The Farside

I know you.

Your name is Kanashii. Sadness. You used to be called Shiina Kana—that’s the Japanese way, with family name first. In junior high your classmates shortened it to Shii Kana, and after moving to Tokyo you switched it around to make Kanashii. You’ve only been back to your hometown twice. The first time was to see your best friend after she was in an accident. The second was for the funeral of a classmate you loathed. It was summer, and you were twenty-two. You cried your eyes out, felt much better for it, forgot all about revenge. You haven’t been back since.

You found a job. You no longer needed to block anything out, you moved on.

You like your name; you use it with pretty much everyone you meet socially. Not that you’re implying any degree of intimacy—you’re not one to put on airs. It simply comes naturally to you to be that way here in Tokyo. There’s no need for anyone to call you Shiina-san or Shiina-kun outside work, and in any case, it bugs you when someone addresses you familiarly as “kun”—it sounds so patronizing. And you hate it when anyone inadvertently calls you by the diminutive “chan.” If someone happens to address you as Shii Kana, you feel disorientated. It takes you back to another place. But those occasional phone conversations with old girlfriends from your hometown have all but ceased now.

At some point you realized that Tokyo is where you’re at.

Your name is Kanashii.

Four or five years have passed since your transformation, and you’re twenty-seven now. The day before yesterday, your boyfriend walked out on you. You’d been together for a little over two years. He moved in with you just three months after your first date, so his presence is still there in your apartment. You resent that. The apartment was originally yours, rented in your name. It should be just yours again now, and yet it isn’t. It’s permeated with his afterimage. And so you need to get out of there, the sooner the better.

      Time to move.

      Definitely.

      I’m definitely going to move.

Somehow, though, it seems so unfair that you should be driven out like that. You’d already sensed the impending split six months ago, so you’re not too upset. Or perhaps you are, Kanashii, but you’re in control of your emotions. The problem is that place. Last night and the night before, you were in your apartment feeling that something was missing. You just couldn’t shake off that notion. It’s a sense of loss, of course, but it’s not the man that’s the problem. The problem isn’t love. It’s the fact that your apartment is now somehow lacking.

      Or maybe time’s the problem.

      The passing of the years.

      That’s what feels so lonesome.

Up to now, Kanashii, I’ve been talking about your innermost self. I’ve been talking about your heart. Now I’ll talk about today—the day you walk into my life.

 

Kanashii works in Meguro—Shimo-Meguro 1-Chōme, to be precise. Heading southwest from JR Meguro Station you come to a slope called Gyōninzaka. Here, almost immediately, you’ll see a complex accommodating a wedding hall and reception center, a hotel, a restaurant, and an art gallery. Right next to this is an office building some three hundred feet tall, occupied mostly by foreign-owned businesses alongside, somewhat incongruously, a gym and a convenience store. This high-rise is where Kanashii spends on average twenty-one or twenty-two days out of every month. The company she works for is also foreign-owned; it develops computer software that it leases out to other firms along with a solutions manager. But she isn’t involved in the development side of things. She’s in accounts. Of the women she works with, two are older and four are younger than her. Her other colleagues are all men.

Today Kanashii leaves the office at noon sharp. Normally she goes to the area around Meguro Station, but that’s to have lunch. Lunch? She has no appetite for lunch today.

She heads away from the station.

Just twenty or thirty paces take her to an area she rarely goes to. It’s behind her office—a kind of metaphorical farside. There’s a river here, the Meguro River, which marks the border between Shimo-Meguro 1-Chōme and 2-Chōme districts. It’s quite wide, with a promenade running alongside it. In spring the abundant cherry blossoms form a tunnel over this promenade—only it isn’t spring now, it’s autumn. October.

There’s a stall selling lunch boxes.

Do people really buy their lunch here? Kanashii is amazed. Come to think of it, this is the first time she has ever come expressly to see the Meguro River. It has never occurred to her to notice Tokyo’s rivers before.

How many times have I been here since I started work? Here on the farside?

I can’t even remember the last time.

She lights a cigarette. As she inhales, she catches sight of two black birds flying side-by-side under the Taiko Bridge, which spans the river at the start of the promenade. Two cormorants, gliding downstream.

“Wow!” she exclaims. Cormorants, here?

But that’s what they are.

What slim bodies!

And there’s another one, gobbling down fish! Is it for real?

It blows her away. That’s Mother Nature for you!

Of course, Kanashii has never bothered to look closely at this river tucked away on the farside before. It’s hardly the kind of romantic scene to inspire exclamations of “Oh, how lovely!” or anything like that. Not that it’s dirty, but for one thing the color of the water isn’t right. It isn’t blue. It’s a cool green, the sort of deep green with almost zero transparency that makes you think of plankton. Is this what they mean by Mother Nature?

I’ve discovered something new, even on a day like this.

