Sunday, January 01, 2012


The first morning of the first day of a new year, dark and brisk, my body alive and fresh, and I hear, as I run, the voice of a man on a phone, his tone angry and sad. I can't understand everything he's saying, but these are those familiar tones that insist what language obscures. You know the ones I mean. High-pitched, abrupt, with strange shifts downwards, almost diagonally; you didn't know voices could do that sort of thing, shift ranges so fast. As I ran I glanced to my left, and noticed that the man, physically, did not look to be perturbed, or, to be more accurate, pissed off. He looked like a hundred other middle-aged Japanese men look like on mornings such as this -- small and intent, his exercise an authentic expression of a casual, yet steady discipline imposed from within. His strides were precise and fluid. Nothing random at work. He was headed somewhere. A hat on to combat the cold. If not for that voice, I wouldn't have even spared him my glance.

Yet that voice! Here I am, at least trying to pretend that I'm feeling good as this fresh year commences, and here he is, enraged and so sad. I can barely make out him saying something about 'thirty years'. That's all I can catch -- 'thirty years'. Is it a lover who finally gave him the boot last night over beers? An employee whose own self-regard has made his old boss useless and passe? A childhood friend, I thought. Japanese often cling to their old friends. (In what other country do people in their mid-fifties regulary attend elementary-school reunions?) Somebody close, of course. You don't wield a brittle voice such as his against a convenience store clerk.

I stayed moving on the path that led straight towards the big bridge, while he took the lower route, the one that wound smoothly through trees and led down somewhere dark. I heard his faint voice ranting, but it soon drifted, then died. Some small part of me wanted to go back and help. Tell him that it was New Year's Day. Life was moving forward. The phone call was already over. But what if he was drunk? Mentally ill? Worse, what if all that rage was still valid? 'Thirty years' was all I had heard him say, and thirty years is a long time. Thirty years ago I was six. His harsh night was already heading towards the first small hint of day, but I knew that those three decades of his would not soon rise out of his ditch.