by Ayano R
Chapter 1: Nadir
"You can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do." "Nothing is impossible." "Hard work leads to success." The mantras society would often drill into our minds while we were children. The pursuit of the Japanese Dream. However, life is clearly more difficult than what most of us acknowledge or are willing to accept. Instead, we seek solace by referring to the miracle scenario.
Your infamous rapper. The next up-and-coming pop star. The most mechanically skilled gamer. A token rises from the slums through a series of absurdly fortuitous events to make their claim to fame. Suddenly, the masses worship him or her as a personification of success, thinking that they themselves can replicate their actions one day and have that very same stroke of luck.
In reality, as sociologists have determined, our life chances are predetermined by a number of factors that heavily shape the decisions we can and cannot make throughout the entirety of our lives. Be it, gender, ethnicity, social class, or geographic location.
While these fantasies are delusional, this false hope creates order and control. The rich become wealthier at the expense of the masses whom are believed to benefit from the trickling down of wealth. Rather, the bounties of war are claimed by the handful of elites who have the authority to initiate atrocities at the cost of their soldiers who obediently sacrifice themselves for the 'greater good' or whatever propaganda that their leaders feed them.
It is of this very mentality that the shepherd can continue herding his flock of sheep with impunity because he knows they will not revolt and challenge his authority. Be it fortunate or unfortunate, this is what I believed. I wanted to defy the hand of life I was dealt and the only way I learned how was to cheat at life.
Chapter 1: Nadir
Two years. Two years of living in the shadows of what people call a career. But no matter, for the struggle is over. For the sake of anonymity, I will refer to myself as one Tatsuya Inagawa.
Occupation: Formerly a second-year student enrolled at Waseda University. Like many others in Japan, I studied rigorously to prepare for the compulsory college entrance exams. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be admitted to this school of prestige. Or so I thought.
My efforts were in vain.
I had been failing the majority of my classes, as well as the term before. This was the last straw. To be honest, I'm not even sure how I made it this far. Still, a part of me wonders, when did everything go so wrong?
A fortnight had passed since the semester ended and I am home pending academic disqualification. For now, the sinking moments of dread were but faint memories in the back of my mind.
Peering through the creaky window in my ramshackle two-room apartment, throngs of people were beating their drums in preparation for the upcoming festivals. Cicadas wailed loudly in the distance, presumably performing courtship rituals and finding potential partners to copulate with. With the mini-fan turned on full blast and oscillating back and forth, the sweltering heat had confirmed it. The long days of summer had arrived.
"I should have joined them." I regretted.
Instead, the mailman did his usual rounds for the day and I casually slithered back into my room as if nothing happened.
An hour, give or take, had advanced before I hear three precise knocks on the door.
"Yeah, come in."
"Tatsuya, do you mind taking care of this?"
It was Mother, greeting me with a scrap of notebook paper and bills of cash in her hands.
"Oh, groceries. Five more minutes, I'm almost done with this game."
Skimming over what she had left on the desk, I realized how blurry and lengthy the list was. After putting on my glasses, it was confirmed that they were basic cooking ingredients and foodstuffs. Nothing I would have much trouble finding in a nearby convenience store.
I couldn't help but feel some sense of guilt and relief in all this. After all, it was my dirty little secret. My parents provided me my room and board without charge and were none the wiser about my shortcomings. All I had to do was complete this simple errand and continue my good behavior. Without hesitation, I put on my faded jeans and headed out.
As I stepped outside the convenience store's sliding doors, the sky was draped in a pale violet hue. Reflexively, I removed the smartphone from my pocket.
Perfect, just in time for dinner.
My stomach rumbled in agreement.
The decrepit two-story apartment was finally in view. I stepped up the pace and rushed towards the rusty staircase.
Huh? What was all this stuff outside?
As I cautiously walked to Unit 204, large brown cardboard boxes had obstructed the entrance. Dehydrated and disoriented, I crouched down to better inspect the contents.
They were my belongings.
In my attempt to discern the situation, I rose up to my surroundings for an answer. A white sheet of college-ruled paper was tacked on the door.
My heart began racing uncontrollably. Lying on my front door wasn't a care package from Mother, but a note saying goodbye.
As your mother, it pains me to write this. We understand that college life is difficult, like it is for most, but we honestly don't know what has happened to you. You know the type of person your father is. The moment you were accepted, he bragged to everyone about how his son was one of the few accepted to a public university.
At the same time, you can't blame everyone else for your own mistakes. When you came back home from school this year, we thought you were doing well. You never reached out to us for help. You were always in your room playing video games. That's not fair to us.
Dad has been having his problems of his own. His body isn't as good as it used to be. He's getting old. The younger construction workers are frequently talking about him behind his back. They make fun of him about how he's becoming slow and useless. A few months ago, he was demoted to a lower position and had his salary reduced. That's why he was so proud of you. You earned your scholarship all on your own. You didn't need our financial support.
Your father and I have been thinking things over. We barely have enough to cover the roof on top of our heads. We cannot afford to support you forever so we worked out something with your aunt and uncle. Your uncle has agreed to help if you come back tomorrow morning to meet him.
You need to reflect on your mistakes and think about what you really want in this life. You're already at the age of twenty. You're no longer a child anymore. You're at the age where you should be making children of your own."
As if on perfect cue, my nasal passage picked up on the traces of onion juice embedded within the letter's fibers. The fragrance of Mother's signature dish, Miyabi Soup.
I couldn't hold it in any longer. Tears began flowing down my cheeks and dripped down on the stained remains of Mother's letter. I dropped to my knees and began trembling in terror.
What ever happened to a parent's unconditional love?
With snot quickly filling the orifices of my nose, I rose back to my feet and balled up my fist.
Bang, bang, bang!
Bang, bang, bang!
I repeated these actions several times until the dropping temperature sent my instincts into overdrive. I scanned the perimeter to see if there were any signs of life. Like the skies above, the window panes were blanketed in darkness.
I needed to find shelter as quickly as possible.
From the disposed boxes, I began salvaging as much food and clothing as much as a scrawny man-child was capable of carrying. As I rummaged through my belongings, something dawned on me. I now understood the relevance of the grocery run.
Backpack fastened and bags of produce strapped beneath my fingers, I was ready. However, with despair looming over the horizon, it was difficult to think straight. I had to find a place that didn't require much interaction. In other words, somewhere I could get in and out easily.
Scanning from side to side, I eventually bridged myself to the network of streets in Shinjuku. Tall buildings tightly packed together in wild kaleidoscopic blocks with crowds of people stretching on for miles. Like a cog in a machine, it didn't take much effort to blend in. The scenery truly exemplified Tokyo, in all its futuristic and twisted glory. Indeed, a city that never sleeps.
Plodding through the glitz and glamour, my eyes floundered about.
And just like that, its hypnotic call had seduced me like a moth to a flame.
Was this love at first sight?
Bordered in flashing lights, a particular rectangular logo caught my attention. In swirling neon-yellow characters and a bloody red background, it advertised:
"All night! 2000 yen!"
I couldn't tell if it was getting late or I was losing what was left of my mind, but I couldn't suppress the temptation. Inching through its cinema-like entrance, the building greeted me with dim lighting and a lone male attendant.
"Welcome to [Redacted] Net Caf/U>. May I help you?"
Footnote: Internet cafes have been common in Japan since the Dot-com era, but during the mid-2000s, a new type of cafsurfaced, one where people were able to use accommodations such as a tiny private booth, showers, and laundry service, with a reasonably priced package for overnight users.