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Chapter 12: My Story
On a Saturday afternoon in August, I had a coincidental reunion on a back street in Harajuku with Emori, who I thought I'd never see again. I'd hit a good stopping point in my work and was out stretching my wings, and he was sightseeing on a business trip. We thought it was someone else at first and kept walking, but after taking a few steps, we both turned around and said each other's names. We last saw each other in summer at age 20, so it had been a full 10 years.
When he heard I was working at a clinic in the area, he asked if there were any stores I recommended. I replied that I didn't really have any recommendations. "Well then," Emori said, then bought a case of beer from a store he had his eye on. He looked up where the nearest park was, and we went there.
We sat on a bench by the fountain and drank our beer. The park was filled with a smell like you were breathing green, and the smell of cooked asphalt. The morning radio said this would be a record-breakingly hot summer, and the heat certainly was outrageous. Many of the people in the park were cooling off in the shade of the trees. I was fine, having just a T-shirt on, but Emori in his suit had his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and frequently wiped his face with a handkerchief.
We didn't bring up a single topic like "how's work doing?", "are you married?", or "do you have kids?"; we just had a rambling chat, like we were friends who met up every week.
After laughing together for a while, Emori clapped his hands with a "come to think of it..."
"Half a year ago, I went and bought some Mimories."
"Huh," I said, feigning disinterest. "Was it Green Green?"
"Nope, not that one." He wagged his finger. "I went with this new one developed recently, called Heroine."
"Heroine," I repeated.
"Yeah. Green Green and Boy Meets Girl looked pretty attractive too, but I landed on Heroine. Anyhow, they're the perfect Mimories for me. They aren't simple fakes like common Mimories. There's this nested structure where there are fake memories inside the fake memories..."
I listened to his explanation in silence.
I decided not to tell him that I was the creator of Heroine.
Touka's death could be equated to the end of the world, yet it didn't bring even the slightest change upon the world. It was how it was. In accordance with her will, there was no wake or funeral of any kind, she wasn't cremated, and she naturally didn't have a grave made either. When I went to greet Touka's parents later, neither remembered their daughter. They'd probably made the same choice as my mother. With this, all traces of her existence were wiped away. As if a human named Touka Matsunagi had never existed in this world to start with.
My life went back to normal, and the simple days before I met her returned. Occasionally, I would get a suspicion that the events of that summer were all a dream. Touka's traces barely remained only in the memories of myself and a very small number of acquaintances. An entity in memory only. Thinking of it that way, Touka Matsunagi was hardly any different from a Substite. About the only decisive difference was that her name was recorded on a census.
Since realizing that, I could no longer discard fiction just because it was artificial. If you really think about it, there's not a big difference between things that happened in reality and things that might have happened in reality. No, maybe I should say there is no difference. What distinguished them was akin to whether or not identical products had a brand logo or a guarantee card; they were fundamentally equal.
With my renewed acknowledgment of fiction, a year after Touka's death, I dropped out of college to become a Mimory engineer. It didn't take any special effort. During that month in the hospital room with Touka, I acquired all the skills a Mimory engineer needed. I tried applying for a public recruitment, and got accepted in one shot.
Even if I wasn't as good as Touka in her lifetime, I worked on the front lines as a decently famous Mimory engineer. I wasn't picky about what requests I accepted, but my areas of expertise were naturally Green Green, Boy Meets Girl (as originated by Touka), and my own creation, Heroine.
My coworkers all found it bizarre. Namely, because I had never had a single romance worth calling romance in these ten years. I would get asked, how are you able to so vividly depict happiness you've never experienced yourself? I told them "because I've never experienced it," though maybe it's a stretch to call that answer accurate. But I had no obligation to explain all the details, so I didn't say any more.
Just the other day, I was interviewed by a certain magazine. The interviewer's name sounded familiar, so I decided to check, and it was in fact the same writer who interviewed Touka at age 17. The strangest coincidences do happen.
"I'd like to ask you one last thing," the reporter said. "Mr. Amagai, how would you briefly describe the job of a Mimory engineer?"
I thought about it briefly, then answered like so.
"It's the job of creating the world's kindest lies."
That's what Touka had taught me.
I'd turned 30 this year. I wasn't married, and had no one in mind either. I also had no real friends excepting Emori. I'd hadn't even seen Nozomi Kirimoto, the one person who thought of me in middle school, since that last meeting. I took up residence in a quiet town about an hour by train from the city, and lived there peacefully. I woke up early every morning, poured some coffee, grappled with work in the morning light, kept my room clean, got regular exercise, cut down on smoking and drinking, read books, occasionally went to see movies, bought ingredients from the supermarket in the evening, made elaborate meals, and spent the night listening to records. A life so healthy, maybe it was too healthy. The only difference from that summer was that Touka wasn't with me.
I still hadn't gotten over her death. Maybe I should say I didn't feel the desire to. At least for the next ten years, I probably wouldn't make any friends or lovers.
