18th April, 2014
I went to church on Good Friday. A man standing by the lectern preached about the importance of choice in our lives. Then, we sang a hymn. Every single believer but me sang pretty well.
The preacher said, ‘Anyone interested, please come over here.’ The believers flooded to the lectern. They were asked to choose either a black bean or a white bean. Some took a black bean in a transparent plastic cup. Others took a white bean in an opaque plastic cup.
After having completed the countdown of three-two-one, they swallowed their own beans hastily.
At that moment, the floor underneath the believers who swallowed white beans cracked open and they fell into a deep pit. Those who chose black beans seemed to be relieved and returned to their seats contentedly. The preacher said, ‘You see? This is the importance of choice in our lives!’
Just before leaving the church, I looked into one of the deep pits by the lectern and heard a voice: ‘I should’ve chosen a black bean.’
28th April, 2014
No Woman No Cry
I saw a woman weeping in the train. Her face was reddish and slightly swollen with alcohol. Then her phone rang. While she was talking she only said, ‘Why?’ Hanging up, she started sobbing again. She cried like an animal. She opened the window, and threw the phone to the outside of the train.
The phone pinged, and was run over and killed. The louder she cried, the more brilliantly her tears dropped on her light-blue dress, and shone.
Finally, her body was completely covered with her tears. They looked scaly. She had become a large fish. After flopping on the seat several times, she leaped through the window and dived into the water under the Harbour Bridge. She left behind her tears, which were as hot as melted iron.
11th May, 2014
From the bus, I saw a woman in the cemetery. She was polishing a tombstone, kneeling down on the ground. She was the only one in the cemetery. The tombstone was shining like a gray gem while other graves were deserted, or broken.
I arrived at the Shopping Centre. There was a huge arch of pink balloons and flowers for Mother’s Day. There were a lot of people carrying flowers in their arms. The petals of chrysanthemums in their arms were rigid as soldiers. I bought eggs and milk, and left, wondering how cruel Australians were, since chrysanthemums are only used in funerals in Japan.
On the way home, the bus passed by the cemetery again. Nobody was there, but a fresh bunch of flowers were left in front of the shining tombstone. The flowers were swaying like a giggling child, blown in the wind. I wondered how many mothers were lying in the cemetery. Then I remembered my own mother, Nanohana, who was named for a flower that blooms in spring, and was proud of that.
29th May, 2014
I happened to find a shovel at a museum shop, which was heavy and reminded me of my childhood. When I was a child, I was afraid of shovels. Every spring, without any good reason, the heavy lumps of iron were given to us, and we were forced to plant sweet potato seedlings. We dug, until the teacher told us to stop. The teacher said, ‘We’ll harvest in the autumn,’ although none of us asked when to harvest. I didn’t really want to harvest, because I knew I would have plenty of food in autumn even without sweet potatoes. I would rather have washed my hands as soon as possible, and have run away from the garden named after the manga character in which I was least interested. The hole I made looked like a grave for me. I didn’t like adults or children.
A museum attendant asked me if I would be interested in gardening. I smiled, looked at the shovel with a floral pattern and then asked her if I could make a grave with it. The staff was appalled and stepped back, but assured me, ‘If you want.’
30th June, 2014
An Over-Familiar Possum
I went to a swimming pool in the city. My goal was to be able to swim fifty metres. I managed to swim forty-five metres today. I am almost there. However, as I forgot to bring my goggles, my eyes became bloodshot and everything I saw became hazy. Even after I had left the sports centre, I couldn’t see things clearly.
Later, I went to a Turkish restaurant. The restaurant was filled with smoke. Rubbing my eyes, I ordered a kebab. A waiter asked if I needed a regular salad. I couldn’t read the menu but could only see his white teeth shining dimly. I left the restaurant, groping for a beacon outside.
The street lights were the strangest. I could see a dim ring around the light. It looked like a halo, and I regretted that I went to the church frequently these days despite the fact I was a Buddhist.
Walking at a snail’s pace to the station, I passed through Hyde Park. There was an extraordinarily huge possum. The possum looked at me as a beggar. I remembered that I had a Tim Tam and opened my bag. However, because of haziness, I couldn’t find it. The possum seemed to be really irritated. Finally, I found a Tim Tam and threw it to the possum. However, the possum rejected it and said, ‘Mate, can I have a durry?’ Then I finally found that it wasn’t a huge possum but a homeless person. I apologised to him and scurried back to my home.
