The spirit of me (who was supposed to have died) was being slowly swept away to some dark place when suddenly, some angel I’d never seen before got in the way and exclaimed: “Congratulations! You’ve drawn the winning number!,” smiling an undeniably angelic smile.
What he had to say was this:
“You committed a big sin before dying– you’re a spirit that has sinned. Normally, you’d be disqualified at this point and get taken out of the cycle of life. In other words, you would never be able to be reborn again; however, because there were many voices who decried this, our head boss decided to give an opportunity to the spirit who draws the winning number to give it another go. And you are that lucky soul who won that draw!”
Being told something like that out of the blue, I didn’t know how to react. I’m sure if I still had eyes, they would’ve gone round, and if I still had a mouth, I’m sure it would’ve dropped open. But I was nothing more than a shapeless spirit, so it was strange in and of itself that I could still hear and see the angel’s voice and form.
The angel was a kind-looking man with good looks. Just going by his outer appearance, he wasn’t that different from humans, and his more-or-less tall slim figure was wrapped up with a white cloth. He had wings on his back, but I couldn’t see a halo on his head.
That aside, I told the angel this:
“Well, that’s great I got picked and all, but I’d like to respectfully decline.”
By this time, I had already lost my memories of my previous life. Since I’m using masculine markers like “boku,” I was probably a male in my previous life, but I couldn’t remember at all what kind of person I was or what kind of life I led. Perhaps that’s why I was left with a vague tiredness that made me think I never wanted to go back down to earth again.
“I just don’t want to. Right now, I feel like someone who went into a department store on a whim and had a large decorative paper ball crack open above me and have a racket made by those all around me telling me: ‘Congratulations! You’re the 1,000,000th customer to come to this store!’ and have a trip to Hawaii that starts now forced upon me.”
The angel calmly listened to my complaint.
“I understand why you might feel that way. Just between you and me? We kind of have doubts about this whole ‘drawing by lottery’ thing too, but I am sorry to say, the boss’s word is the law. Neither you nor I can oppose the boss. He is the father of all creation, after all.”
Well when he put it like that, there was nothing else I could say; I picked a fight with the wrong person.
And to the me who was gloomily silent, the angel’s azure-coloured eyes sparkled creepily as he added:
“And plus, what is waiting for you is not—and I repeat, not— a paradise like Hawaii.”
The angel’s name is Pura-Pura. His post is as a guide, and currently, he’s responsible for me. He explained that his duty is to guide me in my re-challenge; however, what exactly does this “re-challenge” mean?
Before I set off to do this, Pura-pura explained it to me, who had yet to take in everything that was being thrown at me, in the space between Heaven and earth.
When you compile the main points, it’ll look something like this:
1) Like he said before, I’m a spirit who has committed a grave error in my previous life. Properly speaking, I would never be able to be re-born again, but because of my stroke of good luck, I won the draw, and I’ve been given the chance to try again.
2) The re-challenge is for me to go back to earth where I screwed up in my previous life and undergo a thorough re-training.
3) The training consists of me borrowing the body of someone on earth for a fixed period of time and live there. Whose body I will inhibit and the family with which I will live will all be decided by Pura-Pura’s boss.
4) This training period is commonly referred to in the angel world as a “home stay.”
5) Of course, it’s a matter of luck where I’ll end up during my stay. Among them there are good families and bad ones. There are tragic families as well as comical ones. There’s no guarantee that there will be no violent families; however, because the kind of situation I will be placed in will be determined by the seriousness of the mistake I made in my previous life, I can’t complain (really, don’t you think that’s a bit unfair…?)
6) During my home stay, whenever I need help, Pura-Pura will help me; however, just how much he will help me will depend on his mood at that particular moment.
7) When the training has progressed satisfactorily, at a certain point, it has been set so that I will naturally gain back my memories of my previous life. It is the moment that I become aware of the mistake I made in the previous world that the home stay will come to an end. My spirit will then leave the body I had been borrowing and ascend to Heaven and I will be able to successfully return to the cycle of life– and it all ends happily ever after (is this for real?).
“Well, that about sums it up, Makoto-kun.”
