your hand like this. That’s right.”
Conrad was dragged out of his seat. What should he do with his food? He didn’t know the words to the song everyone had started singing, but he put his hand over his heart and listened.
* * *
Jose winced as the ball slammed into his glove. “Conrad,” he whined, “don’t throw it so hard, you’ll break my hand.”
“Sorry.” Conrad held out his glove and Jose flung the ball back. “I’ll be more careful.”
“You should just stay on Earth and become a pro ball player, man. Your talent is wasted in the military. Sword fighting is so last century, you know?” Jose took off his glove and checked his watch. “It’s six-thirty, do you want to eat at that pub tonight? I think that one waitress has a crush on you.”
Conrad’s face went red and he hid ever so conspicuously behind his glove. “She does not,” he said.
“She does, she does! Gave you that free drink last time, didn’t she?” Jose stretched and grinned. “Want me to make myself scarce tonight?” he said, and Conrad thwapped him on the head with his glove. Jose laughed and batted him away. “You’re in a much better mood than when you first came here, you know? Just as scruffy-looking, though.”
Conrad ran his fingers through his hair. “I really need to get it cut, don’t I? I haven’t cut it in ages.”
“Nah,” Jose said, “Girls dig that kind of look.”
* * *
“Conrad, look what I got!” Jose switched channels on the TV and popped a tape into the VCR. “A friend of a friend of mine got it from Japan!”
“I was watching that,” Conrad grumbled, though his team had been losing and he’d been about ready to turn off the set in defeat anyway. “What is it?”
“In Japan they call it ‘ah-knee-may,'” Jose said as the opening theme began to play, “It’s cartoons.”
“Like for children? Why are you watching it?”
Jose puffed out his chest and drew himself up to his full height. “In Japan,” he began, “they understand that the cartoon medium shouldn’t be limited only to children. It’s limitless and free in a way that no other is today! If you can imagine it, it can be illustrated, unlike live-action, which labours under the constraints of special effects technology.” He pointed to the TV. “Why just look at this ah-knee-may, for instance. With a wave of her hand she becomes a magical figure fighting for love and justice! Only animation could create such a fantastic costume-change sequence, and her powers would look cheap and campy on the budget of a weekly live-action show. By utilizing animation, the impossible becomes possible!”
“Jose,” Conrad said, “You’re a Mazoku.”
Jose gave Conrad a look that clearly said “I fail to see your point,” and Conrad sighed and compliantly watched some teenage girl and her talking cat throw sparkles at their enemies. When they flipped back to the baseball game and hour and a half later, they found Conrad’s team had come back from behind for a stunning 15-14 victory in the bottom of the ninth, and Conrad buried his face in his hands.
* * *
“God, it was cold over there,” Jose said. “I though Japan was supposed to be warmer than that.”
Conrad smiled, their jackets draped over his arm. “Not in the winter, I guess.”
“Hey, no making fun of me!” Jose stretched and basked in the warm afternoon sunshine. “Mine’s doing well, I think. Yours?”
Conrad nodded. “Mine too.”
Jose smiled, more than a little sadly. “I guess you’ll be about ready to head back soon, won’t you?”
“In the spring,” Conrad said.
“Maaaan, you say it so calmly!” Jose unlocked the door and threw his luggage in the entryway, beside his boots. “Like two ships passing in the night and all that, I guess.”
“What does that mean?”
“Waaaah, don’t make me say it!” Jose collapsed on the couch. “It’s an old saying, I guess it means something like, we’re both kind of lost and alone, right? But for a little bit we passed by each other and then,” he shrugged helplessly, “we weren’t alone for awhile.”
Conrad nodded slowly. “I like that,” he said. “But those ships can pass each other again sometime, can’t they?”
Jose chuckled. “It’s a big ocean, Conrad,” he said, “but I think this ship would like that.”
Conrad could have sworn that Jose stopped dead for a moment and his bottom lip trembled ever so slightly, but he must have imagined it because a second later Jose was grinning and slapping him on the back, all good-natured as usual. “You’ll at least stay for one last ball game, right?”
Conrad smiled. “Maybe even two,” he said.