In a City with Missing Time
Noritaka stormed out of the restaurant. A sudden rainstorm swept the city, leaving him to aimlessly wander the streets alone. His feet brought him to the nearby abandoned park that Saki was at yesterday. He found the closest bench and lay down, closing his eyes. Although the raindrops hit him with considerable force, he didn’t seem to mind the cooling effect it had on him. Noritaka’s memories resurfaced at the mention of Chihiro.
“Hey, Kiyoshi.” A soothing voice woke Noritaka up. He opened an eye to see a silhouette of a girl, about the age of thirteen or so, leaning over him. She had one hand tucking her long black hair behind her ear and the other resting on her knee. Although he couldn’t see her face because the sun was directly behind her, Noritaka knew exactly who was there since there was only one person who called him by his first name.
“Were you sleeping again?”
Noritaka closed his eye and paused before giving a response. “No, just thinking.”
Noritaka gave another pause before answering. “Nothing, really.”
The girl in the white dress lay down next to him, roughly one foot away, the soft grass tickling her pale skin. Noritaka had his arms folded behind his head, while the girl had her hands interlaced across her stomach. Both of them lay down in the sun with their eyes closed. A gentle breeze passed by as time stood otherwise still for the two.
With her eyes still closed, she whispered, “They said I’ll have a brother as well.”
His reply was simply, “That’s good.”
“I’ll be in Tokyo. There'll be lots of people, lots of shopping, lots of good food.”
“And I’m going to a real school, so I’ll make lots of friends.”
“Good for you.”
She paused and then quietly asked, “Will you miss me?”
Noritaka didn’t answer. Although Noritaka failed to recognize that that was an answer in itself, the girl had gotten the answer she wanted. Thinking of what he could have said that day, Noritaka’s train of memories was interrupted by a sudden stop in the rain, specifically only for his head. He opened his eyes to see a worried Saki hovering over him with an opened umbrella. As if the rain had cooled his head, he returned to his normal self.
“Yo,” he casually remarked.
Matching his attitude, Saki smiled, then pouted, “You owe me two lunches now.”
Noritaka laughed as he got up from the bench. “I sure do, don’t I?”
“Yeah, and I also called the boss to swap your afternoon shift with my overnight, so go home and take a shower before you get sick.”
“Oh, really? Thanks a lot, Saki.”
No other words were exchanged, as Noritaka turned to head home in the rain. She debated between giving him her umbrella and walking him home, but she knew neither of them would be the right choice. Despite her efforts to get closer to him, Saki felt like the distance between them grew even further as she watched Noritaka’s back shrink in the distance.
When Noritaka got home, he did as he was told and entered the shower. The steam that dispersed from the hot water quickly suffocated the small room. To Noritaka however, who was still soaked from the rain, it felt like a cozy embrace. The warm air that seeped into his lungs neutralized both his body and his mind. He stood there with his eyes closed, facing directly at the shower head, trying his best to empty his mind. The water streaming from the showerhead reminded him of the rain he just felt while lying on the bench. The only difference now was that, instead of his whole body getting assaulted by the rain, only his face was getting pelted by the shower. Tracing this thought, he said to himself, “I guess I really do owe her one,” and tightly grasped his Counter with his right hand.
After Noritaka finished up his long shower in solitude, he headed straight to bed and fell asleep almost instantaneously. His mind was so clear now that even his dreams couldn’t sneak in.
A loud thunderclap woke Noritaka from his deep slumber, prompting him to go to his overnight shift. Although it was nighttime now, he could still hear the rain beating against his window. He quickly ate some leftovers in the fridge and headed to work. Just walking through the front doors of the prestigious hospital made him feel like he needed to switch to his professional side. On his way in, he encountered Saki, who had just finished her shift.
“You look better now,” Saki smiled kindly.
“Yeah, a nice shower and a nice sleep does wonders,” Noritaka replied.
An awkward pause in the conversation led Noritaka to ask, “What did Kokko tell you?”
“Nothing. I told him that I’d rather hear it from you directly, whenever you were ready. That’s why I was able to find you so fast.”
Noritaka appreciated that Saki respected his boundaries. To be honest, he thought of her as a more shallow person, so this came as a relief to Noritaka.
“Thank you. I guess I’ll treat you to lunch whenever then.”
“Two lunches,” Saki said as she held up two fingers.
“Two indeed,” laughed Noritaka.
They went their separate ways after waving goodbye to each other, with Saki feeling content after that conversation. Noritaka began his work grudgingly into the long night. As one would expect, there were far fewer visitors in the middle of the night compared to the daytime, so Noritaka quickly finished the bulk of his work early on. With time on his hands, Noritaka observed the hospital lobby that was always so packed.
Reflecting off the giant glass wall entrance, the bright LED lights that hung from the tall ceiling illuminated every corner of the white-walled hospital. On both side walls of the lobby were rows of giant banners indicating the top-ranked quality care that the hospital provided. The superfluous statues and abstract art that decorated the lobby emphasized the excess wealth that the Shinzou Hospital Group had, thanks to many generous donors. In the middle of all that glamor, the bronze statue of the smiling Mr. Shinzou himself welcomed all the visitors who walked through the hospital doors. If one were to walk through the entrance, the hospital’s motto imprinted on the back wall would create an optical illusion of Mr. Shinzou saying, “One beat, one day, one life.”
