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    There was one male  cabin crew member, so the three of us climbed into the back seat and the rest of the crew sat in the front. One of them spoke very good Japanese and was asking the taxi driver for information.

    “I learned Japanese in high school, but I barely remember it now.”

    The male flight attendant said with a smile.

    “Oh, I took Japanese too. Do they have second foreign language options in Germany?”

    “Yes. Italian, French, or Latin.”

    “You learn Latin? Haha. Is it useful?”

    “Not really. Who chooses that? French seems more practical.”

    Well… Han Jae-yi and I had chosen Latin. I felt like a nerd for a moment and kept quiet.

    The taxi entered downtown Tokyo. It felt like we were riding a roller coaster as we glided between the buildings on the intertwined roads. As we left the Haneda Airport highway, the Rainbow Bridge of Odaiba came into view. The scenery looked beautiful, probably because the taxi was elevated high enough.

    The city, which had grown too crowded to expand further, began to rise in a bizarre, vertical form. Most buildings exceeded 50 or 60 stories, and alongside them, there were city highways 100 meters high.

    The cars raced along these elevated highways like in a game, then spiraled down like on a merry-go-round when they wanted to reach their destination. At ground level, there were traffic lights and pedestrian paths.

    We were dropped off in the middle of Shibuya, one of the busiest places in Tokyo. After everyone disembarked, I paid the fare and received a business card from the driver, making a reservation for our return in four hours to ensure no problems getting back to the airport.

    “We’re going shopping.”

    The four female crew members linked arms and disappeared into the distance. The remaining three of us smoked cigarettes next to a tourist information booth converted from a bus.

    The area next to the smoking area was packed like a meeting square, with people waiting for friends and lovers who couldn’t take their eyes off their phones. People waiting for the pedestrian signal were also staring at their phones the whole time. Then the light changed, and the three-lane intersection was filled with hundreds of people. It was spectacular in another sense.

    “What do we do? By the way, is it okay if I tag along with you two?”

    “You’re already tagging along, so why ask? Haha.”

    The male crew’s cautious questioning was met with a humorous smile from Co-pilot Cho Min-woo. All three of them were wearing airline uniforms, which made them stand out. A group of high school girls walked by with funny exclamations. Anyway, I had to think about what to do with my time before I became more of a spectacle.

    “Want to go to the Game Center?”

    “Sure! I’m in.”

    The face of the crew, who looked to be in their mid-twenties, lit up. I hesitated.

    “You don’t understand, captain. When you come to Japan, you have to be a little childish to have fun.”

    Co-pilot Cho Min-woo said with dimples appearing as he smoked. Since I couldn’t offer a better suggestion, I agreed to his idea.

    After finishing our cigarettes, we walked aimlessly towards the crowd. Along the way, we saw five or six foreigners dressed as Mario characters driving go-karts on the street. A large pachinko parlor opened its doors to welcome customers, and a peculiar smell, a mix of cigarette smoke and unknown air fresheners, wafted out.

    The streets were filled with people carrying shopping bags in both hands. Stacks upon stacks of  items were on sale, sale upon sale. Half the people seemed to be tourists and half locals.

    We didn’t have a hard time finding the game center. As soon as I walked in, I felt like I was on a spaceship with all the arcade sounds. It was very spacious and had a lot of variety.

    First, we needed to change our cash into coins, but we didn’t have any yen.  Co-pilot, Cho Min-woo, went out of his way to change thirty hundred-yen coins. He handed them out to us like rations and ordered us to split up. He was the captain here.

    I was looking around, trying to figure out what to do, when suddenly someone tugged on my wrist.

    “Let’s play this.”

    Co-pilot Cho Min-woo, who had told us to scatter, dragged me to a two-player shooting game machine. He inserted the coins and grabbed one of the guns hanging in front. It was a game where the two of us had to work together to take down a mafia organization. He looked at me and urged me to pick up the other gun. I grabbed it and stood in front of the monitor.

    “I’ll take the lead, so just cover me.”

    Two players appeared on a large monitor. As soon as we pressed the start button, Cho Min-woo’s character rushed forward. I carefully aimed at distant enemies, trying not to hit him. I wasn’t sure if I was aiming correctly, so I stumbled a bit at first. My character took a hit from a stray bullet, losing half its health. Since there didn’t seem to be any way to replenish health, I had to continue with reduced stamina.

    “Don’t feel awkward around me.”

    As we neared the end of the first stage, Co-pilot Cho Min-woo unexpectedly started talking. We continued playing, and he didn’t take his eyes off the monitor.

    “You’re pushing me away too much, it makes me regret showing my feelings.”

    His voice was drowned out by the overwhelming game sounds, but it didn’t seem to matter to him. His character charged toward the boss. I was providing support fire, but my character’s health was already low.

    “If we were assigned long-haul flights together, we might have a chance. But this damn Haneda flight keeps holding me back.”

    While I took a moment to reload, his character went down. Co-pilot Cho Min-woo’s monitor went dark and the caption “You died” popped up. He had to insert a coin to continue, but he didn’t seem interested in continuing the game.

    “Captain, I think you take life too seriously.”

    He turned completely facing me now.

    “Although, that’s part of your charm.”

    Left alone, my character was quickly killed by the boss. The same message appeared, and a countdown to insert more coins began. I put down my gun and looked straight at him. He was clearly crossing a line.

    “Co-pilot Cho Min-woo, if you keep showing interest in my personal life, I’ll file a partner avoidance request.”

    He laughed as if deflated. Pilots can request to avoid working with certain partners. It’s a rare occurrence, but it’s possible. It’s just hard to come up with a reason, but I was serious.

    “Got it. I surrender.”

    He raised his hands playfully and walked out of the game center. I saw the cabin crew member engrossed in a claw machine near the entrance where he had passed. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have noticed the situation. When I approached, the crew member made a sad face, saying he had run out of coins. I handed over the coins I had received and stepped outside.

    The Co-pilot, perched on the fence separating the driveway from the sidewalk, watched as I came out. People moved between us. When the cabin crew member finished with the claw machine, I planned to suggest we all go watch a movie. If I acted nonchalant, it would make him seem insignificant to me.

    I have no intention of giving my heart to fleeting acquaintances. It might seem stodgy and dull, but if anyone experienced being abandoned at birth, they would understand how sad a habit it can be.

    Ironically, at that moment, my phone rang. Seeing Han Jae-yi’s name on the screen made the situation even more surreal. It felt like a scene out of a TV drama. The timing was so perfect that I couldn’t help but laugh. As Co-pilot Cho Min-woo said, everything here seemed to be unfolding in a childish manner. I answered the call.

    “Yeah. What’s going on?”

    -Are you outside?

    Han Jae-yi’s voice was calm and subdued. Was this really happening? It didn’t quite feel real, maybe because I had been waiting for this call. Every person passing by on the street seemed like a character from a virtual world. I was genuinely curious about how this story would unfold next.

    “It’s fine. Go ahead.”

    -Can I see you right now?

    He sounded calm, but in a hurry. The option of meeting right away no longer existed between us, and he spoke as if the distance didn’t matter.

    “I don’t have a flight to Germany this month.”

    -It doesn’t matter. Just tell me the quickest way I can get to wherever you are.

    At that moment, my mind wandered. If this were a drama, the scene would cut straight to us meeting. Unfortunately, in reality, time doesn’t move that quickly. Thoughts like that filled my head.

    I thought about my next flight destination. Meeting there would be faster than coming to Korea. Although it was hard to figure out his intention to meet,

    “Come to Rome. In two days.”

    I didn’t want to wait any longer either.

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