Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Accuracy of death 5

After putting her in a taxi, I wondered around a late night game arcade. Because it looked like my work was going to go smoothly, my steps were light. I am always comfortable doing my work. If you are willing to take human form, and meet humans, all you have to do is talk to them a little and write a report entry. I do not have to deal with my colleagues, but can act on my own ideas on the ground, which suits me.

I went into a CD shop. It is rare to find an all-night CD shop, so I am pleased when I do. The customers in the shop beyond eleven at night were sparse, but they were present. I moved flittingly past the shelves to an area where several listening posts were arranged. If I had to name something more interesting than work, I would say listening to music. When music flows from the headphones sitting on my ears, my senses feel fresh, and I savour a thrilling emotion. It is truly wonderful. I am not interested in the death of humans, but the idea of music ceasing with their death is hard on me.

“Ah!” I noticed something. It appeared to be a middle aged man in front of a listening post wearing headphones, but it was one of my colleagues.

I tapped his shoulder.

The man’s eyes were half closed as if he was drunk, and he turned around with a start. Taking off his headphones, “Hey.” He smiled.

“Is your charge in this area too?” I asked.

“Yeah, today’s the last day though.”

“You’ve finished the report? Or you’ve seen the end?”

“Seen the end” he raised his shoulders. “They got drunk and on their way home and fell onto the tube tracks.”

When our one-week investigation ends, we send a report of the results to the head department. In cases where the result is ‘satisfactory’, no, well the result is usually “satisfactory”, but in those cases; the next day, in other words on the eighth day, the death is put into practice. When we witness that death, our work is done.

By the way, we are not informed in advance about how our target will die. The cause of death does not occur within our seven-day investigation period either, for instance; with the charge having an injury on the sixth day which gets worse and leads to death on the eighth day, so that we have no way to imagine how they will die until the time comes to witness their death.

“Having a last listen before you go back?” I pointed at the headphones.

“Yeah, I dunno when the next one’s gonna be…” he smiled.

We often listen at CD shops when we get time in between working. If there is a customer listening single-mindedly, without even moving, it could be me or one of my colleagues. Previously, I had gone to see films if I had a chance, but I once saw it written that ‘Angels gather in libraries.’ “I see”, I thought. For them it is libraries. For us it is CD shops.

“This album is brilliant.” He gave me the headphones. I put them on my ears. It was not rock, nor was it pop; but I heard a lively female vocal.

“This is nice” I agreed as I returned the headphones. I was aware that to put it unkindly, we could be said not to enjoy music in between work, but to work in between enjoying music. A slightly boastful expression floated across the face of the colleague in front of me, and he began to say,

“In this album, you should pay attention to the producer” and continued to swiftly talk about how the producer was a genius.

“But, this music is good because the girl singing has a good voice and good musical sense. I replied. “It’s got nothing to do with the producer.

“That’s it. A song is a voice. The producer is also saying that. It’s about talent and ability. That’s exactly why.”

“That’s exactly why?”

“For uncovering this singing voice, the producer is great.”

I made a dubious reply. It was just a suspicion, but I thought that he might be grouping his own steady work with the behind-the-scenes work of a producer.

“What about you?” he nodded to me.

“I started my investigation today. But luckily, it looks like it’s going to be simple.” I remembered Fujiki Ichikei’s face.

“Whether it’s simple or whatever, from the beginning it’s bound to be ‘satisfactory’”

“I mean to be a bit serious about judging her. I want to stock up as much information as I can and give a correct judgement.” That’s my nature.

“But, in the end it’s gonna be ‘Satifactory’ isn’t it.”

“Probably” That was how it was in reality, I could not deny. “But at least for the moment, I intend to take it seriously.”

“For the moment?”

“Yeah, for the moment.” I nodded, and took a pair of headphones from the next booth, put them on my head and pressed the play button.

“Bye then.” My colleague waved his hand and left the shop.

