I live on the fifth floor of an apartment complex located in Shirokanedai. If I wanted to, there wasn’t even a need to use the elevator to go visit Misao’s apartment, which is located on the third floor.
Since my father’s sudden passing in a car accident, I had sold the house I grew up in and purchased an apartment in a newly built complex that was in the same neighbourhood. Similarly, at around the same time, Misao moved from Tsukudajima into an apartment in the same complex, as if she were following in my footsteps.
It was Misao who had recommended that I buy an apartment with the money my father had left me and renovate it to my tastes and enjoy living a carefree and comfortable life. It was of her opinion that it wasn’t wise for me to continue living in the big house by myself surrounded by old memories.
I needed a lot of courage to get rid of the old house that was filled with memories of my father. I had suggested that Misao and I live together in the house, but she had turned that invitation down. Misao’s reason for this was that the house was filled to the brim with his memories, and that if possible, she wanted to forget and to forge a new life for herself.
I could understand where she was coming from. She would’ve probably found it tiresome to live together with someone who was always leaning on her father. I gave it much thought, and in the end, I decided to do as she had suggested.
The thought never crossed my mind that she would buy an apartment in the same complex as me. I can’t say that I didn’t worry that living in such close proximity would lead to us having the same kind of relationship as if we lived under one roof. There is a danger of closeness of blood ties at times encroaching on the other’s privacy.
So it came as a surprise that there was not an inkling of negativity that came from us living in the same apartment complex.
We didn’t care about what time the other came home or whether the other was at home right now. Similarly, it came as no surprise then that we didn’t know who visited the other’s apartment.
We rarely ever contacted each other unless it was something urgent, so of course, there were no times when one would suddenly go knocking on the apartment door of the other. To go to our respective floors, we had to use different elevators, so the chances were low that we would run into each other in the hall.
That’s not to say though that there weren’t days when Misao called me on her night off and asked if I wanted to have dinner with her, saying that she had made a mountain of pork dumplings or that she had prepared a hotpot. Likewise, there were times when I was lonely for a person’s companion and I called her to ask if she wanted to go for a drink somewhere. But these weren’t weekly events. Normally, we just lived in our separate apartments and lived our separate lives and so it goes without saying that we didn’t know what the other was doing.
There were times when I felt it strange that I would find such comfort in living in the same building as Misao, like an animal nestling in its den.
Even when I caught a cold and got a fever, I didn’t go to her each time for help. I didn’t call her asking her if she could go and buy me some cold medicine, and I didn’t ask her if she could cook something for me.
Even when I was suffering from a high fever, I didn’t try to depend on Misao, and it was the same for her.
Even then though, there was no denying the significance of her presence in my life. She wasn’t a mother figure, and she wasn’t a friend either. And it wasn’t that she was just a relative I trusted. She felt something much deeper…a strong invisible bond tied us together.
I wondered whether I was identifying her as the sole person my father had loved until the very end, and thinking of her in that way. I also wondered whether she would continue to have an irreplaceable, special presence in my life in the future.
It was midnight around one week after we had had dinner at the restaurant in Aoyama that I received a phone call from Iwasaki Shougo on my cell phone.
He said, “This is Iwasaki,” and for a second, I didn’t know who he was. I was naked on my bed, as I said, “Oh, hi.” As I said this, I glanced in the direction of the bathroom.
At this very moment, the man who had just been sharing a bed with me had gone there to take a shower. He was Muda, the owner of the café where I worked.
There was a part of me that wondered why he would call now of all times. I couldn’t bothered to talk.
It wasn’t that he was someone I didn’t want to talk to— it’s true that in my mind there was a part of me that thought that I would see him again one day, but I just wasn’t in the mood to talk to him now right after I had just slept with Muda.
I sat up, feeling uncomfortable as if he had caught me in the act, and I threw on a gown that was nearby.
“Was it okay for me to call at this time of night? I thought about it for a while before I called.”
“Are you at home right now? If I woke you up by calling you, I’ll call you again some other time.”
“Don’t bother. I’m at home right now, but it wasn’t as if I was asleep.”
“I’ll call some other time. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Everyone always tells me that my voice on the phone sounds like I’m in a bad mood. That’s just the way I am. Don’t worry about it.”
