Somewhere along the way, I developed a few habits.
Like touching the back of my neck when I panic. Or staring into my own eyes reflected in the mirror when I wash my face. Or always taking a moment to gaze at the scenery when I step out of the door in the morning, even when I’m in a hurry. And also, looking at my palm for no reason.
Next station is Yoyogi… Yoyogi…
As the synthetic voice sounded throughout the train car, I noticed that I was doing it again. I removed my gaze from my right hand and idly looked out the window. Hordes of people standing on the platform flowed by as the train slowed to a stop.
Suddenly, all the hairs on my body stood up.
It was her.
She was standing on the platform.
As soon as we stopped, I dashed out of the train, too impatient to wait for the doors to fully open. Twisting my body around, I rapidly ran my eyes over the entire platform. After a few passengers walked by giving me suspicious looks, I finally calmed down.
There wasn’t even anyone in particular I was looking for. ‘She’ is no one.
This is another one of those habits I picked up some time ago, probably one of the weirder ones.
As I stood on the platform waiting for the next train to come, I realized I was staring at my palm again. And I thought to myself, just a little longer
Just a little longer is enough. That’s all.
Somewhere along the way, I had also begun to wish for something, not knowing exactly what that something was.
“I applied to work for this company because I like buildings — or rather, the scenery of a town, of people living.”
The faces of the four interviewers sitting in front of me seemed to darken. No no, it must just be my imagination. This is the first time I’ve been able to make it to a second interview. I can’t let this chance go.
“It’s been like that since a long time ago. I don’t really know why, but… anyway I like it. Gazing at buildings and observing the people who live and work there. So I often went to cafes and restaurants, getting part time jobs and–”
“I see.” One of the interviewers gently cut me off.
“Then may I ask why you want to work in the construction industry as opposed to the food industry?”
The one who asked me that was a middle aged woman, the sole interviewer who looked like a nice person. I realized I messed up a little when talking about my motives for applying. I began to sweat in my uncomfortable suit which I haven’t yet grown accustomed to wearing.
“Well… interacting with customers in my part time jobs was fun, but I want to be involved in something bigger…” Something bigger? This is like an answer a middle schooler would give. I could feel my face growing bright red. “Basically… even Tokyo could disappear at any moment.”
This time, the four interviewers faces darkened for sure. Noticing that I had begun to touch the back of my neck, I panicked and quickly put both hands back on top of my knees.
“So I want to build the kind of town that will remain in people’s memories even after it disappears…” This is bad. Even I have no idea what I’m saying at this point. Another failure, I thought as I shifted my gaze to the gray skyscrapers rising up behind the interviewers, holding back the urge to just start bawling.
“So today’s interview… how many companies has it been now?” Takagi asked.
“Haven’t been counting,” I answered gloomily.
“Doesn’t look like you’re getting in,” Tsukasa said in an annoyingly cheerful voice.
“I don’t want to hear that from you!” I shot back angrily.
“Maybe it’s because your suit looks so bad on you,” Takagi said with a laugh.
“You guys’ aren’t much better!”
“I’ve gotten unofficial offers from two companies,” Takagi said happily.
“Me, eight companies,” said Tsukasa.
I had nothing to say in return. My coffee cup rattled as my hands shook in disgrace. Suddenly, my phone on the table made a dinging noise. I checked my messages, drained the remainder of my coffee in one gulp, then stood up out of my chair.
As I waved goodbye to Takagi and Tsukasa and began jogging to the station, it occurred to me that the three of us often went to that cafe in our high school days. Back then every day was so carefree. There was no need to worry about the future or finding a job, and for some reason everything was always ridiculously fun. Especially that one summer, the one in my second year of high school. For some reason, I recall that summer being more fun than all the others. I recall my heart beating wildly in excitement at almost everything that reached my eyes. I tried to remember exactly what happened, but I could only reach the conclusion that nothing special actually occurred. It was just a time when even a pair of chopsticks falling down could be hilarious. Idly running through the past in my mind, I hurried down the stairs to the subway station.
“Ooh, looking for a job,” Okudera-senpai said with a smile, looking up from her smartphone and at me in my suit.
The leisurely commotion of people released from a day of work or school filled the streets around Yotsuya Station.
“Haha… well I’m having a bit of trouble.”
“Hmm?” Senpai moved her face in closer and seemed to be inspecting me from head to toe. Then, with a dead serious face, she said, “Maybe it’s because your suit looks so bad on you.”
