Fiction / June 2012 (Issue 17)

The Last Resident

by Helena Hu

Sakaguchi was no longer afraid of cancer or of being alone, but he was starting to worry about meeting another person. After almost six months in his village, he wondered what he would say if someone else came along. He really didn't want to be polite and courteous ever again.

Another man had also defied government orders to evacuate. Watanabe was about eighty years old and lived on the border to the next village. Sakaguchi sometimes spied on the old man, watching him spend his time cleaning, pruning and sprucing up. Watanabe would get up in the morning, sweep the porch, polish the front windows with two spritzes of preciously rationed window cleaner, manually buff the car, cut the grass, trim the hedges, feed the dogs. That didn't take up too much time (even for an eighty-year-old), but Watanabe then went on to do the same for all the neighbours on his street. By the time he had finished cleaning up nine homes and gardens and feeding his neighbours' pets, it was usually past sunset. What a lot of wasted effort.

Sakaguchi preferred to spend his time doing something new every day. Just one thing. It was liberating. At night, he would meticulously document what he had done. This morning he flicked through his journal and read:

June 15—I tried my hand at calligraphy today. I went to the nearest high school, found the art room and assembled the materials. I thought of the most basic Kanji characters and tried to make the strokes as beautiful as possible, all the while trying to remember stroke order. I believe in breaking most traditions, but I still believe in stroke order, which promotes optimum flow and beauty when writing—those ancients did know a thing or two. I started with simple characters like "earth," "mountain," "sky" and went on to more difficult words like "tranquillity," "listen," "exorcism." For my final practice, I went to the library upstairs to look up ancient idioms such as "Tranquillity yields transcendence." I felt quite tired at the end of the day.

Not all his outings had been so academic. He turned to yesterday's entry:

August 26—Today I went fishing. I found Mori's prized fishing rod in his garage and borrowed Tanaka's brand new rowboat. I brought yams from the garden and lots of mineral water. I had a long nap after lunch and was home before sunset, with about thirty fish of various sizes. I left most of them for the cats roaming the pier and fried two for myself for dinner, using sunflower oil. I didn't taste any radiation. I'm not sure if radiation has a taste.

Sometimes he thought of his family, his only son in Tokyo. They hadn't talked in over eight years, and even after the earthquake when the phones were still working, Arata had not called. Their last conversation had been angry and full of angst over Itsuki's fresh grave. He knew he hadn't caused her cancer, but he also knew she had not been happy being married to someone as unconventional as him. She had been so traditional, and he had been, well, so very different. Yet in thirty years of marriage, she had not complained, her endurance a well-worn path. Perhaps he too would get cancer soon and see Itsuki again. He resolved to make more effort if given the chance.

Sakaguchi had definitely been an oddity in his village, working as a self-employed indexer in an area where most men had been fishermen or worked at the power plant. Publishers would send him new textbooks or nonfiction works, and he would painstakingly plow through them, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. It was detailed, pedantic work, but he didn't have to deal directly with bosses, co-workers or clients, and it had paid enough to send Arata to college. He could now, three decades after tackling his first index, finish any book in less than forty-eight hours. In all that time, no one had ever complained about his work or questioned his judgment.

Numerous times during their marriage, Sakaguchi had overheard his wife attempting to describe his vocation to relatives, friends and neighbours. In the early years, she had tried to explain his odd hours and self-employment, making him sound like a cross between a professor and a surfer, but as the years wore on, her descriptions became more nebulous and simplified, "He writes for a living. He needs to be alone."

Not having had electricity or a working computer, much less Wi-Fi, since the tsunami, Sakaguchi had not read or sent a single email in over six months. He wondered idly whether anyone had reported him missing. He knew there were still so many missing people that one more would just be another number.

He spent some of his days wandering. He finally had time to explore the area without having to run into any fellow villagers. He enjoyed meandering about in his pajamas, sometimes for the entire day. In Japan this was unheard of and would be considered uncouth and unhygienic in normal circumstances, but such concerns no longer mattered.

