When I next met Fujiki Ichikei it was two days later, and it was drizzling. I waited in front of her office building, saw her as she left through the automatic door, and tracked after her. Cars passed along the road to the side, pushing through the water that had collected in the gutter, making sounds like waves.
Perhaps because she rushed more than last time, it was hard for me to follow her. Once I had got very close to her, I extended a gloved hand, and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around with a start. It was as if I had poured hot water on a sleeping cat; it was such a sensitive reaction that I was staggered.
Seeing my face, “Ah,” she gave off a small voice, and took on a relieved hue. It appeared that she was not afraid of me.
“The thing is” I took a handkerchief from my pocket “I wanted to return this.”
“Eh, is that mine?”
“Yes, before, when I spilled beer you lent it to me.”
“Oh, right.” Her face darkened and she twisted her neck. It was a lie. In fact, I had taken it from her pocket when I put her on a taxi.
“Thank you for last time, I don’t remember it well” She bowed as she spoke incoherently.
“I was wandering if you couldn’t talk with me again”
She looked around her restlessly.
It seemed more like caution than self-consciousness so, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked?” I showed some reserve.
“N-no.” she twisted her neck. “Um, the thing is, he might be nearby.”
“I might have said about it before, but there is an old guy who phones in with claims.”
“The person who complains to you personally?”
“Yes.” Her voice was small. “He phoned again today, and said things like, ‘I want to meet you.’”
“So I wonder if he is nearby.”
So I got a taxi and took us immediately to the next town. I thought she might refuse my pushy approach, but fortunately she did not.
When we entered a coffee shop I had never seen before, she looked relieved and said “It should be safe in here”, relaxing her shoulders.
“That caller is creepy isn’t he” I matched her in conversation. It was not that I was completely insistent on hearing her talk, but if I could find out how bad daily life for her was, that would be enough to write her report; and more than anything else, if I listened to her worries like this I could get a sense of satisfaction that I was doing my job.
“At first, it was a complaint that the eject button on his video deck was broken.”
“If only you would speak a little louder.” Before I was conscious of it, I had said it.
“When you speak quietly it sounds gloomy.” Even without speaking she had a gloomy air, so I thought that at least she should brighten her tone.
“When I am at work I make an effort to use a brighter tone”
I should hope so, I thought. If she spoke with this voice, the callers would have even more to complain about.
“The people who get put through to me are all making trivial complaints, so all I do is listen to them and apologise earnestly, ‘please forgive us, please forgive us’ repeatedly.”
“I think I’m going to get depressed just by imagining it.”
“At first he was like that as well, but half way through he became strange. Suddenly he said ‘apologise once more’.”
“he said ‘Apologise once more’. Of course, I apologized again, but he just repeated that. Again and again. He kept saying ‘once more’. Towards the end he got angry, telling me to say something.”
“Maybe he gets sexual excitement when girls apologise to him.” I did not have any evidence, but I was often surprised by human’s sexual tastes, so I did not think it impossible.
Her face blushed when she heard ‘sexual excitement’.
“And that was the end for that day, but he phoned again the next day. This time it was the television.”
“He said that the picture got narrower and narrower, then suddenly disappeared. Of course I said we would send a repair man, but he said that was unnecessary, and that I should explain the cause.”
“The cause of the problem?”
“There’s no way I could know the cause.”
“That’s not your job.”
“Because I’m complaints handling. I’ve never seen that television. He said I could say anything; so speak. In a louder voice, more clearly; he said.”
“He probably didn’t mind about the contents of the conversation. He just wanted to talk to you.” When I said it, she made a disgusted face.
“Next was a radio cassette player.”
“Music!” I shouted out without thinking. I became embarrassed at myself. “Was the radio cassette player broken?” I attempted to smooth my outburst over.
“I’m sure that was a lie as well.” She twisted her face. “He said that he could not get a cd out of the machine, and told me to sing the song.”
“Right? He kept saying, ‘do you know this song? Try and sing it.’”
“The thing that needs repairing is that customer’s head. It’s horrible. And eventually, I suppose he said he wanted to meet you?”
“Yes.” She looked at the floor and spoke in a feeble voice. “After harping on and on about a broken DVD player, he asked me if I wouldn’t meet him somewhere.”
“Perhaps he likes you.”
“Me?” I was surprised that she had not made the assumption.
“He might have found your service enchanting” Perhaps if that was true, she might lose her desire to die.
“No way…” she fluttered, and showed a little happiness, but soon realised; “I’m not happy about being liked by such a weird person.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” An almost insane complaining customer was unlikely to make her happy, and it was hard to imagine the gloomy girl having a bright future in a couple with a complaint claimant.
She was quiet for a while. As I worried about whether I should say something, I looked out of the window, and a frowning pedestrian who walked carrying an umbrella came into view. Puddles had gathered unevenly on the pavement, carving the ground unevenly.
“Recently there’s been a lot of rain, hasn’t there.”
“When I work, it always rains.” I confided.
“You’re a rain man aren’t you?” She smiled, but I did not understand what was funny. However, at that point, an old question popped into mind.
“And is that what a snowman is as well?”
“Someone who, when they are about to do something, it snows?”
She burst out laughing; “That’s funny.” And clapped her hands.
I became serious. I was unwilling to have my serious remark mistaken for humour. Because I did not understand what was funny, I was unable to move the conversation on. Pitifully, this experience is extremely common for me.
After a while, she let her voice out; “What exactly is my life?” It was as if she had been holding back, but now was boiling over, and I was startled. It resembled the voice of a woman who had thrown herself down a hole she could not crawl out from, and who wondered cajolingly “I don’t suppose a rope will come down…”
Perhaps she is asking for me to save her, I thought. She looked as though she expected this man in front of her to pluck her out of her low-flying life with nothing good in it. In fact, this time I had quite a charming appearance. This was not a welcome thing. Sadly, it was not useful, and it strayed from the classification of my work. Among my colleagues are those who think things like; because their marks are going to die in a week, they at least want to give them good memories of that short time, but I had no such interests. That is the same as decorating hair that is about to be cut. Either way, the fact that the hair is about to be cut will not change, so there is no meaning to doing anything to it. Just as the barber will not spare hair, I will not spare the girl.