Shougo chuckled on the other end. It was such an odd laugh that it lightened my mood. It sounded as if he was calling from a quiet place. I glanced over at my watch on the side table. The face read one o’clock in the morning.
I sensed Muda stepping out of the shower room. He then let out a sneeze— a loud one.
The shower room was connected to the main bedroom.
The door was open. For a passing moment I thought “he might’ve heard,” but then as soon as I thought that, I told myself “so what if he did?” There’s no way that he would care that there was a man in the room of his sister who he had just recently reunited with after twenty four years apart at 1:00 am in the morning and that the said person had just let out a loud sneeze.
“Thank you for the other day. I’m not exactly sure how to put it…but it was a surreal meeting. I still enjoyed it though,” Shougo added in a calm demeanour.
“Same here,” I replied. I reached over for the package of Marlboro on the side table and took out a cigarette and lit it. It was as if Shougo was watching me do this, because he was silent for a brief moment.
“I tried to think about many different things since our meeting, but I couldn’t reach any firm conclusions. It was as if I were thrown into a story of a video game; it still doesn’t feel real.”
I shrugged. What we were talking about wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but I wasn’t in the mood to drag it out further.
It was something that had already been done and over with. Perhaps it might have been different if he had appeared into my life as just a young man rather than a younger brother, but as long as he had that label hanging over his head, there was no denying the faint shadow that hung over our meeting.
After all this time, I didn’t have the desire to remember back to and talk about the incident that had happened so long ago. And it goes without saying that I didn’t want to get all emotional and talk about how we shared the same blood and yet we were separated for so long. Maybe this reluctance to involve myself in this was a way of me trying to protect myself— I didn’t really know for sure.
Muda appeared from the shower room with a big white bath towel wrapped around his waist. He glanced over at me before he slipped the cigarette I had been smoking from my fingers. Lately, he had become annoyed by my smoking ways.
“Did you just finish your part time job?” I ignored Muda, and rifled through my package of Marlboros for another cigarette. It was clear from his expression that he was displeased.
“Do you work every night?”
“No. Mondays and Wednesdays are my days off.”
“So what, while you’re working, are you alone with that gay owner of your shop?”
“Not even close. There are three other bartenders besides me working there.”
“Are you on your way home? Or were you thinking of a way to slip into your girlfriend’s apartment?”
“Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not the case,” Shougo replied chuckling. “The owner usually lets me finish work so that I’ll be able to catch the last train, but I wasn’t in the mood to go home for some reason today so I was just walking around town by myself. By the time I’d realized it, the last train had long left.”
“So is that why you suddenly remembered me and called?”
“Well, no, not exactly… you’ve been in my thoughts ever since we met the other day. I kept thinking about when I should call you.”
The way he said “you” unsettled me for some reason. He would probably find it uncomfortable to call me “Mio-san,” and it’s not as if he could start calling me “sis” after all this time had passed, but the way he said “you” made me feel as if that was something he shouldn’t say.
“Thanks for calling. I wish I could keep chatting, but I better end it here; sorry. To be honest, I have a friend over at my place right now— so I’ll talk to you some other time, okay? I’ll call you.”
“ ‘A friend’? You mean, the café owner?”
I didn’t reply. It’s not as if I felt uncomfortable by him saying that. It was just that he had said it so suddenly that he caught me off guard.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I guess that’s none of my business. Please just forget I asked that.”
“At any rate,” I said: “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow. If you’re free, would you like to get together? — Even the day after tomorrow would be okay for me. I’ll work with your schedule. I can always change my work schedule.”
I glanced over in Muda’s direction. He was sitting on the opposite side of the bed. He had untied the towel, and he was putting on his briefs.
As I gazed absent-mindedly at the wide-span of his back that was sprinkled with familiar moles, I said: “You’re a strange one, you know that?”
“Me? Why do you say that?”
“It’d only be boring for you to meet with me. We’d never even met until now, and if it wasn’t for the other day, we might’ve led our entire lives never seeing each other. There’s no way that you’d enjoy seeing someone like that multiple times.”
“Even if it’s not fun, why can’t we meet?”