After he ended his brief lecture, Pura-pura began to fidget.
“Well then, let’s get you to earth!”
“From this point on, you’ll be Kobayashi Makoto. Kobayashi Makoto is a young boy who attempted suicide by overdosing three days ago. He’s yet to regain consciousness, and he remains in critical condition. Just between you and me? He’s going to die soon. Once he dies, his spirit will leave his body, and in that instant, you’ll burrow into him.”
“So in other words,” I said, “I’m going to steal his body?”
“Don’t say anything that might bring bad luck,” Pura-Pura shot back. “You should just think of it as taking over his body for a short while. Let’s think positive!”
“What kind of guy is Kobayashi Makoto?”
“You’ll know once you become him.”
I wanted a bit more preparatory information, but Pura-Pura had already spread his wings out and he gave off the vibe that he’d gotten tired of explaining. He pulled on my arm and took me up into the air before I could say another word.
Suddenly, I felt the shock of the floor suddenly giving away from beneath me, and we began descending at the speed of light—. At this rate, Pura-Pura’s wings were hardly good for anything. I wondered if he was really an angel. Maybe he’s the devil? Despite swiftly being assaulted by doubts, I lost consciousness before I realized it, and I was sucked into the richly coloured whirling warp.
When I came to, I was Kobayashi Makoto.
I felt the realistic feeling of actually having a body. The spirit of mine that had been completely buck naked a short time ago, was now wearing a heavy, coat-like fleshy body. The body seemed to be lying down on top of a futon. No—or maybe it’s a bed? This smell of medicine…perhaps I’m on a hospital bed? Now that I think about it, he mentioned that Makoto attempted suicide and that he’s in critical condition…hmm? I can hear someone sobbing.
Who is it?
Before I had time to mentally prepare myself, I inadvertently opened my eyes.
My eyes met with the eyes of a middle-aged woman whose face was drenched with tears.
The middle-aged woman said in a daze.
The next instant, she let out a loud yell.
I could feel the figures of those that surrounded me turn towards me at the same time. I guess this really was a hospital room, because by the bed were solemn-looking medical instruments, and looking over those machines, I glimpsed nurses in their white uniforms. I heard someone let out a low groan saying: “I can’t believe it!” And that white figure stirred restlessly.
Next, the middle-aged man who had been supporting the woman yelled.
“Makoto’s come back to life!”
That’s right. This is something I found out later, but Makoto had been declared officially dead ten minutes before. Makoto’s spirit climbed up to Heaven, and I burrowed into the empty room that was his body, and I opened my eyes with a blink. No wonder they were so surprised.
“The heart beat…the blood pressure…oh, I can’t believe it!”
Even the doctor raised his voice in disbelief.
The joy of the middle-aged man and woman who was able to witness his revival was great. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that these two were Makoto’s mother and father, and they were understandably overjoyed to see their dead son come back to life. They were left speechless as they stroked my cheek and rubbed my arm and hugged me. Even though I was being touched by complete strangers, strangely enough, I didn’t feel repulsed by it. Before my heart came into question, Makoto’s body had already accepted their touch.
Makoto had one other family member. A school uniform wearing guy with blood shot eyes who’s been standing in front of the bed with his shoulders squared back who’s been glaring at me for some time now. While my parents and the doctors and the nurses were all excited about my revival, he was the lone figure who had a nonchalant look on his face. I would find out later that he was Makoto’s older brother— Kobayashi Mitsuru. But at this time, I didn’t know his name, let alone his age, so I remember looking at him and wondering if he might be part of my family.
“Makoto, it’s wonderful that you’ve come back. Hallelujah!”
The father kept on calling his son’s name repeatedly like some crazy person.
The mother who clung to me and wouldn’t let go.
The apathetically silent family member.
Although this was a situation that made it hard for me to fully observe the state of things, for the time being, I was able to meet the family with whom I’ll be home staying.
It was kind of disappointing that they didn’t seem like they were ultra rich or a family of celebrities, but I had already kind of expected that just from the look of the malicious-person-at-heart looking angel, so for now I should just be glad I ended up with what looks to be a normal family. This was how I silently accepted them. It’s not like the chances were zero that I could’ve ended up opening my eyes to eight red and yellow zebra-striped leotard wearing macho men surrounding my bed and crying. When it all comes down to it, humans are best “normal.”