13th July, 2014
An Accidental Indian Dance Instructor
As I make it a rule to write outside on a sunny day, I went to a park. When I was sitting on the bench and writing, I could see two girls dancing an Indian dance. One of them was Indian and another girl was Chinese. They seemed to be practicing for a performance. The Indian girl was teaching the Chinese girl. As they had danced for more than an hour in front of me, I realised that the Indian dance consisted of four patterns.
1. Make a loop with fingers
2. Bend knees
3. Shake hips
4. Tilt neck.
The Indian girl (I named her ‘A’) did two-four-three-one-three-four-four-two, while the Chinese girl (I named her ‘B’) did two-four-one-three-one-four-three-one. ‘A’ did two-four-three-one-three-four-four-two again, but ‘B’ did two-four-two-three-one- four-four-one. ‘A’ did two while ‘B’ did four. When ‘B’ did three, ‘A’ did four.
Then a strong wind blew my papers away. ‘B’ kindly picked them up, looked at the B4 sized papers on which numbers from one to four were scribbled and tilted her neck.
14th August, 2014
I took a wrong train. It was a night train to go to Melbourne. I had plenty of time and didn’t have anything to do but sleep. My face reflected in the window was as black as a portrait drawn in Indian ink. It wasn’t easy to sleep.
I looked at an obese man sitting on the other side of my seat. He had been talking to himself, while looking at his computer screen, ‘Crap…Crap…Crap…’ I looked into the screen and found he was watching a film. It was a film of his own life.
He was a child who was lovely, smart and vulnerable. He could get high marks in any subject, but wasn’t good at playing any sports. One day, he was chosen as a rugby team member by lots. It was obvious he was the poorest in the team. He didn’t practice and was absent on the day of the rugby match, because he didn’t want to show his poor rugby playing. Next day, nobody blamed him, but he blamed himself. He reckoned himself a loser. He graduated from school and got a job in a construction company, but soon quit. He stayed indoors and kept on eating. He believed he was always starving despite his body swelling like a balloon.
He clicked a rewind button and started watching the film again, murmuring, ‘Crap… Crap… Crap…’ Then, our eyes met. He said, ‘What are you looking at?’
After an awkward pause, I said, ‘I’m lost.’ He said, ‘So am I.’
15th September, 2014
This Is No Longer A Bus Stop
When I got to the bus stop, there was a sign. It said this was no longer a bus stop due to the changed road conditions. I found an aged couple sitting on the bench. I said this was no longer a bus stop. They looked at each other, laughed and said that was why they were waiting here.
Again, I said this was no longer a bus stop and therefore the bus wouldn’t come no matter how long you would wait. The husband studied me and then whispered something into his wife’s ear. His wife slightly nodded and opened her bag. She fumbled her red enamel bag and took out a piece of a yellowish paper.
It was a timetable. However, I couldn’t read it because there were so many small holes in the paper. Again, I said the bus wouldn’t come, folding the paper. They burst into laughter. I was disgusted with them and started walking. After a while, however, I felt sorry for the couple. Both of them must be suffering from dementia.
After having walked for a couple of minutes, however, I heard a thundering sound. Looking back, I could see the bus stop flying across the sky, like a skyrocket. The couple in the rocket-like bus stop waved to me with big grins. Then, I realised they had been waiting for the moment the bus stop would no longer be a bus stop, literally.
16th October, 2014
She called me and said she wouldn’t be able to talk for more than ten minutes because she was now imprisoned. I was really surprised because she was my best friend and was unlikely to commit a crime. I asked what she had done. She said she set the woods on fire, which wasn’t intentional. I suggested that she should have claimed that she was innocent. She said she couldn’t because it was true that she had set fire to a palm tree in the woods. I asked her why she had set the fire on the palm tree. She answered she was falling in love with the tree and couldn’t forgive it for reaching its branch to another palm tree. She confessed that she was about to lose her marbles whenever the palm tree quivered its leaves in a blowing wind. When she was about to say something, the telephone was disconnected. I wondered if she had already become crazy.
Afterwards, I told this creepy story to my partner. ‘It’s crazy to fall in love with a palm tree, isn’t it?’
My partner, a eucalyptus, didn’t say anything as usual. I hugged him tightly, closed my eyes and then enjoyed his clean scent.