Kanashii leans out over the railing, studies the river more closely. If the cormorant is eating a fish, then clearly there must be fish in the river. “There!” she cries softly. A shoal of fish. Saffron cod, just like the one now lifeless in the cormorant’s beak. Her eyes are gradually growing accustomed to the river, and she’s beginning to realize that the water is not so opaque as she thought. She gazes steadily at it for ten, twenty minutes. At last she catches sight of something unexpected clinging to the concrete embankment. A large crab. Huge! A river crab, about seven or eight inches across. Or maybe it’s a horse crab? But isn’t that seaweed stuck on its shell? Could it have come all the way from Tokyo Bay?

Meguro River sure is something! She lets out a sigh of awe.

She feels something prod her back, low down near her hips. “Argh!” She spins around expecting to confront some pervert, only to find a boy not yet even old enough to be in middle school.

“What can you see?” he asks.

“A crab.”

“No way!”

“Can too,” she insists. “A big one.”

The boy leans out over the railing for a closer look. Quick as a flash he yells, “There—I see it!”

“See?” says Kanashii smugly.

“It’s huge!”

“Sure is,” she purrs.

“I’ve never seen one like that before. Are they common here?”

“Don’t think so. Maybe it’s a new type of horse crab.”

“Hmmm.” The boy twists around one hundred eighty degrees, still balancing on the railing. “Hey, sister, you’ve got sharp eyes. It’s a natural talent.”

“Sister? What do you mean by that?”

“Dunno.”

Kanashii moves away from the railing and stands before the boy. He’s still a child, but he has piercing eyes and his hair is long enough to cover his ears. He is wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with a big red heart on it—a bit girly, but somehow it suits him. Kanashii, for her part, is wearing a satin shirt with a figure-hugging sweater and stretch pants. Clearly a work outfit.

“You in elementary school?”

“Fifth.”

“Fifth grade? Younger than I thought. How come you’re not at school now?”

“I’ve got my reasons.”

“Reasons?”

“Like family break-up, for one. Think about it, sister.” The boy grinned.

“No kidding,” said Kanashii. “So where did you get this habit of calling people ‘sister’?”

“Isn’t that what everyone says? It was all sister this, sister that in a movie I saw Monday on late-night TV. I thought it was supposed to be polite.”

“I don’t suppose it was a yakuza movie, was it?”

“Yeah, it was.”

Right, thinks Kanashii.

She points at the boy’s chest and comments, “Cute design.”

“This?” he asks, looking down at the heart on his sweatshirt.

“Yep, that.”

“You into splatter movies?”

“Huh?”

“Look—it’s red, isn’t it?”

Because it’s a heart, duh! thinks Kanashii, but the boy seems to pick up on her thoughts.

“What’s red isn’t the heart, it’s the blood.”

“Blood?”

“It’s an organ to pump blood.”

“I guess. Since you put it like that.”

“So,” the boy jumps down off the railing, “do you always look at things so carefully?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Aw, come on!”

“I’m under no obligation to answer a brat like you.”

“But didn’t I just say you were talented?”

“So you did. I wanted to ask you about that. What talent?”

“I’m under no obligation to answer that.”

“Right. Such a nice kid!”

Still on the farside, the promenade eventually crosses from Meguro into Shinagawa, emerging in Kami-Ôsaki 4-Chōme. The river is on their right. A jogger comes into sight and then passes them on his way upstream. A pigeon perches on the branch of a cherry tree growing beside the river. So pigeons are wild birds! On one of the benches dotted at regular intervals along the promenade, two men in laborer’s overalls sit side-by-side eating their boxed lunches. I wonder if they bought those from that stall I saw? They look like engineers. Electricians, maybe.

“So where are you taking me?” Kanashii asks the boy.

The boy comes to a halt and points at the ground.

“Here?”

“Here and,” he points toward the river, “over there.”

“So?”

“Someone was killed here.”

“Killed?”

“Yup. She died in the river.”

“Creepy!”

The boy shook his head twice. “It’s true.”

“You mean, a woman was murdered here?”

“Not exactly.”

“So what are you talking about?”

“I saw it here yesterday. I don’t think anyone else saw it. I’ve got sharp eyes—know what I mean? And the woman who died—the victim, I mean—looked just like you.”

“Like me?”

“Yeah, same height and build.”

“What about her face?”

“Similar, I think. Not sure, though.”

“And she died here?”

“In the river, more like.”

Someone who looked like me? Kanashii leans over the railing once again and peers into the river. Focuses her eyes. She can sense the boy still behind her; then all of a sudden he whispers something. Maybe it’s all lies, she thinks she hears him say. That guy was just a drifter, you know. “What?” Kanashii turns round. The boy isn’t there.

“Hey, where have you gone?”

No answer. She looks up and down the promenade, but he’s nowhere in sight.

He has vanished.