Sakaguchi could not believe the number of dead pets he had found, still leashed on balconies or in backyards, nearby empty food and water bowls scratched with desperate bite marks. He tried to bury the corpses whenever he came across them. At times, he wondered if this was a waste of time and effort, but he knew the stench would soon become unbearable if he didn't.

Sakaguchi was returning Mori's fishing rod to its place in the garage when he noticed the inner door to the house was open. He took off his shoes, walked into the kitchen and looked around. Everything was neat and tidy and waiting for Mori and his family's return. Without feeling guilty about trespassing, Sakaguchi proceeded to wander through every room, squinting at photographs and magazine covers, playing with Aiko's stray toys. For a moment in the master bedroom, he felt a strange sensation and even looked out the window, almost expecting to see people walk by. Without thinking, he opened the walk-in closet and peered in. It was cool and somber inside, with the faint smell of sweet cedar. Sakaguchi lay down on the floor and closed his eyes. He allowed himself one nap per day, and this was as good a place as any.

He was just drifting off when he became aware of a ticking from somewhere deep in the closet. It was very faint, but soon became so annoying that he couldn't fall asleep. There was no electricity in the entire prefecture, so the sound must have been coming from something battery operated. Hadn't Mori remembered to remove all the batteries before he evacuated? Didn't he know that they would eventually leak, leaving a mess inside whatever device they ran? Sakaguchi chuckled to himself. He had such high expectations of his neighbours when he himself had left everything to his wife when she was still alive. Whenever his toothbrush had run out of power, he would stand it up on the kitchen counter and Itsuki would soon have it, filled with fresh batteries, waiting for him in its usual place. Much of their marriage had operated by remote control in this way, silently and efficiently.

Sakaguchi decided to be a considerate neighbour and locate the ticking device. He rummaged deep inside the closet and finally located it. So his hearing was not too bad for a sixty-year old after all. The clock was made of plastic but designed to mimic an old fashioned wind-up alarm. He hated anything retro. Why relive the past? It was small, only the size of his palm, and there were two bells on top of the silver coloured frame, and its big black numbers were Arabic. Sakaguchi removed the batteries from the clock and returned it to the very back of the closet where he had found it. He was about to put the batteries neatly next to the timepiece when his hand knocked against something solid.

Curious, Sakaguchi reached in and took out an oak box. It was filled with a neat stack of envelopes, filed in chronological order based upon their date of receipt, all of which had been carefully handwritten on the fronts of the envelopes. The letters were addressed to Mori and his wife in a child's script. He opened one of the earliest and read:

Dearest Otoosan and Okassan, Have you been doing well? Thank you for sending me the otoshidama for New Year. I asked my nurse to purchase my favourite manga with half of the money. She said I could get three entire series of comic books. One day, I hope to draw beautiful manga of my own. I am practicing every day. I will send you some when I am a bit more proficient as right now my drawings are still very poor. Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

Father and Mother? Haruka ? That was a girl's name, but in ten years of being neighbours, Mori and his wife had never mentioned an older daughter.

He read the next letter carefully, trying to solve the puzzle:

Dearest Otoosan and Okassan, Have you been doing well? My nurse has been very kind and has already prepared my room for a little birthday celebration on March 23. She has decorated my room with colourful streamers, and we are making a collage of all my favourite things. There will be a cake. I know you are too busy to attend. I just wanted you to know that I will be having a very happy birthday. Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

The third piece of correspondence was revealing in its brevity:

Dearest Otoosan and Okassan, Have you been doing well? Thank you very much for buying my new electric wheel chair. I like it very much, and now I am able to go outside once a day. My therapist says I am making great progress and that I am strong. I know I will walk someday. Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

Next came an envelope containing half a dozen postcard-sized cartoon drawings in pencil and this note:

Dearest Otoosan and Okassan, Have you been doing well? Do you like my drawings? I am so happy to tell you that the Japanese Society for Disabled Children will include two of my manga sketches in their art exhibition this year. I will send you some photos of the exhibition as my nurse says she will be going and taking pictures for me. Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

Sakaguchi shook his head slowly as he scanned the next letter, which confirmed Haruka's parentage:

Dearest Otoosan and Okassan, Have you been doing well? It was wonderful for me to spend three days with Otoosan last week—your visit was the best surprise I have ever had in my life. I pray Okassan gets better soon. I also pray every night for my little sister's health and happiness always. One day, I hope to live with you and Aiko chan when I am able to walk. I am busy drawing manga for her. I hope she likes them.

Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

Stunned, Sakaguchi thought of little Aiko and her noisy toddler toys. The child was remarkably beautiful with big round eyes and dark curly brown hair, yet Mori's wife always laughed shyly and cast her eyes down when asked when she would have another child to keep Aiko company.

A lone odd-shaped envelope near the back of the box caught Sakaguchi's eye. Inside was a medical report. He skimmed through the jargon, reaching the conclusion: Unfortunately the long term prognosis for this child with Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is not very favourable. This was probably as blunt as any Japanese person, even a doctor, could be.

Behind the report, Sakaguchi found one last letter:

Dear Otoosan and Okassan, I understand that I will never walk and can never live with you. When I grow up, I will draw manga about a disabled child who becomes a superhero. I will make my own living, and I will buy the best fishing rods for Otoosan and the finest pearls for Okassan. Please take care of yourselves, Haruka.

Was this the reason Mori went fishing for days on end? Sakaguchi cleared his throat and placed the box and its contents back in the inner recesses of the closet. He decided to take the long way home rather than cut across the rice fields between his and Mori's houses. He walked along the little footpath that edged the perimeter of the fields, dry at this time of year. He was lost in thought when he stumbled upon a mother cat and her four tiny kittens, dead by the side of the footpath. There was no smell of decay; they must have died recently. With a sigh, he returned to Mori's house to fetch the hoe from the garage. When he got back, he set to work. He dug shallow graves like this at least twice a day and performed the task mechanically, like one brushing his teeth morning and night. When he had finished, he decided to take the hoe back home, not relishing returning to Mori's place for a third time that day. That was when he heard the crying. He hadn't heard crying for a long time, and it sounded foreign—tender and raw. It turned out to be a fifth baby kitten, bigger than the rest of the litter. It had wandered away from his family, and it was trying to take a few wobbly steps towards Sakaguchi. After a moment, he turned and started for home. He decided to let nature take care of its own.

Later, however, he started to worry about the kitten. He had seen so many dead animals (and even a few dead people) in the past six months. What was one more? What was the difference? Except that he could actually save this one. Sakaguchi scoffed. Impossible. He had no idea how to take care of a kitten. What could it drink without its mother's milk? Where would it sleep? What was the optimum temperature for a kitten? If he had a working computer, he could google "care of kittens." Now the situation was hopeless.

Or was it? He went to the high school library, but after close to a half an hour of searching in vain for a book on pets, he gave up. Unfortunately, kitten care was not a priority for teenagers cramming for college exams. By the time he got home, it was past his usual lunch hour, so he opened a tin of tuna and washed it down with some Asahi Super Dry. Surely, the kitten must be dead by now.

He remembered that Arata had a ten-speed bicycle in the garage. The garage door creaked unhappily when he pried it open. The bike was a bit rusty, and the tires were soft, but it still worked. Without bothering to pump up the wheels, he hopped on and rode to the next town where there was a municipal library next to the town hall. He bounded up the front steps, surprised at the urgency he felt. The door was locked, but he eventually found a window left slightly ajar which he was able to pry open and slip through. Inside he willed his eyes to adjust to the darkness and was soon, with the help of some light streaming through cracks in the curtains, able to make his way through the stacks. A few minutes later, he had found not one, but three books on cat care. The librarian must have been an animal lover.