Whether it is jazz, rock, classic; whatever it is, music is the best. Just by listening I become happy. Probably, my friends are the same. It is not at all the case that we all have skulls on our jackets and listen to heavy metal because we are gods of death.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Accuracy of death 4

“Other than work, what do you enjoy? When you have time off.”

“Time off?” she made a face like she had never heard such a stupid question, “I don’t do anything. Just housework. And I toss coins.”

It seemed that she was getting drunk. Her speech was slurring and her eyelids looked heavy.

“Toss coins?”

“If it comes up heads I will become happy; thinking that I toss ten yen coins. It’s a simple kind of fortune telling.” She looked as if she had exceeded self-mockery and reached enlightenment. “But most of the time, it comes up tails. So this time I decide if it comes up tails I will become happy, and toss it…”

“And it comes up heads.”


“Perhaps you are over-thinking it”

“If even a fifty percent probability fails you, you lose your desire to live.” She gulped down her beer. “Whether I’m here or not, it’s the same, that’s why I wouldn’t mind dying.

“If you died, there are lots of people who would be sad” I said insincerely.

“There is one person.” Her body swung unsteadily. The old guy who requests me by name at complaints handling.” Then she laughed loudly, showing her teeth. “Really, I want to die. Because there is nothing good in my life.”

The people that we take charge of tend to talk about death without prompting. They fear death, they welcome it or they obsess over it; whatever the case, their face darkens and they come around to talking about it.

Apparently, this is because humans subconsciously guess our identity. I learned that at training. “Gods of death give humans a premonition of their death.”

In fact, since long ago there have been humans who can faintly sense us. Some people get nervous, saying ‘It’s cold’, some leave writing clearly denoting premonition of their death; ‘I feel like I am going to die soon…’ Sometimes there are people sensitive to our existence that call it divining and tell others about us.

“You shouldn’t say I want to die so lightly.” I said disingenuously.

“Every day, I just take calls of complaint, and on top of that there is nothing bright in my private life; there is no reason to go on living. I want to register a complaint about my own life.” She spat a line that could not be thought of as happy.

I refrained from saying that there is no reason for living in first place.

“You know lifespans? you know fate? I wonder if those things exist.” She appeared to have a constitution that was not strong against alcohol. Her dark face had sunk dully. According to the data from the information department, she had no real experience of sitting to a meal with a man. So it might be that with her nerves and exultation, she was drinking too fast.

At the next table, a close looking man and woman were eating facing each other. “I’m full up, I can’t eat any more” said the woman with an expression that mixed embarrassment and coquetry, and the man facing her said eagerly,

“It’s okay, I’ll eat it for you.”

“How kind of you, thank you.” The woman said gratefully, although why the one handing over the food should be grateful, I cannot understand.

“Life spans exist” I answered, returning my attention to Fujiki Ichikei, “it’s just that not everyone dies at their furthest extent.”

She guffawed with laughter. “That doesn’t make sense. The time that a person dies is the extent of their lifespan. To die before the extent of your lifespan, that’s a weird thing to say, isn’t it.”

“If everyone waited until the end or their life span to die, it would be disastrous.” Strictly speaking, I should not be talking about this, but I could tell she was becoming heavily inebriated, so I continued. “The balance would crumble.”

“What balance?”

“Population, the environment, the world’s balance.” To be honest, I did not know the details.

“But surely people die at the end of their lifespan”

“There are times when they die before their lifespan. Like in unexpected accidents, in unplanned events. That’s not part of a lifespan. In fires, in earthquakes, by drowning; things like that are decided separately from lifespans.”

“Who decides them?” her eyelids began to widen.

I thought to answer honestly ‘Gods of death.’ But because I think that is a nasty term I changed it to “God, I suppose.” Gods of death have ‘god’ in their name, so it is not exactly untrue.

“That’s a lie!” she said “If there is a God, why doesn’t he save me?!” Her voice had become rather loud and was clear. Oh! I thought. For a moment, it sounded like a pretty voice. “But on what basis does god decide who dies?”

