The translucent Ōe-san steps out of the bathroom and sits at the table as usual. He spreads butter on an invisible slice of bread, takes a bite, and chews it, holding the morning paper in his other hand. Just like a mime. I sit on the floor and observe his movements.
He showed up about a month ago.
Of course, his sudden apparition took me by surprise, even frightened me. To my dismay, his ghost spends his days in my apartment. On top of that, he owned this place before I moved in.
Ōe-san never deviates from his daily routine. Every single day, he gets up at six, washes his face, eats breakfast, reads the paper, and gets dressed. He straightens his back, reads something aloud to no one in particular in his suit, and goes out. On the weekends and holidays, he puts on casual attire while sticking to his usual schedule. For a ghost, he’s a stickler for the rules. He doesn’t seem to see me. When I open the door, we sometimes almost bump our heads. But I can’t touch his body. It’s as if he were air. I’m the only one who’s jumpy around here. He never misses his step. Once I was taking a shower, he barged into the bathroom. I let out a scream.
I’ve thought about confiding in someone. Our president, Yoshimoto-san from accounting, or my parents back home. But if I brought this up, they would think I’m losing it again. No thanks. Better keep quiet.
After a month, I’ve got a handle on this situation. He’s not bothering me. I see him. But I don’t hear him. Creepy, yes, but quite harmless.
Ōe-san was only fifty-five when he presumably passed away. Six months ago, when we signed the paper, he was swell and dandy, no sign of illness whatsoever. But judging from his recent apparition, he must be dead.
My apartment is located on the fifth floor of a twenty-unit building that was erected fifteen years ago. Despite the passage of time, the interior is free from major damage. The floor, too, remains intact. The walls look clean, free of pin holes. The ceiling is hardly sooty. Ōe-san took good care of this place. It’s ideal for a single woman like myself. A forty-five-square-meter 1LDK. No kids run around the entrance. We’ve got excellent neighbors. As he was in a hurry to sell, he set a lower price. It was a great deal. It’s a bit far from my work, half an hour’s walk, but I could certainly use some exercise.
His interior layout is perfect. After I moved in, I placed my furniture in the same spots. But because of this, the ghost and I tend to occupy the same places often. I can’t certainly stand sleeping in the bed next to him, so I opt to sleep on a futon on the floor.
The remaining loan balance is a source of headache. Now that the place is haunted, it’s impossible to sell. So I’m stuck with it. Besides, I took the plunge and made a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. I can’t muster enough energy to go through it again. If it were a bicycle or a washing machine, I may walk away. But this is my home.
A bird chirps outside the window. Perhaps it’s a shijukara. I step out on the balcony and look around, but no bird is in sight. Instead, a cicada begins buzzing in the distance. For an August morning, the air feels fresh, a dry breeze blowing my bangs. It’s great to live in such a well-ventilated apartment.
As I go back inside, Ōe-san walks past me and heads toward the bathroom. He sticks to his strict routine like clockwork. He was gentleman-like in person. A five-star seller, a pleasure to do business with. We got all the paperwork done without a hitch. Even so, he now makes my blood boil.
“Hey, Ōe-san. Excuse me, but can you just leave?” I tell him after he gets dressed.
Yet he shows no reaction.
“This is my house now. Remember? If you hold a grudge, please go haunt somewhere else.”
He doesn’t hear me. I throw a cushion at him, but it goes through his body and hits against the wall. He apparently lives in another dimension, and our paths never cross. He gets ready, reads aloud as usual, and leaves.
A deep sigh escapes me in spite of myself. This is not what I expected. When I reached my late thirties, I made up my mind never to marry and live alone for the rest of my life. When I came across this great bargain, I thanked my lucky star. I never imagined I would get mixed up in something like this.
Oh, I almost forgot. It’s my turn to clean the office. I’ve got to get going. Gotta get ready and leave.
“Good morning.” I step into the office, out of breath.
Odagiri-san, the president, looks up from his computer screen and mumbles back a greeting. He looks ill as usual.
