Hiro is Line Manager of European Credit Control at Daiwa-Mitsubishi Trust Bank. The bank was formed following the merger of two crisis-hit firms and Hiro, after a polite but ruthlessly executed series of interviews, persuaded the newly created management board that he should take sole charge of the European debt problem. Hiro is proud of his work, of what he feels is an instinctive understanding of the European mind. His father, a man who regularly boasted that he had never read a book for pleasure, had rebuked Hiro for choosing to study English and French literature at Yokohama University. ‘What’, his father had asked, his eyes wide and sardonic, ‘will you be able to do with your degree? No one ever made anything out of words.’ Hiro wrote his thesis on Catholic guilt in the work of François Mauriac and Graham Greene. He is now forty-seven years old and comfortably earns more in a year than his father made in his lifetime.
His walk to work takes him out of the apartment block through the whispered resistance of revolving doors. His own building is the largest of the newly erected towers overlooking the river and the soaring Kachidoki-bashi bridge. He crosses the road and turns right along the banks of the Sumida. The pleasure boats have departed; only rusting fishing trawlers now chug the river’s wide waterways. It is late September and the first pale buds of autumn sakura are forming on the cherry trees in the park. He looks forward to later in the month when the blossoms begin to fall, carpeting the surface of the river in sinking pink and white. He strolls through the park to the bridge, crosses it under still-lit street lamps, and makes his way up broad Harumi-dori.
On the left-hand side of the avenue, set between the dull grey facades of anonymous office buildings, there are three wooden machiya houses, authentic-looking and rather down-at-heel, dwarfed by their larger neighbours. Hiro always stops to inspect them, pleased that in this land of earthquakes and typhoons there should be three such fragile, matchstick-like dwellings. Better still they are here in this unglamorous corner that isn’t quite Ginza, isn’t quite Kyobashi, not in a museum or roped off or respectfully restored. A year ago, he saw a girl dressed for school leading her father by the hand out of the middle house. The father was attempting to straighten his tie, a coffee stain on his shirt, his hair uncombed. Hiro had smiled at them, but they were rushing for the subway and didn’t notice him standing there, half-shadowed by a tree.
After the machiya houses, Hiro picks up his pace until he reaches the elevated section of the road where it passes over the mechanical roar of Shuto Expressway No. 1. He enjoys the blast of the cars passing below. He looks down on the unending stream of traffic and his mind jolts at the multiplicity of life in the city. That each of the humans ensconced within those surging and halting steel cages has a network of existence as rich as his own: baffling and sublime. Returning to ground level, he makes his way through Ginza to his office in the Marunouchi Building. Arriving at ten to eight, he buys a copy of the London Times from the International Bookshop and sits in Starbucks reading obituaries, the Court Circular and the business pages. He drinks a decaffeinated double espresso with a shot of amaretto flavouring, and then takes the elevator to the fourteenth floor.
He is currently engaged in a painfully drawn-out attempt to secure himself an office of his own. He is the most senior member of staff still sitting out in the vast open-plan desert of the trading floor. Indeed, several employees who are not even Line Managers have insinuated themselves into the quiet glass cubes strung out along the far wall of the building. He understands that their work requires silence, even secrecy, but now that the relative calm that had reigned in the European markets for the past month has broken into financial warfare between the scrupulous Germans and the spendthrift Greeks, surely he, too, should have a room of his own? Especially as those offices look out over the gardens.
The Marunouchi Building is the first in the city’s history permitted to overlook the grounds of the Imperial Palace: the clean straight lines of the moat, the umbrella pines and the quiet temples. How bracing it would be, he thinks, to stand at one’s desk and look out over all that greenery, all that space. And he needs it now; he has been under great pressure, professionally. He is aware that his periods of bad temper, the rows with his wife and son, originated when the Southern European countries – to whom the bank was spectacularly exposed – began their fiscal lurches.
He spends the morning on conference calls with fund managers in London and Frankfurt. His English is clipped and grammatically perfect. He has mastered the intricacies of the ‘th’ and the ‘sh’. In bed at night he tunes his radio to the BBC World Service and carefully repeats sentences that strike him as beautiful or idiomatic. His secretary, Akiko, listens to his calm, insightful account of the causes of the latest market rout with uncomprehending respect. Hiro looks up at her and smiles, losing for a moment his train of thought and then finding it again, like crushing a fly on his desk.
