I did the full course: I mucked around in the bookstore and arcade, did some reading at the café and loitered at the convenience store. Before I knew it, the time had flown by.
Yet even though it was close to midnight, the town remained a hive of activity.
The main street that stretched all the way from east to west was still bright. Along the road there were twinkling streetlamps and convenience stores at every intersection, as well as karaoke bars, sake stores and ramen shops. But as soon as you turned the corner into a side street, it instantly turned dark. The light from the main street only made the shadows seem even thicker.
When you think of it that way, Tokyo at twilight may be darker than any other city. Neither the light stretching all across the main street nor the merry-sounding voices of the students walking there reached this side road.
The only light that shone on the dark, night-time road was a dim and hazy streetlight. Also, the building lights came into view whenever I looked up.
The light that twinkled up above the world so high was not the stars but red lights. The outline of the faraway building blended into the darkness and became indistinct. Only a red flicker announced its presence loud and clear.
During the day, this backdrop was nothing worth mentioning and I was barely even aware that a building was there, so as soon as its shape was hidden from sight, I strained my eyes to find it.
That’s why what you see really is what you get, and what you hear might really be what you listen to.
Blah blah blah. I was thinking about a bunch of useless crap as I headed for home.
Since the apartments and private houses were clustered together around these parts, the road was narrow. The passing cars came by with little room to spare, and every time that happened, their headlights shone on the people walking along the path. There was a bicycle coming from the opposite direction as well as a young couple walking a few steps ahead of me. There was no one else to be seen. Compared to the main street, this was quiet as hell.
Unfortunately, because it was so quiet I could hear the couple’s lovey-dovey talk in front of me.
“I’m sorry that you had to take me out all this way…”
“I really wanted to walk you home, though…”
“Oh no, I would’ve been really happy if you just took me to the station. Thank you so much,” said the girl as she snuggled against the guy.
I couldn’t see their faces clearly because it was dark, but judging from their uniforms, I guessed they were still young. University students, or maybe they were in high school? Due to the girl who had her hair tied in a bun, they gave off a cutesy vibe together. As for the guy, he looked about my age, but meh, who cares about guys.
The two of them really seemed to be enjoying their alone time; as the guy walked on the side of the road, he tightened his grip on his girlfriend’s hand. I instinctively tightened my grip on my fist. Stop flirting in my neighbourhood, damn it. Yet oblivious to the anger exuding from me, the guy let out a sweet whisper.
“I should be the one to thank you for coming out all this way, Maria.”
“Oh no, I like going to your room, Tsutomu…” the girl said, lifting her face.
The two of them gazed at each other. All of a sudden, their bodies were illuminated by a private house’s sensor lights. Thanks to that, I got a square look at their faces. In that moment, my fists unclenched. I mean, well, there wasn’t anything to get mad over!
“Plus, if I don’t come over, you’ll never clean your room, Tsutomu.”
“My bad. Oh, and come to think of it, you’re always at my place. Don’t you wanna go on a trip somewhere like last time?”
“Oh, what a great idea! But I’m kinda strapped for cash…”
Whereas I’m full of hate…
A good-looking couple would have been easy on the eyes, but when a less-than-stellar couple carries on with each other, it’s nothing but pollution. It’s just like when that character in Hanasaka Tenshi reads a poem aloud (1).
When a couple makes out in public, they’re doing it because they don’t have confidence in their own love, and when other people give them disapproving looks, they conveniently interpret it as, “We love each other so much that people get jealous of us,” as if they’re seeking approval. When I think about it that way, I… I’m not jealous at all! I swear!
As much as I wallowed in excessive gloom, I was interrupted when the path forked at the corner of the street. If you were heading for the station, then you had to turn left at the three-forked road. My house was to the right. Naturally, this was where we parted ways.
As one would expect, their voices became ever more distant as they made for the station. I breathed a sigh of relief over that and then turned the corner myself.
After that, an utterly familiar scenery unfolded before me. Whenever I passed through it, I encountered the same T-intersection every time.
Yet still, my feet stopped in their tracks.
There was no one coming along the right side of the road, and no one on the left side either. Despite that, the couple’s voices became more distant as they walked further ahead.
A hole was gaping open at the end of the T-intersection, where there was supposed to be a block wall. Straight beyond it was a dim blue and black haze, flickering like a shimmer of hot air.
“If you save up money, where will we go?”
“Oh, I’m fine with anywhere.”
Their phony conversation drifted further away.
The air was warping.
That applied to the dim, hazy, flickering street lights as well. And the fluorescent lights seeping out from the apartment entrance.
The red lights from the towering buildings were affected too. They flickered like an illusion on a foggy mountain, and it was impossible to see even a few steps ahead.
And yet the couple went on walking in the midst of that dark fog.
Their footsteps were entirely unperturbed, as if nothing had changed at all. They held each other’s hands lovingly. All the while talking about their plans for next week.
A warped landscape, a twisted world. The more bizarre thing about this bizarre scenery before me was the two healthy individuals. They went on chatting to each other pleasantly, blithely unaware of the abnormalities. Perhaps one could say that people have such calm expressions on their faces when committing lovers’ suicide.
Eventually, the two of them vanished into the darkness.
All that was left was the gaping dark hole. No, it wasn’t a hole. In the place where there should have been a block wall, a gap had appeared out of nowhere, stretching on and on seemingly into eternity.
In that case, it was better to call it a path.
Just as the couple’s voices cut off, the path also wavered and disappeared.
Somehow, I forced my frozen legs to move, and when I stepped closer, I could see that it really was just a block wall. I reached my trembling hand towards it, but the rough feeling of concrete was definitely real.
There was no path there.
I touched the block wall one more time, and then stroked my cheek. The cold touch of my cheek was enough to snap me out of this utterly surreal world and back into reality.
“…What the hell?” I choked out belatedly, looking around me. Yet still, I caught no sight of that couple. They should have still been within earshot, and I had definitely been following them with my eyes until this moment, but even so, I could see no trace of them anywhere.
There was something familiar about this situation. Was this that whatchamacallit?
It is said that if you walk down the residential area at midnight holding hands with your lover, a fourth road appears at the end of the crossroad. There is no way of knowing which path is the right way. If you choose the wrong path at that point, you may never return—or something like that.
Was that story for real…? No no no no, it couldn’t be. It had to be a trick or plasma or a princess’s illusion or starfire…
Anyway, just for the sake of reporting on it, I took out my smartphone and punched some buttons, and then I stopped.
…This was ridiculous.
I had just been walking in a daze and mistook what I saw. It was either that or an illusion brought upon by fatigue, or maybe they were imaginary friends I had come up with out of lack of real ones. Now that they were gone, I might have climbed a bit higher on the staircase to adulthood! Although that said, the grotesque, romantic connotations of the phrase “climbing the staircase to adulthood” do come out of left field.
Going out of my way to contact someone after making a mistake was something a middle school boy would do when he reaches for excuses to text or phone the girl he likes, you know?
I should just go home already.
Damn it, I had to be seeing things because of all the crap I’ve been through lately.
(1) Hanasaka Tenshi Tenten-kun is a comedy manga. One of the supporting characters, Souichiro, is really into poetry but never shows any expressions.