“We found out that we both hate celery and picked plums,” I laughed lightly. “Isn’t that enough?”
There was silence on the other line. Then, I suddenly heard him chuckle. “Plus, we’re both left handed— that is, except for when we eat.”
“How did you know?”
I could still hear him chuckling as he explained, “When we met the other day, you held a fork with your right hand, but when you were typing in my phone number, you did it using your left hand.”
I brushed aside my hair that had fallen across my cheek and smiled, “You’re pretty observant, I’m guessing?”
“…Does tomorrow work for you?”
I hesitated before saying, “If it’s in the evening, I wouldn’t mind.”
He then raised his voice in a way that reflected his age: “Woo hoo!”
When I ended the call after deciding on the place and time, Muda turned to me to ask: “Who was that?”
I simply replied: “My younger brother.” and I briefly explained to him of what had happened recently.
He raised his eyebrow slightly and said, “Your younger brother, huh? Is he good looking?”
“Yes,” I said. “Extremely. But what’s the point of asking?”
“No reason,” he replied as he smiled. Wearing only his underwear, he embraced me from behind on the bed. “You know you wouldn’t hear the end of it from me if he wasn’t your brother, you know that?”
“Don’t be stupid,” I retorted and as Muda caressed my body, I thought about how the young man really did remind me of my father. It wasn’t just his physical appearance— it was also his voice, the way he talked… even down to the unique wit he showed when he asked a girl out…
“He’s my real brother,” I repeated it like a mantra as I reluctantly allowed Muda, who gave off the scent of soap to reach out for a kiss.
By the tie I went to the entrance of the fashion building on Aoyama street the next day at around seven o’clock, Shougo was already waiting, and he turned to me with a smile. His innocent, carefree grin relaxed me.
We didn’t exchange any proper greetings. I just simply said something like I would say to a guy friend I had known for years: “I know a good Japanese restaurant around here. I made reservations—did you mind?”
“Not at all,” he responded, and he briskly began to walk ahead of me. It was a night that gave off the scent of Autumn. The Japanese maple trees lining the streets had begun to turn colors, and the night wind gave off a coldness that hinted at the winter that was fast approaching.
The restaurant was located in a place that was separated from the main street. The outside wood wall was black, and the building number was reflected on the granite that was spread out around the entrance in bright yellow, and it sparkled like candy syrup.
It was a restaurant that a guy had taken me to before. He was someone who frequented Muda’s café— a slightly high-strung, self-proclaimed director. The stories about famous actors that he bragged about sounded only like lies to me, but strangely enough, I caught glimpses of a simple-hearted side.
We got together secretly and after having had a few drinks at this place, we had gone to a hotel. It wasn’t a love hotel, but rather, a four star hotel, and as he had me have a few more cocktails at the bar lounge on the top floor, he had already finished dealing with the check in.
It was just one night of passion. About a month after, he killed himself after having thrown himself in front of the train. There was no suicide letter, and because there was found to be no good reason for him having to kill himself, it was ruled that it was something that he did in the fit of the moment.
The place only had one L-shaped counter. It was dimly lit, and as there were no other customers, the atmosphere was hush. The moment I shut the door behind me, the noise from outside was blocked, and I could only hear the quiet whistling of wind. Maybe there was a place for the wind to pass through this hallway; or perhaps the building was built as such to trap wind– I didn’t know. That’s when I remembered that I had heard this same sound the day I came to this place with that director.
We sat on the right end of the counter, and we ordered some drinks and two or three appetizers from the restaurant owner, who looked like surliness personified. A short time later, the drinks and food arrived. I pressed the small sake cup in his direction, and he thanked me as he took it into his hand.
I turned him down when he tried to pour my cup, and I picked up the sake to pour it myself.
“Do you come here often?”
“Only once before. This would be my second time. It’s quiet, isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t feel like we’re in the middle of Tokyo.”
“When you get some alcohol in your system, you’ll feel even more that way. It’ll feel as if you’ve wandered into another dimension.”
“That whistling sound… is that wind?”
“It also sounds kind of like sleet, like you’re in some large cave and the snow is whirling outside and you’re just listening to the sound of wind…”
I laughed, “Well aren’t you the resident poet. Or what, are you just a romantic?”