The instant I let my guard down, I was suddenly assaulted by the sandman.
It seems that Makoto’s body, which had been dead until just now, had yet to get back to its top form. I felt really tired, and I couldn’t move the body as I’d like. In the end, I ended up falling into a dead sleep without ever having spoken a word to anyone.
My debut as Kobayashi Makoto ended up like such.
The feelings of sleepiness and tiredness continued after this too. Although Makoto’s body was recovering at a speed that puzzled even the doctor in charge, perhaps it was because of the medicine that was administered to me three times a day, but I just felt really tired and sleepy. Since I was still hospitalized, and there was nothing else to do, I took advantage of the situation and used that time to sleep.
Amidst the days that I spent in which I spent ¾ of the day sleeping, whenever I opened my eyes for an instant like it was something that I just remembered to do, I would see the face of Makoto’s mother in front of me or the face of his father or the back of Mitsuru.
If it was light outside my window when I awoke, the mother was always there by my side. This woman who had a tiny figure and clean-cut features always sat on the chair beside the bed, and she was straining her eyes as if she was counting the number of times I blinked. When my eyes met hers, she would talk to me briefly asking things like: “How are you feeling? Or “Do you want me to turn on the TV?” She hardly ever said anything else though, and she seemed to be holding back as she treated me with caution. At first, she was even a bit distant, but when I thought about it, Makoto was a boy who had tried to commit suicide, so there was no getting around the fact that he had probably been carrying around problems of some considerable weight, and she was just playing it safe.
The older brother Mitsuru always showed up around dusk, and he would take over watching me for a few hours, and during that time, the mother rested. No matter how much time had passed, he remained a person of few words. When he had silently finished cleaning the evening meal set, he would turn his back to me and spread out textbooks and reference books in front of himself. I found out that he was in grade 12 from his textbook, and one day I got up the nerve to say: “It must be tough studying for exams.” In that instant, Mitsuru gave me a withering look and roughly slammed his textbook with a thud and went out into the hallway. Maybe he’s got the exam blues?
The visiting hours at night were from seven to nine, and Makoto’s father came without fail during this time. He always had a happy expression on his face as he came in with a smile, and he brightened up the hospital room that was too big for only one person. Unlike the mother, he didn’t choose his words while looking closely at my expression, and instead he poured out his heart to me every night saying stuff like: “I’m so happy that you came back to life, Makoto,” and “I’ve never felt more thankful to God.” He was also popular with the nurses, and they often told me: “You have such a wonderful father.” Even if he was someone else’s father, it didn’t feel bad to hear that.
And well, the impressions I got from each of them were different, but if you were to point out what the three family members shared, it would be that they truly cared about Makoto from the bottom of their hearts. Even that sullen brother of his— if there wasn’t some love in all of this, he probably wouldn’t come to the hospital everyday.
For me, they’re nothing more than a host family, but to them, Makoto’s a true family member. That’s what I slowly began to feel during the time I was hospitalized.
Amidst the sleepy, tired and fuzzy days, I guess you could say that was the single thing that I learned.
My life in the hospital ended after a week. Truth be told, I had already completely recovered way before then, but because my case was such a unique one (apparently, it’s not normal for a person to come back to life ten minutes after their heart’s stopped beating), that the hospital wanted to watch me for the time being and gather together data. Such as I am, I was seen as the “miracle boy.”
“There’s no denying you died once.”
Before I was discharged from the hospital, the young doctor in charge said this to me as he pinched my cheek.
“You’ve gone through enough already, so don’t ever consider death again, all right?”
I was discharged on a Sunday.