It is nearing noon, and on his final call he is indulging in a longer-than-usual peroration, comparing the European stock exchanges to casinos just so that he might accent the word roulette in subtle but unmistakable French. An email arrives in his inbox. A discreet ‘ping’, which, along with the name attached to the mail – his son’s – distracts him again. He finds himself unable to carry his gambling metaphor to its conclusion and finishes the call stutteringly, rather disappointed. Shinji, who is studying fashion at the Sugino School of Design, has sent him an invitation to the first public exhibition of his work. Two weeks from now, the evening will feature a catwalk show in the university followed by drinks. Hiro winces, and then constructs a careful reply.
‘Dear Shinji,’ he writes, ‘I was delighted to receive your message. You must write to your father more often. While you should know that I remain of you, I fear that I have a prior engagement that evening which will prevent me from attending. Do let me know how it all goes off. With warmest wishes, Your Father.’ Hiro’s Japanese carries an unmistakable English inflection. While it had, perhaps, been meant as mild ribbing, Hiro had beamed with pride when a colleague told him that his investment reports read like an Anthony Powell novel.
He deletes Shinji’s email and turns to the pile of letters that Akiko has left on his desk. He sorts them carefully, allowing the edges of his mind to dwell on his reluctance to be there at his son’s fashion show. Most obviously, he doesn’t want to see his wife. They have remained married as neither wishes to make formal what had initially seemed a very temporary solution to the problem of their mutual unhappiness, but as the months pass, Hiro finds himself wondering how he could have made such an ill-advised match. His wife is disorganized, opinionated, quarrelsome. She doesn’t enjoy the theatre, or reading, but spends her time shopping and watching inane TV programmes where pop stars and actresses are made to indulge in increasingly revolting tasks that seek to prove not their bravery but the strength of their stomachs. Shinji used to watch these shows with his mother, his head in her lap, her fingers tracing patterns through his fine, long hair. They would laugh loudly together as Hiro frowned in his armchair in the next room, a copy of a Mrs Gaskell or a Henry Green open but unread as he raged silently against his wife and child. Now he is alone he enjoys the quiet evenings when only airplanes descending to Narita, the deep fog-calls of boats on the river, disturb his reading.
It is not only that he doesn’t wish to see his wife. Hiro knows himself to be a cultivated man. He is well-read and has travelled widely in Europe and North America. He would call himself a liberal-minded conservative. He doesn’t even have firm foundations for his suspicions about his son’s lifestyle, yet there is something feminine about Shinji, about his generation. When Hiro had taken Shinji to Sugino on his first day at the university, he had sensed something, some current passing between the epicene boys with their red-streaked shocks of hair. It wasn’t explicitly sexual; had it been he might have understood. He remembers his own time at university, remembers earlier, when he was little more than a child, when he and his best friend Otsuka had swum in the Abukuma River, had broken into onsen at night and steamed themselves into muddled ecstasy in the hot bubbles. But Shinji’s fashion-school companions seem uninterested in sex; indeed they make a show of their neutrality. Grass-eaters, he has heard them called. The image is not quite right for these gaunt, hairless creatures. There is nothing bovine here. They are like visitations from the future, alien heralds of a time when breeding will take place only under glass, under white laboratory lights.
Hiro doesn’t eat lunch, but instead takes a walk in the Imperial Gardens. The day is still bright and cloudless, although a cool wind has picked up out of the east, ruffling the water in the palace moat. A teenage boy is flying a kite with his girlfriend. His arms around her, her hands in his, he keeps the kite quiveringly still in the wide sky. Higher up, hooded crows perform dramatic arabesques as they surf the gusts. Sunlight casts memories across the grass. Hiro sits on a bench and watches the pine trees nod and bow in the wind. The scent of those dark, rustling pines takes him back to Sendai, to his childhood, and he wonders about Otsuka. It would be possible to track him down, he thinks.
He has been suffering from vertigo, a sense of things spiralling out of control. Often he looks out of the office windows and sees flood waters rising, sees the landscape cowering under the approach of a wall of water. Or perhaps it is the city that is sinking, slumping like its stock exchange into the mire. He presses his fingers to his temples, rises regretfully to his feet, and makes his way back to the office.
When he walks onto the trading floor, there is a brief palpitation of the air. Since the financial crisis, the cavernous room has been largely unpeopled, just the occasional pocket of traders grimly hanging on to their jobs: the gold speculators, the short-sellers, experts in Chinese and Brazilian equities. But the hum of conversation on the floor now reminds Hiro of the good times, of that brief and hopeful moment between the lost decade of the 1990s and the great crash of 2008, when all was giddy excitement. Akiko is standing, watching him walk towards her. She smiles, formally, emptily, and holds up the telephone in her hand.