“Neither. I know it may not look that way, but I’m actually quite a logical and realistic person.”
When I nodded in a way that hinted that I wasn’t taking him very seriously, he raised his eyebrow slightly and said: “You are too though, aren’t you?”
I shrugged my shoulder and said: “Who knows?”
“I don’t like doing a self-analysis. Do you know why? It’s because the moment you analyze yourself, a new self crops up.”
As I prodded the daikon radish kabob glazed with miso, I realized just how hungry I was. I skimmed through the menu and placed an order for another few items. I didn’t ask once what he wanted.
I was able to spend time with him without becoming conscious that this person next to me was my biological brother. It felt as if I had just been hit on by some young guy on the street while I was walking past and we had just happened to end up at this place.
“You speak in a brisk way, don’t you?”
“Me? I guess you’re right. A lot of people tell me that.”
“You always look like you’re in a bad mood, but in reality you’re not. I get the sense that there are no sharp curves in your feelings.”
“It’s because it’s always at a flat line. Gives you bad vibes, right? I’m too old to pull off the ‘cool chick’ role, so I just end up coming off as an unpleasant woman. Even I think so.”
“You’re not— not at all. If you really were, you wouldn’t be so popular with men.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, you have a boyfriend, don’t you?”
“Like I said, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s my lover.”
“Does he give you money?”
“Him? Why would I get something like that from him?”
“If you don’t receive a monthly allowance from him, then I don’t think you can call yourself his lover.”
“I would beg to differ. Okay then, that’s fine. If you’re so hung up on labels, I’ll change the way I refer to him then. I’m engaging in a love affair with him.”
When he rolled his eyes in an exasperated manner, I laughed, and he joined in on the laughter.
“How about you then?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a girlfriend or two, don’t you?”
“Well, I do have friends that are girls who would hang out with me if I called them– but no more than usual. I don’t know if I would refer to them as my girlfriend though…”
“But you’re popular with girls, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“You were the number one host at your host club, weren’t you?”
“I just knew the fact that there were techniques out there to make girls pay attention to you. Don’t get me wrong– I’m not bragging. It’s just, there’s no way that a guy would have girls interested in him if he only stood off to the side without doing anything. That’s where techniques come in, and as long as you master those, it works with pretty much anyone. If it involves a job that feeds your livelihood, then even more so. It’s easy to suppress self-respect to do so. It just means I was able to do something detestable like that. That doesn’t mean though that I’m popular with girls in anyway.”
In some ways, my father was the same way. Whenever he tried to turn a woman his way, my father he always showed off what could almost be called brilliant skills. His gaze, conversations, mannerisms… he focused every single part of him in his target’s direction. It was almost like a felid zooming in on its prey.
The only thing that was different from Shougo though, was that my father never considered what he did as “detestable.” Whenever he was focused on a woman, my father was always simple and honest. For him, each and every time was his last love, and in no time, that “last love” would give way to a new love.
The only exception was Misao…
But I didn’t open up to Shougo about that. I couldn’t get in the mood to talk to him about my memories of our father. Even if a time to open up about such things would come in the future, at the very least, on this night, I wanted to see Shougo as a “guy I met by chance,” rather than the “biological brother I reunited with after being the puppet of fortune.”
Several dishes were served to us. We both layered on the drinks. Part way through, one middle-aged couple came into the restaurant, but they sat at the left end of the counter so we couldn’t hear a word of their conversation. Inside the dimply-lit interior, there continued to be the presence of wind blowing by.
“Is it okay if I got back to the topic at hand?”
He said this as he pierced the grilled sea bream with his chopsticks.
“ ‘The topic at hand’?”
“”The story of how I grew up.”
“If you want to, go right ahead.”
“It sounds like you’re not really interested in hearing this.”
“That’s not true. You’re just imagining things.”
Shougo nodded, and glanced in my direction.
“My mother… well, the person who raised me was a generous and kind woman. She was always ready to lend a ear, and when it came time to give opinions she was able to give them, and there were times she could get emotional. I always felt at peace when I was with her. It was a wonder that I had no mother complex.”
“It’s probably because she was carrying around guilt. What kind of person was she?”
