You can read Part One if you haven't yet.
I had been eating lunch alone in the school cafeteria, far removed from everyone. In the beginning I didn't plan to go through the trouble of making a friend to eat with.
One day a man suddenly sat down in front of me. I didn't know him.
"You're the guy that moved into the house where someone was murdered, right?" That was Murai. He was in the year above me. At first I just gave short answers to his questions, but he didn't seem to be a bad guy. He look was affable, knew a lot of people, and looked like kind of person who could get along with anyone.
From then on we started hanging out. I say "hang out" but we weren't what could be called friends. I just got to ride in his beloved Mini Cooper to go shopping, or if I had some errands to run near the station. His blue, cutely shaped car drew everyone's eyes when it stopped in the street.
Murai was popular and loved by everyone. He didn't pressure me if I didn't drink alcohol. He often started friendly chats, surrounded by people. At those times I quietly left my seat. Nobody noticed. I didn't feel like participating in that kind of conversation. Instead of listening to the conversation from somewhere a little removed, I felt most at peace sitting alone on a bench on the campus grounds, staring at the rotting root of a potted tree. I could become calm when alone, more so than being in a large crowd.
Murai's friends were overflowing with energy and always laughing. They were rich, good at sports, and active. They were residents of a world different from mine.
Compared with them, I felt as if I was a lower level organism. In reality, my shabby, unironed clothes and the habit I had of quickly choking on my words became a target for their laughter. What's more, because I didn't speak unless it was absolutely necessary, they probably thought I was completely apathetic.
Once, they performed a small experiment. It happened in the A building lobby on campus.
"We'll be back soon, so you wait here," they said, and left for somewhere, taking Murai with them. I sat on a bench in the lobby and read a book as I waited for them to return. College students milled noisily around me. An hour passed, but no one had come back. I grew nervous, but in the end I continued to read for another hour.
That's when Murai returned, alone. He looked at me with a complicated expression on his face and said, "You were tricked by everyone. No one was going to come back, no matter how long you waited. They all got tired of watching you and drove off a long time ago."
I responded only with Oh, I see, then closed my book and stood to go.
"You aren't embarrassed? Everyone was having fun watching you get nervous," Murai said.
It's always happened to me, so I only half cared.
"I'm already used to this kind of thing." I left him behind and walked quickly away from that place. I felt Murai's gaze on my back.
I had felt from the beginning that I couldn't belong with them. They had all kinds of things that I would never be able to get, no matter how much I reached for them. That's why I felt a secret hopelessness after I exchanged words with them, and embraced a feeling close to hatred.
No, I didn't feel that only for them. I hated everything, cursed it. Especially things like the sun, the blue sky, flowers, songs - I emphatically muttered my curses at them. I thought all of the people who walked around with bright faces were all very ugly, stupid things. Solely by rejecting the world and keeping it at a distance like that, I could become calm.
That's why I thought the pictures that Yukimura had taken were miraculous.
There was a depth in her photographs, as if she had accepted and taken in everything. Even in the photographs she'd taken of my college and my house, the lake and the field, I felt a power brimming with light. Her kindness came through in the pictures of the kitten and the children making peace signs. I didn't know what she looked like. But when she set up the camera, the children who noticed would rush over, saying take a picture of me! I could imagine that kind of scene.
If I were to stand next to her and look at the same thing, what we perceived would probably be completely different. Yukimura's wholesome soul would choose the bright parts of the world, and envelop her field of vision in a happy filter as white and soft as cotton candy. That isn't possible in my heart. I would only see the shadows cast out by the light. I would feel the world to be a cold, grotesque thing. Things don't go right in this world. People like her are the ones that die, not jerks like me.
The horrible mood I had in school disappeared once I returned home and played with the sleeping kitten, rolling it over onto its back. I thought about Murai. His friends had left for somewhere, abandoning me. But hadn't Murai come back?
Even though it had just happened, I decided not to cut off ties with Murai. Just like before we ate lunch together in the cafeteria, and went out in his car. There was only one thing that changed. That's when he's surrounded by people and starts to talk, and I quietly leave. He's started to quietly remove himself too, and follow me as I distance myself from the crowd.
"Next time can I come by your house?"
I refused the suggestion he made. I didn't want to let anyone into the house. I was worried that he would see one of the strange incidents that happen so often, be frightened, and avoid me.
In the morning, without fail, the curtains were open. It was the work of the previous tenant.