4th November, 2014
There lives a coy carp in the Sinobazu pond within Ueno Park in Tokyo. No one has seen it swimming. Hidden under waterweed, seemingly, it keeps still. It has a hobby, though.
The coy carp is into Twitter now:
Water is lukewarm.
Am afraid of Dengue fever.
I wanna go to the beach someday.
There lives a coy carp in the Shinobazu pond within Ueno Park in Tokyo. No one has seen it swimming. Hidden under waterweed, seemingly, it keeps still. It is an ambitious carp, actually.
16th December, 2014
Wednesday, the Day of Loneliness
Mr Sato our boss is now often absent on Wednesday. It’s quite okay because he is just taking his paid leaves. He’s within his rights.
One day, one of my colleagues, however, told me Mr Sato’s secret in a cafeteria at the company.
She said in a low voice, ‘A friend of mine saw Mr Sato in a park on Wednesday.’
After looking around carefully, she added, ‘He was on a swing there. Alone.’
I didn’t know if I should laugh in the moment like this. I just imagined a middle-aged man sitting on a swing by himself.
I thought it would be the ultimate loneliness.
6th January, 2015
Beer & Beach
Mum would tell me when I was a child that life originated on the bottom of the ocean. Then I wondered if we would ascend into the sky like balloons when we died.
I had a friend called Jim. When I first met him, we were final-year students at the university. He was the kindest man I had ever met. We would often go to the beach on Sunday. Jim would tell me the names of birds floating in the clear sky. I would talk with him about my dream of becoming a poet. He would never laugh at my callowness. It may be just because both of us were intoxicated throughout the summer, though.
‘I must be strong to be a poet,’ I said.
‘Poets must be vulnerable,’ Jim said.
After we got drunk, we would exhaust ourselves swimming at the beach.
When the summer was over, Jim left the town in order to get a job in a city on the east coast. On the day he left, we promised to meet again. I haven’t seen him since then.
Some years later, I really became a poet.
Jim became an ornithologist, I heard, and died of lung cancer at twenty-seven.
I have forgotten his gentle voice, sunburnt skin and coy smile. We didn’t take any pictures in that summer. All I can remember now is the taste of bitter tides, and that we did believe we were immortal while we drank beer on the beach.
My mum has gone to the universe. That’s true. Because I saw her off to the station. She seemed to be a bit tired then. Just before she got into the train, she gave me a cake as a Christmas present. There went the starting bell. When I waved the hand through the window, she had already started drinking and was looking at her phone. Then, as Dad told me that she had been chosen, I felt a bit proud of her although I worried about whether drunken astronauts could go home safely.
My mum used to drink a lot while Dad was absent. She used to drink sake, as if she drinks tea, and would sometimes hit me during drinking. I tried drinking a few times, while nobody was watching, to know why the liquid makes Mum mad. But, last summer, I was carried into the hospital for that. I often heard my parents quarrel out of the hospital room while I was in the bed. I felt very sorry for that because it was my fault. Finally, they divorced last December. (Dad said, divorce means Mum goes far away. I asked, ‘How far?’ He said, ‘It’s too far to see.’ So, I thought divorce would mean Mum goes to the universe. Dad liked the idea, though Mum looked a bit sad when she heard of this.) Dad and I started a new life here from this January. I still can’t get used to the strong provincial accent here.
Now, dad and I are in the hall at school since there is a graduation ceremony today. The ceremony isn’t for me. We, the pupils and parents, have been brought together to sing a song for graduates. Dad standing among mothers seems to be a bit embarrassed because he is the only male. Ken, a friend of mine, said earlier, ‘Where’s your mum?’ I just said, ‘She’s gone to the universe.’ Ken said, ‘You liar’. When I tried to say no, the floor shook and some people fell down like chessmen on a chessboard. The siren blew and dad rushed to me. We, dad and I, bent our bodies and waited for the tremors of the earthquake to stop. After the long shaking, somebody screamed, ‘Tsunami comes!’