“I’ve thought about it a lot since I found out about all this,, and I still can’t believe she was someone who would do something so outrageous. She was a housewife—the kind that could be found in any household; she was that kind of woman.”
I began to ask him “Your father–” and cleared my throat before adding: “the one who raised you…”
“He was a bit of a mystery to me. At any rate, he was someone who divorced my mother when I was only eight, after all. He wasn’t one to spend his time around the house, and he was always off on a business trip or other. I don’t really have a concrete memory of having done anything with him. Since he was someone who always was with one woman or another, he was always out spending time with them– he was probably too focused on that to do anything at home. But he was affectionate towards me–as any father would to his child.”
“So is he still out there somewhere in this world thinking that you are his son?”
“If he hasn’t been transferred from the company he was working at, then he is probably still working there as an employee; maybe he’s even advanced in position. I haven’t kept in touch with him though. Even when my mother passed away, I didn’t try to contact him.”
“Why ever not?”
He breathed in lightly and let out a small puff of air: “My mother always told me that no matter what happened to her, to never contact him.”
“Is that right?” I said. As I said this, I glanced at his side profile. His nose was straight and beautiful, and I saw that the surprisingly long, black eyelashes of his downcast eyes cast a light shadow on his cheek.
“Can I ask one thing?”
“When Misao-chan suddenly… oh, by Misao-chan, I mean my aunt. I call her that. Anyhow, she was the one who contradicted everything you had ever known, right? What an appalling story. No matter how you think about it, it’s no story cutter tale– you were told that this mother who had raised you was in actuality a kidnapper. It must’ve meant that the very instant you heard this, your identity vanished in front of your very eyes; I’m surprised you were able to stay so calm. Why is it? Is it just because you’re strong?”
“I never said I was calm about it. Maybe that’s how it comes off to others, but even now, my emotions are in tidal waves. The storm is too strong though, and it’s like when you’re in the eye of the storm… I don’t feel a thing. It might just be that the reason why I haven’t been blown away by the wind is because the eye of the storm has continued to stay in my very location.”
I laughed: “The eye of the storm, huh? That makes sense. If only you could stay in that one spot forever. Putting aside what happened to you, I think it’s the same for all humans— if only they could all stay in that sweet spot from the time they are born until the day they die. What a carefree life that would be.”
“I guess.” He said as he turned to me and smiled. I returned his smile.
“Oh, and before I forget– I want to ask one more thing.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“What should I call you? You probably don’t want to be called ‘Masao,’ do you?”
“You’re right. Even if you called me that I probably wouldn’t respond. You can just call me Shougo.”
“Okay then, I’ll do that.”
“What should I call you, Mio-san?”
“You can just call me that.”
“You mean ‘Mio-san’…?”
“I don’t mind if you just call me ‘Mio’. I don’t care. Just don’t call me ‘sis’ or anything like that, okay?”
“Oh, would you not like that?”
“Do you even need to ask? Just so we’re clear here: I still haven’t reached a point where I’ve accepted you as my brother and I’m able to treat you like a sister would a brother; it’s probably the same for you though.”
“I know the feeling.”
“That’s why, give me a break when it comes to that, all right?”
“I understand,” he replied and added in a whisper: “But I still wish I could call you that.”
“You would? Why?”
“I wonder why…it’s just, I have this urge to.”
“How ridiculous,” I said and laughed to cover my surprised reaction as I accepted the refill of my sake cup from him. The lukewarm sweet liquid burned my throat. The inside of the restaurant was dim and I could hear the wind blowing past as strong as ever.
It wasn’t long after that I felt the alcohol making its way through my system. It almost made me see an illusion that we were the last two people left on Earth, and that we were sharing sake on the last day of Earth.
I commented: “If only you weren’t my brother.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If you weren’t, I might just have turned you into my lover tonight.”
I didn’t know why I said something so stupid. It might have been the alcohol talking, and it might have been the true feelings that had begun to bloom on an impulse.
He didn’t reply. He simply picked up a piece of grilled fish with his chopsticks and brought it to his mouth as he commented: “It’s been a while since I’ve had a meal this delicious.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 5 – 88 – 109]