“So, miss Glover, you are now the owner of a house.”
Marceline (miss Glover) tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear and blinked owlishly at the sturdy human specimen sitting opposite the heavy polished oak table.
“Um, as much as I’m flattered by mister… ugh…”
“Right, mister Hara’s generous bestowing, I have to insist that you must have me confused with someone else; never in my life have I ever heard of anyone named Hara.”
Marceline placed her hands in her lap, giving the lawyer a definitive look.
“I know this affair is rather baffling,” Bjorn Hallgrave placed his Montblanc pen on top of the will as he continued, “… But I assure you, miss Glover, these things do happen.” He finished in a buttery tone, as if to make the thing final.
Yes, those things do happen, but they happen to other people, not to Marceline Glover.
“What I mean is not that this is impossible, but that there must clearly be a mistake. I have no connection to Japan — I’ve never been there, nor do I have any Japanese friends… I don’t even speak the language. My family has no affiliations to the country, thus it simply makes zero sense that this person is leaving me a house in Japan.”
Marceline received a phone call from an unlisted number two days ago, usually she never bothered answering them, but for some reason she did answer this one.
On the other line a husky female voice confirmed her full name. After the confirmation the women introduced herself as Fiona Sterling, a secretary for the lawyer by the name of Bjorn Hallgrave.
Marceline was certain at that point that the whole thing was a scam.
“I hope you don’t mind if I take several minutes of your time to confirm certain details.”
She was tempted to say that she was busy and that the woman should call some other time, however, once again she went along with the whole thing.
Fiona Sterling proceeded by confirming Marceline’s date and city of birth, highest lever of education, martial status, current employer, the date of death of her parents, her current address, and lastly her social security number.
It was hard to imagine scammers going through the pains of finding out all that information about her: Marceline didn’t have any money or assets. She was a recent university grad who lived from pay check to pay check. She couldn’t even afford her own place.
Fiona Sterling asked if Marceline could come to lawyer Hallgrave’s office on 230 Donahue Street on Friday at two pm.
Marceline — after getting over the initial shock — asked what the whole thing was about. The very last thing Marceline wanted was to find out she was being sued.
“I am sorry, but I’m not at liberty to say. My employer will make everything clear when you meet him.”
The whole thing was just enigmatic as it was nerve wrecking.
“Alright.” Marceline finally agreed.
“Excellent. I will let mister Hallgrave know. Have a pleasant day.” Fiona Sterling hung up before Marceline could ask if there was a way to reach the office.
As it turned out Bjorn Hallgrave was a real lawyer with a real office. A real office at one of the most expensive postal codes in the city.
She had hard time imagining what an expensive lawyer like Hallgrave might want from her. Most probably he was representing someone who wanted something from her. No matter how she twisted and turned the whole thing it still made little sense to her.
Came Friday Marceline appeared at the designated address, ten minutes earlier than scheduled.
Fiona Sterling was an elegantly dresses woman with an intelligent face who mastered the art of well calculated movements. She inquired whether Marceline wanted anything to drink. Marceline politely declined and waited until Hallgrave stepped out of the office and asked Marceline in.
He looked just like the picture: a respectable man with a neatly trimmed beard and salt-pepper hair.
It was after they sat down that she came to find out that a man by the name of Kōbō Hara left her a house in the Kumamoto Prefecture, island of Kyushu, Japan.
“I assure you there has been no mistake. About a week ago we were contacted by a private investigator who was hired by a lawyer firm in Japan. What he was hired to do was to track down any living relatives of sergeant Oliver Glover — your grandfather. Am I correct?”
“Yes.” Marceline replied uncertainly.
Her grandfather passed away nearly two decades ago, she met him only about once in her life, if you could call it ‘meet’. You probably could. Shortly after Marceline was born her grandfather took a plane to come and see his only granddaughter.
He flew back home about three days later and that encounter was the last time they have ever seen each other. Being a baby at the time Marceline had no recollection of the meeting.
“Oliver Glover was a POW during WWII, he was held prisoner at a camp where Kōbō Hara served. I do not know the nature of their relationship, but mister Hara has left his house to Oliver Glover. As Oliver Glover has passed away the house goes to the next direct kin alive, which happens to be you, miss Glover.”
Marceline went quiet for a moment and gave the whole thing a thought. Her grandmother died before Marelince was born. Rose and Oliver Glover had only one child, her father — Peter Glover. Peter Glover and his wife Rona died in car accident three years ago. Neither of them had any siblings, aunts or uncles. Rona never knew her father, and her mother passed away from breast cancer when Marceline was fourteen.