‘It’s Chairman Ito. This is the third time he’s called.’
Hiro feels a stab of – what? – fear, shame, anticipation.
‘Transfer it to my desk please, Akiko.’
He sits down, moves his keyboard backwards to clear space for whatever is about to happen, takes a deep breath, and picks up the telephone.
‘You have heard the news, I suppose, Ōe-san?’ Ito’s voice is small and petulant, the voice of a man who picks petty rows with his wife. Hiro wondered, when Ito had chosen him to run the European Credit team, if he had seen something of himself in Hiro. A similar fastidious disdain for imperfection.
‘Ah, well . . .’ Hiro jogs his mouse, scans the screen of his computer for headlines. Something in the system is updating; a small clock whirs round in the centre of the screen; the hard drive chatters busily.
‘Where were you? You’re not some junior clerk or secretary who can afford to take lunch hours. You’re a Line Manager.’
‘I, ah . . .’
‘The Greeks have defaulted.’
Hiro looks out of the window and, for an instant, sees water lapping at the glass.
‘I knew they were meeting. I thought . . .’
‘The Italians are likely to follow when the markets open tomorrow.’
Hiro’s mouth had dropped open. He closes it with a wet slap.
‘We are still heavily exposed, Ōe-san.’
‘We have been trying to reduce our positions, but in the current climate. . .’
‘You will come in tomorrow morning and report to Kenzo Nakamura. He will attempt to get us out of the mess you have made. You have let things slip, unforgivably so.’
‘With great respect, Ito-san. . .’
‘We didn’t need theories, Ōe-san, we needed action. Go home for the day, spend some time with your family.’
He rings off. Hiro sits quite still, aware of the half-turned faces slyly watching him. Akiko is standing by his desk, pulling at her fingers as if she is trying to squeeze milk from them.
‘Ōe-san. . . Are you. . .What’s happening?’
Hiro feels light-headed, lost, distantly aware of the fact that he will now, surely, not be given an office overlooking the palace gardens. He takes Akiko’s hands in his own, thinking of the couple flying the kite in the park earlier.
‘It will all be fine. I’ll make sure you’re looked after. Now I must go.’
He stands, stretches, frowns as he sees heads whip from him back to their desks, suddenly engrossed in their work. He picks up his briefcase and heads for the elevator.
Outside he steps into the blast of the wind. He strides homewards, his briefcase dangling at his side, horrified by his humiliation. He keeps his head down, focused on the detail of the paving stones. If he looks up, he knows he will see water, shadows, disaster. He draws out his Blackberry and thinks about calling his wife. Instead, pausing to sit on a bench outside the Sony Building, he composes a new message to Shinji, his thumbs searching clumsily for the correct keys on the mobile device.
‘I have managed to rearrange my diary,’ he types. ‘I would be delighted to come to your show. Dad.’
Gripped by a need to be home, in bed, out of sight, he sets off at an awkward gallop through the streets of Ginza and then up the bridge over the Shuto Expressway. Looking down, leaning exhausted over the railings that line the walkway, Hiro catches his breath in astonishment. For an instant, instead of cars on the road below, he sees fish. The Expressway has become a clear, cool river, the verges and traffic cones are now tufty hummocks of grass, overbending willows and magnolia. Fish swim fast in the rushing water, brightly coloured, carefully avoiding each other, flicking their tails and dashing off under the bridge and out of sight. Hiro is suddenly beaming, stupidly joyful. He blinks and, in the moment of blackness, the fraction of time in which his eyes are closed, the river disappears. Now there is just the grey road below, ugly cars blaring horns, cutting each other up, jerking to a halt. He rubs his eyes and then opens them again, very wide, trying to force the images back in. He finishes his walk home with a fog of dejection hanging over him.
Back inside the apartment he sits at the computer, trying to make sense of the stories about Greece that are beginning to emerge from the night desks of the European newspapers. But his gaze keeps being drawn to the grey world outside. Even in the afternoon’s weak sunlight, the concrete and steel skyline of the city is drab, endless, inescapable. The Sumida below, its waters churned by ugly trawlers, is a dull synthetic imitation of that clear and rushing river he saw on the Shuto Expressway. There is no life in the river; the secret paths of the eels and salmon have been poisoned by industry, muddled by the bright lights that shine on Kachidoki-bashi bridge. Hiro hates those lights that blast through the slats of the Venetian blinds at night, meaning he is never in darkness. No one could swim in the river now. Only the dead, falling from bridges as if already lifeless, travelling on the currents of the river until their doughy corpses are fished out by coast guards or swept out to sea. A trader from Hiro’s office had gone this way, in the depths of the crash. Hiro looks down onto the river and is disappointed by his world, by his city. In his mind he recites the old haiku by Issa:
Spring peace –
a mouse licking up
As if to balance this, he mutters to himself some further lines:
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.
