Detective X: Part 6 by Shirley Pesto
It was a Sunday, and Komori attended the memorial service that Boss’s parents held for him at their house. The funeral and traditional customs had already transpired with his family in attendance. Boss’s parents wanted to give a broader spectrum of his friends a chance to say goodbye in a more casual setting. They realized that, unlike the death of an older person whose loved ones may have already passed or moved on, Boss had many acquaintances he met from different sectors of his life that he had still kept in touch with up until the time he died.
Boss’s family and friends were numerous and, not surprisingly, very kind, but Komori didn’t feel a closeness to them since he didn’t know them at all. He saw Shunichi and nodded towards him in acknowledgment, but then realized that he didn’t really know Shunichi too well either. While he was surprised not to see Mika there, he didn’t think to ask anybody about it. Acknowledging he hadn’t known Boss for very long, he was appreciative of knowing him for the time that he did. He quietly mourned the young man who helped him feel normal after his wife died. He nibbled on a sweet snack and slunk away after about twenty minutes.
Upon leaving the memorial service, he decided that he would visit Noriko’s resting place that day. He was dressed respectfully and the cemetery was only a short taxi ride away, so it seemed to be an appropriate time to do so.
Even though he had only been there a couple times since she was laid to rest, it felt very familiar when he arrived to visit her. He sat calmly on a bench in an almost meditative state. After spending a good hour there in silent conversation with Noriko, he also made sure to acknowledge her neighbors. He thanked them for welcoming his wife and wished them all peace. Being in the niche right next to Noriko’s, he looked at Fumie Takabe’s niche again and thanked her especially.
A small breeze flew by and Komori felt a tap at the base of his neck. He turned around to see nothing but swirling leaves and flower petals caught in the wind. Turning his attention back to his wife, he bid her farewell for the time being. He decided to end the day of goodbyes and started his journey back to his waking-life. The train ride was quiet, the weather of the day was tranquil, and the walk home was pleasant.
The next day at work was somber. It was the day after the memorial service and the first day that they truly accepted that Boss wasn’t coming back. Shunichi had already taken on Boss’s duties but was formally offered the supervisor position, which he accepted. He stood at Boss’s old spot and it appeared as if he felt somewhat uncomfortable in doing so. Things wouldn’t be the same.
Komori continued his daily regimen of noticing the pattern of the humidity dripping off of the plastic awning, studying the faces of the Flower Mart patrons, and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The day trickled by until the afternoon, and Komori decided to use some time during his lunch break to give Setsuko the long-anticipated call he had planned to give her the day she got back from vacation.
In his spot in front of Flower Mart, he paced back and forth as he practiced a list of things to say in his mind: “Welcome back from vacation!… Oh… I was calling to see if you’d be attending English class… Yeah, I thought the class wasn’t as engaging either… How was California?… Would you maybe want to grab some lunch?”
The more he thought about what to say, the more nervous he felt, so he just forced himself to press the call button. Hirayanagi answered the line again. When Komori asked to speak with Setsuko, he was alarmed to hear that she had resigned that day. He pondered on how it was a bit irregular for her to quit her job on the same day she returned from vacation. Maybe she found a better opportunity in the states and returned only to quit? Maybe she came back to mountains of work, or an angry supervisor? Maybe she was burned out? Maybe there was a family emergency? None of the scenarios he dreamt up felt particularly positive.
Telling himself that he had nothing to lose, he decided to stop by the address she provided on her postcard. Shunichi approved the request for Komori to leave work early and he left immediately. He folded up his smock to leave under the checkout counter at the store and grabbed his coat. He walked so swiftly through the door that he was a far distance away from the building before the automatic door laboriously slid closed again.
When he arrived at the address, he looked around to get his bearings. He approached a beige colored building that was several floors high. Each level had an outdoor hallway lined with maroon doors. Despite the doors’ close vicinity to each other, he assumed each of them signified a separate apartment. After climbing a flight of stairs, he walked swiftly down the hall and scanned each door until he reached the apartment number that was written on the postcard.
He rang the doorbell, and followed up with knocking. “Setsuko?” He decided to announce himself in case she was ignoring solicitors. “Setsuko, it’s Komori.”
As he continued knocking, he could hear someone on the other side of the door.