Back at home, he flipped through the books, trying to digest everything at once. It was all too confusing. In his panic, he had forgotten his thirty-year career in indexing. Of course, he should consult the index first. He chose the most recently published book and turned to the back pages. After reviewing "feeding a newborn kitten" and "temperature," he knew what he had to do.

Sakaguchi hurried back to the footpath. While he rode, he worried that perhaps his search for library books had just been a delaying tactic, designed to free him from the responsibility of actually having to care for the kitten. Likely, it was already dead. His heart was pounding. As he neared the site where he had buried the cat with her litter, he slowed down. Perhaps he should have brought the hoe with him instead of a blanket.

But then, he could hear its cries. Gently, Sakaguchi turned the kitten over and sighed in relief when he saw that there was no umbilical cord. Its eyes were wide open, but Sakaguchi remembered it still wobbled when it tried to walk. So he must be around two weeks old. He wrapped the palm-sized kitten in the old blanket from Arata's bed and took him home. On the ride home, he named the kitten, "Kenta," which meant, "large, strong and healthy boy". Too bad if it turned out to be a girl.

The rest of the day became a blur as Sakaguchi found himself tending to Kenta. He lined a cardboard box with blankets for a nest, but then fretted that he had no working heat lamp or electric blanket. Then there were the four daily feedings to contend with. The first was an emergency solution of hot water, evaporated canned milk, mayonnaise, corn syrup and egg yolk. What a bizarre and vile recipe! Sakaguchi fed Kenta carefully with an old eyedropper he had found in the medicine cabinet. The kitten was reluctant to drink at first (who wouldn't be?), but Sakaguchi held him firmly on his lap with his little head tilted up, and after a minute, the kitten drank voraciously. What a hungry little one!

After the first feed, Sakaguchi hurried to 7-11, hoping to find commercial kitten milk replacement. He had visited 7-11 half a dozen times in the past six months and had left money on the counter each time he had "purchased" an item. He never shortchanged the shop, and often left more than required, unless exact change was available from the small pile of money that had accumulated on the counter. But he would not be making a purchase today—there was no milk replacement to be found. He would have to go to the supermarket to look, which meant taking Arata's bike out again. He would probably have to break in, or perhaps the back door would be unlocked, just as the one at 7-11 had been. Everyone in his village knew everyone else. Vandalism and theft were unheard of. He hurried home to retrieve the bike.

He tried the front door of the supermarket and was a bit surprised to find it locked. Sakaguchi walked around to the back and, sure enough, the service entrance was open. The five-aisle grocery store was dark and musty, and his shoes made footprints in the dust. After walking up and down the aisles several times, Sakaguchi finally found the kitten milk replacement. He collected as much as he could carry on his bike and made his way to the nearest check out.


After three days of intensive parenting, Sakaguchi started to wonder whether he had put half this much effort into bringing up Arata. He could barely even remember his son's first six months. No wonder his son never called him. Sakaguchi could be a grandfather by now, and he wouldn't even know it. He thought of the disabled Haruka, who also lived far away, diligently practicing the art of manga and yearning to be with her parents. Kenta by comparison had so few needs, just milk, a warm nest and someone to play with for half an hour a day.

Kenta had quickly established a daily routine for the two of them. The kitten woke up every morning at sunrise and expected Sakaguchi to follow suit. He meowed incessantly, perched on top of the old man's chest, until he rose. Then they took a walk around the neighbourhood for about an hour, Sakaguchi letting the kitten walk whenever he liked, but more often than not, carrying him. Back at home, Sakaguchi would prepare breakfast for both of them. Kenta was still on the kitten milk replacement, and Sakaguchi couldn't wait until the kitten could start on dry solid food in a few weeks' time—even 7-11 had a good supply of that. While feeding the kitten, he would remember how excited Itsuki had been about Arata eating his first solid foods, how she had fed him mashed pumpkin from a little bowl. Funny images from his past had been coming up recently, startling him with a jolt.