Ten minutes later, Yoshimoto-san, our accountant, comes in. Hikawa is always the last to show up. As the youngest employee, he should come early, but he’s never late, so I can’t give him a talking to.
“Morning,” he mumbles, half-asleep.
After I get some paperwork done, I make the rounds. Our office has only four employees, including the president. It’s a typical real-estate agency in town. After the president became ill, my task load increased considerably. So did Hikawa’s. I drive around a company car, visit the properties, and talk to the landlords. I ask them about plumbing and call contractors. Trust goes a long way in this line of work. Sometimes I don’t feel like chitchat, but I hang around for a while to hear them out.
Before noon, Hikawa shoots me a text on LINE.
“Let’s do lunch?”
“OK,” I reply as I have no particular reason to turn him down. I head for the family restaurant he suggests.
“Hey, Yuko-san! Here you are!” Hikawa waves like an overjoyed kid.
Once seated, I order a salted mackerel teishoku. He asks for a chicken nanban teishoku and a pork miso soup.
“Lunch is not on me,” I warn him beforehand.
“Don’t be like that, Yuko-san.” He laughs. “Of course, I can pay for my own lunch.”
“You’ve got your tie undone.” I point my chin at him. “Don’t tell me you made your rounds like that.”
“Of course not.” He scrunches up his face. “I’ve loosened it just now. I’m on lunch break. Can’t you cut me some slack here?”
“You never know when your clients will see you. Keep your tie tight all the time while you’re out.”
“Would you do it for me, Yuko-san?” He leans forward and grins across the table.
“Do it yourself.”
He makes a grimace and fixes his tie in an exaggerated, theatrical manner. He doesn’t take what I say to heart. Even so, he’s well received by the landlords, perhaps due to his lively, approachable air. As he’s tech-savvy, we put him in charge of maintaining our company’s website when he joined us. He can make himself useful when he wants to.
Two years ago, he was hired to replace a young lady who had recently left us because she got married. As no hiring policies exist, it’s all up to the president. More than ten years ago, I was hired under the same circumstances.
“Now, what’s up? Come clean, Hikawa-kun. Shoot.”
“Oh, was I that obvious?”
I hope he won’t say he wants to quit his job. I brace myself for such a possibility.
“It’s about our president ...”
“What about him?”
“Well, don’t you think he’s on his last legs?”
“Now he’s supposed to be cancer free, Yuko-san. But it doesn’t look that way.”
“Hikawa-kun, what are you getting at? Spit it out.”
“He’s a goner.”
“Besides, he stinks like Tokyo Bay. Like something raw or rotten. My grandma smelled the same before she passed away, so I know. He says, ‘The malignant parts have been removed. I’m as good as new.” But it’s a lie. I don’t think he’s got much left.”
“You shouldn’t say such things, Hikawa-kun. It’s all speculation.”
“But I’m sure of it.” He doesn’t budge.
I don’t know what to say. It’s true that he looks pale, but it’s been only a couple of weeks since he came back, so I haven't given it much thought.
“When he’s gone ... Do you think we’ll be all right?”
We won’t be all right. That’s for sure. It’s taken him forty years to build a business relationship with the locals. He’s the face of our agency. He’s the brain behind the entire operation. We’re merely his pawns.
“The president wants you to succeed him, Yuko-san.”
“Eh? What’s gotten into you?”
“The other day when you were out, Yuko-san, I overheard him mumble to himself. ‘Yuko’s the only one I can trust with my business,’ he said.”
“No thanks. I’m not interested.”
I’m no way capable of succeeding him. If you don’t want to sink the ship, you’d better not make me captain. Even now, we’re barely floating along. We can’t simply compete with large national franchising chains.
When our meals arrive, we both put our palms together like in prayer and grab chopsticks. He digs into his fried chicken.
“But we need our job, don’t we, Yuko-san? You’ve got to pay your mortgage.”
“Mind your own business. Think about your own future.”
“Nah, I’ll be all right. But I’m rather worried about you, Yuko-san.”
What does he mean to insinuate? That I’m an old maid?