Noritaka, suddenly feeling adventurous, decided to take a break to roam the other parts of the hospital that he personally has not been to, despite having shown them to so many visitors on their maps. He walked to the back doors that divided the patients from the outside world, scanning his smartphone to gain access. He opened the doors to see the typical white corridors that many other hospitals have. More abstract paintings adorned the hallway walls. Rows of doors and signs filled the gaps between the endless number of paintings. Noritaka casually walked through the hallway, admiring (or at least trying to admire) the modern art that separated the closed rooms of patients. Perhaps because it was the middle of the night, the lights in the corridor were dimmed a bit, and the sounds of coughing patients were absent. It was a somewhat ominous yet serene feeling that the current atmosphere created. If it wasn’t for the occasional chatter that Noritaka heard from the nurse stations, he would have thought he was exploring an art museum after hours.
Noritaka continued to stroll through the gigantic floors of the hospital that wound left and right, using his smartphone to access the separated areas. The multiple paths that branched off the main hallway created a maze that most people would have gotten lost in. However, thanks to the countless times that Noritaka has seen the map, he expertly navigated his way around the hospital. He ended up going to the twentieth floor, where Sato’s office was located. Although Noritaka almost never worked the overnight shift, he figured the genius doctor would be the type to sleep in the hospital. Close to his hypothesis, he found Sato still writing notes in his office.
Noritaka knocked and popped his head through the door. “Hi, Sato.”
Sato looked up from his desk and replied in a cool voice. “Hello Noritaka. It’s rare seeing you twice in one week. What brings you up here and at this hour?”
“Nothing much. The lobby is pretty much deserted, so I thought I’d come by here to pass the time on my break.”
Acknowledging his presence, Sato resumed his work. Noritaka walked into Sato’s office and made himself comfortable on one of the lounge chairs. As one might expect of one of the top doctors in the nation at a top hospital, Sato’s office was nothing short of grandiose. Sato sat on an ergonomic chair that paired well with the adjustable glass desk. The glass wall behind his desk gave a bird’s-eye view of South Tokyo, though only the reflection of the room was visible through the dark windows. The bookshelves that surrounded him were filled with complex medical literature that Noritaka had no chance of even understanding the titles. Random antiques from different parts of the world Sato traveled to for conferences filled the rest of the room. The office that breathed “elite” was also filled with shiny trophies and awards that shouted “prodigy”. Of the ones that were on display, Noritaka had his eyes on the most impressive award - The Top 5 Cardiothoracic Surgeons in Japan. That award was similar to the World Cup Trophy, in that all five original plaques had to be returned once the next five surgeons were chosen. Since the time Noritaka had known him, however, Sato had always held on to it. It was no small feat.
Lying down comfortably, Noritaka asked, “Do you ever sleep here?”
Without looking away from his notes, Sato replied, “Yes, I actually sleep here pretty often.”
Noritaka took pride in his correct deduction. He then asked, “Does your wife worry about you?”
“No, she knows that what I’m doing is something only I can do.”
“No, I merely talk to the heart.”
Noritaka remembered hearing this in an interview. After Sato successfully completed a procedure that other top doctors deemed impossible, a reporter asked him how he did it. He gave the same answer as he did now, “I merely talk to the heart.”
Thinking about this, Noritaka asked, “You’ve mentioned that before, but what does that mean exactly?”
“I don’t like to elaborate on it since people might start to think I’m crazy.”
“You are crazy. You’re a crazy smart doctor who does the impossible.”
Perhaps taking an interest in his words, Sato put down his pen, looked at Noritaka, and smiled. That was the best Noritaka could get out of Sato.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Of course I want to know the secrets of the young prodigy.”
“I trust you won’t speak a word to anybody else?”
“Certainly not, Dr. Furukawa.”
Sato closed his eyes before giving an explanation. “You see, when I open up my patients, and I see the heart, it tells me everything. Their past, what they’ve gone through, what they’ve felt, how they feel now, what they hope for, everything. Everything is laid out bare in front of me.”
Sato paused and opened his eyes to see Noritaka’s serious face. He didn’t think Noritaka thought of him as crazy yet, so he continued with his eyes closed. “I cut off all my feelings when I see this, and when I do, I see this line... A line that connects everything together. Past. Present. Future. I simply follow that line with my sutures, and at the very end, if I followed it perfectly, then the patient wakes up. But that line isn’t always there though. Sometimes it only connects the past and the present, and there is no future. Sometimes there’s nothing at all. Those extremely rare patients where I can’t see the line, are the patients that never wake up again.”
Sato opened his eyes again and asked Noritaka. “So, do you believe me?”
“Hmm… It sounds like it came straight out of a movie, but if you’re the one saying it, then that’s completely different… Hmm…”
“It’s okay if you don’t believe me. I just don’t want others to think I’m a nutjob.”
“No, I do believe you since you’re the one saying it. But this line... does it always have to connect the past, present, and future?”
“Not necessarily. As long as there are some lines in the future that I can connect with something, the patient will live. I can’t really describe it since I don’t really understand it myself.”
Noritaka stroked his imaginary beard. “A line… A string… A thread… A thread of life.”
Perhaps keeping him entertained, Sato repeated, “Yes, exactly… A thread of life…”
As they were giving names to this odd phenomenon, Sato’s Counter beeped, alerting him of his needed assistance. Having no need to stay in the office, Noritaka rode the elevator down with Sato. As the elevator doors opened, a hospital bed rolled by. It only took Noritaka a second to recognize him, but he knew what he saw. Kokko’s motionless body was lying on the bed, unconscious.