“I don’t know that either.” I answered truthfully. I didn’t know what basis was held, or what principle followed in choosing humans. That was a different department. I do no more than my job, as instructed by that department.

“But arbitrarily deciding, making random accidents, it’s unforgivable isn’t it.”


“If you don’t research carefully before you decide, that’s no good” she said in a sing-song voice and slumped her head onto the table with a bang.

My thoughts exactly, I agreed strongly in my heart. That is exactly why I have come to you… I think.

Investigating, putting the death into practice, and reporting on it. That is my job.

I say investigating, but it is not much. One week before hand we contact the party, talk to them two or three times and write either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’. The investigation system is almost ceremonial, and the result is almost always a report of ‘satisfactory’

“Ah, I want to die” the girl said as if she was sleep talking with her cheek against the table. “I want to die tomorrow.”

Humans do not die while we are investigating them. Suicides and disease are out of the jurisdiction of death-gods, so we do not know when they will happen, but they will not occur during an investigation period. So I felt a little sorry for her, thinking ‘It’s too bad, but you can’t die quite yet.’

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Accuracy of death 3

“Is it really not a trick?” The girl who sat facing me was still half in doubt. As her voice was hard to hear, I moved my ear closer. It was a Russian restaurant. I had had to pick her up when she lost her composure, and half-forcibly get her to accompany me to the restaurant while her consciousness was faint and her guard was down.

“It’s not a trick. I just want to apologise.”

“Really?” she lost her frozen expression, and her cheeks began to blush instead.

“When you fell down suddenly, I was surprised” There was no way that I could explain it had happened because I had touched her with my bare hands. If I touch a human with bare hands, their lifespan shortens by a year, but as this woman is in all probability close to death, it should not be a problem.

“It was a first for me, my body is usually sturdy.”

If only she would speak more clearly, I thought to myself. Such a quiet voice tires out the speaker and the listener both. In a small voice “Um, what’s your name?” She inquired.

“I’m Chiba.” When we are sent to work, we are given a name. It is always the name of a town or borough. Our age and appearance change every time, but our names are always place names. It must be the management’s signature. “What’s your name?”

“Fujiki Ichikei”

She explained that it was written with the kanji for ‘one wish’. “My parents gave me the name hoping I would be blessed with just one talent. It’s silly, isn’t it.”


“Surely they can’t have expected to raise a girl without merit like me.” It seemed less like she was inviting sympathy, and more like she was begrudging her circumstance.

She swallowed a piece of egg. “I’m not easy on the eyes.” She ejaculated. I genuinely misunderstood. I squinted my eyes and moved backwards,

“No, I can see you easily” I responded, “you’re easy on the eyes” she burst into a smile. As though there was a light on her face, it became bright for a moment

“Not like that, I mean I don’t make an impact.”

“Ah.” I could not deny it strait away. She does not make an impact. That is exactly right. She asked my age, so I answered twenty two. I had been set the same age as her.

“You look composed for your age.”

“I get told that a lot.” This was the truth. From my colleagues as well, I often get told that I look composed or I look cold. It is just that I do not like pointless playfulness, and I am not good at expressing my feelings, but apparently from another’s eyes I look particular.

She began to talk about her office. Her voice was characteristically difficult to hear, but the conversation appeared to be becoming smooth. Rather than her thawing, it was probably to do with the high pace with which she was drinking beer.

She works in the headquarters of a major electronics company. Apparently.

“That’s a first-rate company. That’s great!” I put on my best envious voice.

“But it’s complaint handling” she drew her eyebrows unattractively.” I’m in the complaints handling department. It’s not a job that anyone would want.”

“Complaints handling?”

“I take calls from customers. Initially they get connected to another desk, but malicious people get passed on to me. So my speciality is troublesome complaints.”

“Sounds depressing”

“Yes” here she dropped her shoulders, and nodded a gloomy head. “It’s really depressing. Because there is nothing but people complaining. They come storming, nagging, being sarcastic and threatening. I only attend to people like that. I think I will go mad.