“If the worst come to the worst, I’ll look for another job. There should be plenty of jobs available in our line of work. Or maybe I’ll find me a sugar daddy.”
“Would you want me to be your sugar daddy, Yuko-san?”
“No thanks.” I turn him down flat.
“You’re so mean, Yuko-san,” he protests, his lips smeared with white tartar sauce.
Does he really expect me to take him seriously? He’s at least ten years younger than I am.
“You say you’ll be all right. You’ve got something lined up already?”
“No, not really. But I’ll find something else. Maybe I’ll take over the company.”
“You won’t make it,” I reply right away.
“You really think so? I think I’ll do a good job.”
I can’t tell if he’s serious or just kidding around.
“What made you want to work with us? We’re a small company with no bright future, you know.”
“Do you really want to know, Yuko-san?” A bemused smile forms around his mouth.
“What is it?”
“I haven’t told anyone, not even the president, but now is the right time. Just between us, Yuko-san. Can you keep a secret?”
“Just tell me.”
“As you know, I went to college near the office. When I was a freshman, I lived in an all-male dorm, but I wanted to move out. I happened to wander into Onogiri Real Estate.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” He used to be our customer.
“Then a beautiful woman attended me. She asked me all the right questions and found me an ideal place right away. She worked wonders for me. I adored her. She stole my heart. I wanted to work with her after college.” He flashes a carefree smile.
I’m at a loss of words.
“I hope I’m not blushing,” he says, scratching his head.
In the evening, while I slurp up instant noodles, Ōe-san barges into my apartment. After spending most of the day interacting with other people, I’d rather be alone. Besides, Hikawa still lingers in my mind. I can’t quite get them out of my mind.
“I’ve got no idea what prompted you to haunt my place. But why don’t you go home to Buddha?”
In spite of my request, he heads straight toward to the bedroom. He’ll change into loungewear. Like a mechanical doll, he repeats the same routine every day.
A lifelong bachelor, Ōe-san led a fairly fulfilled life here, but his mother fell ill and needed care. So he retired early and went back to his hometown.
“I’m sorry to let this place go, but I won’t regret it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to pay my debt of gratitude to my mother. Not many people get to do that.”
He was an honest, trustworthy man. I had no reason to doubt his word.
“I shouldn’t be pursuing a property before it’s on the market. It’s a conflict of interest. I’m sorry to get you involved in this.”
I bowed in apology. I wanted to buy the property in spite of company policies against such a practice.
“This place is dear to me. It’s a relief to me that you’ll be living here instead of a complete stranger,” Ōe-san said with a peaceful smile.
The president showed no objection. “You’ve been working so hard without complaint,” he said. “Don’t worry. Consider it as your bonus.”
Barely a fortnight after I laid eyes on the property, I sealed the deal. I moved in two weeks later. In my line of work, popular properties are like shooting stars. A blink and you miss them. You don’t want to skip due diligence while selecting a place to live for the rest of your life, but sometimes you need to make a quick decision.
I’ve never been greedy all my life. As a young girl, I never complained about wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs. Even as an adult, I’ve never been prone to making big purchases. I’m not picky about brands when it comes to household electrical appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, and washing machines. Functionality is the only thing I value in my furniture. Even so, I was mooning over this apartment. I’d seen over 1,000 properties, many of them better than this one. Still, there was nothing like Ōe-san’s place. It was like finding a perfectly fitting dress in a thrift shop.
In the first few months, everything was rosy, no complaints. I was settling in good and proper, and the place fit like a glove. Once I was home, I was able to let my hair down. But ever since the ghost appeared, torment has replaced joy.
Can a kitoshi perform an oharai and make the ghost go away? I once placed a pile of salt at the entrance to wade off the spirit, but to no avail. I did an online search for “Shinto shrine” and “kitoshi,” but I gave up after several minutes. It was just too outlandish. In my line of work, I’m bound to come across a “haunted” property now and then, but a closer examination always reveals one scientific explanation or another. Clogged drainpipes, construction works nearby, or simply decrepit buildings. If our clients find out I hired a kitoshi for exorcism, it will surely cause a huge scandal. Our agency specializes in local properties in a limited area. While having strong local networks is one of our strengths, rumors spread like wildfire. If I let the cat out of the bag, it won’t be a laughing matter.