In a kind voice Komori continued, “It’s Tom. I thought you might be back by now, so I called you at work today. They told me you resigned.”
A quiet voice spoke back to him, “I’m not in a condition to see you… how did you find out where I live?”
“A postcard signed by Lucy arrived from San Diego. You wrote your return address as here.” He started to feel worried for her wellbeing and suspected there was something wrong. He bent down to speak through the mail slot, “Please open the door.”
His suspicions were confirmed when she turned the doorknob and she, along with piles of unopened mail, spilled out into the entryway. Komori asked with a concerned tone, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Setsuko answered in a tired voice, “I’m sorry. I may have taken too many pills.”
He discovered he had happened upon her attempt on suicide. The feeling of pressure and excess liquid in his brain plagued him again. Thoughts of horror flooded his mind. “Not again. I can’t lose somebody again.”
He dragged her to the bathroom where he engorged her with water from a shower sprayer. He forced her to drink more than her stomach could handle. This induced her to vomit, hopefully expelling all of the previously ingested pills.
After Setsuko let out the contents of her stomach, Komori helped her out of the bathroom and carefully laid her on the floor of the main living space. The pandemonium in the bathroom caused most of her clothes to get wet. He took off his coat to put over her and searched for some dry clothes for her to change into. As he riffled through her cluttered apartment, he felt her touch his leg. He turned around and saw that she had taken off her blouse and skirt. All she had on was her underwear. He was instantly embarrassed and quickly looked away, while apologizing profusely.
Setsuko climbed up towards him and pushed him towards a wall lined with clothes on hangers. He fell back slightly, but the clothes padded his weight and he gently slid down closer to her level. Komori tried to speak, but she kissed him on the lips. At first, he allowed this. Then he thought better of it and urged her, and himself, to stop.
Other than the kiss and a warm embrace, they went no further physically. It was a special moment of emotional bonding between the two of them. Setsuko balled up into a fetal position and rested on Komori’s chest. They laid together in the mass of her belongings, which were strewn about her compact dwelling.
He noticed some sort of wound on her arm that was covered by a bandage. While concerned, he attempted to ask in a calm tone, “What happened?”
It seemed like something of note, but she dismissed it as a recently removed birthmark. Perhaps to try and help get her mind off of it, she asked him to talk about himself.
With both of them being quite traumatized from the recent events, Komori was having a hard time thinking of things to talk about. But as soon as he started talking about memories of Noriko and his late start in construction in his forties, he started to feel more at ease with talking.
He transitioned to reminiscing about the night he and Setsuko first met in John’s English class. He revealed that on his way home, he fell on his head so hard that he had to be checked into the hospital. That led him to have to revisit the fact that Boss died on that same night. He went into detail of how Boss was his friend from work and that he was the reason why he started taking the English classes. Or, rather, it was Boss’s girlfriend, Mika, that got him access to the sessions. He lamented about how he noticed the change in Boss’s mood after the breakup with Mika. Even if it was just wishful thinking, he said he wished there was something that he could’ve done to help Boss with his psychological pain before he died.
Losing his friend so soon after losing Noriko made Komori realize how few personal connections he had in this life. It also made him appreciate how close he felt to Setsuko at that moment. He confessed, “I can’t explain why I feel so close to you. We’ve just barely met and I feel connected with you.”
“I feel the same with you,” Setsuko replied. She remained silent for a while, yet pensive. With her face still leaning on his chest, her cheek puffed forward when she finally spoke. “I hope this isn’t too painful to know… but I actually knew Boss. Well, I didn’t know him personally, but I knew of him. His girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, Mika—she’s my niece.”
He perked up when he heard this and shimmied upright a little, using his elbows to hoist his weight up. He looked down towards her. From his perspective, all he could see was the top of her head. The coincidence of Mika being Setsuko’s niece was uncanny and he gave the top of her head his undivided attention.
She toyed with one of the buttons on his shirt as she continued talking, “The reason I was taking those English classes was because Mika sold them to me. She framed it as a favor that I was doing for her—helping her out financially while getting something in return.”
“Eh?” Komori made a connection between the similarities of how they both ended up in the classes and made a noise as he exhaled.