Early in the afternoon of a refreshing autumn day, I got into the car along with my family who had come together to pick me up. When we arrived at the Kobayashi house located corner of a quiet residential area, in the spotless living room that was filled with flower vases, there lay spread out on the low table food everything from sushi to steak. I forgot the disappointment I felt when I had seen the Kobayashi house and thought to myself: “Well, that possibility of ending up in a rich family’s completely faded…” and I was touched at their thoughtfulness. I did a complete roundabout and went so far as to deliver a speech to say: “Thank you so much, everyone!” To make sure that they didn’t catch on to what was actually happening, I made sure to limit conversations as much as possible during my stay at the hospital, so both of Makoto’s parents were moved to tears by my speech.
I guess this is what you’d call “family love.”
If memory serves me right, I remember Pura-Pura saying something like how the kind of home stay I would get depended on the seriousness of the mistake I committed in the previous life, but judging from just this, there’s no mistaking that my mistake must’ve been a pretty minor one. It was probably something like I was a mean drunk or I was too loose with my spending or I was a gigolo who made women cry.
What I still couldn’t figure out though was why Makoto would commit suicide when he was blessed with such a wonderful family. It seems the word “suicide” was a prohibited in this household, because no one would say it, so at times I would forget that Makoto was a boy who had chosen the path of death.
“For dinner, I’ll be making many of your favourite dishes, Makoto. But Makoto, maybe you should take a bit of a rest? Why don’t you take a nap in your room until it’s time for dinner?”
Right around the time almost all the food on the table had been consumed, Makoto’s mother said this to me out of concern. As it was my first time being in a family circle, I was a bit tired, so it was a suggestion that I was grateful for.
“Okay. Then I’ll go rest up a bit.”
I quickly got to my feet, and then remained standing there.
Even if I wanted to go to Makoto’s room, I didn’t know where it was located inside this house.
What should I do?
“What’s wrong, Makoto?”
“Are you not feeling well?”
It was in that moment that the family was starting to become suspicious of me not moving that Pura-Pura suddenly showed his face in the doorway of the living room like he sensed it was this very time that the guide should make his appearance.
I don’t know why, but he was dressed smart in a suit and he beckoned to me as if to say “Come here.” I started to nod and say “Okay,” but I managed to stop myself just in time. This is because I realized that no one except me could see him.
Accompanying the silent me, Pura-Pura climbed up the stairs without making a sound. Makoto’s room was the far Western-style six tatami sized room on the second floor. The plain furniture had black as its base color, and the carpet was sky-coloured. I don’t know if it was because there were many windows, but the whole room was very bright, and the green curtains caught the abundant light.
Pura-Pura stopped in front of the curtains, and I sat down on the edge of the bed.
“It’s been a while,”
I said with a tinge of annoyance.
“I thought that since you were a guide, you’d teach me more stuff.”
“This is according to the plan,”
He said without missing a beat.
“It’s better if you don’t have preconceptions going in. It’s better for you to experience things first hand than it would for me to guide you telling you this and that.”
I scrutinized him afresh. Something’s off about this.
“Uh, hey, you seem really different from when you were up there.”
When I pointed this out, Pura-Pura smiled a wry smile saying:
“It’s the whole ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ To be honest, if I go into total angel-mode on earth, there are times I feel kind of ridiculous, you know? Even if humans can’t see me, it doesn’t change the way I feel.”
“Even the way you speak— up there, weren’t you a bit more formal in the way you spoke?”
“It’s the whole ‘dishevelled clothes reflect a dishevelled mind.’ Haha, that’s a joke, but at the end of the day, this self is closer to earth, you know? Well, we should just both go about it with a natural stance, hey?”
He really is an angel of the world, huh?
Pura-Pura suddenly asked in clerical worker-like manner of speech to the dumbfounded me:
“So, how is it so far? You know, your home stay?”
I held my head high and replied: “Things’ve been going without a hitch.”
“So far, things’ve been going well. My host family is nice, and the lady’s good at cooking, and even this room isn’t half bad. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be. It almost makes me wonder what made Kobayashi Makoto commit suicide when he lives in a house like this?”
“Why? That’s–” Pura-Pura said this without batting any eye. “That’s because you don’t know the true colors of your host family yet.”
“You don’t know anything.”
I felt a chill run down my spine from his expressionless, low voice.
“What do you mean?”