He goes to bed, early, without having dinner.
That night he dreams of Otsuka. They are fifteen and have skipped school to go swimming in the Abukuma. They make their way through empty rice fields. Otsuka has a stick and whips it through the air every so often. Hiro is wearing shorts and has taken off his shirt and wrapped it around his waist. It is also September, but the sunshine has a different, wistful feel to it. It is sunshine that marks the return of classes, the coming of autumn, spending itself out in a last blast of summer heat. Otsuka is a little older than him, taller as he strides ahead through the rice paddies. Hiro feels honoured that Otsuka should choose him for a friend. He jogs to catch up and places his hand gently on the small of his friend’s back.
Above them the Nasu road zigzags up to Lake Surikamigawa. Hiro’s father fishes in the lake at the weekends. He sometimes takes Hiro with him, but Hiro grows bored sitting on the shore, with the water so close but unswimmable. His father says he’d disturb the fish. This is why he treasures the swimming trips with Otsuka. In that way of dreams, the forty-seven year old Hiro makes a quiet interjection here to note that there were only three summers of swimming with Otsuka before his friend was sent away to live with relatives in Kyushu. They kept in touch for a year or two, but then the letters stopped. Older Hiro realizes that the dream is in some way an amalgamation and idealization of several trips they made together to the foot of the Otsuji Falls, where the river is always cool and runs under the shadows of rocks, past dew-glistened pastures and fields of rice and barley.
They strip off in the shade of a maple tree, hiding their clothes in the cleft of a rock and taking long strides into the water, splashing each other and shouting out at the icy coldness. The hills rise up above them, darkly scrub-strewn and angular. The roar of the falls is everywhere, staining the air. The current is so strong that if they try to swim upstream they tire quickly. Instead they make darting diagonals across the width of the river, allowing themselves to rest for a moment in the soft muddy sand of the shallows where the larvae of insects and fearless guppies burrow, tickling their feet and thighs and buttocks. Otsuka climbs into the branches of a basho tree that hangs over a bend in the river. He stands for a moment in silhouette against the sun, his arms held up, water dripping from his hair. He pisses, the stream leaping from him in a long pealing burst. Otsuka dives into the river and Hiro swims towards him. They wrestle, dunking each other, coming up laughing and spluttering.
Hiro realizes that they are now being carried in the current, and feels something different in the movement of his body through the water. The roar of the falls grows distant, the hills no longer tower over them. They are moving at great speed through the clear, cold freshness. With a twitch of his legs, Hiro sends himself careening forward. He senses Otsuka catching up with him, feels his friend’s body shoot past. He opens his eyes and the underwater world is all sun-dappled bubbles, other fish watching warily from the banks, the roots of trees branching out, water-weed and islands of lilies trailing their pale tails beneath them. He pauses mid-stream, remembering for a moment his nakedness, the distance between him and the clothes stuffed into the gap in the rocks, but then he sees the flash of Otsuka’s skin ahead and rushes onwards.
It is only when he catches up with Otsuka that he realizes they have undergone some sort of change. His friend is silvery, gleaming and reticular. He panics for a moment, but then feels the slippery pressure of Otsuka’s glabrous body next to his and is all happy indifference. They dance about each other, rubbing their bodies together, sometimes frantic, sometimes ludic and teasing, until the water grows salty and dense around them. Hiro feels a sudden sense of space, and sees that the riverbed has given way to a sea floor. Mountains of coral raise their brainy peaks from the depths. A glory of fish – perhaps the same that had been in the river on the Shuto Expressway – thrive over the jagged undulations of coral. Eels writhe in some sort of ecstasy. Crabs and lobsters clack and dance. Then the ocean floor shelves away and it is just the two of them again, swimming very close together, with a vast and silent emptiness around them.
