I was awoken by sudden tremors spreading through my body. My limbs would not move, the only thing I could do was raise my head. Dread filled me upon realizing I was on a rail track, my wrists and ankles fastened to the steel rails.
“Fuck! Let me go!” I growled and began to twist violently, trying to liberate myself, while the tremors grew stronger. In a dim light of dawn or dusk, the two being indistinguishable at that moment, I saw a sleek, silver-glowing train speeding toward me. A misplaced thought about much-praised speed and quietness of the Japanese trains entered my mind. The silver snake in my sight made no sound, its only sign of approach were the tremors.
Those bastards! They left me here to die.
I tried again to fight my restraints, but despite my efforts, they wouldn’t loosen even a little bit. I gazed into the approaching train, the speed of which was unearthly. A few more seconds….
Suddenly my brain played a trick on me and the train changed into an opponent in the ring, one, whose face I could not see clearly. He was coming at me and I knew I was going down.
The two images, the train and the opponent, kept interchanging, until I was run over, or kicked, I couldn’t tell for sure. Either way, I was hit with violent pain, and then fell and kept falling into the darkness.
A circle of light high above was diminishing. The deeper I sank, the more I was losing my Self. All the layers of my personality were disintegrating one by one, leaving me exposed and above all alone. I raised my arm toward the light, which by now looked like a distant star soon to be extinguished.
A raspy call of a bird was heard from afar.
Kra kra….kra kra….
The call was getting louder to the point it became annoying and I wanted it to stop.
“Leave me,” I pleaded, my voice void of energy.
But the bird persisted, forcing me to turn in the direction of the cry. As I did so, I was met with black eyes of a huge crow, perhaps a raven. His wings spread wide he was gliding right beside me. I swung my hands trying to scare it away, but it dodged all my attempts and then came at me. I grabbed its wings and we both began spinning downwards very fast, the damn thing crying out and trying to save itself. As I didn’t let go, the raven pushed its head forward and pecked me with its huge, black beak right in the middle of my forehead.
Next thing I knew I found myself kneeling on a stone ground before a man, seated on a throne carved out of a rock. The cold, moist air filled my nostrils as I glanced around. Flickering light of two torches bounced on the walls made of rocks. The place looked like an underground cave.
The man sat in a thoughtful pose; his right elbow leaned on a naturally carved arm of the stone throne, his chin resting on his fist. His broad shoulders were hidden under a large cloak made of animal fur. He was an older man, his hair grey and long with front strands tied to the back, and his face covered by a short grey beard. His all too familiar blue eyes stared at me.
The man looked like me, well, an older and stronger version of me. Tackling the reason for this odd resemblance, I first thought of my grandfather and tried to recall the old photos my grandma used to show me. It was a possibility, but the more I stared at him, the more I doubted that this was the correct answer to this illogical image I was faced with.
The man’s frame was huge and intimidating even when seated, yet I stood up and reached towards his face, attracted to him like a moth to a flame. He grabbed my arm and twisted it to the side, forcing me on my knees again. The black raven landed on his shoulder, uttering its call repeatedly.
I felt an enormous power flowing through the man’s grip as he pinned me down. His cold eyes reflected no emotion, just pure strength and will power. There was nothing human about him apart from his appearance. Confronted with this beast of a man I felt myself disappearing and him taking over.
The setting changed again and this time I found myself standing in a corner of a ring. I was in a spotlight, trying to adjust my eyes to the bright light, when another corner got illuminated. K was in that corner, her face obscured by her hair. As the light around her expanded, a shadow rose behind her back. The shadow grew and began enwrapping K, who seemed to be completely unaware of it. I kept still, hoping I would not be noticed.
The thing swallowed K’s body slowly, and just before it reached her head it suddenly moved downwards and started spreading on the floor of the ring in my direction. I retreated as much as I could into the corner. Something was very wrong there and whatever that was, I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I heard the call of the raven again and found myself yet in another place. I was sitting on the floor of an open, wooden porch with a view on a serene garden. A stone lantern standing between two maple trees, whose leaves just began to turn red, merged beautifully with the deep green colour of the perfectly trimmed grass and a thick bamboo forest in the background. I felt relieved, at ease, wanting to remain there. A sudden presence behind me disturbed the calm setting. I turned, but before I could see anything, I got slapped really hard.
Drops of sweat trickled down my forehead as I opened my eyes and gazed upon a wooden ceiling.
