Live a day in the shoes of with Mr. Yamaguchi, a sweet old man burdened by the years.
|Life of a Simple Man
The old Seiko alarm clock starts ringing at 6 a.m., precisely, as always. Kentaro Yamaguchi opens his eyes.
The dim, early morning light filters through the half-drawn courtains of the small bedroom. Mr. Yamaguchi, still on his back, rubs his eyes gently and, looking out the window, smiles. “Beautiful weather today, just like the forecast said”.
His is a cozy little bed, made out of hard oak, situated in the middle of the room. Mr. Yamaguchi goes to the window by the right side of the bed and opens it to let in fresh air. On the bedside table stand a framed picture of his wife, a bottle of heart disease medication and his glasses. He picks the latter up and goes to the bathroom to prepare for the day.
In the kitchen, a small, almost blindingly white room downstairs from the bedroom, breakfast is ready and steaming. The old man uses a maid service and his regular lady, Kimiko, has just finished preparing it. Omurice with grilled salmon and spinach, in cream sauce. A personal favourite of Mr. Yamaguchi’s.
Sitting at the table, he picks up the newspaper (Kimi always buys him the Japan Times on her way to the apartment). Nothing of note has happened since yesterday. Good to know. He checks the baseball section and is not impressed. He eats his breakfast in silence.
Afterwards, the old man hands Kimi the empty plate and goes back to his room to dress for the day. He puts on a clean light blue cotton shirt, a pair of his trusty suit pants and his favourite cardigan, the colors of which resemble a traditional koi fish’s. That cardigan was a gift from his wife, in another life.
Downstairs, he takes his hat off the hanger, puts it on and opens the door to step into the world.
His usual routine has him going to the corner flowershop. Today it’s white lilies. He walks to the nearby Kanazaki cemetery and, while travelling along its narrow paths, admires the multitude of graves of various shapes, sizes and colors, the blooming cherry blossoms, the color of fresh snow, the strong, tall oak trees that seem to stand guard against unwanted guests.
He stops when he reaches his destination. 山口 洋子. Yamaguchi Yoko. Almost ceremoniously, he places the flowers on the ground.
“Konnichiwa. The weather’s nice today, just like advertised. This here is a nice place, you know. “
He speaks slowly, unhurriedly, as if he has all the time in the world. As if by slowing down, he can convince the world to slow down with him.
“Kimi came today. She made me an omurice. Just like you used to make. It was pretty good. The city is quiet. The Giants are struggling this season. Later today I’m meeting Kitamura for lunch in town. You remember Kitamura? He’s a dear childhood friend. I haven’t seen him for 10 years. He’s the one who found Mackerel alone in the streets, back then, remember? Maybe I should get another cat, what do you think? It’s been a while. Mackerel will never be replaced, of course.”
He pauses, taking in the moment.
“I miss you”.
It takes him 30 minutes of leisure walking to reach the ramen shop. One could describe the isolated little restaurant as “the genuine little neighbourhood ramen shop”, with its round, bright red seats, vintage wooden counter and advertising signs made of linen, instead of plastic.
The restaurant has no seats inside, there is just the kitchen, separated from the street by that afore-mentioned counter, the seats having been positioned around said counter. The kitchen is small, crowded and noisy and that, according to what Mr. Kitamura told Mr. Yamaguchi once, contributes to make him feel “like part of a second family” when visiting the place.
Mr. Kitamura has already arrived, it seems. He stands up. He seems untouched by the years that went by. The same expressive, kind, pale blue eyes, the same hair, dark as a raven’s feathers and long, the same good-natured and genuinely happy smile on his face. The same small, almost imperceptible nose, small ears, hidden, as if lost, in his abundant hair. He is wearing a crisp white shirt, grey suit pants and his traditional dark grey fedora, in his usual style.
The two men stand side by side and bow to each other respectfully, as good friends who haven’t seen each other for a decade ought to do, then proceed into a strong and loving hug.
“Kitamura-san, eh. You haven’t aged a day. Were you finally able to force time to stay still for you, as you said all those years ago?”
Kitamura laughs slightly, as if a little embarassed by old memories of his youthful innocence.
“Sadly, no, though I dare say time has been kind to me, all the same. How about you? I am terribly sorry to hear about your Yoko. She was a summer flower and then came winter. But she was a flower, all the same.”
Mr. Yamaguchi nods, appreciating the sentiment.
“You know, Mackerel is also gone. Seems he could not live without her, heh? These days, my life consists of memories. They are my only company. But, somehow, I can not help but see the beauty of it all. It’s like I’m almost to the end of my book and I am being given a summary so as to be able to put every detail into perspective. To organize it, once and for all, before I write my last chapter.”
“The Japanese spirit is still strong within you, I see. Have you thought about transforming this metaphor of the book into reality? Give these memories life, Kentaro. You are an artist at heart, though you’ve never liked to admit it. I guarantee that people would love to hear what you have to say. At least in your old age, you can afford to try it with no repercussions.”
“Perhaps if I could make time stand still, there’d be enough of it for everything I ought to do. But alas...”
The conversation continues in this vein for some time. The hours they spend together are enjoyed immensely by both men. They laugh at old jokes, reminisce old memories, get up to speed on the last ten years, the hot Sake reddening their faces. They pledge to do this again sometime, as they did last time, both of them surmising they will be unable to once again keep their promise.
When he gets home, tired from the day’s enterprises, Mr. Yamaguchi changes into his nightgown, so as to get comfortable, and reads for a bit. The idea strikes him that maybe there’s time enough still to write his memoir. Inspired, he searches the house for some paper and a writing instrument.