“Is it tough every day?”

“No” she shook her head “It is too tough every day.”

“That bad?”

“Even though I am like this, when I was on the phone I would put on a very cheerful voice. Because I felt sorry for the customer. But when they keep accusing you, your feelings stagnate.”

Her voice was such a damp little voice, like bubbles bursting on the surface of a murky pond, that I could not imagine her producing a cheerful voice on the phone.

“Recently, there has been an especially weird customer”


“Some one how specifically requests me to complain”


“There are five girls in the complaints handling department, and who gets reached is random, but this guy gives my name on the phone.”

“That’s terrible.” Having a stalker-like complainer is nasty.

“It’s too terrible” she drooped, looked at me with lifeless eyes, and with a weak smile; “It’s enough to make you want to die.” She said

I almost said it out loud. Your wish will come true.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Accuracy of death 2

On the near side of the subway staircase I stepped under a roofed section, and closed my umbrella. Before I closed it, I shook the water from it firmly, two or three times. A bit of dirt that was stuck to the umbrella flew onto the back of the woman who stood in front of me.

“Ah!” I loosed my voice. It was a bigger piece of dirt than I expected. The woman looked behind her suspiciously.

“Please forgive me. Some droplets flew…” I bowed my head. She twisted her neck, and haphazardly pulled at the suit she wore, resting her eyes on the dirtied patch. When she had confirmed there was a patch of dirt the sixe of a five hundred yen coin on the grey cloth, once again her suspicious eyes turned toward me. She looked angry, but of course, she had the right to be angry; she really looked more bewildered than angry. She went to go down the stairs, so I panicked, and stood in front of her.

“Wait a minute, I’ll pay for the cleaning” I said.

I had not checked carefully, but this time I should have an appearance that would charm a young woman. I was told by the information department that I was a young man in his early twenties who could pass for a model in a fashion magazine. The information department researches and decides on an appearance and age that will aid in our work.

Therefore, it is hard to imagine that my appearance inspired dislike in her; I think it must have been brining up money that made her suspicious.

She said something.

‘No it’s all right’ or ‘Don’t bother’; I managed to grasp that it was something of that nature, although she spoke in such a small, retiring voice that I could not hear what she said.

“Wait a minute” without thinking, I went to grab her arm as a reflex. I withdrew my hand immediately.

I had forgotten to wear a glove. It is forbidden to touch a human body with a naked hand. Just by being touched, humans can faint and become difficult, so it is forbidden except for in emergencies. It is a rule. Those who break it are forced to do a set period of manual labour and attend an educational course. Breaking such a trivial rule is like, in human terms, throwing away a cigarette butt or ignoring a traffic light, so I did not feel it was necessary to be overly fastidious about it, but even though I think it is interfering, it is a rule that should be followed.

“Getting dirt on such an expensive suit, I can’t leave it like that” I said.

“Expensive… the whole suit was 10 000 yen” finally the girl spoke in a voice I could hear. “Are you being sarcastic?”

“It doesn’t look so cheap” in fact, it easily looked that cheap. “If that’s the case, all the more; it must be rare to find such a bargain.”

“Don’t worry about this stain” she said darkly, “at this point I’m not worried about a mark or two.”

Yes, with your life-span, a stain like that is not a problem. You will be dead in a week anyway, I thought, but I did not say it.

“Okay, lets do this; how about you let me buy you dinner by way of an apology?”

“Huh?” she made a face like she had never heard this line before.

“I know a good restaurant. They are not likely to let me in on my own, so it would help me is you came.”

She stared at me. Humans are really deeply suspicious. They are extremely scared of being made idiots out of, yet are easy to fool. There can be no helping them. Of course, I have no intention of helping them.

“Where is everyone hiding?” she prickled.


“Your friends are hiding somewhere, laughing, aren’t they? Laughing at me, enjoying my response to your pick up.” Rather than talking, she gave the impression of reciting a Buddhist prayer.

