after the quake
“Liza! What was it yesterday, then?” “It was what it was.” “That’s impossible! That’s cruel!”
radio:… garrison already decimated by the Vietcong, who lost 115 of their men…
woman: It’s awful, isn’t it, it’s so anonymous.
man: What is?
woman: They say 115 guerillas, yet it doesn’t mean anything, because we don’t know anything about these men, who they are, whether they love a woman, or have children, if they prefer the cinema to the theatre. We know nothing. They just say… 115 dead.
ufo in kushiro
Five straight days she spent in front of the television, staring at crumbled banks and hospitals, whole blocks of stores in flames, severed rail lines and expressways. She never said a word. Sunk deep in the cushions of the sofa, her mouth clamped shut, she wouldn’t answer when Komura spoke to her. She wouldn’t shake her head or nod. Komura could not be sure the sound of his voice was even getting through to her.
Komura’s wife came from way up north in Yamagata and, as far as he knew, she had no friends or relatives who could have been hurt in Kobe. Yet she stayed rooted in front of the television from morning to night. In his presence, at least, she ate nothing and drank nothing and never went to the toilet. Aside from an occasional flick of the remote control to change the channel, she hardly moved a muscle.
Komura would make his own toast and coffee, and head off to work. When he came home in the evening, he’d fix himself a snack with whatever he found in the refrigerator and eat alone. She’d still be glaring at the late news when he dropped off to sleep. A stone wall of silence surrounded her. Komura gave up trying to break through.
When he came home from work that Sunday, the sixth day, his wife had disappeared.
Komura was a salesman at one of the oldest hi-fi-equipment specialty stores in Tokyo’s Akihabara “Electronics Town.” He handled top-of-the-line stuff and earned a sizeable commission whenever he made a sale. Most of his clients were doctors, wealthy independent businessmen, and rich provincials. He had been doing this for eight years and had a decent income right from the start. The economy was healthy, real-estate prices were rising, and Japan was overflowing with money. People’s wallets were bursting with ten-thousand-yen bills, and everyone was dying to spend them. The most expensive items were the first to sell out.
Komura was tall and slim and a stylish dresser. He was good with people. In his bachelor days he had dated a lot of women. But after getting married, at twenty-six, he found that his desire for sexual adventures simply— and mysteriously—vanished. He hadn’t slept with any woman but his wife during the five years of their marriage. Not that the opportunity had never presented itself—but he had lost all interest in fleeting affairs and one-night stands. He much preferred to come home early, have a relaxed meal with his wife, talk with her for a while on the sofa, then go to bed and make love. This was everything he wanted.
Komura’s friends and colleagues were puzzled by his marriage. Alongside him with his clean, classic good looks, his wife could not have seemed more ordinary. She was short with thick arms, and she had a dull, even stolid appearance. And it wasn’t just physical: there was nothing attractive about her personality either. She rarely spoke and always wore a sullen expression.
Still, though he did not quite understand why, Komura always felt his tension dissipate when he and his wife were together under one roof; it was the only time he could truly relax. He slept well with her, undisturbed by the strange dreams that had troubled him in the past. His erections were hard; his sex life was warm. He no longer had to worry about death or venereal disease or the vastness of the universe.
His wife, on the other hand, disliked Tokyo’s crowds and longed for Yamagata. She missed her parents and her two elder sisters, and she would go home to see them whenever she felt the need. Her parents operated a successful inn, which kept them financially comfortable. Her father was crazy about his youngest daughter and happily paid her round-trip fares. Several times, Komura had come home from work to find his wife gone and a note on the kitchen table telling him that she was visiting her parents for a while. He never objected. He just waited for her to come back, and she always did, after a week or ten days, in a good mood.
But the letter his wife left for him when she vanished five days after the earthquake was different:
In fact, she hadn’t left much of anything behind. Her clothes, her shoes, her umbrella, her coffee mug, her hair dryer: all were gone. She must have packed them in boxes and shipped them out after he left for work that morning. The only things still in the house that could be called “her stuff ” were the bike she used for shopping and a few books. The Beatles and Bill Evans CDs that Komura had been collecting since his bachelor days had also vanished.
The next day, he tried calling his wife’s parents in Yamagata. His mother-in-law answered the phone and told him that his wife didn’t want to talk to him. She sounded somewhat apologetic. She also told him that they would be sending him the necessary forms soon and that he should put his seal on them and send them back right away.
Komura answered that he might not be able to send them “right away.” This was an important matter, and he wanted time to think it over.
“You can think it over all you want, but I know it won’t change anything,” his mother-in-law said.
She was probably right, Komura told himself. No matter how much he thought or waited, things would never be the same. He was sure of that.
Shortly after he had sent the papers back with his seal stamped on them, Komura asked for a week’s paid leave. His boss had a general idea of what had been happening, and February was a slow time of the year, so he let Komura go without a fuss. He seemed on the verge of saying something to Komura, but finally said nothing.
Sasaki, a colleague of Komura’s, came over to him at lunch and said, “I hear you’re taking time off. Are you planning to do something?”
“I don’t know,” Komura said. “What
Sasaki was a bachelor, three years younger than Komura. He had a delicate build and short hair, and he wore round, gold-rimmed glasses. A lot of people thought he talked too much and had a rather arrogant air, but he got along well enough with the easygoing Komura.
“What the hell—as long as you’re taking the time off, why not make a nice trip out of it?”
“Not a bad idea,” Komura said.
Wiping his glasses with his handkerchief, Sasaki peered at Komura as if looking for some kind of clue.