|Soil liquefaction brings a pond of water to the surface, on the bank of the Edo River, where the baseball teams play (Japan, 2011)|
Sleep was out of the question, so I sat up, and dug out the letter I had started writing to N. earlier in the week. Sleep deprivation had rendered me emotional, and I rapidly scribbled out a page or two about how much I missed her, how this entanglement had inspired me to appreciate her love, and how much I was looking forward to living with her in Việt Nam if I ever got out of this mess, blah blah blah. Soppy, sycophantic shit it was, and I had a feeling that it might embarrass her to read it, as she is way less sentimental about these matters than myself. But what was I going to do: this could be my last transmission before the caesium cloud descended, my last will and testament if you might! Since she never replies to my emails these days, or even answers the fucking phone, launching a letter at her was the only way I could get her attention. And this made me ponder: Why does she make herself so hard to reach? It's strange behavior considering that I am giving up my life in Japan to be with her...
Official advice be damned, I decided to go outside for a walk. Just to be on the safe side, I switched over to the weather channel briefly, to see which way the wind was blowing. To my delight, Tokyo seemed to be enjoying a westerly breeze. What a relief, I thought, all that Fukushima fallout is being blown out to sea! I picked up N.'s letter, put on my coat, and bundled out the door. Happy to be outside, rather than cooped up inside, watching my death on TV. It was sunny out, and the wind felt kind of strong. There weren't many people around, giving the streets an eerily apocalyptic feel.
I mailed off N.'s letter at a post office nearby, and then shopped for some groceries at the Yamaichi supermarket on the old salt route (Shinozaki Highway), in Minami-Shinozaki (南篠崎). It was a place I discovered by chance, walking home from work one magic afternoon in the summer of 2007, when life seemed fresh and full of promise. The magic was all gone today, however, and the aisles of the supermarket were deserted. None of their sushi trays, or curated cuttlefish, looked particularly enticing to me. Perhaps all the good stuff had been snapped up already. I picked up some items nonetheless, and shuffled out. Out on the street, the wind blew, menacingly. It was rather a strong breeze, stronger than the weather channel had prepared me for. Possibly it was my imagination, but there seemed to be something caustic riding on that breeze too, something biting, something even luminous. It was only until I returned home, and switched on the TV, that I realized that the wind had changed direction during my walk, and was now blowing down from the north... down from the reactors... down from the fields of death in Tohoku...
I remembered that I had Jim's phone number in my address book, so I gave him a call. I hadn't spoken to him since my abrupt disappearance from Telephone English, and I figured I owed him an explanation. As it turned out, he was flat on his back, literally, across the river in Chiba Prefecture. He told me he was working at TE on Friday afternoon when the great quake struck. The temblor was so terrifying that all the edutainers rushed downstairs to take cover on the street (which, it seems, is a typical gaijin thing to do in this situation!) The phone lines went down, so they couldn't work. But the train lines were down too, so they couldn't get home either. They ended up camping out in the office, and Jim said he did his back in trying to sleep on the hard floor. Surprisingly, he didn't seem as rattled as I was by all the aftershocks. "The earthquake is over, it's finished, we had it on Friday... what you have to worry about is the meltdown," he said. "My folks have been on the phone, telling me to get out, saying you'd have to be crazy to remain here. That is, indeed, what I am planning to do... get out."
"You're going to leave?" I asked him, feeling a little jealous.
"I will only be gone for a week or so," he replied. "Long enough for things to cool down."
"I can imagine there would be a mass exodus, if things got really dire," I said. "You probably wouldn't even be able to leave... the flights would be booked out, the highways gridlocked with traffic."
"Most Japanese would stay, because they have nowhere else to go," Jim said. "We, on the other hand... we have options."
I remembered Ken-san asking me yesterday if I planned to leave Japan. Until that point, I hadn't even considered it. I mean, I was leaving on account of my panic attacks, I had a ticket booked and all, but I hadn't considered hastening my departure due to the disaster. Now, listening to Jim talk, I felt myself brimming with resentment, and envy. How come he could leave, and I had to stay behind? Why was it that I felt so burdened by commitments, and restraints (including financial restraints), that I had to quell my natural instincts to flee? If I was a true Vagabond, I thought to myself, I could leave at any time, I would just pack up my suitcase and leave. Stockholm Syndrome be damned: I never wanted to be a resident! A true Vagabond would just get a train out to the airport, and leave. And in one blinding epiphany, talking to Jim in the radioactive breeze, that is what I decided to do! I decided to pack my suitcase, and leave.
But first, I needed to call my Mum.