The Maybes


     “So,” he said. “Green! Is! Done!”

     His hands punctuated the air emphatically. 

     “Yes,” she said. “And I went through the reds before you came in. No one’s been overlooked.”

     “What’s the total?”

     “Of YESs?”

     “For starters.”


     “I’d really like to get it up to a-hundred-and-fifty.”

     “There are eight-hundred NOs.”

     “I’d really like to get it up to one-fifty.”

     “Do you want me to get the MAYBEs?” She swivelled her chair and nodded to the other side of the room.

     He eyed his computer, then the tables. They were trying the traffic-light system again this year. The plan was to expedite the selection process; make it easier to get a hundred-and-fifty college kids to Japan. The folders were laid out across three plastic tables they’d carried up from the cafeteria. The YES folders were green and occupied three stacks. The NO folders were red. There were too many of them for proper piles, so they were simply dumped, en masse, in bins. Maybe she was right, he thought, and they should have just kept it digital, not bothered printing it all out. The process hadn’t really worked last year either and that year they had only needed a hundred interns. This year they would have one-fifty. Maybe one-fifty-five even. He looked at his screen again.

     “It’s almost four,” he said. “Should we whip through the MAYBEs, and call it?” 

     She got the two folders, one marked “UK” and the other labelled “USA (+ Canada)” and dropped them on his desk. 

     “You noted down what was wrong with them, right?”

     “Yeah,” she said. “At least…I tried to.” 


     “James Wilkes,” she read, “an Astrophysics major from Yale. Graduated last year and was admitted to Yale for a terminal master’s degree, also in Astrophysics. Considers himself a Japanese-Danish American.” 

     “I prefer Danish Danishes, myself. With my coffee in the morning.”

     “It’s already ten after,” she said.

     “Fine. Fine.” 

     “I interviewed him. Nice guy. Smart but not witty. American smile. Likeable.” 

     He looked down at the photo on the top of James Wilkes’ file. 

     “Good looking kid.”

     “He’s twenty-four,” she said. “And I still think it’s weird to ask them to submit a photo.”

     She shrugged. “James played sports in high-school: wrestling, tennis, and gold, but mostly gave them up in college. Considers driving one of his hobbies. Like Japanese food. His mother is actually half Japanese. Has never been out of the country.”

     “Why’d you flag him?” 

     “They’re small things,” she said, “but even so, they’re odd. For one, in the NATIONALITY box, he put ‘American’ with an asterisk.”


     “Then he followed it up in the next question by saying that he plans on using an American passport, but he also has a Danish one because his father is Danish and he, James Wilkes not his father, might be eligible for a Japanese one as well, though he hasn’t looked into it.” 

     “Random. But I guess it’s good to know he has a passport.”

     “James Wilkes also—”

     “Why do you keep calling him James Wilkes?”

     “That’s his name.”

     “Why the last name?”

     “There were two other guys named James that I was considering for the MAYBE pile. James Henslowe-Alleyne and James Wong. I put them in the red after looking them up.” 

     “Where’d you look them up?”


     “Nice, credible source.”

     “They all looked the same in the pictures they sent in. I just wanted to see what they were really like.” 

     “And what made James Wilkes the best James?”

     “No mugshots. No messy drunken videos. Nice narratives in his captions. James Henslowe-Alleyne had a picture of a severed thumb on his feed. No caption. I just think that’s gross. James Wong had only mirror selfies. Mirror selfies at the gym. Mirror selfie in the bathroom. Mirror selfies wearing sunglasses.” 

     “What did Wilkes have?”

     “Sunsets. Pictures of him with his dog or at the beach. Some nice nighttime New York shots. Lots of pretty photos from his wedding. There was a great picture of him and his family in front of their house in Newport. They’re all wearing jeans and white t-shirts. They’re on the beach so they don’t have shoes on and—”

     “I think someone’s got a little crush on the recruit.”

     She dropped her shoulders and straightened her back.

     “Anyway. There’s a strange thing towards the end of his application too. Question three is: ‘How did you hear about this program?’ and he wrote, ‘My friend and casual acquaintance Natasha Savanko is also applying this year.’ And in her application,” she flipped through the folder and pulled out a stapled stack, “Natasha says she knows him and that they decided to apply to the program together.”


     “So, after the deadline passed, after my interview with him, I get an email from James Wilkes saying that he was mistaken. He actually doesn’t know anyone applying to the program after all.”



     “Did she withdraw her application?”

     “Nope. It’s still right here. She’s a MAYBE too.”

