This is the first chapter of a new story I am translating titled “House Ephemera” (蜉蝣の家) by Hatasu Shikishima (識島果).
Thanks to Sherayuki for helping proofread this chapter.
You can see the full Japanese text of this chapter here.
See this page which contains a brief synopsis and links to other chapters (as they are posted).
As usual, whether I continue translating this will depend on feedback/views from various sources. If you like it, please consider leaving a comment here. If you don’t have a WordPress account, you can just email me at selftaughtjapanese (at) gmail.com. You can also vote on this poll about what I should translate.
Warning: this chapter has some dark elements and references to suicide. It is not recommended for children.
Chapter 1: The details surrounding our first meeting
I had first met him on the way home from college, relieved after tossing my nearly-overdue report into the medical department drop box. I was thinking about how to spend the long holiday weekend while waiting for a connecting train at the station platform.
It was dusk.
The hour of fiery orange had passed. Remnants of the setting sun could still be seen reluctantly fringing the clouds, but the wide expanse of sky was already tinged a pale blue, hinting at the arrival of night. There was something about this time of the day that I liked. I gazed absentmindedly at the autumn sky’s smooth gradient of colors that looked like a thin curtain had been spread across it: a violet so faint, it seemed transparent all the way to outer space, blended with a rich blue tanzanite, and then to an inky navy blue. Amidst all this, the first star of the evening stood out brightly, as if someone had pricked a pin into the sky.
Feeling a chilly breeze brush against my cheek, I glanced at an electronic billboard. An express train was scheduled to pass by before my connecting train, but that left scarcely enough time to pull a book out of my bag.
A klaxon blared loudly, cutting through the darkness. I adjusted my bag and stepped back behind the raised Braille tiles.
It was then that I suddenly realized a man was standing next to me. This unsettled me to no end because, until that point, I thought I was the only person on the platform. That’s how silent it was. The man had completely blended in with the serenity of dusk. Both hands thrust casually into the pockets of a light Chesterfield coat, he stood firmly between the eroded white line and the Braille tiles, like an isolated signpost standing lonesomely on a deserted country road. I felt sweat ooze in my palms. In retrospect it seems absurd, but at the time I had an intense premonition that he was about to dive onto the tracks.
The man’s shadow cast by the dim fluorescent lighting stretched eerily long on the platform floor. Even his soft, uncertain silhouette felt unbearably ominous. A chill ran down my spine: this station lacked a guardrail.
The shrill klaxon permeated my skull. Its sound passed through my brain’s sagittal suture, the dura mater, then jostled the soft parenchyma. From within the darkness a light approached, glaring like a cat’s eye. The express train had arrived. In the middle of my field of view, I could have sworn he was taking another step forward.
I instinctively yelled out and grabbed his arm.
The man turned to face me, the roar of the express train filling in the background. His silhouette flashed intermittently as the train’s light sped through the tunnel.
Once the train was gone, I looked at his face and was taken aback. Judging from his facial features, it was abundantly clear he was not Asian. Until that moment his face had been hidden by the darkness, but now, lit by the fluorescent lamps, it was in full view. He seemed quite young, possibly in his late teens to early twenties. However, taking into account his well-worn clothes, I guessed he was actually a little older, probably at least a few years my senior. His softly flowing hair was a dark color, but in the center of an almost transparently fair-skinned face–which left no room for doubt that he was Caucasian–ran a long, straight nose. His almond-shaped eyes possessed a kind of melancholy, and together with thin lips hinted at a certain sensitivity. But it was his beautiful eyes, their amber color nothing like those of a Japanese person, that stood out more than anything else.
Still agitated, I opened my mouth in an attempt to somehow explain my actions. But I ended up only making a series of meaningless groans, finally closing my mouth without actually saying anything. I felt that straight out declaring, “You looked like you were going to commit suicide,” was extremely rude, and I lacked the linguistic prowess to express that in a more indirect way.
But when seeing the awkward expression on my face, the man, whose eyes had been opened wide as if in surprise, suddenly smiled.
“Actually, this island-shaped platform isn’t particularly well suited for committing suicide.”
It was my turn to be astonished when he responded in unexpectedly fluent Japanese.
“Because of the sharp curves in both directions, even trains just passing through will decelerate. There is a lack of decisive force.”
There was an odd ring in his voice, a peculiar mixture of penetrating stillness and languid sweetness.
The man cocked his head to one side after I stood silently without answering.
“Did I look like someone trying to commit suicide?”
At that point I blushed and apologized, my voice faint. In response, the man simply grinned again and said, “No need for that, perhaps my behavior was misleading.” His expression, which I could only describe as a quiet smile, made me even more uncomfortable.
There was a certain nostalgia to his wardrobe: worn-out Chesterfield coat, simple dress shirt with a stand-up collar, pocket watch chain peeking out from a pair of trousers, and aged boots. But, oddly enough, these all seemed to fit him perfectly. Furthermore, I had the feeling that everything he wore was of considerably high quality. Raised in a typical middle-class family, by no means was I well-versed in so-called brand name items. But things that are truly well made can be recognized as such in a quick glance, regardless of any prior knowledge–it was then that I first understood this.
“Your Japanese is quite good,” I said with a stutter. The man’s eyes shined a noble gold color when the lighting was right.
“You must be a foreigner. Are you here on business?”
The man nodded vaguely. However, I couldn’t tell whether this was in response to him being a foreigner or to working in Japan. He continued in a low voice, almost mumbling.
“I’ve come from far away and have been traveling all over.”
“Are you a traveler?”
“I guess you could say so.”
He answered again in the affirmative with a restrained laugh. At that time, I felt a mysterious gravitational pull from this quiet man who seemed to be the very embodiment of that night. He was like a greedy, collapsing star: sucking in everything as he pleases, swallowing even light–essentially a black hole.
Once again, the train signal rang out and a red light flickered at the edge of my vision. At last my train slowed as it slid into the platform, gradually coming to a halt.
When the man softly bid me goodbye, I found myself calling out to him. My entire body from head to feet was dominated by an urgent desire to learn more about him. His amber eyes narrowed in an instant as he stared directly at me. I conveyed hesitantly my interest in him, and said that if he didn’t mind I wanted to exchange contact information–email address, cell phone number, anything. I thought he might misconstrue me as a homosexual, but he simply cocked his head slightly to the side without any sign of being caught off guard.
“I don’t have a cell phone,” he said at first, as if declining my offer. But then he muttered the name of a hotel I’d heard of, adding that he planned to stay there for the next few months.
“That happens to be right next to the train station near where I live.”
“Then perhaps we will meet again by chance. And your name was?”
“Joe. Joe Sasayama.”
“Joe. That’s a nice name. I’ll be sure to remember it.”
Smiling pleasantly, the man turned around and boarded the train through its open doors. I just stood there staring at him, my lips loosely parted like those of an idiot.
By the time I had realized I’d forgotten to ask his name–not to mention get on the train myself–the doors had closed awkwardly and the train had begun moving with a rattle.