“Just a dream…it was just a stupid dream…”I whispered to myself, swallowing the saliva that gathered in my dry mouth.
Turning my head, I saw the Asian girl from the club kneeling next to my futon. As she met my stare her face collapsed in a smile, creating dimples in her cheeks.
“Nik san, it’s nice to see you awake,” she said bowing her head a few times.
I pushed myself up on my elbows and looked around the small room. The blinds on the window were lowered halfway, thus restricting the amount of sunlight that entered the room. The floor was covered with tatami mats. A low table, a small closet, and the futon, I was lying on, were the only pieces of furniture. My eyes paused on a scroll on the wall and a vase with an elegant flower arrangement beneath it.
“Where am I?” My voice was dry and weak. I was feeling exhausted.
“Please, lie down. You still have a fever. You need to rest.”
Her brown eyes widened a bit. “You probably don’t remember. You almost passed out in the club, so we brought you here. Your liver sustained quite some damage.”
I listened to her words, replaying the events from last night in my mind. K, her strange friends, getting drunk with K, playing some stupid game, spilling out my guts to her, begging her for a chance with Yamato… Shit.
I remembered everything, including how it all ended - my balance issues, or was I that drunk? Getting into the elevator and then…a taxi. I sighed relieved. So they did not tie me to the railway tracks. That was definitely part of the dream.
“Getting into the taxi was the last thing I remember. You brought me here…What is this place?” I asked, my stare moving rapidly around the room.
“Don’t worry.” She patted my shoulder. “You needed medical help so we took you to a doctor. This is his house. We’re in a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, just outside Tokyo. K thought Sueno san would provide you with the best care.”
“K? Where is she?” The horrid scene from my dream came to my mind. My psychology professors would surely have a lot to say about it. The dream itself was sickening enough, but what bothered me even more was that K, whom I had barely met, already managed to enter my subconsciousness.
The Asian averted her eyes a little as if embarrassed by the question. “Well, she’s not here right now. Huh, umm… but I’m sure she’ll come once she hears you’re awake.”
Being sick…that made sense. I guess that liver shot caused more damage than I thought. But I didn’t like the idea of being in somebody’s private house instead of a hospital. “I need to go…”
“Oh no, no, please,” the Asian cried out and tried to prevent me from getting up.
I pushed the blanket to the side despite her pleadings, when the sliding door to the room opened and a short, elderly man with a tray in his hands burst in, ranting words in Japanese. During his brisk approach from the door towards me, I noticed a sudden redness on the Asian’s face and realized, as I was intent on getting out of the bed, that apart from a big patch on the right side of my abdomen, I was stark naked.
I covered myself promptly and backed away toward the wall as the man squatted next to my futon. The Asian was still visibly blushing and looking uncomfortable, while the man kept ranting on.
“What’s he saying?” I asked confused.
“Uh..umm…he forbids you to get out of the bed. The infection has not healed completely and it can still change to the worse. This is Sueno san, the doctor that’s been treating you,” responded the Asian with her stare still averted.
The old man placed the tray with bottles and gauzes on tatami mats and motioned me to come closer. He looked rather comic with a white cloth tied over his head and several front teeth missing. His skin tone was considerably darker than most of the Japanese I saw so far. Sure as hell he did not look like a doctor to me.
“What does he want from me?”
“He has to change the bandage.”
“Tell him to go away. I want to go to a hospital.”
“K thought this way is better. Trust me, he’s very good at what he does.”
“I don’t care what K thought. Tell him to stay away or I’ll have to-“
It was then that the god damn doc slapped me, the strength of his slap matching the one from the dream.
“What the-“ I covered my face with the palm of my hand, too shocked to react against the old man. The Asian uttered a sigh of surprise too. The man grunted some words.
“You better let him do his work,” the Asian said timidly. “It’s not good to upset him.”
A sudden drain of energy made my body soft. I slid back into the futon and nodded as a sign that I was willing to comply. All the agitation caused me to feel much worse.
The man uncovered me, leaving the blanket just above my private parts, and then without any warning ripped the patch from my stomach. I groaned from the unexpected pain and swore at him. He ignored me and continued to examine the injury.
Seemingly satisfied he applied some ointment from one of the bottles he brought with him, and rubbed it over the injured spot. The hematoma was nearly gone, but there was still a small swelling. Thinking of the injuries I sustained, I passed my fingers over my face. The bloated eyelid was gone and I could see with both eyes. I wondered if this so-called doctor was responsible for treating my face as well.
