She and I were first-year college classmates in Tokyo planning to major in mathematics. Being amongst the very few girls in the classroom, we knew each other from early on. But it wasn’t until months later in the summer when we really became friends.
That evening, I was sitting in the hallway waiting for the previous class to finish when I saw her coming down the corridor talking to somebody on her phone. Even from the distance, I could see that she was crying. I was alarmed since I had never seen her upset like that before. She used to be always full of energy, offering help to whoever was in need.
So, as soon as she finished the call, I approached her to ask how she was, then invited her for coffee after the class. She was delighted to receive that invitation. When the class finished, however, she suggested us to go to a ramen shop instead of a coffee shop.
“I’m craving for ramen tonight,” she said. “Let’s go to that place!”
There was a famous ramen shop right next to the campus which was extremely popular among the university students. It was well-known for its taste and the free rice service.
When I told her that I had never been there before, she became even more excited.
“Then you must try it! You won’t regret it!”
The place was tiny. When we entered, several staffs behind the counter greeted us in an extremely loud and cheerful voice. Laughing at my stunned face, she showed me how to purchase the food tickets and led us both to the wooden counter seats facing the cooks.
As we waited for our ramen, we started chatting about the day, and exchanged some basic information about each other’s background. This was the first time we had sat together and properly talked to each other, so there were many things to catch up.
When the ramen bowls arrived and we started eating, she told me how lost she had been feeling in the class lately, with challenging study materials and lack of genuine communication opportunities with her teachers and classmates. She said that there were days when she just couldn’t bear to sit in the classroom because she felt close to tears.
That story opened me up to tell her about the extra year I had spent preparing for the university entrance exam, living on my own for the first time and attending lectures with almost no friends to speak with. It was a lonely experience and there were certainly days when I didn’t want to be present and when I sat in the room with tear in my eyes.
“So, I can totally relate to what you’re saying.”
I said to her.
We probably ate two extra bowls of rice after finishing our ramen bowls that evening. When our hungry stomachs were finally satisfied, we left the ramen shop into the warm summer evening air, ready to head back home and rest.
That was the beginning of our friendship and the many interesting visits to the local coffee shops and restaurants we were going to make together.