There was no kin more direct (who was still alive) than Marceline.
“Why would Kōbō Hara leave a house to my grandfather?” She implored.
“I do not know as the will does not state. All I know is that the house goes directly to you.”
“Does this mister Hara not have kids or other relations who can have the house? It’s all the way in Japan… Makes no sense to give it to someone who lives in America.”
“Mister Hara’s immediate family died during the Nagasaki bombing, from what I have been told he never married or had any children, and even if he did the will is very clear on the Kumamoto property. All I need you to do is sign the papers that allow you access to it and make you the official owner.” Hallgrave drummed with the fingers of his right hand on the table lightly.
“Hmm… I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t make any sense. A person I’ve never heard of in my life leaves me house. What’s the catch?” Marceline reclined in the leather chair.
“If I may explain the will in a simple language — legislative language aside: you are left the house by mister Hara as you are the only direct surviving kin of Oliver Glover. The house will be in your possession should you choose to claim it. There is no catch. You are, however, not allowed to make any changes to the dwelling premises, nor are you allowed to redesign, add to the existing structure or subtracting from it. Furthermore you are not allowed to make any changes to the will, selling the house, or giving it away to someone else.” Hallgrave concluded, picking up his pen.
Marceline mused the information.
She never owe any property, yet she was aware that the ownership of land or property did stipulate certain payments. There were various land taxes, insurance; most probably an extensive list of other various payments to be made, not to mention that there were electricity and water bills for starters.
“Even if that all that the will requires of me the sad truth is I cannot afford a house. I barely have any money, also I cannot pay all the bills that will come attached to it.” Marceline could not believe that she was even entertaining the thought of considering signing the documents.
“I understand your concern, however, I must stress that you will only be the temporary owner, the Hara family will continue being the de facto owners. The Haras are a long and respectable Japanese family, their linage goes a long way — their ancestry is traced all the way to the tenth century. There is quite a substantial wealth that was left behind to pay for all bills and expenses. I do not know the exact amount, however, should you choose to sign the documents and become the temporary owner, the representatives in Japan will contact you and make further explanations and arrangements. It is stated in the will quite plainly. Simply put you will not have to spend any of your own money on the house. Furthermore, should you choose to move there and assume the position of the official caretaker Kōbō Hara has left a stipend for you, enough for you to live comfortably for several years, within reason of course.” He concluded.
“You mentioned the word caretaker. What does that mean exactly? I will have duties and responsibilities I assume…” Marceline felt victorious — there it was, the catch.
“The Hara house has a significant historical meaning, it has been passed from one generation to the next for three centuries. Kōbō Hara did not simply decide to inherit the house as a place of dwelling, he needed someone to take care of it, until the next person in line is ready to take charge.”
“I know nothing about being a custodian — I work at a bookstore.” Marceline shrugged.
“You are not expected to fix the place by yourself but rather report it to the relevant authorities, also you will be in charge of the family Shinto shrine, this does not require you to practice Shintoism.”
“So basically Kōbō Hara wants me to housesit the place?”
“Simply put, yes.”
“So basically once I sign these papers I have to move to Japan.”
“Essentially yes: you will have two moths to make the move. Should you fail to come to Japan and appear at the late mister Hara lawyer’s office you will be disqualified and your inheritance will be annulled without the option of appeal. Of course, your ticket to Tokyo will be paid for.”
“What if I cannot manage the place?”
“Should you choose to terminate the contract the option it there, of course you have to give a minimum of a month notice. No charges will apply. As your flight ticket will be open ended you will not have to purchase a new one.”
“Can I think about it, or do I have to make my decision right now?” Marceline looked over at the will and then at Hallgrave.
“Yes, however, you have a month to decide — longer than that and the will expires. Here is a copy for you to look over.” Hallgrave slide a slim brown envelope towards Marceline.
“Thank you.” Marceline picked up the envelope, amazed at how light it was for such an important piece of documentation.
“Here is the phone number for the office: contact me as soon as you make your decision.” Hallgrave passed her a calling card. The thing was a small rectangular piece of paper with nothing but a phone number printed in bold silver digits on it.
Hallgrave got up as Marceline rose from the chair. They shook hands at the door to his office.