I’ve thought about unloading my headache on Hikawa. But I can’t really count on him. I don’t want to owe him any favor either.
Ōe-san steps into the kitchen and begins preparing his dinner. I get closer to him and try to grab him by the shoulders, but my hands slip right through. He reminds me of a hologram in an animated movie. Unlike the traditional image of a ghost, he bears no malice or grudge. He’s just going about his daily life as if he were still alive.
I’ve adjusted my schedule to be out of synch with Ōe-san’s. I eat and bathe at different times to avoid being together in the same place. I sleep away from him. In the morning, I get ready for work after he leaves home. Every day, I send him off after he reads aloud, even though he’s inaudible to me. Once in his suit, he grabs a book and reads aloud in a sing-song tone. He shakes his shoulders, bends his knees, and changes his pace. He looks like an actor rehearsing with a script in his hand. What kind of book is it? I thought he was reciting shigin, but he reads too fast for that.
He’s no ghost.
I must be delusional. I’m losing it again, like eight years ago. Besides the translucent Ōe-san, I can’t think of any other cause. After I was discharged from the hospital, I lived in fear of getting sick again. Something may trigger another meltdown, I thought. Maybe a short hospital stay won’t do next time. I lived in fear of stepping on a landmine. A client lodging an unreasonable complaint. Losing a big deal. Being jilted by a boyfriend. Any incident may tip the balance of my already fragile mental state.
On the surface, I look well. Underneath, however, I take deliberate, slow footsteps as I examine each and every inch of territory I traverse. I don’t get fat if I don’t overeat. I don’t get jilted if I don’t date. I’m protected by owning my own home. But now a ghost is invading my territory. I’m not equipped with any means to ward it off.
At the small izakaya we frequent, the president makes a toast in a weak voice, signaling the start of our annual shokibarai, which is intended to dispel summer heat by drinking.
As a waiter delivers one large plate after another, Hikawa reaches out with his chopsticks and helps himself to a portion.
“Youth is a wonderful thing!” Yoshimoto-san even praises his audacity.
The president hardly moves his chopsticks. Instead of alcohol, he sips his ginger ale. My chest feels tight. Before his illness, he attended a drinking party hosted by the neighborhood association or the rotary club almost every evening. It was his personal conviction to drink up every cup of sake he was offered. He seems to be half the man he used to be. As Hikawa claims, perhaps the president is on his last legs.
Hikawa volunteers to share his silly anecdotes, attracting everyone’s attention. When he was in college, he climbed a utility pole to evade a huge dog pursuing him. While on a date, he pretended to be the scion of a wealthy family for a few months to match his embellished online profile. He narrates his misadventures like a comedian or a conman, causing roars of laughter among his audience.
Perhaps this man is the most suitable successor among us, after all. I don’t think I can replace the president. On the other hand, Hikawa may be capable of navigating our agency through perilous straits. Will I be still relevant after he takes over?
I’m getting drunk. Must be tired. I haven’t slept well ever since Ōe-san’s ghost appeared. Even so, I feel like drinking. Beer, highballs, shochu.
“Hey, Yuko-san,” Hikawa says. “Go easy there.”
The president remains silent, wearing a Buddha-like smile on his face.
We wrap up the party there. After we see the president climb into a cab, the three of us head for a karaoke bar. Hikawa is the first one to grab the microphone. He bursts into a popular song. As I’m too embarrassed to sing in public, I keep time with handclapping and drinking cocktails. Cassis and orange, calpis chuhai, shandygaff. All come with cheap tastes, but they suit me fine. Yoshimoto-san is also drunk. She begins a duet with Hiakawa, singing a Showa-era oldie cheek to cheek.
Shortly after midnight, I wave Yoshimoto-san goodbye. As I stand watching her figure becoming smaller and smaller in the distance, Hikawa shoots me a sideways glance.