“Pick up?” I said as if I had been shoved.

“I may not look so good, but I am not causing anybody trouble, so please leave me alone.” She went as to go ahead. At this point, without thinking I grabbed her shoulder with my bare hands. By the time I had thought ‘Oh no!’, she had turned her head around, and made a face like she had seen a god of death, well no, she had seen a god of death, but in any case her face paled to blue as the blood rushed away, and she sat down helplessly where she was.

It was too late to regret it. All I could do was pray that I had not been seen by a colleague. I took a pair of gloves from my pocket, put them on both hands, and held the girl where she had collapsed on the floor.

Accuracy of death 1

Accuracy of Death
Isaka Kotaro

Accuracy of Death
Quite some time ago, the head of a barber shop told me he had no interest in hairstyles.
“I cut customers’ hair with scissors, innit. From the morning, when the shop opens, until it closes in the evening, without rest, it’s snip snip. It feels good to see a customer’s head being made fresh, but is doesn’t particularly mean I like the hair style.”
Five days later he was stabbed in the stomach by a random street-slasher and died, but of course at that time, without anticipating his death, he spoke with a lively and cheerful voice.
When asked “So, why are you running a barber shop then?” he replied with a grim smile.
“Because it’s my job.”
This is exactly in how I think, or to put it more pompously, this is exactly my philosophy.
I am not so interested in the deaths of humans. Whether a president gets sniped on a 12 mile-per-hour parade, or whether a young boy and his dog freeze to death in front of a Rubens painting, I am not interested.
In fact, the barber in question once allowed “I am afraid of dying.” In reply to this, “Do you remember anything from before you were born?” I questioned “Before you were born, did you feel fear? Did you feel pain?”
“The thing we call death is like that, isn’t it. You just return to the state you where in before you where born. It is not frightening, nor is painful.”
A person’s death is neither of interest nor of value. To put it another way, the death of anyone is of equal value. Therefore, it is of no importance to me who dies when. Even so, today I am making the effort of going out in order to ensure a person’s death.
Why? Because it is my job. Exactly like the barber said.

I was in front of a building. A place a hundred meters from the tube station front, it is the twenty-floor high office of an electronics maker. One side of the wall was like a glass window, while the other side reflected the walkway and opposite building’s emergency stairway. I was standing by the front entrance, resting on a folded umbrella.
The clouds overhead were deep black, with bulges redolent of tensed muscle. Rain was falling. It was not with a heavy force, but neither did it look like stopping soon., it felt persistent. Whenever it is time for me to work, the weather is unfavourable. I was under the impression that bad weather was something that came with the job of dealing with death, but when I asked my associates I gathered this was not the case and have recently come to understand that it is just chance. When I say that I have never seen clear weather, my associates look at me with even more disbelieving eyes than humans, but it is the truth, and nothing can be done.
I looked at the clock. It was 18:30. According to the schedule passed out by the information department, it was about time for the figure to appear. Just as soon as I think it, I mark her leaving through the automatic door.
The figure of the girl who raised a transparent vinyl umbrella as she walked was dull. From behind, that she did not appear to have any excess fat for her height, was all there was to say in praise. She was round-shouldered, bow-legged, and walked facing downwards, so that she looked older than her twenty two years. The jet-black hair tied behind her head gave a dark impression, and more than anything else, whether it was fatigue or sorrow, a shadow of tiredness was cast from her brow to her neck. The fact that she appeared to be wrapped in a dull lead colour could not just be due to the rain that moistened the pavement. It is not as though all would be corrected if she had used make-up, but she did not appear to have any will to decorate herself at all, and even the suit she wore was far from designer ware.
Stepping into a wide stride, I followed after her back. Twenty meters ahead was an entrance to the underground station, I should catch up with her there. That was how I was instructed. I wanted to get it over with quickly, as always. I would do what I had to do, nothing more. Because it is my job.