“Even though Makoto’s father looks the way he does, in truth, he’s a selfish human who doesn’t care what happens to anyone else as long as he’s fine. As for the mother, up until a short time ago, she was having an affair with the teacher from her flamenco dance class. That’s what I mean.”
I stifled the belch that was fighting its way to get free. The steak that I ate too much of just a short time ago was only now starting to have an effect on my stomach. Now that I thought about it, sushi and steak don’t go well together.
…Err, so what did Pura-Pura say just now?
“Don’t try to turn away from the heart of the problem.”
Pura-Pura shot me a withering stare.
“Okay then, I’ll go into even more detail—the unavoidable truth. The reason why Kobayashi Makoto committed suicide is complicated and inscrutable. You must take over not only Makoto’s body but those troubles he was having.”
He didn’t beat round the bush. He sat on the bay window, and began flipping through the thick book that he pulled out from his pocket.
“What is that?”
“The indispensable guide for guides. It has a record of Kobayashi Makoto’s life.”
Pura-Pura’s hand stopped on a certain page.
“Found it! This is the record of what happened a few days before his suicide.”
I didn’t want to know, but at the same time, I did.
“Even in his life in which a series of unlucky events occurred, this day in particular was a terrible one. Although we can deduce several reasons for his suicide, this day served as the trigger.”
After the pompous introductory remark, he began to speak in a gentle manner.
This is the record of a day that is befitting of the definition of the term “terrible.”
“This happened on Thursday, September 10th. That night, on his way back from cram school, Kobayashi Makoto spots Kuwabara Hiroka walking arm in arm with a middle-aged man.”
“Who’s Kuwabara Hiroka?”
“She’s an underclassman at Makoto’s junior high, and she was also his first love.”
“And that girl was being lovey-dovey with some middle aged geezer— no wonder he was so bothered by it. He then ends up trailing after them, and spots them going into a love hotel.”
“It came as a great shock to Makoto. He couldn’t move for a while. Then, another new tragedy rained down upon him. From the exit of that very same hotel, this time, his mother came out with her flamenco teacher.”
The attentive and kind mother. I couldn’t believe she would do something like that. If I’m this shocked by it, it must’ve been an unbelievable sight for her real son.
“It was almost comical how terrible this night was. Not only that, but the series of unfortunate events didn’t end there.”
Pura-Pura took in a deep breath and caught his breath. I also took in a deep breath and calmed my feels down.
“When Makoto returned home, his older brother was sitting in front of the TV looking pale. He told Makoto that he had just seen his father’s company on the news. He said that under suspicious of dishonest business practice, the president and several members of the board of directors had been arrested.”
“Don’t tell me— his father was arrested too?!”
“No, Makoto’s father was just an ordinary employee, and he didn’t have much contact with staff members, let alone have a hand in the dishonest business practice. It seems to be something that the shady president and a developers’ team did in top secret.”
“What kind of dishonest business practice was it?”
“What they were being brought to court for was a mail-order item called ‘The Easy Diet Bean-Jam Filled Bun.’ It seems they put it on the market with the bold claim that if you eat one, you’ll lose 1kg and if you eat two, you’ll lose 2 kg. But the reality was, it was nothing more than ordinary hot springs buns. They also did various other sneaky stuff like that. They released a made up theory like that of the octagon-shaped earth so that they could put out a new product called ‘The Octagon Japanese Rice Cracker.’ They also did things like label the water that came from the local supermarket as ‘Super Water’ and sell it at a premium. I’d say they were less real-life baddies than reckless Joes.”
Pura-pura shrugged his shoulders with a look of amazement on his face.
“But well, even though they were the kind of guys they were, they were important higher-ups to Makoto’s father. He probably figured he’d feel obligated and responsible to them, you know? And those higher-ups were arrested in one swift swoop and the directors who were left send in a group resignation notice as a way of taking responsibility. Since Makoto and Mitsuru had a good father, he figured that his father must surely be a bit depressed. Mitsuru was worried about that as he watched the news. Makoto felt the same way— when he heard what happened, he was understandably worried about him too. However!”
“…There’s still more?”
