Chapter 45:


Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Hours go by. I check the time on my phone, watching the numbers shift. The screen burns a hole through my eyes; I have nothing to see on there but the time and my own reflection, so I turn it off. It feels like too much of an anachronism in this ancient corner of the world anyway. The storm just keeps on coming, an eternal downpour, a layer of mist within the layer of forest. Perhaps the world doesn’t exist anymore; it’s just Eguchi and I within this halfway home, sitting around a firepit, the only source of light and heat we have. Eguchi’s face continues to fall in and out of the light.

I sleep. At least, I think I do. Being alone in a crowd is one thing, being alone with Shizuko is another, but to exist in a world that consists entirely of one dilapidated temple building and an elderly man is a new experience. I’ve brought food with me, as had Eguchi; I eat Shizuko’s mothers leftovers while he munches on bread. The food warms me. It makes me think of Shizuko and everything she is to me. I oscillate in and out of existence, wondering what the hell I’m doing at the edge of the world, wondering why the hell Kanako left me, wondering why the hell I left Suga. I left his last message to me on read. Couldn't take the reminders of how things went wrong, I guess. Another reason to turn my phone off.

But I have a journey to end. A past to confront. Kanako’s last words echo around my head. My thoughts can’t escape the building, let alone the surrounding forest walls. I want to remember her during our summer days. I don’t want to remember her sadness in winter.

Eguchi observes me silently. He runs a wrinkled hand down his wrinkled face. “Do you know what the word vibrancy means, Shunsuke?”


“But what does it mean to you? Do you think the world is vibrant?”

My mouth turns dry. “I like to think so.”

“What makes it vibrant for you?”

Well, that’s the whole crux of the matter, isn’t it? I don’t know anymore. It used to be vibrant because of my memories of Kanako and Suga. But those were half-baked memories, distorted truths and falsehoods, molded to fit my own positive narrative. I’m exposed to the truth now, fully remembering it, and it turns out the past wasn’t golden. It was like anything else, just a rainbow of good and bad.

So, what makes the world vibrant, then? The riceball in my hand provides the obvious answer. But, if I accept that answer, then I have to let go of the past. I have to accept that I will never wait at a train crossing and see Kanako on the other side. It means accepting Suga is stuck in his room, having ruined his chances at a soccer career. It means accepting things can go wrong, that life is a bittersweet mixture, that this might be an inherently good world, but an inherently battered one at that.

Eguchi sees my hesitation and jumps on the opportunity. “I think the world is vibrant, too. But it can’t be because of something new. It can’t be because of the future. The future isn’t real, Shunsuke. It only exists because of faith and belief, little more than a cult of personality that we’ve trained ourselves to believe in. That progress is good. That newness is inherently better.”

His nodding head moves in and out of the torchlight. “Today is a mere moment. An existence on a knife’s edge. Only the past is certain. Only the past is concrete.”

“We can manipulate the past for our own ends,” I counter.

“Individual memories may change, but not the ideas,” Eguchi says. “You were born too late to understand, for that, I’m truly sorry. When I was your age, even when I was far older than you, we were building something, Shunsuke. Not just Yoshiaki. Not just Japan. As the human species, we were creating something special. We believed it would last the test of time. We were metaphoric rockets, approaching escape velocity, only to explode upon reaching the stratosphere.”

He sighs. “The cult of the future drove us forward. But look at the current status of the species. We’re in a slow-motion, permanent, decline. We’re in the future now, and the future wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And you know what the worst part is? Think of the current generation. The next generation. We tell them to work hard, to sacrifice, because we promise them a future! Why would they believe that promise? What do they have to believe in?”

I narrow my eyes. “I met some kids here. They believe in change. They still believe in making a better future.”

Eguchi just shakes his head. “Then they are fools. They haven’t been punched in the mouth by life yet.”

“Nah, just in the temple. Yet they still get up.”

The thunder dies down. With a smirk, Eguchi admits we’re at an impasse. Fortunately, after an unknown amount of time in this halfway house, we have an opportunity to leave.

“The storm’s let up,” Eguchi observes. “Now’s our chance to keep the Eternal Flame lit.”

His knees creak as he stands, yet he’s remarkably spry for a man pushing one hundred. I follow him out the door, back onto the stone path further into the forest. The rain has lessened into a constant drizzle, chilled by the approaching autumn, while a thick mist covers the ground. We push forward, even with our vision limited, since Eguchi must’ve walked this path hundreds of times.

We reach the river. With the lull in the storm, the water's calmer, not quite as high, allowing us passage over a stone bridge. I can’t tell if I’m hitting the point of no return or not as I cross over. Perhaps there’s no such thing as a point of return. Maybe you can always make a change.

We’re still surrounded by forest. The road makes a sharp bend up ahead, this sudden turn marked by a large boulder that’s been weathered by the eons. Painted across the front of it, in sharp white calligraphy, is the phrase



Steward McOy