It's not like I was doing it as a duty for the departed Touka. I'm sure she wouldn't have wanted it. If she saw me now, no doubt she'd say "what a fool" in amazement. "You could just forget about the dead and be happy already," she'd laugh. Apologetically. Mournfully. Just a little happily.
So I couldn't love any person but Touka. I wanted her to always be laughing "what a fool" in my memories, so I wouldn't fix my foolishness.
The Mimories I made quietly employed a little trick. It's a bit like a computer virus. The virus would activate only in people who were on the same wavelength as me. Every time the virus activated, the infected would be possessed by the illusion that there was a "heroine" (or perhaps a "hero") somewhere in this world. They would always carry a feeling that everything they'd obtained up to now was a sham, and they would never be happy unless they could obtain the real thing.
I didn't make "you" have that experience because I wanted more companions, nor was it to make you taste the same suffering. My fated partner exists somewhere in this world - I believe that as truth from the bottom of my heart. And I'm praying that at least one more person in the world will believe that truth.
Fated partners exist. It might be a person meant to be your lover, it might be someone meant to be your best friend. It might be someone meant to be a buddy, it might be someone meant to be a good rival. At any rate, the world divvies up "people who you should meet," one per person, but the majority of people never meet that other person, and their lives end having settled for imperfect relationships.
That other person might be the clerk with the wonderful smile at the convenience store you always use. It might be the salaryman with an exhausted face you always see on the commuter train, or the sulking student who's always skipping class at the arcade you pass by. It might be the traveler at the train station with heavy bags who nervously asks you for directions, it might be the poor drunk vomiting in the business district early in the morning. It might be the man with an annoying snore sitting next to you on the night bus, it might be the awkward girl you pass by only once on the street.
No matter what it is, when you meet that person, you'll feel something you can't put into words. Like smelling a nostalgic smell, or coincidentally passing through a town you visited when you were a kid but don't know the name of, you're hit with a painful homesickness. But you're unable to trust your intuition. Because humans with common sense understand that fated partners only exist on TV, in movies, and in romance novels.
And so you pass your fated partner by. You'll never meet them again in your life. Some years or decades later, you'll suddenly remember that day. And you'll realize that not only has your impression of that person not faded, that moment that should've meant nothing shines brighter than any of your memories. No, that can't be; you laugh it off. Something like that's straight out of a movie, it wouldn't happen. That's what you tell yourself, and you seal that sparkle deep in your memories.
But if you're the kind of person who's able to believe in a "heroine," it might be a different story. After passing that person by, you might be able to let your intuition guide you and turn around. And at that moment, if your partner is also able to believe in a "hero," they might just turn around too. You might look at each other for a brief moment, and find something important deep in each other's eyes. There's still a considerable possibility you'll then turn and walk away, of course. But even so, perhaps you'll be able to call to each other, as if neither spoke first. And for the first time, maybe you might learn the reason you were born into this world.
I'd like to open up the space in people's hearts to allow even one more of those miracles to occur. That blank space, in most cases, will just get in the way of living. No matter how fulfilled a life you lead, that sense of absence will continue to cast a small shadow on your life. Yes, this is also a kind of curse.
You might resent me for that fact. I'm content with accepting that resentment. Because in the end, this experiment is just for my own self-satisfaction.
At the end of that summer, I received a request to give an address at my alma mater, and visited home for the first time in ten years. After the address, I had a basic meal with the people involved, said goodbye, and wandered the town aimlessly. I didn't observe any notable changes, but it sufficed as an hour-long stroll.
I sat on a bench and drank a canned coffee as I watched the sunset. As I decided it was about time to go home and sat up, some little girls dressed in yukatas passed in front of me, laughing amongst each other. I stood there and watched the girls from behind.
I'm being called for, I thought.
I walked in the direction the girls left. There was a festival taking place nearby. I was getting hungry around that time, so I bought beer and yakitori from the stands, and sat on the stone steps to eat by myself. I hadn't had alcohol in a long time, so I quickly got drunk.
I had a short dream. It was so vague, I almost couldn't remember what it was like, but I think it was a happy dream. Because it made me feel very sorrowful.
When I woke up from my nap, the area was covered in darkness. The cries of summer night bugs were already starting to mix with those of autumn bugs.
After I threw away my trash and was about to leave, I heard an explosive sound from somewhere. I looked up on reflex, and saw a firework launched into the night sky. The next town over must have been doing a fireworks show. I looked down,
and I smelled the same wind as I did that day.
I unconsciously slowed my pace.
I looked over my shoulder.
Among the crowd, I instantly spotted her.
And she, too, was looking back at me.
Yes, there was a girl there.
Black hair ran down to her shoulder blades.
She wore a deep blue, fireworks-patterned yukata.
With attention-grabbing pale skin.
And red chrysanthemums in her hair.
I smiled slightly. I faced front again, and resumed walking.
Goodbye, I thought I heard from behind.
It was only for three months, but I had a childhood friend.