School teachers guided us to the rooftop. The level of the water rose little by little. I could see burning water cover the field in front of the school. Muddy water walls grew slowly. I could hear the sound of a cage made of mud swallowing the world, and realised that the world was made of sugar, otherwise it couldn’t be broken like this. Looking at the ground, which was about to be fully covered by muddy water, I shouted, ‘A grape is running!’ Dad looked at me briefly and said, ‘Shut up’ quietly. Then, I found that I was still wearing the shoes for gym. I wanted to go to the lower floor to get the shoes for outside, but dad didn’t allow me to go. We were looking at the destroyed houses which came floating down the river. Again, I yelled out, ‘A GRAPE IS RUNNING!’ At the moment, he scolded me severely. I was so astonished I burst into tears because Dad rarely shouts. Dad’s hands were shaking. A group of people running on the street looked like an apple, lizard, and then, grape again. I didn’t intend to make dad angry, but smile as he would. Everything on the surface of the water was spinning slowly. People around us kept on screaming, ‘Up,Up,Up Uuuuuuuuuuuuuup!’ I wondered if I should scream with them, but finally didn’t. Because Dad had been silent.
It grew dark, and we ended up spending the night on the top of the roof. I’d decided not to speak until my dad spoke to me. I lowered my body into the big bed made of parents ’coats and slept like that, and found that I’d lost my voice the next morning. I couldn’t say anything even if Dad asked me to say something with his sad look.
After the Tsunami confusion, it’s been decided that I go to see a doctor once a week. It takes nearly three hours from my ‘temporary house’ (Dad taught me to call it so). Since dad has given up his job in order to take care of me and buy a digger, he seems to be busier with his new part-time jobs, but also looked happy with this weekly outing with me. I like to go to the hospital too, despite the fact that Dr Kaneko plunges a silver spatula into my throat and asks some strange questions, because Dad buys me an ice cream. Angelato, the ice cream shop, is located on the ground floor of the hospital. The floor is filled with the scent of the elderly who smell like burnt bread. I suspect something is burning in their bodies, something important.
I am in the habit of ordering a double: green tea and brown sugar. Dad always makes fun of me for choosing such flavours like an old man. A shop assistant at Angelato made it triple as a free gift today. I bowed carefully in order not to drop the vanilla on the top and ran up to Dad. He was reading a magazine for boys. He loves manga comics in spite of being an adult. He glanced at me and said, ‘Gimme the vanilla.’ I shook my head and bit into it.
Dr Kaneko is a beautiful, unlikable woman. When I first met her, as she introduced herself in the standard language, which is unusual in this region, I wondered if she was angry about having ‘a conversation’ with me. Her beautiful smile made me all the more confused. Dr Kaneko, today, asked me ‘What is there in your hometown?’
I wrote. ‘A steel tower.’
She said, smiling beautifully, ‘Anything else?’
I wrote. ‘A chimney.’
She spoke in superlatives. ‘Well done! How about the mountains, rivers or rice fields?’
I wondered for a while and found myself at a loss, and then wrote. ‘There were.’
Mrs Kato, a dad’s friend, arrived on a rainy Sunday. She was fat and short, like a small shrine. As she said, ‘Hello,’ I bowed carefully. She took out a robot toy, which I didn’t like the look of, from her double-layered plastic bag and gave it to me. She asked if I liked it, so I nodded. Since my mum had gone, I didn’t know how to conduct myself in front of a woman of her age.
We didn’t have anything to do while waiting for Dad. Mrs Kato was sitting politely on the square floor cushion, and I was pretending to play with the robot and was disappointed with the movable region of its arms.
When Dad arrived, it was already dark outside. He apologised for being late and Mrs Kato responded politely. Dad glanced at the robot in my hand and asked if I had said thank you to her, so I nodded. They talked quietly for a while in the stuffy room. Mrs Kato talked while covering her eyes and mouth, one after another, with a handkerchief. I happened to hear that her husband was carried away by tidal waves. I had known I shouldn’t laugh, at the moment like this, no matter how incredible it was. Mrs Kato, in the middle of their conversation, handed Dad money and he immediately returned it. After their conversation, as Dad asked if I would come with them next Sunday, I nodded twice. It is the sign I made to tell my feeling, after I have lost my voice, which means I am with you, always.
It was fine weather on Sunday. But a drive from our temporary house to Mrs Kato’s was not enjoyable because of a traffic jam. Dad said these cars were bringing relief supplies and volunteers. I thought, we are neither of them.
After I finished my second peeing on the road and came back to the car with Mrs Kato, she began to talk bit by bit. She told how she had been searching with her bare hands but she had had no success, and all her hope was now on the digger. She talked with a worried face, like the one who forgot to buy the meat for curry. Dad had been listening to her while chiming in with a remark occasionally.