“I-Is it that bad!?” I looked down at myself.
“No, no it was just a joke!” she said cheerfully.
Senpai suggested that we take a walk, so we decided to stroll down Shinjuku Avenue, going against the waves of college students. As we passed through Kioicho and crossed Benkeibashi, I noticed for the first time that the leaves were beginning to change color. About half of the people passing by wore light coats. Okudera-senpai also had a loose fitting ash gray one on.
“So what’s up? Don’t usually get sudden texts from you,” I asked senpai as I walked beside her, thinking about how I alone seemed to be late getting with the changing seasons.
“What, I can’t talk to you if I don’t have any business?” She frowned with her glossed lips.
“No no no!” Flustered, I waved my hands back and forth.
“Aren’t you happy seeing me for the first time in a while?”
“Ah, yes very happy.”
Satisfied with my answer, senpai smiled and said, “I happened to be around for work, so I thought I’d see how you’re doing.” Apparently she had landed a job in Chiba at a branch of a big apparel chain. “Living in the suburbs is pretty fun, but still Tokyo really is something special.” As she talked, she looked around, seemingly entranced by the bustling city around us. “Hey look.”
I looked up to see one of those large screens on the exterior of an electronics store in front of us. On it, aerial footage of the new double lobed Itomori Lake as well as the words ‘8 years since the comet disaster’ were displayed.
“We went to Itomori once, didn’t we?” senpai said, closing her eyes as she dug back deep into her faraway memories. “That must have been when you were in high school…”
“Five years ago,” I said.
“That long…” Senpai sighed faintly, seemingly surprised. “I’m forgetting things already.”
As we descended from a pedestrian bridge and walked down Sotobori Avenue beside the Akasaka Goyōchi, I delved into my memories of that time. The summer of my second year of high school — or no, it was about the same time of year as now, the beginning of autumn. I went on a short trip with Okudera-senpai and Tsukasa. We rode a combination of Shinkansen and special express trains to Gifu, then walked around aimlessly along the local lines. That’s right, we also found a random ramen shop beside the highway
After that… after that my memories started to become blurry, almost as if they were from a previous life. Did we have a fight or something? I recalled splitting up from the other two and going off on my own. Climbing some mountain, spending the night, then going back to Tokyo by myself the next day.
Yes, that’s right — for some reason, I showed extreme interest in that chain of events set off by the comet. An entire village destroyed by a single fragment of a comet. A natural disaster on a scale rarely seen in human history. Yet miraculously, almost none of the town’s residents were injured or killed. The night the comet fell, the village had just so happened to be carrying out a practice evacuation, causing most people to be outside the area of destruction.
After the impact, many rumors went around, trying to explain the extreme coincidence. The rare astronomical spectacle combined with the villager’s luck of a lifetime set off the imaginations of the media and just about everyone else. Some tried a folkloristic approach, tying together the comet’s visit with local legends of a dragon god. Some praised or criticized the authority of the mayor, who forcefully carried out the evacuation. Some spewed occult like beliefs that the meteorite falling was actually prophesied. All these wild theories flew about for days after the incident. Mysterious facts like how Itomori was essentially its own isolated little village cut off from the rest of Japan or how apparently the whole area lost power about two hours before the impact only further spurred people’s imaginations. The craze continued for a while, but like all other episodes of the same nature, the topic eventually disappeared from the mainstream.
But still, now that I thought about it, my behavior puzzled me even more. I made more than just a couple sketches of Itomori Village. On top of that, my frenzied interest suddenly welled up years after the incident actually occurred, almost as if something had come to visit me and left just as abruptly without a trace. But what in the world…
Well, no point in worrying about it now, I thought as I watched the evening sun sink towards the horizon over the streets of Yotsuya. Rather than piecing together something from way back that I barely remember, I needed to focus on finding a job.
“There’s a little breeze now,” senpai said quietly as her long curly hair danced in the air.
A sweet scent, one that I had smelled long ago somewhere far away, reached my nose. A peculiar pain suddenly shot through my chest, almost as if by reflex upon detecting the scent.
“Thanks for hanging out with me today. This is far enough.” We had just finished eating dinner at the Italian restaurant where we used to work back when I was in high school. She brought up a fishy promise I had supposedly made way back when to treat her when I graduated. I had no recollection of saying such a thing, but I ended up paying for her anyways and started walking with her to the nearest station. “I didn’t know the food there was actually that good.”