Outside Fiona Sterling was speaking to someone on the phone in a language that sound Scandinavian in nature. She offered Marceline a friendly smile as she passed by her on the way to the heavy wooden doors.
After the sound of a soft buzz the left door budged slightly — a cue for Marceline to step out.
Marceline made it out the building and into the foggy street in a slight daze.
She decided to walk home, even if the walk was going to take nearly two hours. She needed to think.
Assuming the whole thing was real was she actually prepared to move to Japan and be the custodian of a house?
Aside from weighting the pros and cons of moving to Japan she tried to remember anything about her grandfather. She did know he fought in the war, and yet what was it that he did was a mystery to her. The fact that he was a POW was shocking — it hardly seemed like the kind of fact war veteran would keep a secret.
Even more odd was the fact that Hara — a solider who served at the prison camp in question — decided to leave his house to him. There surely was a reason behind it, but what? Right wrongs? Make amends? Still, it seemed a tad much.
When Marceline’s parents passed away they didn’t leave anything behind aside from a lump sum of money from the insurance company.
No one in her family even entertained the thought of writing a will. Writing wills was something people with money did.
Marceline couldn’t help but wonder how bad it will actually be should she move to Japan: there was nothing that was holding her here. After graduation she continued working at the same bookstore she used to work at while studying. Theoretically speaking if Marceline was to drop off the face of the earth tomorrow no one will miss her or even notice.
If she didn’t like it there she could always go back.
This is crazy! What are you even thinking? You don’t know the language, you don’t even know the country! How will you manage all the way out there by yourself?
And yet the prospect was all too inviting the simply dismiss it.
Should she choose to stay and decline the offer she will continue working at the same old bookstore for who knows how long. She won’t get to experience anything as exciting as living in a foreign country. On the other hand should she choose to go she will have to do the bidding of a strange old man she never met in her life.
Oddly enough it was not an easy decision to make.
Marceline wondered what would have happened if her grandfather or father were alive to receive the phone call from Fiona Sterling instead of her. Would they have jumped on the opportunity or agreed to move to Japan?
Marceline stopped at a red light and looked up at the overcast skies. She had a month to decide, a month was a fairly long time.
She stuffed the envelope into her bag.
Plugging in her earbuds she spent the rest of the walk listening to NIN.
Upon her arrival at the old building where she lived she met her roommates Jonathan and Lilith as they stepped out of the elevator.
Jonathan and Lilith were twins. The two moved to the city after graduating from high school and been working at one of the local bars ever since. Marceline rented a closet-sized room in their apartment.
“Hey, are you coming tonight?” Jonathan called out before going out the front door. His sister was already outside, talking to someone on the phone.
“Nah, I’m kinda tired.”
“Okay, see ya tomorrow!” Jonathan called as the door slammed shot behind him.
“See ya…” Marceline waved.
The place where she lived was decent enough, for a lack of better word. It was old, full of drafts, creaky, but habitable. She saved on rent and the bookstore was about half an hour away on foot.
Marceline made her way down the long and narrow hallway until she reached the tiny room at the very end. She dropped her bag on the floor, and set down at the edge of the bed.
So Japan, huh?
Marceline tried to imagine what her life would be like in Kyushu. Where was Kyushu anyway? Will she be able to get by in Japan without at least some basic knowledge of the language? She was aware that two months were not enough to pick up a language as complicated as Japanese, however, the lawyers who were in charge of the will had to know English, at least on a basic level… And it her only job consisted of making sure the house was in good condition how much Japanese will she actually need?
She gave the whole thing a long thought and finally got off the bed, took off her jacket and made her way to the kitchen to make some tea.
If she passes on this opportunity she was certain she’ll never get a similar offer ever again, and yet by saying no she won’t have to take any unnecessary risk.
Once the tea was ready she headed back to her room, closing the door softly behind her. The envelope was still in the bag, right where she left it.
After some moments of contemplation she took out the envelope, turned on the bedside table lamp and started reading.
It was all just like Bjorn Hallgrave said, no fine print or sneaky extra clauses: she get to live in the house, make sure it’s clean and well kept, receive a monthly allowance, and finally able to terminate the contract whenever she wished.
Essentially it was like she was hired by the late Kōbō Hara: either of them (well, his representatives at least) could terminate the contract at any time, that simple.
It was simple, straightforward, and clear.
Marceline read the thing about three times before putting it in her nightstand drawer. She let out a heavy sigh and went to take a shower.