Setsuko toyed with Komori’s shirt button a little rougher now and it made an audible clicking sound as she picked at it with her fingernail. “I’m beginning to think Mika and John deceived us both, and maybe others, until they got enough money.” She clicked her tongue in disgust of the situation before she continued. “Boss most likely had no intention of deceiving you. He probably thought the classes were legitimate and was just helping his girlfriend out by mentioning them to you. Poor Boss. Young love. It is so fickle and can cause so much pain.”
Komori’s eyebrows furrowed. A melancholy mood overwhelmed him as he thought of his friend.
Setsuko could feel his heart rate quicken as he heard this news. Her heart rate had quickened, too. She forced herself to calm down a bit now and spoke in a quieter tone. “I found out Mika and John were a romantic item… and then they left. I followed them all the way to the United States. I really don’t know what I was doing. I felt so angry. When I finally got through what I perceived as anger, I realized that my true emotion was sadness.” With a frown on her face, she looked downward, creating folds in her chin. “I’m sad.”
She quit fiddling with Komori’s shirt button and went to rub the bandage that he previously inquired about. Komori didn’t quite know how to process all the details that were unloaded on him. He wasn’t angry. Like Setsuko, he was just very sad.
Setsuko could sense this. Her head was rising and falling from the short breaths he was taking and she decided to change the subject to try and get their minds on other things. “Do you have any children?”
Komori’s heartbeat and breathing pace calmed to a sensible level and she could hear his voice both echo through his chest through her right ear and clearly through her left ear. “No. Noriko and I didn’t have any children.”
“Have you always been a construction worker? Did you do anything different before?” Setsuko’s speech slurred a little and her voice sounded like she was getting sleepy.
This question seemed to confuse Komori and he felt that nagging, dull ache at the base of his head. He let out a sort of embarrassed laugh and said, “I… I can’t think clearly right now.”
Setsuko slumped over a little and Komori was worried she was falling asleep. He sat her upright. As he made the motions to stand up, he encouraged her to do the same by rubbing and patting her shoulders. He handed her the ball of clothes he had hastily thrown together before they both ended up on the floor.
“Let’s get ready to go out,” Komori said with a genuine smile in his eyes. His plan was to go outside. Anywhere outside, just to get Setsuko walking around.
She took the clothes with both hands and walked slowly towards the bathroom. Before she made it there, something on her desk caught her attention. She rifled through some papers and then continued on her way to get changed.
Komori waited in the main room as she got ready behind the closed bathroom door. He glanced around her apartment. It was extremely cluttered, but everything had its place. He found a clean glass to fill with water and went searching for her coat.
On her desk, he noticed there was something that resembled a scrapbook. It was opened to a blank page with only residual glue strokes remaining. It looked like an object the shape of a newspaper clipping had shielded a portion of the black colored paper from being bleached in the sun. He ran his hand across it with curiosity. Just as he was about to flip to the next page, he could hear Setsuko turning the bathroom doorknob. He hurried to grab the glass of water he had prepared.
When she opened the door, Komori was on the other side of it, smiling. With both of his hands holding out the glass of water, he had his coat under his armpit and her coat clenched in between his thighs. She nodded and took the glass and smiled as she brought it to her lips. After she took a few sips, she turned to put the glass down on the edge of the sink. As her back was turned, Komori threw on his own coat and, from between his legs, he pulled out her coat. He held it up so she could easily slip her arms into it.
They slowly walked to the train station and he supported her elbow to help her up the stairs to the platform. When they reached the top of the stairs, they found a spot to wait for the train and stood together.
Komori broke the silence and spoke in a soft tone. “Years ago. I lost my son. He committed suicide.”
Setsuko’s ears perked up and she looked at him with sympathy and a little bit of confusion, since Komori had recently mentioned that he didn’t have any children.
He continued, “It’s my fault, I was very strict with him.” Komori looked forward and let many thoughts cycle through his head before he came to a conclusion, “Tom and I are complete opposites.”
Setsuko understood what he was trying to say. Both of them stood aimlessly on the train platform. She wasn’t quite sure where he was bringing her, but she was content on going with him. Things felt better when she was with him.
Komori turned towards Setsuko, held out his arms wide, and said, “Setsuko, let’s hug.”
Setsuko stepped the short distance into his arms and they hugged as a train entered the station.