After he finished with the ointment, Sueno san put a new patch over my stomach. The patch felt warm against my skin, giving me a pleasant and relaxing sensation.
He then pushed a small bottle into my mouth, forcing me to drink a liquid that smelled and -- I could only imagine -- tasted like stale urine. It brought me to the verge of puking a few times before I managed to drink it all. Sueno san found that very amusing, laughing out each time my body convulsed and pouring eagerly more of the liquid into my mouth. I glared at him with watery eyes while he spoke to the Asian and was glad when he marched out of the room.
The Asian picked up a small bowl from the tray the doc left behind. “It’s soup. You need to start eating to get well,” she said with a caring voice and offered me the bowl.
I sat up against the wall, placing a small pillow, which felt like it had grains inside, behind my back. My hand quivered as I took the bowl, and I almost spilled the soup.
The Asian took it back in her hands and smiled. “Let me help you.”
I felt so tired and useless I let her feed me with a spoon. After the bitter liquid from the bottle, the warm soup was a welcome change.
“Who are you?” I asked between the spoons.
She tilted her head to the side. “Don’t you remember? I’m Sunny. Well, my name is actually Sun-mi. Sun pronounced with hard U, not as sun in the sky. But K thought Sunny suits me better. Sunny pronounced as in sunny weather. So everyone’s calling me Sunny now…”
I adjusted the uncomfortable pillow behind my back, having a hard time following her chatter. “But,” I interrupted her; “why are you here?”
“Well, that’s a long story. I’m from the US, California, although obviously of Korean descent,” she grinned lightly. “My parents, both second-generation Americans, are very proud of their Korean roots and they hoped I’d appreciate and connect with my ancestral culture too. Of course I do, to a certain level, but I’ve been always more fascinated with Japan. So, I enrolled in Japanese studies at the university and after two years got a scholarship to go to Japan for a year. You know, like an exchange student. And then, I just stayed here. I wanted to immerse myself into this beautiful culture, learn the language well, it’s just so interesting …”
The woman would not stop talking. “I meant, why are you here?”
“Oh, huh…” she placed the empty bowl on the tray. “K told me to watch over you.”
“And you just do what she says?”
“Why? What is K to you?”
She grinned widely, lacing her fingers together. “Huh, I’m her fan.”
I waited for an explanation, but obviously she thought it was self- explanatory. “I’m sorry… a fan?”
“Yes,” she nodded a few times, still offering no explanation.
I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “I want to see K.”
“I’ll let her know you’re awake. You should rest now.”
The soup, its warmth in my mouth and stomach, had a calming effect and made me sleepy. I slowly slid back into a horizontal position. My eyelids became very heavy and I found it hard to keep them open. “Fuck, I’m so tired.”
Sunny patted the pillow beneath my head. “A good sleep will help you to recover faster. Sueno san said you’ll be good to get out of the bed in few days if you follow his instructions.”
“A few days…” I muttered, feeling my mind sinking into sleep. “Can’t stay here that long, I have to go to work…I already missed a day…”
“Well, you’ve been here for four days already, so…”
My eyes opened wide. “What? Did you say four days?”
I raised my head, frowning. “Are you sure I’ve been here for four days?”
She nodded again.
Cannot be. Was the injury that serious I was out for so long without realizing it? “But how…did I sleep all that time…I had that strange dream…I thought I was going to die…”
“Well, hmm…you almost did. Your infection was really bad and you had a high fever. You stopped breathing for a while. But K would not have it. She and Sueno san saved you.” Sunny chuckled. “K is more stubborn than death itself. She didn’t leave your side until your condition finally stabilized.”
Her words provoked an eerie feeling. I had died and if I hadn’t come back, I would not even know it. All I had done to realize my ambition, all the effort...it would just vanish in thin air as if it never existed. I was here now, alive, only due to a random set of circumstances, luck, coincidence. How fucking depressing...
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Sunny said and placed a warm, moist cloth on my forehead.
“It’s fine, never mind. I want to sleep,” I replied and turned on the side away from her.
“Nik san,” she whispered a few seconds later, touching my shoulder lightly. “I’m not supposed to say anything, but K has some very good news for you.”
My eyes closed. I didn’t want to think about anything at all.