“Are you all right, Yuko-san?” he asks.
“Of course I’m all right,” I shoot back. Even so, I don’t think I can walk home. My eyelids feel so heavy. My knees buckle and I almost lose my balance.
“You don’t look all right, Yuko-san.” Hikawa chuckles. “Let me flag you down a cab.”
“Go ahead.” I don’t feel like protesting anymore.
He raises his hand and flags down a cab heading our way. As I climb onto the backseat, Hikawa follows me.
“What are you doing?”
“Yuko-san, you’ve got me worried.”
“I don’t want you to treat me like a child.”
“My late father taught me never to abandon a drunken lady. I’m a gentleman, after all.”
“Your father is not dead.” A gentleman? He’s gotta be kidding.
The driver looks back at us with a bemused expression on his face. Hikawa volunteers my home address without hesitation. As our agency handled the property, he naturally knows where I live. I mutter a barely audible curse under my breath, but he lets out a chuckle.
The familiar landscape speeds by. Feeling dizzy, I sink deeper into the seat. Hikawa stares at the view outside his window. The smell of liquor fills the car. Several thoughts flash through my mind, lost in a jumble of intoxication.
The cab stops before my apartment. Hikawa gets off first and helps me out of the seat. Then he goes back in.
“What are you doing?”
“I’d rather not walk. I’m going home.”
My cheeks flush. He just wanted to send me home?
“Why don’t you come inside?”
“Uh, are you sure, Yuko-san?”
“I want to show you something.”
My hand trembles as I turn the key in the lock. I’ll fess up I’m losing it. I want him to know my past. I don’t know how serious he is about me, but he’s got a right to know who I am. There’s nothing to admire about me. I’m cohabiting with my own illusion.
I turn on the lights. For a change, Ōe-san is still up. Seated at the table, he reads an invisible book with a serious look on his face.
“Oh!” Hikawa lets out a yelp. “Who is that?”
“Oh, you can see him, too?”
“But he’s right there!” He cowers back against the wall and points. “Kinda translucent.”
“Do you mean over there?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Yes, I told you so.”
I’m confused. I never imagined Hikawa, too, would be able to see Ōe-san’s ghost. I wasn’t hallucinating, after all. Then what is it?
“Am I on Candid Camera now?” He looks genuinely frightened.
“It’s no laughing matter, Yuko-san. What is it? You’d better tell me!”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I say. “Don’t worry. He’s quite harmless.”
“Oh, he’s coming toward us!”
“Don’t worry. He’s probably going to the bathroom.”
I give him a brief rundown on the apparition. The previous owner showed up about a month ago. It’s not certain whether or not he’s a ghost, but he goes about his daily routine in a world apart from ours.
“Aren’t you scared, Yuko-san?” he asks, his back still against the wall. “You’re so brave!”
I’m not brave. He’s got no idea how I’m tormented!
“Would you like to stay overnight?” I tease him. He shakes his head several times.
I wake the following morning with a terrible headache and ask for the morning off for the first time in a long while. It’s not like me to take a half day off because of a hangover. I step into the office, my eyes downcast, mumbling apologies. The president is out. As always, Yoshimoto-san taps her calculator keys. Nothing has changed. Hikawa is on the phone.
“Yes, sir. Sure. At eight tonight.” He bows to someone on the other side of the line. “Thank you very much. That will be a great help.”
Perhaps he’s about to conclude a deal. Apparently all of the alcohol is gone from his body. His face wears his usual look.
“Yuko-san!” Hikawa hangs up and flashes me a smile. His voice thunders through my hangover.
“Sorry I took the morning off.”
“Never mind. Ready for good news?”
“Do you mean your phone call?”
“Yes, Yuko-san. It was Ōe-san.”
“Your Ōe-san, of course.”
“Huh? Come on, quit kidding. He’s—”
“No, Yuko-san. He’s still with us. I’ve just talked to him. It was news to him, too. He had no idea why. Anyway, he’s coming here tonight.”