“Yeah, we never actually got to eat the food during work.”
“I guess it took us years to finally realize then.”
We laughed, then, after a deep breath, senpai said goodbye. As she waved, I could see a small band sparkling like a thin droplet of water upon her ring finger.
You find happiness too one day, okay? She said that to me after announcing her engagement while we were sipping espressos. Unable to formulate a proper response, all I did was mumble a few words of congratulations.
It’s not like I’m unhappy, I thought as I watched senpai descend the stairs of the pedestrian bridge. But then again, I still didn’t really know what happiness was in the first place. I looked at my palm. All that seemed to be there was the absence of something.
Just a little longer, I thought to myself again.
The changing of the seasons had crept up on me unnoticed again.
The many typhoons of autumn passed, and, without any transition, the cold rains of winter had moved in. The rain maintained its constant, quiet chatter into the night, like memories of a conversation from long ago. Beyond the window streaked with water droplets, Christmas lights shone brightly in defiance of the dreary weather.
I took a sip of coffee as if to swallow up my wandering thoughts and returned my eyes to my planner. Despite being December, a jam packed job hunting schedule filled the pages: visits, information sessions, deadlines, interviews. Getting a little disheartened at the busy lineup, which included everything from big name general contractors to small factories, I compared all the items written in my planner and those in my phone’s scheduling app, then started organizing all the important ones from tomorrow onward.
“Hmm, I think I want to go to another bridal fair.”
When mixed with the pitter patter of the rain, even the conversations of random strangers seemed to be shrouded in mystery. For some time now, a couple sitting behind me had been talking about their upcoming wedding ceremony. It reminded me of Okudera-senpai, but the stranger’s voice and atmosphere were totally different from hers. The couple, who both spoke with a little rural accent mixed in, gave off a very relaxed feeling, as if they were childhood friends. My attention drifted naturally to their conversation.
“Another?” the man answered with a groan. “We’ve been to so many bridal fairs, and they’re all basically the same.” Although he was complaining, his affection for his partner clearly seeped into his voice.
“Maybe a shinzenshiki would be nice.” [A more traditional type of wedding, taking place at a shrine]
“You said your dream was to get married in a chapel…”
“Well you only get to do this once in a lifetime… I can’t decide that easily.”
“But you said you already made up your mind,” the man groaned again. The woman ignored him and continued her internal struggle.
“Anyways, Tesshi, you better shave before the ceremony.”
My hand, in the middle of bringing my coffee cup to my lips, froze. For seemingly no reason, my heart pounded faster and faster.
“And I’ll lose three kilograms for you.”
“You say as you eat your cake…”
“I’ll start tomorrow!”
Slowly, I turned around.
The two had already stood up and were putting on their coats. The man was tall and lanky, with a beanie on top of his shaven head. The woman gave off a somewhat childish impression with her small figure and bob cut. Before I could really get a good luck at them, however, they turned their backs to me and walked out of the store. For some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. The voice of the waitress saying ‘thank you’ to them only vaguely registered in my head.
By the time I left the restaurant, the rain had turned into snow. The abundant moisture in the air made the snow filled streets strangely warm, giving me the uncomfortable feeling that I had wandered into the wrong season. I felt the need to turn around and look once more at each person that passed by, as if they were all hiding some dire secret from me.
When I reached the local library, it was nearly closing time. The sparsely populated wide main hall made the atmosphere within the building feel colder than outside. I picked a chair to sit down in and opened up the book I took from the shelves: ‘The Disappeared Itomori Village – Full Record’.
As if breaking some kind of ancient seal, I slowly and carefully turned the pages one by one. A ginkgo tree by an elementary school. A steep staircase in front of a shrine overlooking the lake. A torii with its paint chipped off. A small out of place railroad crossing, like a pile of bricks suddenly dumped in the middle of a rice field. A needlessly large parking lot. Two snack bars next to each other. A high school made out of darkened concrete. Old and cracked asphalt on the prefectural road. A guardrail winding along a sloped path. Greenhouses reflecting the sky.
All of it was ordinary scenery that could be found anywhere in rural Japan, and maybe that’s why I felt a certain familiarity with the pictures. I could imagine the humidity in the air and the coldness of the wind as if I had lived there myself.
But why, I thought as I turned the pages. Why do I feel so much pain looking at boring scenery of a town that no longer even exists?