     “Same flags?”

     “No, for her, I think it’s a little more serious. The interviewer flagged question three for her interview.”

     “Question three? Does she have any teaching experience?”

     “No, that’s not it. She actually described very nicely how she used to coach a model UN debate team and runs a Latin reading circle for high school students.”

     “So, what’s the problem?”

     “The note here says that during her interview, she explicitly said that she doesn’t care for children and prefers not to interact with anyone under the age of sixteen.”

     “What a marvelous quality for someone applying to work at a summer camp for high schoolers.”

     “Of course, it’s possible the interviewer misunderstood her. There’s nothing like that in her written application.”

     “If it’s not in writing it doesn’t count. What else is wrong with her?”

     “Otherwise her qualifications are solid. She’s just graduated from the University of Toronto—”

     “She’s Canadian?”

     “Yes. Naturalized when she was ten. I was thinking that would be an asset. Diversity.”

     “We have plenty of Canadians already.”

     “Five. We have five Canadians.”

     “That’s plenty.”

     “She was a Miss Teen Toronto finalist, but had to drop out due to unforeseen circumstances. I Googled her. Some guy showed up at the event and started saying he’d shot his wife and needed to speak to her about it. It made the local news. I don’t think he actually killed his wife though.”

     “An affair?”

     “Could be. Anyway, she couldn’t compete after all that. He ran off with her evening gown.”


     She flipped the page, “Natasha’s also a member of Omicron Alpha Omicron—”

     “What the that?”

     “It’s a sorority.”

     “You said she knows the astrophysicist?”

     “Yes. She knows James Wilkes. And—”


     “I think I saw another ‘Omicron Unicorn’ —that’s what those girls call themselves—in the MAYBEs file.

     “They don’t actually call themselves that, do they?”

     “Sharon White. Goes to Brown University and is an environmental studies major. And an ‘Omicron Unicorn.'”

     “I interviewed her. Never seen hair like that.”

     “She was high school valedictorian, president of Omnicorn Alpha Omnicorn, nationally ranked in tennis, has been to Korea to visit family, but never to Japan. No Instagram that I could find. She’s probably the only sorority girl in the world without one.”

     “She has family in Korea?”

     “She says her mother’s side all still lives there.”

     “Near the DMZ? Dodging Missiles?”

     “I’m not sure where.”

     “How can she be that blonde and be Korean?”

     “I’m not sure how to answer that,” she said.

     “She says she wants to come to Japan because she’s a huge fan of Norwegian Wood.” 

     “What’s that?”

     “It’s a novel by Haruki—”

     “I remember her. She’s fine. Kind of dry, though. Doesn’t have much personality. When I interviewed her, it was like there was a glass wall between us.”

     “There was,” she said. “It was a Skype interview.”

     “You know what I mean. Why did Prom Queen say she wanted visit Japan?

     “Natasha?” she flipped through the file. “She says she wants to become proficient at using chopsticks. I’m not sure if she meant it as a joke, though.”

     “Shows personality. Maybe a repressed jousting instinct. Who else do we have? Let’s see someone from the UK. We were supposed to be alternating.” 

     She opened the second yellow folder. The paper they’d used to print the UK applications was thinner and the highlighter had bled through, making it hard to determine which questions were flagged and which approved.” 

     “Gwendolyn Griffin.”

     “Sounds like the old maid in a Victorian novel.”

     “She goes by Gwen. Excellent references from her professors at UCL. A bit of a story there. She’s from Leeds, raised by a single mother, sold tea and crumpets all through high school to be able to afford moving to London. Moved there for school when she was eighteen and never went back. Too afraid of being trapped into becoming a single mother in a crappy backwater. She’s almost twenty-three now, going into her last year at UCL. She didn’t specify what she was studying.”


     “Which part?”

     All of it.”

     “She’s a nice girl. Describes herself as a ‘people person.’ But, then again, so do serial killers. Likes Norwegian Wood too. A lot of pictures of her lattes online. Good tennis player and is learning Latin.”

     “Useful skill.”

     “It looks like question six is flagged for her. It’s a drop box asking if she identifies as male or female. She picked female, so there was a follow up asking if she’d ever experienced harassment at the workplace.”

     “Let me guess, Gwen Stefani spilled her guts about the time someone touched her shoulder trying to get around her.”