Standing under the steaming hot water Marcleine realized that she never had to make any serious or difficult decisions in her life; it was not that she didn’t want to or was unable to, the simple truth was that she never had to. This is not to say that her life was that easy that she never had to think seriously, but it was just that everything always fell into place, which essentially meant that a decision was made even before she could give it a thorough thought. Life always worked out that way for her. This, however, was something new. She had the power to decide and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
She and she alone was responsible for her future. It was a frightening thought.
After the shower she went into the living room where there was an old map of the world hanging above the worn-out leather sofa.
Marceline got up on the sofa and looked for Japan — a banana shaped island. Kyushu was the last of the four major islands, all the way down south. She wondered what kind of people lived in Kyushu. The only place she knew in Japan was Tokyo because it was the capital, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because of the bombings. Other than that the place was completely foreign to her.
“I need a sign…” Sh mumbled getting off the sofa.
Marcline devoted the rest of the evening to watching Die Hard and when that was over she decided to read White Noise before going to bed. She chose not to think about Kōbō Hara’s odd will for what remained of Friday.
Around midnight Marceline decided to call it a night. It was her belief that tomorrow morning she will wake up with a better idea for what to do about the Hara will.
Marceline fell asleep only to wakeup around 2:50 in the morning. She blinked owlishly at her alarm clock, scratching the side of her head and got up to get a glass of water from the kitchen.
On her way to the kitchen she coughed a few times and cleared her throat, passing by the two other bedrooms (both of which had their doors closed) and finally the living room.
Marceline poured herself a tall glass of water and stood by the window as she was taking small sips. The city couldn’t have looked more alive than it did on a Friday night/early Saturday.
What did the house of Kōbō Hara look like? She didn’t even ask. Hallgrave did say that it was passed from one generation to the next, and that it held a great sentimental value to the late mister Hara. Marceline assumed it looked old, perhaps like a traditional Japanese house. She remembered the minimalist and neat structure from one of her history classes when they were learning about world cultures. Marceline clearly remembered a woman with black hair dressed in a kimono serving rice to her family.
Ugh, if she is going to go through with this brushing up her knowledge on Japan was a must.
She looked out the window for a few more minutes, taking in the city’s gleaming skyline, a manmade aurora. It was funny how you could always feel so alone in a place that was so bustling with life.
Marcleine put her glass in the sink and went back to her room, passing all the rooms once again.
The moment she passed the living room she paused, one foot in front of the other.
Marceline straightened and narrowed her eyes.
The living room was the one room in the apartment used solely by her. Jonathan and Lilith could be usually found in their respective rooms or in the kitchen.
That room was the biggest in the house with the only furnishings in it being a large and very old leather sofa along with an antique armchair. Other than that there was the world map and an old small Hitachi TV set that was placed on top of a barstool.
The apartment came with that particular room furnished and no-one bothered redecorating it ever since.
Marceline saw someone sitting on the sofa.
Or at least she thought she saw someone, the only problem was that there was no one in the house, at least according to what she knew.
The Carl twins were most probably still at work, and even if they (or one of them was home) what were the odds that they will be sitting in the living room all by themselves, in the dark?
The whole thing could have a very simple and logical explanation: she was sleepy, it was very late (or very early), not to mention that there were shadows everywhere so it was quite possible that what she saw was either a figment of her imagination, or a play of light and dark.
Yup, that was most probably what it was. Marceline was about to continue her walk to her room when she heard a sort of raspy breath coming from the living room.
As much as Marceline liked relaying on her logic she definitely heard that.
It definitely sound like someone took a breath in the room.
Slowly, the now somewhat frighted Marceline, retraced her steps, peering at the entrance.
Someone was sitting on their sofa.
All she could make out was the outline of a slim person with a very good posture. Whoever it was setting in the darkness they very erect and motionless.
Marceline felt her breath catch in her throat. The hairs on the nap of her neck stood up.
The persons’s chest went up and down as they took another raspy breath.
What the hell?
Marceline cleared her throat, not loudly, but loud enough so she could be heard.
Whoever it was they continued sitting there frozen in the perfectly erect posture before they turned their head slowly in her direction.
She was petrified: there were very few moments in Marceline’s life when she was actually too scared to talk. She was not proud to say that this was one of these moments.
Marcelines’ mouth gapped much like that of a fish’s as she was trying to conjure up her voice and say something, anything.
Another wheezy, laboured breath.