After breakfast, the kitten promptly jumped back into bed and slept for a good six hours, and Sakaguchi was left to his own devices until mid-afternoon. Kenta was a light sleeper and Sakaguchi learned to tiptoe around. During these periods, he didn't want to leave the kitten, so he stayed at home just in case. Just in case of what? Sakaguchi found himself looking for a quiet pastime and started to write. He experimented with poetry and was delighted to find that he enjoyed reading and writing it. How could that be? He had never indexed a book of poems, and it was all new to him. Well, not quite. He remembered studying poetry from his high school days, many decades ago.

Three weeks passed. Sakaguchi guessed that Kenta was at least five weeks old. The kitten still slept for much of the day, but that was normal, according to the cat care books. "Kenta chan, today is a big day for us," Sakaguchi said one morning when he was sure it was safe to start the kitten on solid foods. He laughed when the kitten meowed and swiped at his pant leg. Kenta often displayed almost human responses to Sakaguchi's idle chatter.

They were heading to 7-11 when Sakaguchi realised that he hadn't checked on Watanabe in weeks. He should have a quick peek at his fellow renegade to make sure he was still OK—the detour would only delay them twenty minutes at the most. Sakaguchi headed towards Watanabe's neighbourhood, carrying Kenta on his right shoulder, whistling a tune as he strolled. Kenta meowed along. Crazy kitten.

Alarm bells rang in his head even before he heard any sounds. Sakaguchi approached Watanabe's cul-de-sac from the forest on its far end. The old man's house was the first of five homes on one side of the street and furthest from the woods. As Sakaguchi walked silently through the undergrowth, he could see bright flashing red lights near Watanabe's house. An ambulance and two police cars. Sakaguchi brought Kenta down from his right shoulder and held him close to his chest as he tiptoed forward. He crouched down and peered through the trees.

Watanabe was surrounded by six men wearing full-body protective white suits, masks and air tanks. He could hear the old man protesting loudly, "This is my home. I am not leaving my home. I have every right to stay here. Please, I am eighty-five years old. I have to take care of the neighbourhood. Look at all these houses around you. They are all in immaculate condition. This is my work, and I have to attend to it for my neighbours."

About half an hour later, Watanabe finally allowed himself to be gently placed in a wheelchair, which was eased up a ramp into the back of the ambulance. He was still complaining, but now it was about his imminent return home, after a quick medical checkup at the nearest shelter. Sakaguchi felt his heart stop as one of the white suits took a long, hard stare at the forest before hopping into the back of the ambulance. But the doors closed and the ambulance drove slowly away, led by the police cars.

Sakaguchi waited for twenty minutes after Watanabe's departure before he dared to emerge from the forest. He walked up and down the street and marvelled at the old man's handiwork. He had indeed kept the neighbourhood in immaculate condition. It looked like every home owner was engaged in a friendly competition for "best kept home and garden," yet the neighbourhood had been part of a ghost town for six months.

There were two brands of solid kitten food at 7-11, and Sakaguchi chose the more expensive one. He picked up six packets, helped himself to a plastic bag from behind the counter and left his money where he always did. He whistled as he departed, with Kenta perched on his right shoulder once again.

At home, he carefully followed the directions on the packet, mixing dry food with milk replacement. Then he placed a small amount on a saucer and put it in front of Kenta. The kitten approached cautiously. Sakaguchi laughed, "Kenta chan, look at your new breakfast! Try." He put some food in his palm and stretched it out towards the kitten. "Try. Delicious." Kenta stared wide-eyed at Sakaguchi rather than at his food. Still laughing, Sakaguchi crouched down and put his palm right under the kitten's nose. Then he saw that both of Kenta's eyes were tearing.

Sakaguchi wasn't sure what to do as his books did not offer home remedies for eye infections. They all recommended a visit to the vet. One of the books did note that sometimes wiping the eye with a warm washcloth would be enough to clear up the infection. Sakaguchi carefully used a separate cloth to clean each of Kenta's eyes.

