The day we met, August 1, 2008.
Inside a hotel room dominated by darkness, there, a figure of a man and a woman completely naked while embracing one another on top of the bed can be seen.
The only sole source of light in the windowless room they were in was the glow of an orange desk lamp on top of the cabinet. Their two shadows are reflected on the wall in the form of hazy silhouettes.
After they finished what they were doing, the woman brushed her long hair and stretched her hand out to reach the edge of the headboard, grabbed a pack of cigarettes, lit it, inhaled the smoke into her lungs, then exhaled a continuous stream of white smoke.
After staring at the white smoke as it melted into the darkness for a while, the woman turned towards the man who was crawled inside the blanket, and asked a question.
“So? What time are you planning on leaving tomorrow?”
After being asked a question, the man raised his upper body up, leaned his slim back against the headboard, and then put his hands on the woman’s shoulders as he replied, “Tomorrow at 7:00 AM. Bullet trains are usually early, so we have to leave the hotel after a short while.”
She frowned and muttered a languid “That so?” as she stared down at the hand placed on her shoulder. She pursed her mouth and exhaled a puff of smoke then refused to look him in the eyes.
He assumed that she was thinking of him of being uninterested in sex, and as that unease passed his mind, in order to make her mood feel better, he suggested, “I’ll escort you home.”
“That much is obvious,” the woman said while continuing to puff on her cigarette. “Or do you want me to say, ‘I’m lonely, so please don’t go’ as if not wanting you to leave?”
“..No, I don’t think you are the kind of person who’d say that.”
“Right..” the woman absent-mindedly sighed.
“Well.. Don’t think about it too much, alright?”
Looking at her profile, while smoking cigarette smoke with an expressionless face, he—Oosakabe Kengo—thought that it was a fitting end for the both of them.
She is two years younger than Oosakabe and they had met each other through an introduction from a friend. She isn’t particularly attractive, but she is a tall woman, with long slit eyes and thick lips that made her appear more mature than what her age suggests. She’s also a good cook and a homely woman who pays attention to little things.
It’s been two years since the two of us started our relationship. It wasn’t because we didn’t get along with each other, nor were we bothered with each other’s presence. In fact, I’d say she was really easy to get along with because of her laid-back nature that didn’t necessitate any unusual attention.
Still, if you ask me if I have any feelings for her, I’d say it’s very subtle.
On Saturday nights, the two of us would either stay at one another’s room, which resulted in toothbrushes being left in each other’s rooms, several pairs of my underwear and a change of clothes left in her room, and a pile of fashion magazines she had purchased and left behind in my room.
It was the same on holidays as well. We would repeat our weekly dates and connect our body with each other numerous times. And even after all those years of us cuddling, I’ve still never felt an inch of excitement towards her. Of course, I’d never given marriage a thought.
But I guess it was the same for her. She rarely contacted me outside of holidays, and never brought up the subject of the future, much less marriage.
It was a relationship in which we only fill in each other’s gaps when we feel the need to do so—it sounds good, but we can’t deny that we are sex friends.
Did we both need the excuse of having a lover? Or were there hidden feelings in our ritualistic relationship? It is still unclear to me even to this day.
So, when I quit my job and said, “I want to take a month-long trip to the country,” this timing was just right to put an end to our vague relationship──That’s all.
After paying the bill and leaving the hotel, I got into my used car, which was worth my income, and pulled up in front of her apartment in the center of Saitama City. With her gaze fixed out the window, she said, “What would you do if I said ‘I don’t want to break up yet?'”
“I’ll contact you when I come back—is what I would say, but I don’t think I’d care, because I don’t think you’d ever say that to me.”
Then she tightly closed her mouth and showed a smile mixed with complicated feelings.
“I see. That’s a very wise reply.. Still, it’s a little frustrating that even in the end, you were still unsatisfied with me.. Well, I guess it’d make sense, since even though I cut my hair yesterday, you still didn’t notice. Well then, goodbye.”
Perhaps because of the sentimentality that was left in control of my heart, she sounded sad as she said those words to me. As she got off the passenger’s seat, she told me one last thing.
“Well, don’t worry. I won’t say something like a troublesome woman would. Goodbye, thanks for the two years we spent together. It was fun in its own way.”
With a small bang, the front passenger door was slammed shut. Afterwards, the car was enveloped in silence.
“In its own way, huh….”
To distract himself from the awkwardness of the situation, he turned on the car radio and frowned when he heard the news that came on.
The news was about a bus accident that occurred in January 2008.
What was played in the audio was an interview with a passenger who had fortunately suffered only minor injuries during the accident. He continued on reporting about the safety measures that have been put in place by the bus companies since the accident.
As the report reminded him of the events of the time, images of the site of the accident came back to his mind.
The bus lost control and drifted off the prefectural road, rolling over. The image of a crumpled bus, filled with flowing blood and bloodstains that were sprayed everywhere. The situation was fit to be called a pandemonium as people inside the bus were screaming and crying.
It was reported that the cause of the accident was an operational error of the driver.
However, behind the scenes, the reckless planning of the bus company, the sloppy management system, and other issues were revealed, prompting the masses to question them about whether or not they would accept the responsibility over the accident.
Eight people, mostly young men and women, were killed in the accident. The company’s initial reluctance to admit any responsibility has had an impact that continues to make headlines to this day.
“By the way, our cast for today, Yamamoto-san, I have this question for you; ‘What was your analysis of the mental state of the defendant Oosakabe at the time of the accident?'”
As he heard his name getting mentioned from the radio report, he let out a bitter smile and reflexively changed the channel on the radio and played cheerful music.
“Just when I was starting to forget about that time..”
There was no way nationwide broadcast programs would report a lie. The driver who caused that bus accident was none other than him.
The day the accident happened, his life had literally changed. His name was repeatedly reported as the defendant, and he became an instant celebrity. It was a painful memory that still haunts him even after six months had passed since that time.
The content that was reported in the media was generally true. The bus company’s operation plan was sloppy. The number of casualties was one of the largest and it was the most tragic accident ever.
He was also forced to quit his job because he was held responsible for the accident.
He also went to meet the families of the dead victims in early spring. Although there was some controversy, the bus company managed to pay the reparations without any incidents.
“…What more should I do than this?”
Oosakabe muttered in frustration. However, what he said was also correct. What more could he do than what was expected of the responsibility placed upon him? Moreso if he had already done that duty.
Oosakabe sighed and tucked away the painful memory of the past inside the drawer of his mind.
—Let’s forget about it. It’s for this reason I am going on a trip.
It’s a sin that can never be erased, but I don’t have any time to be disturbed by the news of the past. In fact, I need to get up early tomorrow.
I’ve already packed up my luggage, and it would be pretty idiotic of me if I overslept.
It must have been a passing rain. Oosakabe thought as he looked up at the endless night lights illuminating a pale light on the slightly wet road surface.
Eventually, he started his car quietly and continued driving towards his apartment in the middle of the dark night streets.