I’m stunned. Ōe-san isn’t dead? But how did it occur to Hikawa to call him back home? Where did he ever get such an idea? What in the world was he going to say to Ōe-san’s family?
“Ōe-san is alive and kicking,” he adds.
“Then what is his ...” I’m just able to catch myself before blurting it out. “... doing in my house?” Yoshimoto-san stops her tapping, her ears pricked up.
“Well, he’s coming down to find that out, Yuko-san.” Hikawa chuckles.
While I wait for the real Ōe-san and clean my apartment, the translucent one comes home first. As usual, he changes into his loungewear and prepares his diner. While his ingredients are invisible to me, he seems to be stir-frying some vegetables tonight. If he’s no a hallucination or a ghost, then what is he?
Just before eight o’clock, the doorbell chimes. My guests are here. Ōe-san comes in, opens his eyes wide, and places his hand over his chest. What a peculiar sight. Ōe-san in flesh and his translucent self sharing the same space.
“It’s me. Make no mistake about it,” Ōe-san says, with a slight tremble in his voice.
“I told you!” Hikawa nods in delight.
“Is this a so-called ikiryō? The spirit of a living person?” I say the first thing that pops into my head.
“I don’t know about that. An ikiryō is supposed to leave one’s body during sleep. It’s just a spirit, after all. As seen in Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. But I’m awake, facing the other me.”
“Perhaps a doppelganger?” Hikawa chimes in. “Or bilocation?”
“You know a lot, don’t you?” I say.
“I looked them up online last night,” he boasts, his chest sticking out proudly.
“I’m not familiar with that phenomenon,” Ōe-san says. “But it’s not a doppelganger either.”
“Then what is it?” I ask.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Ōe-san answers. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Please accept my sincere apologies.” He makes a deep bow.
“Ōe-san, please sit there,” Hikawa suggests. “If you’re interposed with your sprit, it may disappear.”
“Don’t be rude, Hikawa-kun,” I warn him. What a silly idea.
“No, I don’t mind at all,” Ōe-san. “Let’s try everything. I’ve come here to solve this issue.”
Ōe-san steps closer to the table. His translucent self keeps eating his diner. Ōe-san hesitates a bit, but he, at last, sits on the chair. He wiggles to interpose himself on his other self and moves along with it.
“How is it going, Ōe-san?” Hikawa asks.
“Hmmm. Nothing. Nothing has happened.”
“Please stand up,” Hikawa says.
When Ōe-san stands up, his translucent self keeps eating.
“Didn’t work.” Ōe-san drops his shoulders in disappointment.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” Hikawa says. “Oh, how about this? Ōe-san, please talk to him. Maybe you’re able to get to him. After all, it’s the other you.”
“Hikawa-kun, don’t get carried away,” I say, fixing him with a glare.
“No, I don’t mind,” Ōe-san says. “Let me try that.”
He attempts to start a conversation, but to no avail. His translucent self gets up and starts doing the dishes.
“I’m so sorry, Yuko-san,” Ōe-san apologizes again. “It must have been so unpleasant for you.” He bows deeply.
“No need to apologize, Ōe-san,” I say. “It’s not your fault.”
“Yes, it’s my fault,” he declares. “This apartment meant so much to me. I never married, nor did I have children, but I loved living alone here. I was able to relax to my heart’s content in this room after a hard day’s work.” He looks around the room. “It’s truly a remarkable apartment.
“As I told you before, I didn’t hate going back home,” he continues. “I welcomed it as a new phase of my life. And it’s been a sheer joy to look after a grateful parent. But some part of me missed this apartment. I couldn’t really let it go. I abandoned an unfinished job and took an early retirement. I had to give up living on my own. Such unresolved feelings must have created such a feeble apparition.”
“That can’t be quite—”
“I’m sure this is the case,” he interrupts me.
“If that’s true, what are we supposed to do?” Hikawa chimes in.
“I’m so sorry. I have no idea,” Ōe-san answers. “But as we know the truth, thanks to your invitation, my other self may soon disappear.” He lets out a sigh. “Now we’ve gotten to the bottom of this. I’ll just need to make a conscious decision to let go of my unresolved feelings. It won’t be easy, but I don’t want to cause you any more inconvenience.