After the cleaning, Kenta went to sleep in his cardboard box without having breakfast, which was a first. He had steadfastly refused solid food and had fallen asleep while Sakaguchi was preparing a bottle of milk in the kitchen. Sakaguchi, wondering what to do, lay down on the sofa and began reading a biography he had indexed a few years earlier. His publishers sometimes sent him copies of books he had worked on, but he rarely read them. At most, he would flip through the index pages, and then file the book on one of the shelves in the study. However, this particular biography was about Sentoka Taneda, a Zen Buddhist monk famous for his Haiku poetry, a subject which Sakaguchi had recently taken an interest in.

He had read about a third of the book, when he heard a small sound which filled him with dread. The noise—half gagging, half choking—was coming from the cardboard box. Sakaguchi walked over slowly and looked down at the kitten. Kenta had vomited, but he looked like he was still asleep. He gently picked up the kitten, but there was no response. Sakaguchi felt a huge lump well up in his throat and his face flush hot. He heated up some water while still holding Kenta, then gently bathed the kitten. It was only when he wiped Kenta's nose that the kitten whimpered softly.

He quickly wrapped Kenta in a tea towel. Itsuki had left him a huge supply—the only extravagance she could afford on the pittance he gave her throughout their marriage. He put on a grey jacket and zipped it up, then tucked Kenta in, unzipping just enough to allow the kitten to breathe.

He rode Arata's bicycle as fast as he could to the next prefecture. After the tsunami and nuclear crisis, the residents there had been put on alert but had not been evacuated. He hoped there would be a fully functioning town, with at least one or two vets on call. It took almost an hour of hard pedalling to get to the nearest town inside the prefecture's borders, and Sakaguchi was panting heavily by the time he saw its city hall. Surely there would be a vet nearby. He quickly checked on Kenta—still sleeping. After parking the bicycle, he calmed his own breathing, so he would not come across as a crazed man.

He spotted a young woman walking down the city hall steps clutching a file. He approached with a smile, trying to remember all the polite phrases his mother had taught him as a child—the phrases he had vowed never to waste his breath on again. But before he could utter the long honourifics reserved for strangers, a voice cried out, "Sakaguchi san! Sakaguchi san! Is that really you?" He stared in surprise, until after a moment, he realised that an elderly woman was squinting at him from the top of the city hall steps. Tsunakawa's widow.

"Sakaguchi san! It's wonderful to see you again. How have you been?" She lowered her voice and said, "Sakaguchi san, when did you arrive at this shelter? I've been wondering every day whether you've been OK."

He looked past her and saw all the bustling activity inside the city hall. It had obviously been converted into a shelter for evacuees. "Tsunakawa san, I never left my home. And all your chickens are fine. I am only here today because I need a vet for Kenta, my kitten." He opened the top of his jacket slightly to reveal the ailing animal.

Her eyes widened in surprise. "I see ..."

They stared at each other, until she finally said, "Let me find out for you. Please, wait by these steps." He slumped a bit as he stood, trying not to stand out. After five minutes, the widow returned. "Sakaguchi san, come quickly with me. I know the way." They walked for two blocks and turned down a side street. Sakaguchi wanted desperately to run, but the old woman's slow pace forced him to walk calmly and be patient.

"Tsunakawa san ... I thought you went to Hokkaido to be with your daughter? Have you been living at this shelter for all this time?" She smiled before nodding slowly.

"I'm seventy-five years old. A new life in Hokkaido would seem so foreign to me. I could never adjust to living under my son-in-law's roof. I decided to come here and wait until they let us return to our homes. Sakaguchi san, do you know how my garden is doing?"

He didn't tell the truth. "I've been watering it clumsily every other day, so most of the plants are surviving and await your return. But I apologise for I simply don't have a green thumb. Far from it." Her face lit up at the word "watering." She believed him.

"Thank you so much! I hope you have been helping me by eating the vegetables. Otherwise, it would be such a waste."