I had once very strongly and firmly decided something. Looking up at the light pouring out of someone’s window as I walked home, reaching out to grab a bento box at the convenience store, retying my loose shoelaces, I suddenly had that thought. I had made up my mind about something. I met someone — or rather, in order to meet someone, I decided something.
Gazing into the mirror as I washed my face, taking out the trash, squinting my eyes at the morning sun shining through the gaps in the buildings, I thought about that and laughed bitterly. Someone and something… in the end I didn’t even have the slightest clue what I was trying to remember.
Yet, I thought as I walked out of another interview. Yet, I was still struggling. To put it in an exaggerated way, I was struggling against life. Was this what I had decided back then? To struggle. To live. To breath and walk. To run. To eat. To tie together. To simply live naturally, like how I naturally spilled tears at ordinary pictures of an ordinary village.
Just a little longer, I thought.
Just a little longer is enough. That’s all.
Without knowing exactly what for, I kept wishing.
Just a little longer.
The sakura blossomed and fell. Long rains cleansed the streets of the city. White clouds floated high into the sky. The leaves gained color. Cold winds blew. Then, the sakura blossomed again.
The days flew by at an accelerating rate.
I graduated college and had begun to work, living each day desperately as if trying to not get thrown off a violently shaking vehicle. Sometimes, I feel like I’m inching closer and closer to that place where I wish to be.
In the morning, I wake up and gaze intently at my right hand. A small droplet rests on my index finger. The tears that dampened my eyes just moments ago have already dried up, along with my dream.
Just a little longer, I think as I get out of bed.
Just a little longer, I think as I look into the mirror and tie up my hair. I pass my arms through the sleeves of a spring suit, open the door of my apartment, and take a moment to gaze at the cityscape of Tokyo rolling out endlessly before my eyes. I climb the stairs to the station, go through the ticket gate, and get on a crowded rush hour train. Beyond the sea of bobbing heads, I see the clear blue sky through the window.
Leaning against the door, I watch the scenery as it flows by. In every building, in every window, in every car, and on every pedestrian bridge, the city is overflowing with people. On a car carrying a hundred people, in a train carrying a thousand people, in a city carrying a thousand trains, I gaze. Just a little longer.
And then, suddenly, without warning, I see.
Suddenly, I see.
Only separated by a couple layers of glass, almost within arm’s reach, on the neighboring train, he is there, looking straight back at me, his eyes also wide open in surprise. And then, in that moment, I knew what I had been wishing for the whole time.
A mere meter in front of me, she is there. I don’t even know her name, but I instantly know it’s her. But as our trains go opposite ways, that distance gradually increases. Then, another train enters the gap between ours, and I lose sight of her completely. In those few seconds, however, I finally knew what I had been wishing for.
To be together just a little longer.
At the next stop, I sprint off the train and start running wildly around the streets, searching for her. I know that she is searching for me right now in the same way.
We had met before. Or maybe that was just a feeling. Just a dream. A delusion from a past life. But still, we had wanted to be together for just a little longer. We want to be together for just a little longer.
As I sprint up a hilly road, I wonder. Why am I running? Why am I looking for him? Somewhere deep down, I probably already know the answers to those questions. My mind doesn’t remember them, but my body does. I turn out of a thin alley and the road abruptly ends. A staircase. I walk up to the edge and look down. He is there.
Fighting back the urge to burst out running, I slowly make my way up the stairs. A wind blows by, carrying the scent of flowers and puffing up my suit. She is standing at the top. Unable to look at her directly, I turn my head just close enough so that her presence registers in my peripheral vision. That presence begins to walk down the stairs. Her footsteps ring throughout the spring air. My heart dances wildly within my ribcage.
We slowly draw closer to each other, our eyes cast down. He says nothing, and I too fail to find any words. Still remaining silent, we pass each other. In that moment, my entire body aches as if someone had reached in and grabbed my heart. This is not right, I think strongly. There is no way that we are strangers. That would go against all the laws of the universe and of life.
So I turn around. With the exact same speed, she too turns around and looks at me. She is standing on the stairs, eyes open wide, the city of Tokyo behind her back. I notice that her hair is tied with a string the color of sunset. My entire body shakes.
We met. We finally met. By the time I think that I’m about to cry, tears have already started falling. He sees that and smiles. I return the smile as I weep, and take a deep breath of the fresh spring air.
And then, at the same time, we open our mouths, harmonizing our voices like children doing a cheer.