I am a Multitude[i]
A cardboard box has sat in the bedroom of my apartment. It, as large as a mandarin orange box widely used in Japan, was sent from the country by surface mail in the last March after I packed an article in it. The box, arrived about one month after when I came back here, has been existed without unpacking and keeping a strange presence there. In the case of other packages, they were usually opened and emptied soon and treated as rubbish.
In the mid March, I returned Japan for the first time in the last three years. It was a movement for two weeks for a man of long-term-escapee from the home country like me. I, therefore, cannot express the trip either as “return” or “go” without having some hesitation. I have been living in Australia as long as I have to feel such hesitation.
Since the movement was a stay in Japan after a long absence, I had a nuber of things to do. One of them was to visit Niigata.
Exact in the same month of three years ago, I visited Japan and met my wife there. She and I had lived apart in Perth and Sydney which were both ends of the continent for more than ten years. My wife and I then visited the Nakano ward office in Tokyo and finished the formality of our divorce.
After the documentation completed, we had a lunch together at a small restaurant in the shopping center near the Nakano station. We, among some customers who were eating a quick lunch, seated ourselves at an end of counter table next to each other and had a set menu lunch of grilled fish as if having a ritual dinner with a feeling of somewhat formal.
Niigata was the ex-wife’s native place and her family was a rice grower for many generations there.
In October of 24 years before when I and wife came to Australia, we never expected the visit would be such a long stay. Therefore, we borrowed a space in the storehouse of her parent’s home in Niigata and have kept our furniture and belongings packed in some boxes.
However, since our marriage had ended in that way, we would not keep our common goods there anymore. This was the reason why I had to visit Niigata.
I left Tokyo in the early morning by a Shinkansen train, and changed to a local line train at the Niigata station. At almost noon I was arriving at a local station near by the ex-wife’s parent’s home.
Niigata, where is known of much snow fall in winter, had almost no lingering snow on every street in the time of mid March and some white surfaces were only seen in mountains far behind.
The train which I took was slowing down to stop the local station. At that moment all of a sudden a scene which I saw more than thirty years ago when I was mid twenties came across my mind.
It must have been in a cold season. I had decided my mind to marry with a girl. A night train which left the Ueno terminal station in Tokyo previous evening was arriving at the same local station in the early morning. I was a passenger of the train to see her parents and ask for the permission of marriage.
An entrance of a carriage, where had smells of a toilet and smoke of locomotive engine, was filled with freezing air coming through an opened door. At that time, and this time too, passengers who got off the train were only a few including me.
Since then to now, more than thirty years has gone. The surroundings around the station have changed largely. However, atmosphere of the station square was nearly unchanged and still quiet. It was one of the country where had been an envious place from childhood for me who is city-bred. It was also the place where the man who was the second generation of a salaried employee family was becoming to a member of a family which had held their lives relying upon the blessings of nature. That is, these two scenes I had seen were two cross sections of my life. One was the beginning to involve such a different lifestyle and the other was the end of the involvement.
The only brother of the ex-wife, who had once been a problem teenager and even expressed an hostile attitude to me who had come from the city, now became the heir of the farming family and the good father of a son and a daughter. He came to the station to meet me with a quiet and cordial manner.
The ex-father-in-law already had been seriously senile almost like an infant in the old house where I had not visited for long. The ex-mother-in-law had passed away years earlier. The dignified large house which had taken over for many generations was in air of slow rundown.
The main family business, rice growing, had been retreated to be secondary and double earning of the ex-brother-in-law and his wife through being employed supported their household like an urban family. A big indoor working space of the house had lost own roles and changed into a dreary storage place now.
The ex-brother-in-law unlocked by inserting a crank-shaped rod into a small rectangular hole and opened the old-style heavy and thick door for me. When I got into the storehouse by stepping over the threshold with a rat trap, stale air fully containing humidity and musty smell told me the meaning of the length we had spent.
When I removed some cardboard which had been put to avoid covered with dust, familiar furniture had appeared. At that instant many scenes which the furniture was used in our everyday life but which were completely disappeared from my mind during the twenty-odd years were remembered. Then I faced to a sort of torsion of time and space, in which as if I simultaneously experienced two different myself which were apart each other by the long time span.
I carried the furniture out one piece by one piece from the darkness to the lightness in a back yard. After a while, the back yard became messily filled by those items which had been used in our earlier life. That scene was, as if I was witnessing a site hit by a disaster which had blown off walls and roofs of a house and its furniture and contains were exposed totally in the open air.
Like one of those sufferers of disaster, I, by picking up those items and unpacking a few boxes one by one, was caught by a desire to immerse myself in a memory of the past days together with an obligation to bring back respect and attachment to the forgotten time. However, according to the schedule for the two weeks, the time I could spend to dispose those goods was limited within the afternoon of the day and the morning of the next day only. An extra time to spend for those desire and obligation was clearly none and needless checking up time and works once more.
I, like an soldier ordered so, should have been absorbed obediently in the works to dispose those goods except for retrieving an important object. I, as if killing another myself, dispose those familiar items efficiently and calmly by my own hands. Then, once on the day and once more on the next day, I, helped by the ex-brother-in-law, carried them to a garbage incinerate plant by a small truck with a full load and burned everything. Although, I, while carrying out of those tasks, found an unpleasant feeling at first, I rather became to think that it must be a rational activity.
When nightfall of early spring was quickly coming, I finally found a familiar mandarin orange box in piled up boxes and bundled books at a corner of the storehouse being lit up by an electric lamp which was set temporally. On the upper surface of the box, there was a sign showing “Hajime’s Notebooks”. I carried it to the yard and open it. About 30 notebooks with musty smell were appeared under the weak light of sunset by being freed from the box. They were those notebooks covering about two decades of my life from the late period of high school to the mid thirties just before I left Japan to Australia.
I, being struck by a strong emotion, picked up a notebook by those hands with work gloves and open it. At that moment, a peculiar meaning was going to appear. It was the moment creating a meeting of those two myselves which had been totally unexpected even at the time I decided to go to Niigata, of course at the time I was writing something of my mind to the notebook. Those two myselves were the young myself on one hand and the other myself in decades future on the other.
Next day I completed all my missions including posting an overseas parcel of the notebooks’ box. Now, the time to leave the place where I had been given a multi-dimensional expansion of my life was approaching. When I came back again to the station with deep emotion, the ex-brother-in-law who was sending me off told me, as if asking me to rethink the decision of mine and his sister’s.
“Please come back to here again at any time in the future like so far.”