This time he did not have to lie. "The asparagus were particularly delicious in July. I'm sorry you were not able to enjoy the harvest." He dared not talk about her other vegetables—the ones that required watering to survive. Luckily, they had reached the vet's office. "Let me handle this," Tsunakawa's widow said.

Kenta was being examined within minutes. Tsunakawa's widow had artfully played up her age and evacuee status, while at the same time displaying enough yen bills to assure immediate payment. She answered all the receptionist's questions as if she were the kitten's owner, avoiding the possibility of awkward answers from Sakaguchi. She had found the kitten abandoned behind city hall. She had given him a little food every day. This morning he had been in the usual place but was very sick.

"The kitten has an upper respiratory infection."

"But how? I made sure he never caught any chills!"

"You should not blame yourself. It could have been caused by any number of different bacteria." The vet, a young man in his thirties, politely recommended that Kenta have all the appropriate vaccinations after his full recovery, in order to prevent a relapse.

Sakaguchi sucked in his breath at the words "full recovery," rejoicing silently. Kenta would have to stay overnight but could be discharged in the morning if his condition showed improvement. He would also have to take antibiotics for the next week. Then they were asked politely to leave as the kitten needed rest. Tsunakawa's widow insisted on paying the bill in advance and explained that her brother would probably pick up the kitten the next morning.

Once outside, Sakaguchi blubbered his gratitude in a rush of words. He could not remember the last time he had been this happy. Tsunakawa's widow was polite, "Your wife was my dearest neighbour for over twenty years. She used to explain in great detail all the important books you were indexing—a biography of Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjiang, an economic analysis of the Y2K debacle, a volume on world population densities … I miss her enlightening conversations very much."

Sakaguchi realised with a pang that those were some of the books he had indexed in the years before his wife's death. He used to get so annoyed with her constant dusting of his bookshelves, but he now knew that she had also been reading them.

"Even Arata chan found his lifelong passion through your indexing. He would never have encountered those three volumes of Forensic Geology in our little town library." Sakaguchi wasn't sure what to say. He had had no idea Arata's interest in the subject had begun with books he had worked on.

He remembered to repay Tsunakawa's widow before they parted. She told him there were rumours that the government would soon declare it safe for residents of their and Watanabe's town to return home. She had heard that none of the residents with children would be coming back, as most had already settled in other parts of the country. But the older residents were all eager to go home, radiation or not. Sakaguchi had made the right decision defying government orders—the six months spent at the shelter had been very uncomfortable and inconvenient, a waste of time.

There was no rush going home, so Sakaguchi chose the narrow dirt path rather than the road. He remembered biking along the same path as a child. It had been a favourite of his because it was so peaceful. But tomorrow morning, he would take the road back again.

He noticed the fall colours in the leaves as he cycled along. How many seasons had he missed? He couldn't remember the last time he had been along here, but it must have decades. Yet the leaves looked the same. He hadn't missed much when indexing, but he had missed so much of the world. He decided to take up cycling again. He would buy a basket for Kenta and wrap him in a scarf to prevent him from getting a chill in the cool fall breeze. He could imagine just how the little rascal would look.

At home, he headed straight for his office which was jam packed with the books that he had indexed. He searched his bookshelves, three full walls from floor to ceiling. He knew exactly what he was looking for—three matching grey hardcover volumes. Forensic Geology Volumes I, II & III. They should not have been hard to find because they were extraordinarily thick, but in the end he could not locate them. He laughed with pride. The Forensic Geology texts were gone.

Sakaguchi did not nap that day. There was so much to do before he returned to fetch Kenta in the morning. He had to round up some vegetables to bring to Tsunakawa's widow. He also wanted to start fixing her garden, so it would look half presentable for her return. At the very least, tomorrow morning he wanted to be able to tell her what was blooming. He hoped fervently that something had survived.

After Kenta's return, he would mend Mori's broken fence and paint his garage door. There were lawns to mow in the neighbourhood, shrubs to prune. He did not want to let his neighbours down. Then after all the work was done, and only then, he would call Arata chan.

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