     “She put this: ‘When I was in year eight, I was on the debate team. Somehow, I can’t quite remember how, we got on the topic of Japan. A boy on the team said that Mount Fuji was no longer an active volcano. I said of course it was. He looked at me, eyes crinkling, and smiled. The next day I asked the teacher if I could do a quick PowerPoint on Mount Fuji. I clicked through images of the smoking volcano and the boy shrivelled up. He quit the team shortly after.'”

     “Makes her seem kind of vindictive. I don’t know if that’s quite who we want around.”

     “In her nationality question she also put an asterisk and then added later that she was, ‘for better or for worse, a child of the British empire.'”

     “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do we have any normal Brits in there?”

     “There’s Wesley Greene.”

     “Hit me.”

     “He put himself down as having a UK citizenship. At Oxford studying…” she flipped the page, “studying Digital Anthropology. He considered himself a ‘people person’—”

     “Another serial killer. Or perhaps a politician. Let me guess, he also plays tennis and has read Norwegian Wood.” 

     “It’s a question of care, I think, with Wesley. He didn’t really answer question seven. That’s the logic and creative thinking one.”

     “Read it to me?”

     “Question seven, ‘Imagine you are the size of a pencil and find yourself inside a food processor. How would you get out? Please note that simply stating that you would stop imagining will not be considered a logical nor a creative answer’.”

     “And what did his Lordship put?”



     “N-O. Period.”

     “He just wrote ‘No.’ in the box?”


     “I suppose it could be worse. It could have been ‘NO’ with an exclamation point.”

     “I’m not so sure that’s worse,” she said.

     “I guess that would show personality.”

     “That’s not what I mean. You’re always going on and on about personality. I always imagine jazz hands and snapping mimes when you say that. Maybe this is his personality? Disagreeable!”

     “What did Blood Ambition say? The environmentalist?”

     “Sharon? Here is a perfect, three-step answer. James Wilkes’ was good too: ‘If we assure that the blender has no lid and is located on planet Earth, it would be enough to acquire an upwards acceleration greater than 9.8m / s^2.”


     “I looked it up. 9.8 meters per second squared is the rate at which an object falls to Earth if we don’t account for air resistance. It’s freefall.”

     “Not bad. He’s smart. Creative.”

     “Gwen’s is similar to the volcano thing.”


     “She writes: ‘When I was a little girl, my mother worked in an employment agency that sent illegal migrant workers to factories so they could feed themselves. Once, they sent a kid to work a nightshift at a large bakery, you know, industrial scale. He must have hidden in the food processor, tried to get some sleep—he was working seven p.m. to seven a.m. and must have gotten quite tired. Somehow, maybe the power went off and came back on again during the night, the processor turned on while he was sleeping. The boy was chopped to bits. He was sixteen years old. I hope you can understand why I don’t much care for your question’.”

     “They’re a self-centred bunch aren’t they? Didn’t even bother to read our website. Didn’t care enough to say that they want to ‘engage with Japanese tradition and participate in a global cultural exchange’ like we say they should.”

     They sat in silence, for a moment. It was the calm before judgement. 

     “So,” he said, “it’s a quarter to five and we’ve got a bunch of kids who play tennis and golf and are learning Latin, who can’t say where they’re from or who they are and are just interested in books and volcanoes?”


     “Well, I don’t suppose the others are any better.”

     “The issues with these five, though, is that…I don’t know how to put it. They don’t seem to really care about anything. They like things. They like golf and people and Norwegian Wood, but there doesn’t seem to be anything they really care about…it’s hard to explain.”

     “You don’t mind if I call my Uber now, do you?” he said, “I want to be home by five-thirty.”

     “You know,” she reached for the folder, “I have a couple more options here for you—”

     “Forget it. They’re all Ivy League, right?”

     “Well, the Americans—”

     “And you checked them out online, they’re clean?”

     “I mean, I could—”

     “We needed five, right? We’ve got five.”

     “But these five—”

     “Just book them beds at the hostel for the first week, and we’ll figure out some apartments when we get to Tokyo.”

     “The two floors we booked are already full. They just have a selection of the co-ed basement free. ”

     “Book it. Put all the MAYBEs there together. Give them a chance to bond. And send out the acceptance emails before you go, would you?” he said, getting up. 

     “Alright,” she said, and put the Maybes in a green folder.” 


Marina Klimenko

Marina Klimenko is a graduate student at the University of Toronto and writer of realistic fiction. Her work engages with themes of home and grapples with the question of why we so often misunderstand the people close to us. Her short stories have been published internationally both online and in print. She currently resides in Toronto. 

Join our mailing list to receive the latest posts and updates from our Acta.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This