We arrived at Mrs Kato’s house finding ourselves three hours behind time. Mrs Kato said we could cancel today, but Dad responded that we had better get the work done as soon as possible, and climbed into the digger. While he was digging, Mrs Kato showed me around her house. We walked hand in hand lest I slip and fall down. She said there used to be a field of dandelions. Her hand was soft and a bit sweaty. I just wondered why she didn’t smell like sake. The ground which used to be a yellow carpet of dandelions was covered by slime now. The area was filled with the mixed smell of the slime, seaweeds and something burnt. The dead bodies of sturgeons were scattered near a piano lying upside down. I could see the end of the road we were on was blocked by a huge ship.
We, Mrs Kato and I, took a rest by a mountain of rubble. The sludge on the fusuma attached to the broken walls reminded me of a friend’s drawing at the school. Strange, messy and blackly green. He always ends up drawing such pictures since he mixes all his pigments.
Then, I heard Dad calling Mrs Kato behind the broken walls. She seized my shoulder and told me not to come. Her wet eyes with large irises were shining like gentle gems. I didn’t say yes, but nodded twice. When I looked down the ground, I found the fragments of a broken mirror reflecting a flaming sunset.
I could hear Dad was saying something from behind the broken walls. I walked toward the voice, and then stopped. All I could hear was the roar of strong wind. I peeped from a crack of a wall. Mrs Kato was hanging onto a white arm jutted out from the ground. Dad wasn’t crying but joined his hands in prayer and then bowed. It was a beautiful bow, beautiful and cold.
Mrs Kato was asked to cremate her son within the day by a man from a municipal office. The man, who looked quite tired, said it was ordained by law. We went to a crematorium. Mrs Kato politely took off her son’s clothes and one shoe and put them in her shoulder bag. She kept on murmuring, ‘Sorry, I’m so sorry,’ while squeezing her son’s fingerless hand. After holding onto his white hand repeatedly, she saw her son disappearing into an incinerator.
It took approximately 20 minutes. I heard someone in the room talking in an undertone. ‘Children can be quickly burnt.’ I wanted to escape from the room, but didn’t want to be alone either. There was only the tick of the second. I felt it like forever.
When the bones, like a fluorescent hard chalk, appeared on the black plank, Mrs Kato cried loudly, as of animals, and then she faced the remains, which used be a part of her, and put a piece of them into her mouth.
On the way back to the temporary house, Mrs Kato wearing a dirty shirt, asked if I wanted to eat something since I hadn’t eaten anything since that morning. Dad said no thanks, but as she insisted, we three stopped at a restaurant facing the sea. The radio was on the air in the restaurant. An idol group was singing about dreams, love and peace. I wondered why they didn’t sing about muddy school bags or torn-off electric wire.
I ordered a Japanese set meal. Dad didn’t make fun of my choice, but just said no. As Mrs Kato, however, told me to order the set, I did so. Dad and Mrs Kato neither ordered nor touched their water.
Mrs Kato, when we were about to leave to pay, said in a murmur. ‘It’s been good.’ As she suddenly said so and burst into tears, the restaurant stuff at the cash resister seemed to be startled. Dad didn’t say anything, but was just looking at his hands sadly as if it’s all his fault.
It’s 4:00am now. Dad has given up on driving us home and has decided to take a nap in the car. I couldn’t sleep at all. The night sky was pitch-dark. Dad seemed to be sleeping. Mrs Kato was hugging her son in the tiny white box and just shutting her eyes. I got out of the car silently in order not to wake dad up, and told Mrs Kato that I would go to the toilet. The sky was getting gloomy, but the azaleas along the road were still enduring in order not to melt into the darkness. I stepped onto the observation platform overlooking the sea. I inhaled the chilly air, and then it instantly bloomed in my stomach. I opened my mouth to fill it with the light of the coming morning dawn. However, the silence of the darkness still covered the area.
Suddenly, a bright moonbeam broke through the clouds. The pale moonlight and silent black sea reminded me of the white arm jutting out of the ground. Where did the arm go? WHERE COULD HAVE IT GONE? I got scared, but realised that I couldn’t do anything for that. I watched my trembling arm. It was dimly lit by the moonlight. I prayed. I prayed that my arms wouldn’t become whiter anymore, but the cruel particle of light didn’t seem to stop bleaching my arms. I prayed. I kept on praying until the desperate wish became hoarse cries.