How can I describe to you that first scream? The one that came before all the other shrieking, and running, and sobbing. It was a scream I’ll never forget – a loud, terrified cry that set hearts racing and adrenaline flowing. It tore through the night, propelled by pure terror.
She was screaming at me.
Let me start at the beginning.
The night was special – in Japan, July 7th is the day of Tanabata. It’s a day to honour two lovers in the sky, separated eternally by a river of stars. The 7th day of the 7th month is the one time each year the couple can meet.
I hitchhiked to the beautiful Cape Notoro to watch the sunset, see the stars, and spend the night. By 9pm the last shimmer of light had abandoned the horizon and by 10 I couldn’t see a thing. I lay in my tent, completely alone in the darkness.
My solitude, however, was broken quite abruptly by a group of university students. I heard the crunch of gravel under tires and the closing of car doors. Voices rose and fell in conversation and soon I saw four small flashlight beams walking in the direction of my tent. There were two girls and two guys – perhaps young couples going for an evening stroll.
They weren’t walking toward the tent – they were on course to pass by it. But then my abode was noticed.
“Hey, what’s that?” I heard.
There was nothing especially funny about the question, or even the situation. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was possessed. But my response was laughter. Not soft, friendly laughter, but a kind of deep, throaty laughter that—given the circumstances—elicited quite a reaction.
First one, then both girls were shrieking, sprinting back toward the parking lot, away from the horrible laughing man inside the tent. One girl had erupted into tears.
I sat in the tent for the next 10 minutes, listening to the poor girl crying and the others discussing the tent monster. I felt terrible. I needed to apologize and prove that I wasn’t evil. I left the tent and walked slowly toward the parking lot, where about a dozen students stood chatting and consoling the two girls.
I knew that my task of appearing friendly would not be easy. I was a tall, foreign stranger shrouded in darkness – nothing but a pair of shoes illuminated by a flashlight beam, slowly emerging from the night.
I spoke to the group as I got closer. Somehow, telling people there’s nothing to fear always seems to indicate the opposite. But I did my best, hoping my muddled Japanese wouldn’t hurt my cause.
“Good evening, I’m so sorry, I’m really not scary, I’m very sorry – I’m just spending the night here in my tent. Where are the run-cry-girls? I must say sorry to them.”
A few pointed to the two girls cowering in the back. I called an apology to them, but they were clearly not ready to forgive. Many in the group were very friendly though, offering me hot tea and even a two hour ride the following day. They were all members of their university outdoors club, out for an evening of socializing and stargazing.
Eventually I met the frightened pair, one of whom spoke English.
“I am happy you are nice person, not ghost,” she said.
During Tanabata it’s customary to make a wish for the coming year. I wished that my laughter would cause no more tears. As far as I know, so far so good.