It is not that I do not miss her. However, recently I have
been hesitating, not having the courage to pick up the phone and
dial that long-distance number.
Last time when I phoned, nobody answered. I felt uneasy
for quite a while before dialing another number she had given
me before. A young and crisp voice came on the line, “Oh, I’m
really sorry. My mother still lives at the old place. She only
comes here once in a while.” She had a very polite Kyoto
accent. A doesn’t have a daughter. The young woman who
called her Mother is probably her daughter-in-law.
After putting the phone down, I felt relieved. “It’s good
enough to know that she’s still alive,” I said to myself. In fact, what can be said over the phone is very limited; it is never like a face-to-face conversation in which topics emerge naturally.
How long has it been since we last saw each other? Two years?
Or perhaps three years?
Two or three years ago while on a trip to Shikoku and
Tokyo, I took the opportunity, making a special arrangement to
stay in Kyoto for two days by myself in order to chat about the
old days with A.
“Ah, it’s so embarrassing that I have become so old,” was
the first sentence she said while meeting me at the hotel lobby.
In fact, she said the same thing every several years when we saw
each other. We will all be old one day, and inevitably become
older and older. But she did seem to appear more so last time.
She no longer wore the formal kimono when coming to see me.
“It takes too much energy to put on the kimono,” A explained.
However, she obviously still had gone through a careful selection, wearing an elegant Western-style silk dress and, on top of it, a laced coat. Her hair had also been dyed the popular dark brown color and there was light make-up on her face. But her slightly stooped back made her look a bit shorter than before, even though she had always been considered tall among the Japanese.
But A’s eagerness to do well and her attention to details
were still the same as before. After learning that I had made the trip to Kyoto just for her, she made a special arrangement to have lunch with me on the following day, in a private room at
the Nishiki Restaurant in the suburbs specializing in bamboo
shoot dishes. “In the old days, I also used to own a specialty
restaurant. To be honest, this stylish restaurant was more or less an envy of mine,” A said to me after we settled in a six-tatami room decorated in authentic Kyoto style. “Now since I no
longer operate a restaurant, I have more free time. I’ve always
wanted to recommend this restaurant to you. After receiving
your letter, I immediately thought about the place and booked a
room well ahead of time. I was a bit worried initially, not sure if the bamboo shoots would be in season or not. Fortunately we
had an early spring this year and the bamboo shoots have just
become available in the market.” She still had the same drawling
The restaurant had a spacious courtyard. Trees and flowers
together with pond and fountain were impeccably arranged.
Most exceptional among all was the sight of bright red azaleas
all over the yard. Both of us sat on the floor facing a wide-open window. Before our eyes was an expanse of youthful green and bursting red and, right in front of us, an exquisite dinner of bamboo shoots. While chatting with A, I had a strange sensation that time seemed to have stood still. It was hard to believe that thirty years had gone by since I first met her.
Next day, A arranged for us to see the traditional Gion dance, Miyako Odori, in the afternoon. It was also one of the festival events we had watched together many years before. A looked very tired on the way home—probably the two-hour show, and my entire two-day visit, were proving a bit much for her. “Walk ahead slowly. I’ll rest for a while.” She had to take a rest at the stone benches along the riverside path every fifty or a hundred meters. Eventually she asked bashfully, “Can we cancel our dinner engagement tonight?” It was the day before my departure for Tokyo. We had agreed earlier that it would be my treat at the dinner. But I didn’t have the heart to make A feel
obligated. “I’m getting old, almost eighty now,” she tried hard
to sound light-hearted, but was unable to gloss over the dreary
look on her face after all.
I changed the plan at the last minute and flagged down a taxi to take her home. We didn’t talk much on the way back.
The car sped through the Sakyo-ku District as the evening lights
were lit. Red and yellow lights streamed by the sides of the street like the irretrievable years. My heart suddenly felt a faint ache. How many more times are we going to be able to get together like this again?
The taxi stopped in front of the restaurant where she was living by herself at the time. I insisted on walking her to the door and watched her unlock it before entering. With the hostess out during the daytime, the restaurant that was no longer in business stood in total darkness. A fumbled in her purse in the dark and took quite a while before finding the key. I hugged her while bidding farewell, and suddenly realized that she had also become rather thin.
The time before the last when I saw A was probably a few
I remember that I also went to the restaurant to meet her.
The entire country of Japan was suffering from the ill effects of the bubble economy at the time. Many industries never recovered after the initial setback. A’s specialty restaurant in Kyoto, originally one of the best known in the area, wasn’t able to withstand the pressure either and had closed its door.
After her ....