“It may take several days, or a few weeks,” he continues. “But my other self will become more translucent and eventually vanish.” He glances at me. “Could you wait just a little while longer, Yuko-san?”
“Of course.” I nod. What other choice do I have anyway?
I’d hate to force Ōe-san to let go of his past. But if that’s the only option to make his apparition go away, it can’t be helped. I’ve got no intention of going anywhere for the time being.
“Yuko-san, we did it!” Hikawa flashes me a smile.
“I’m grateful for your unconventional thought process.”
“Don’t mention it. Just go on a date with me a few times.”
“I’ll sleep on it,” I say, blushing.
“Yes!” he celebrates.
In the meantime, Ōe-san glances between us, a smile on his face.
“Oh, by the way, Ōe-san,” I ask. “What are you reading every morning?”
“How embarrassing,” Ōe-san answers. “You’re seeing my private life, after all. Even when I take a bath?” he asks.
“Ah, please don’t worry,” I say. “I’ve adjusted my routine to accommodate you.”
“Thank you so much, Yuko-san.”
“Don’t mention it.” I wave him off.
“About my morning ritual. Have you two heard of poetry reading?”
“It’s popular right now, isn’t it?” Hikawa says. It’s all news to me.
“That’s right. Particularly among young people,” Ōe-san says with a nod. “Competitions are held all over Japan. Winners get to go to world competitions.”
“Isn’t that cool?” Hikawa says. “I’m interested, too.”
“A few years ago, a friend told me his son had become a popular YouTuber,” Ōe-san continues. “I checked his poetry videos out of curiosity. I was captivated by his performances—his rhythmic phrasing and lively expressions. I thought I was a bit too old, but I took the plunge.”
“Nah, age doesn’t matter, Ōe-san,” Hikawa says. “Look at the poet Shuntarō Tanikawa. He’s in his eighties.”
“Thank you for saying so. I feel encouraged.”
I feel left out of the conversation.
“Excuse me,” I butt in. “I don’t know what you two are talking about.”
“Ah, I’m sorry,” Ōe-san apologizes. “Poetry reading is literarily an oral recitation of poetry. Sometimes with music,” he continues. “Some performers dance or act. Anything goes, really. But I do without music or dance. I read aloud as if reading a letter to a close friend. I let my emotions surge and sway. I feel like a bird chirping a cheerful song under a clear sky.”
“Do you write your own stuff?” Hikawa asks.
“No, I don’t have such a talent,” Ōe-san answers. “I choose famous poems I like. I have no plans to take part in a competition, let alone upload videos to YouTube. It’s just a personal hobby. I never expected to go public.” He laughs, as if trying to hide his embarrassment.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Ōe-san adds. “I can give you a copy if you like.”
“Are you sure?” I ask. “You don’t have to.”
“Please don’t worry,” Ōe-san says. “This is my favorite, and I own several copies. Now that you know my secret, we’re partners in crime.” He laughs again, but this time he sounds delighted.
He takes out a book from his bag and hands it to me.
After they leave, the translucent Ōe-san is still here. Is he really going to disappear? Who knows? Only time will tell. I lay my futon on the floor again tonight.
When I wake, Ōe-san has already started his morning routine. Washing his face, eating his breakfast, and reading the paper. When I fling open the curtains, rays of the summer sun seep though.
“He’s still here,” I text Hikawa. But the message remains unread. He must be still asleep. Come to think of it, I have never texted him first before.
The translucent Ōe-san gets dressed and starts reading aloud. I stand next to him and open his book. I watch how his lips move and copy him. I’m too embarrassed to read aloud, so I mumble. This is not a recitation. But I’m just starting out. By the time the translucent Ōe-san disappears, I hope to have mustered reading aloud. I want to read as if reading a letter to a close friend. I want to feel like a bird chirping with delight on a clear day. After all, this is my home, and I can really let my hair down.