I had been using the north-facing room, to keep light from coming in. Even so, if I opened the curtain I had put in to protect myself from the outside world, the room became quite bright. It was unfortunate, but it seemed I had no choice but to close the curtains resign myself to plan to live in a semi-dark house. No matter how much I tried to chase the light from my room, in a little while the curtains and window were opened again. After the same thing happened countless times, I gave up. Apparently the previous tenant was determined to not agree with me in regards to letting light and fresh air into the room.
At night, when I got into my futon and closed my eyes, there were indications that someone was walking down the hallway. In the deathly silent of the dark, the creaking of the floorboards drew closer. Once I heard the doors of the room across the way being opened, the presence disappeared. The room across the way was the one Yukimura Saki had been using as a bedroom.
Strangely, I wasn't frightened by these phenomena.
I couldn't see Yukimura's form, but while I was unaware of it the dishes would be washed, or my bookmark would move ahead in my book. The cleaning shouldn't have been done in a long while, but I realized there wasn't a single mote of dust anywhere. I thought she must be cleaning when I'm not looking. Once I'd become accustomed to feeling perplexed whenever I noticed her presence, it became natural.
The kitten lazed on the dry tatami, narrowing its eyes. It buried itself its favorite secondhand clothes and falls deeply asleep. The kitten often played with something I couldn't see -- its playmate had to be Yukimura. I paid close attention to the areas that the kitten looked at, but I couldn't see anything.
There were often confrontations over my preferences. When I first moved in, Yukimura's decorative cat figurines were on top of the television. I was firmly opposed to the idea of decorating the top of the television. Consequently, I cleared the figurines away. But even those, at some point, ended up back on top of the television. No matter how many times I cleared them away, the next day they were on top of the television.
It was useless to say, "You know if you put things on top of the television they could fall off, and besides they're distracting!"
Once I put on a music CD that I liked, but she didn't seem to enjoy the song. While I was in the bathroom, she changed it out for a rakugo CD from her collection. It was a tasteful hobby.
Later, in the morning I woke up to the sound of a kitchen knife, and when I went down it looked like breakfast was in the midst of being prepared. When I came down to relax in the living room after coming home from school and putting my bag in my room upstairs, there was a steaming cup of coffee ready for me. Little by little, the signs of Yukimura's presence became more tangible.
But my ability to feel Yukimura's existence was always dependent on results after-the-fact. I didn't see the coffee being prepared right before my eyes - the change happened while I wasn't looking. I wondered how the coffee mug was brought from the kitchen cabinet to the living room table. I didn't know whether it came floating through the air, or if it rolled here. The important thing was, she wanted to pour me some coffee.
Also, the area she could move around in seemed somehow confined to the house and the garden. On trash day, the garbage bag, wrapped in vinyl, would appear in the entry way. It looked like she couldn't go outside to where the trash is left.
One day, an empty coffee can appeared on the table. "Oh, are you telling me to go shopping?" I thought, and easily understanding what she wanted me to do, I went shopping. I wondered if Yukimura was a ghost. She hadn't done anything ghost-like. She hadn't tried to scare someone, or have a grudge for being murdered. She hadn't shown a semi-transparent form, either, just serenely and quietly continued her life as she must have before. Maybe it's more correct to describe her simply as someone not yet crossed-over, rather than to call her a ghost.
Yukimura's presence, unseen but most definitely there, was a warm thing that softly touched my heart. But I didn't tell anyone that she, or the kitten, existed.
One day I went out shopping with Murai. As his round, blue car sped along, the view of the lake that I had seen sometime with my uncle grew outside the window. I often walked along its bank. It wasn't to get some exercise, it was just because that was the road that led from my house to school. I had seldom looked at anything but my own toes as I walked, so until that moment I hadn't studied the lake with any attention.
"I heard that a college student drowned here."
"That guy was my friend." Gripping the wheel and staring straight ahead, Murai began to talk about his dead friend. "He was my best friend since elementary school..."
The car quickly slowed down, and it stopped at last on the side of the road. He seemed somewhere far away, as if he was watching his friend.
"The last day I spent with him, we had a fight. An argument after drinking a little. That night we were living it up with some friends, and I wasn't paying much attention and drank too much. I said some nasty things to him, drunk, and I hurt him. The next day his body was found floating in the lake. The police say he was drunk and fell into the pool early in the morning. He drowned. I want to apologize, but he isn't here anymore. If there was anything I could do, I really want to talk to him one more time." Murai's eyes were becoming red.
