There are not many traffic signals on Awaji Island, and people tend to drive pretty fast. As I drove, I could sense the sea at the edge of my field of view. Enjoying the speed, my plan for today was to leave Awaji via the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and head east as far as Nagoya, where I would spend the night. But there was something I wanted to do before reaching the highway.
With the help of the woman from next door I had managed to consume the mountain of Corona Beer, which I had thought would not be possible. When I mentioned that to my friend last night on LINE, he wanted to know all the details, so I ended up telling him everything about last night.
"I don't get it."
I could understand why. Even more so now that I had awakened on schedule, and waited for a while to be sure I was no longer under the influence, and put the house into my rear-view mirror. I thought about stopping by next door to say goodbye before leaving, but I felt strange about that, so I didn't. As I knew I was leaving the resort area, and I looked over toward the house next door, where I knew the woman and her daughter were, I had a sense that space was warping, but as they disappeared from my view, so suddenly did I leave that sense of strangeness behind. I was sure that as I left the island, it would seem even further away. Or would it remain somehow in my mind forever, my memories of last night increasing their gravitational pull with each passing day? Like the special kinds of memories of adult things that got mixed up in your childhood mind that one day suddenly mean something to you.
I noticed of my own accord that I was dredging up the strangeness that had faded into the distance, things that I couldn't be sure whether they had sprouted or not. What the mother had called "simple explanations." I think I could sum them up something like this.
When she was young, in Tokyo, she had worked in a law office, and she was the owner's – the lawyer's – lover. The daughter was her child by that lawyer, and he sent them a generous monthly allowance. No one was forcing them to live in the resort, but it was a nice quiet place to raise a child. Hearing that, I could not help but think of Madame Butterfly. Waiting around for someone who never showed up, who wouldn't go a little crazy sometimes?
Swilling her Corona, she said, "You lot are always looking for simple explanations." "Why would anybody wait around for a good-for-nothing guy like that?"
Fissures in her relationship with the owner/lawyer had developed because he had left some important documents at her place one time. The lawyer was suspected of destroying evidence. She had been plucking the documents from their binder, one sheet at a time, and sending them to the lawyer's office. To keep their existence secret, and to underscore that one of what should have been a total of ten sheets was missing, like
the woman in the Sara Yashiki legend, she counted out the sheets in the binder: one, two, ...
Knowing there could never be a right answer, I had asked anyway. But last night, she had given me the only answer there ever could be. At least, it was what I thought was her answer. With the passing of time, my confidence was flagging. Or that might have been something else entirely.
"I knew it. You lot are always looking for simple explanations for everything. You lot will never understand that just living, or just winning, brings us all kinds of important things. You can call it regrettable, but it's really not regrettable at all. Just because I'm looking out at the sea doesn't mean I'm waiting for anything. Nope. And even if I was waiting for something, it wouldn't be the kind of easy-to-understand thing you lot are thinking about."
---- "Yū, you just don't get it. You just don't get it at all."
I remember the last conversation I had with my ex-wife. She was drunk. I wonder now, what was it we were drinking then? I bet it was not Corona Beer. It was the first time she had said my name in a long time. While part of my brain was occupied with processing that, the rest of me was trying to think calmly about what she might be so mad about. I'm sure we had been talking about the fertility treatment, and why it hadn't worked, and if I had said something about "waiting," I'm sure I meant to say it about waiting for the results. To put it straight, I'm sure we had been talking about whether we were waiting to see whether we could conceive a child. But even I knew it was about more than that. I just didn't know what. Even now, I don't know what it is she was waiting for.
"If it wasn't for you lot I'm sure there would never even have been an atom bomb, so of course it would never have been dropped. If it wasn't for you lot there's a lot of stupid stuff in this world that never would have happened."
In my head I could hear the voice of the puppet in the Abe mask. The woman, rising up, lit by the spotlight. Made to pay for the sins of a man, thrown down a well, gnashing her teeth over a missing plate night after night after night, the woman had done nothing wrong. That's the thing. That's what pushes the buttons of you lot's guilt. You lot can never move on without somebody having to make some sort of sacrifice. But what lies beneath that? You are just piling up guilt. That's why you have to blame the woman and throw her down the well, and that's why that creepy story is something you can't get out of your head, and that's why different versions of it exist all over Japan.
As I came around the curve, the giant Kannon hove into view. I continued for a short ways, but then I switched on my hazard lights, steered the car onto a short slope leading from the asphalt down into a field, pulled hard on the parking brake lever, and cut the engine. I approached the Peace Kannon. I got out my Xperia and loaded up LINE, and started a video chat with my friend.
"You on your way back already?"
He seemed to be in the co-working space near Shibuya Station that he was using as a place where he could concentrate on his work better. He was drinking coffee from a mug with the WeWork logo on it.
When I had video-chatted with him last night, I promised I would show him the big Kannon before leaving the island. As I walked ahead, camera trained on the Kannon, I changed the angle per his instructions.
"There is just something about that face. To think that guy had to build something that big to get over whatever it was. He must have been feeling immensely guilty. Well, it was just before the Bubble. There was a lot going on."
That peculiar face had an unbroken view of the sea. It is said that Kannon Bodhisattva is always listening attentively for the sound of suffering in this world, so she can alleviate it. But this Kannon is supposed to be demolished soon.
"It's getting old, and the people nearby are afraid it's going to fall apart, which is just the opposite of what should be happening."
"I get it. They want to trade it in for a new model. The sound of people's suffering has gotten too complicated. The old model just can't sort it all out."
"What are you talking about?"
When I got back to Tokyo I decided not to bother with the company I was supposed to go to work for. I had spent some time alternating between anxious and relaxed. I talked with several people about the new job. The pay at the new place was not going to be as good as it was at my old company, so I was sure I had made the right decision. I would start working in the Toranomon office, and forget all about the days of Corona Beer, as if they had been some sort of air bubble.
But somehow, the uncategorizable things that happened there would not sink to the depths of the sea of my memory never to be thought of again. They might rise up again at any moment. I might be eating a meal with someone, and that person might get up from their seat, and get ready to leave, and I might notice they are wearing a mask across their face. Times like that.
A joruri puppet of a male in a female role, wearing an Abe mask. That female might find herself condemned by all men, and she might never be able to confront the man
who did her wrong. All of that is part of this, but it is something that does not lend itself to simple explanations.
Presenting – Banshu Sarayashiki, the Aoyama-kan scene
That is what she had said that time, loudly, the girl in the spotlight, as she controlled the puppets. That young girl, who seldom left her room, was carrying on a centuries-old tradition. With only her beautiful mother for an audience.
What does that word mean for you lot, wandering through the night?
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