“My Name Is Ren Natsukashi, and On the 19th of March 2021, I was supposed to die.”
The rhythmically dull humming of the air conditioning unit outside of my window had begun to drive me crazy. It was as if a constantly annoying companion, always there to remind me of every passing second. Each moment, it teased and taunted me as if it could speak through its slim vents, each droplet of condensation forming ready to strike at me like venomous words.
“Why aren’t you working?! Is that all you have done!? It's been four days you know…four days…haha! At this rate, Mr. Miura is going to kick you out of the law firm for sure!”
“Ahh... can’t you just shut your damn mouth already!” I grabbed the small glass cup that had been stewing on the table beside me and chucked it at the air conditioner with whatever strength I could muster up within myself. It shattered against the wall, and the warm green tea that had been sitting in it slowly dribbled down the paint and pooled up on the floor. I stood there for a long time, staring into the translucent greenish-brown liquid. I’m really not sure how long I was there, but it was long enough that when I finally looked away and gazed out the window, the sun had just disappeared, tucking itself beneath the horizon.
“What the hell is wrong with me…am I sick…am…am I just going crazy? Maybe I’m turning into one of those hikikomori weirdos you read about online nowadays.” I sighed and held up my hands, watching as they jittered and shook with a mixture of deep exhaustion and guilty defeat.
“I’m running out of time...I only just started at Mr.Miura’s firm and I’ve already used every sick day and vacation day I had…I guess dad was right, I should have never come to Yokohama…I can’t handle this on my own…”
An abrupt gentle knock on the door stirred me from my depressive hazy daydream. I glanced over to it, knowing full well nobody was coming to visit ME right now.
“Yeah, yeah who is it…whatever it is you’re selling I’m not buying it and I...oh…Mrs. Ichi...aha, can I help you?” Mrs. Ichi was the elderly woman who lived in the six-mat adjacent to mine. To describe her as simply old would not be good enough. This woman was ANCIENT, but in her defense, she was quick as a whip, cute as a button, and always caring and helpful. I’d only lived in the building for five months and she’d already become a bit like a grandmother to me.
“Good evening Ren-kun. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting, I know you’re busy with your lawyer job and all…but I’m just checking in to make sure you’re okay”
“If…I’m okay?” I glanced at her visibly perplexed, it wasn’t like her to just check in on me this late in the evening.
“I heard glass breaking and I thought maybe you’d tripped and hurt yourself, dear”
“Oh, that….right. No, I just dropped a cup while opening the cabinet, that's all. I’m fine.” I thought this answer would satisfy her curiosity, but she continued to stand there with her wry little smile poking out from her small wrinkled face. We stood in awkward silence, peering at each other for what seemed like far too long, her thin wrinkled eyes seemed to be examining each little portion of me carefully as if making some kind of complex calculation.
“Is…is there something else, Ichi-senpai?” She adjusted her glasses and then folded her arms behind her back, her small wrinkled lips growing into an even bigger smile than before.
“Ren-kun, I may be eighty-six years old and need prescription glasses, but even I can see you haven’t been taking care of yourself. I haven’t even seen you leave your apartment once in this whole week.”
“What?! Aha! Are you kidding! I’ve been out plenty of times I just have…been doing it early in the morning before you’re even up, ya know? I’m a law apprentice. I have to get up early to get my errands done! It's hard to have time for everything you know! Ahah…ha…eheh…ehhhh?” I tried to laugh and smile in hopes of convincing her, but I could tell she could see right through my ruse somehow. She swung the arm she’d had folded behind her back this entire time out in front of her and held it between us. It was a large wicker basket filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, on top of which was a heap of envelopes. “What's all this?”
“That’s all the letters that have been hanging out of your crammed-full mailbox all day long. I know you’re busy with your work Ren, but you can’t just ignore everything else and hope you’ll still be fine. I tried living that way for many years, and let me tell you, it will never work. If you don’t take care of yourself, even a young man like yourself will burn right out”
She’d caught me. I hadn’t left the building in at least ten days. Or was it eleven? I’m not even sure myself. But I couldn’t just let her worry about me.