“Their father who came home after some time came into the living room from the entrance of the house doing somersaults. When he saw Makoto and Mitsuru, he suddenly hugged them and kissed them. Then, he whooped it up and tried to get them to dance the samba with him.”
“Was he drunk?”
“Yep. But it wasn’t drinking out of despair— it was drinking in celebration. Because the higher-ups at his company all resigned, the posts were reorganized, and their father, who had been just an ordinary employee, suddenly catapulted to the post of the head of a division. He skipped three steps at once. The old geezer was ecstatic about it. Whether it be that his boss got arrested or fired, it was like ‘who cares!’ for him. Rather, he was thanking his lucky starts that he was promoted because of it.”
He spit out his words.
“Well, when it comes down to it, humans just might be like that, but it’s not something you want to see from your own father. Even if he was conservative, even if he didn’t stand out, Makoto looked up to his father who was always plugging away at his work. Because he looked up to him, it hurt him all the more to see his father like this.”
Even after Pura-Pura was done talking, I couldn’t stop the queasy feeling in my stomach. Maybe it was because the sun was beginning to set, but the room that seemed so bright just a short time ago became very dark, and it became gloomy. To avoid Pura-pura’s sharp gaze, I did things like stare vacantly at the ceiling and gaze at the walls.
There was a mirror hanging on the wall.
My…no, Makoto’s face reflected back at me from the mirror.
His eyes are narrow. His nose is low. His lips, thin. He really does have an unprepossessing and unremarkable face.
While I was in the hospital and I came face-to-face with this face for the first time in the bathroom mirror, I was disappointed. I felt bitter towards Pura-Pura and his boss for making me have to live from here on out with this face. This was because putting aside the details, there was no hint of cheerfulness in his face. A smile doesn’t suit him. There’s no strength in his gaze. I couldn’t help but wonder why this was so when he had a wonderful family who came to see him every single day, but now, I can kind of understand why.
His first love who went into a love hotel with some middle-aged geezer.
A mother who cheats and a father who doesn’t care about what happens to anyone else as long as he comes out all right in the end.
“Well, I’ll ask this too while I have the opportunity to…”
I kept glaring at the mirror as I said this.
“What kind of guy is his brother, Mitsuru?”
“Well, since the opportunity presents itself, I’ll say this…he’s a completely insensitive and ill natured guy. Every time he saw Makoto’s face, he always had a snide comment to make, especially when it came to his height. Makoto was sensitive when it came to how short he was. His brother knew that, and he purposely picked on him about it.”
“But he hasn’t said anything to me.”
“He’s been ignoring you. He’s pissed off at you for doing a shameful thing like suicide. Hey, why don’t you try sticking your hand under the bed for a sec?”
I did as I was told, and I felt with my fingers a hard and rough object. When I pulled it out, it was an awfully gaudy…boot?
“They’re elevator shoes.”
“It has a super raised bottom, and when you wear it, it makes you instantly appear taller. Well, it’s not something you’d usually wear everyday. Makoto bought that online, but because he’s chicken, he was scared that others might find out he’s wearing it, so in the end, he kept it hidden under his bed this whole time. Mitsuru ended up finding it though a few days before his suicide. He mocked Makoto relentlessly and told him this: ‘Just give up! Your feet are small, so you’re gonna stay a shrimp for the rest of your life.’ He kicked him where it hurt the most.”
I threw the elevator shoes down on the carpet. Then, I sprawled myself out on the bed and turned my face up to the ceiling. All the strength ebbed away from me, and I felt stupid that I had been making a fuss about what a wonderful family they were and the family love they supposedly had.
So what was that happy family circle just now then?
“Now that I know all that, it’s a wonder how he managed to live for so long.” I shot a bitter smile in Pura-Pura’s direction. “I must’ve done something pretty horrible to have ended up having to home stay in a place like this.”
“Oh, I forgot one thing.”
Pura-Pura hadn’t been listening to a word I said.
“Kobayashi Makoto’s currently a third year in junior high.”
With this height, I thought for sure he was a first year.
Hmm? Wait, if he’s in third year…
Pura-Pura told the frozen me in a cheerful voice:
“In other words, in half a year you’ll be taking high school entrance exams.”