"Are you OK?"
He closed his eyes and gently covered his face with both hands. "My contact just slipped a little, is all," he lied, and continued. "He was like you, my friend that died. You don't look alike but... He would say 'I'm used to this kind of thing' when someone he knew hurt him, with this face like he was going to give up. He was always saying that this was as good as the world gets..."
I wondered if that was the reason he didn't push people to drink. The old newspapers that Yukimura set aside were probably still in the house. I thought I'd try to find a newspaper for the days around the accident. Maybe there would be something there.
The next day, when I walked along the bank of the lake, I searched carefully for his dead friend. I thought that maybe, like Yukimura, he might still be there.
Once, when I got back home from school, my laundry was out drying. I didn't remember doing the laundry. Yukimura had washed and set the clothes out to dry on the laundry line for me. I sat on the porch and watched the laundry sway in the wind. My white shirts shone in the sunlight.
In the vegetable patch in the garden sprouts had come up, and they were growing bigger. For a long time I hadn't realized that Yukimura was secretly nurturing her house garden. I felt like I was seeing the garden's greenery for the first time.
Upon observation, the plants in the garden were dripping water, and puddles in the earth reflected the blue sky. Yukimura must have used the hose to water them. I hadn't known, but she had to have been doing it often.
She liked plants. The flowers that she cut from the garden frequently appeared in flower vases. I realized that a flower whose name I didn't know was decorating the desk in my room, too. Flowers were nothing but an object of hatred for me. But strangely, when I imagined Yukimura putting one in a flower vase, I could excuse it.
She was already dead, so what in the world was she doing? She seemed to have a lot of time on her hands, and sometimes she would set a trap for me to tease me. She would tie my shoelaces into a knot to bother me, or change the calendar to July even though it was still June, or put the remote control in the bag that I take to school. Cryptic things.
Once I made cup ramen, and my chopsticks and fork had been hidden by her. After three minutes I realized my chopsticks were gone, and hurriedly searched all over the house for them. I was roused by the trivial dilemma that "If I don't find my chopsticks the noodles will get all stale!" In the end, I ate the ramen with two ball pens instead of chopsticks.
The kitten was sitting and watching with clear eyes. I got upset, wondering What the hell am I doing? I was convinced that Yukimura was somewhere nearby, laughing uproariously. She and the kitten were always a set. I couldn't see her so I couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the kitten did its best to follow after its owner. So the kitten told me where the invisible Yukimura was. For Yukimura the kitten was like the bell around a cat's neck.
"You don't act like a ghost. Why don't you do something eerie once in a while?" I teased, a little unkindly, I turned toward the kitten.
The next day, a scary letter was left on the table. It looked like she had began to write with "Pained, agonized, lonely..." in small, crowded letters, but given up halfway. On the nearly empty page, the last words were "I wanted to eat ramen too." Anyhow, that was the first letter that she wrote to me, and I decided to keep it.
It wasn't like I could talk to the invisible Yukimura about anything after that, but I felt that we had somehow gotten across to one another.
Every week on Monday night, the lights in the kitchen came on while I was unaware, and the radio turned on. Apparently in this house electricity flowed best through the kitchen. Every week at that time, Yukimura's favorite radio program came on.
This happened on a night that I couldn't get to sleep. Outside it was windy, and when I tried to cover my ears I could hear the scraping of tree branches. In the night air, a voice from somewhere. I realized it was the radio, and getting up I headed down the stairs. The brightness of fluorescent light struck my eyes and once I found the small cell phone radio that sat atop the table, I was enveloped with a sense of security I didn't comprehend.
Yukimura was listening to the radio. The kitten wasn't there. It was probably dreaming in the bed it had made of its favorite secondhand clothes. But even though the kitten wasn't there, I knew that Yukimura was most definitely there, listening to the radio. The red light showed that the switch was on. The chair was slightly pulled out.
I couldn't really see her. But for a moment I felt like I could see her, sitting in the chair with her chin in her hand, swinging her feet as she listened to her favorite radio program.
I sat next to her. I closed my eyes for a little while, and listened to the sound pouring from the speakers. The wind outside was becoming steadily stronger, and I felt a hushed feeling come over me, as if I were stuck indoors on a snowy mountain. I reached my hand toward the space where Yukimura might be. Nothing but air. But I felt something warm. I wondered if it was the heat of her body.