“Okay, so I’ve been busy…AND I haven’t gotten out much recently…but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been taking care of myself, I mean look, here I am! Just fine!” I held up my arms as if to allow her to examine me and wore a smirk that brimmed with confidence.
“When’s the last time you changed out of those clothes, Ren-kun? Have you eaten anything this week that wasn’t instant noodles? Combed your hair? Are you okay, dear?” I bit my tongue. I tensed my hands into tight fists. I tried every trick in the book to hold myself together, and then, like an unstoppable flood, I wept in front of her.
I cried myself out for a good while, Mrs. Ichi the whole time held my hand and listened intently, consoling me whenever possible. When I finally was able to compose myself, I thanked her and took the basket out of her hand, bowing respectfully.
“Remember Ren, I’m only one door away. Day or night, sun or rain, if you need your laundry done or some fresh food, or even just to talk, Mrs.Ichi will NEVER turn you away.”
Her smile beamed at me, and a deep sense of guilt washed over me. I should be the one checking on HER. I really am pathetic, aren’t I?
We both said goodnight and returned to our rooms after that. I leaned against the door and exhaled deeply, staring at my room. It had become a huge wad of indiscernible clutter. Bottles here, papers there, and a sink full of unwashed dishes that had accumulated fruit flies. Wrappers, tissues, and cigarette packs littered sporadically across the old tatami mats beneath.
“She’s right…I’ve got to get it together. Nobody is here to help me anymore, it’s just me. I have one shot to become a lawyer and I’m about to blow it just because I’m upset.” I sat the basket down on the glass coffee table in the middle of the living room and smacked myself on the cheeks with both hands as I walked to the bathroom, flicked on the lights and glanced into the small dirty mirror.
“ Come on Ren, you can do this. You have it. You’re going to be a lawyer, all on your Own! Prove the old man wrong, you don’t need him... A lawyer... A lawyer… A Lawyer…” I stared at my reflection as I spoke to myself and slapped my cheeks. My hair had become matted, long and messy, a thick five o’clock shadow enveloping my face and my eyes were bloodshot, the lids blackish-purple with exhaustion. “Who are you kidding? Does that look like a lawyer to you?”
I flicked off the bathroom light and was about to leave, but suddenly hesitated.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, even a young man like yourself will burn right out” I turned back and started the shower. I hadn’t paid my bills in so long, the water would barely get lukewarm. I rinsed and soaped myself thoroughly, getting out covered in goosebumps as I returned to the mirror and shaved my face smooth. I set my razor back on the sink, the small metallic click of the blade affirming to me this was still real.
“You’re going to be….a nobody” I turned the light off again, sauntered to the couch and plopped down. My eyes focused intently on the large basket from Mrs.Ichi, I leaned forward and swatted all of the envelopes off the top onto the floor and grabbed a blushing pink peach, rotating it in my fingers so all the little hairs tickled at them. I took a bite, it was so juicy and ripe it dribbled down my chin onto my shirt. I widened my eyes and glanced at the bite mark as I swallowed.
“That…may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” Out of the corner of my eye, one of the envelopes on the floor caught my attention. I stared at it silently for a moment before reaching down to pick it up, taking another bite as I read the front. It looked fairly normal, but the return address was hand-written.
Nagara, Kita Ward, Osaka
I sat up and nearly choked on my peach, coughing and hacking for air as I wiped my eyes and re-read the letter. I hesitated only for a moment before hastily ripping it open and pulling out a small piece of folded paper. There were eraser smudges painted over each part of one side, but nothing is written on it. I flipped it over .
“Ren, I really want to see you again.”
I turned the paper over again and again, examining it for something else, ANYTHING else. But that was it, that was all she wrote. I let the letter fall to the floor and rushed to the bathroom, my gut-wrenching as I immediately threw up into the toilet.
“Why, why now? Can I really relive this all another day? I’ve been reliving it already for five months straight, can’t you all just go away!? Have I not been through ENOUGH!” I curled myself into a ball and pounded my fists into the cool blue tile floor of the bathroom, wincing in pain.
“I guess…I guess you can’t just forget everything after all, no matter how hard you try."