They are swimming south – Hiro knows this in some hidden fishy part of his brain – and darkness has fallen in the world above. They cut through clouds of phosphorescence, their tails trailing fluorescent streamers in their wake. A whale calls, far off: the water shudders with the mournful boom. They are being drawn by something, some instinctive tug that keeps them swimming even when the blackness above and the blackness below makes them reach out their fins for one another. The taste of the water grows silty, acrid. Lights appear uncertainly above, then grow stronger, white pulses of light that remind Hiro of something known long before or after.
He feels the tickle of knotweed against his stomach and realizes that they are in a river. The bed below is muddy and covered in weeds and rubbish. He coughs. The water is dirty. Otsuka is swimming ahead of him towards a great ball of light that glows above the river. It is a bridge. Hiro tries to catch up with his friend, but swimming in the dirty water has exhausted him. A boat surges by above and he tumbles in the wake of its propeller, momentarily disoriented. He is bleeding from a gash in his side. Otsuka has disappeared. Hiro swims towards the surface, desperate to find his friend, hears the roar of the cars on the bridge and then, too late, realizes where he is. Fighting to get back to the murky depths, dreaming of the open water and his friend’s slick body, Hiro thrashes wildly. But it is too late. He feels himself lifted from the water, rushing upwards into the air and through glass and into his bedroom where he wakes, wet with sweat and breathing heavily, clutching the imaginary wound in his side.
Hiro lies in bed waiting for the sun to rise. His telephone is ringing but he is too tired to go and find it. At six o’ clock he gets up carefully and walks to the bathroom. The needling shower carries in its water some memory of the dream from the night before. He dries himself in front of the mirror and, looking at his reflection, sees an old man with white-flecked hair and red-rimmed eyes. The boy in the dream was him at twelve, but it was also his son. And the love he felt for Otsuka in the dream was partly a love for Shinji.
In the kitchen he switches on the television. The Italians have defaulted on their debts while he slept. The world’s stock markets have taken dying falls. He is wearing a dressing gown pilfered from a hotel years ago. He rubs the material of the lapel between finger and thumb. He remembers that he and his wife, when Shinji was very young, had left the child with her mother and gone to Kyoto. They had bathed in an onsen reached up a steep, pine-marshalled path and he spent the whole time lost in a dream of Otsuka, remembering his old friend. He looks in the fridge for something to eat and then closes it again. He goes to the bedroom, dresses slowly, and walks out to the elevator.
Once in the fresh air, it is clear that the weather has begun to turn. The previous day had been, perhaps, the last day of summer. The eastern wind has swung round to the north and carries with it some hint of the frozen seas, seals and whale-paths. The sky is dark grey, threatening rain. He crosses the Kachidoki-bashi bridge on a current of melancholy under the sodium glow of streetlights. He finds it strange that here, where the pavement takes him over the water, there should be such heavy railings, denying access to all but a brief glimpse of the river below. Then he remembers the suicides: they had put in the barriers to discourage jumpers. He looks up and down the bridge; there is little traffic, no other pedestrians. He snakes under the first railing, steps over another, and makes his way to the chest-high concrete parapet. A recusant fishy spirit left over from last night wants not to throw himself in but merely look down on the water, feel himself back in the glorious abandon of his dream-voyage with Otsuka.
He leans out and a blast of cool air hits his face. He tastes saltiness, ozone, is for a moment madly delighted. The bridge is much higher than he had thought. His eyes look down towards the water, trying to judge the distance, gauge perspective. He is gripped by a sudden fear that he has jumped. That the vertiginous yo-yoing of his vision is actually his body rushing downwards. He can hear someone shouting at him and he knows that he is hanging out too far. He feels a hand on his shoulder.
‘Sir, sir, are you all right? Please be careful.’
He recognizes the young girl he had seen coming out of the machiya house on Harumi-dori with her father last year. She is older, but it is undoubtedly the same girl. She has cool, wide-set eyes and her school blazer is covered in badges.
‘Can I call someone for you, sir? Do you want to sit down?’
He is allowing her to lead him away from the edge, towards the barriers. They negotiate the metal bars and are once again on the pavement. She has kept her hand on his shoulder.
‘I just want to make sure you’re all right.’ She is holding her mobile phone in her other hand.
‘Do you know why they call them grass-eaters?’ he asks, thinking that perhaps a young person like her might be nearer to the heart of these things, more able to understand both the words and the practice.
‘What? No, I’ve never really thought about it.’ She lets her hand drop and begins to back away. ‘You will be all right, won’t you? I’ve got to get to school. Stay away from the edge, now.’ She turns and walks away down the bridge. He is alone again.
He looks at his watch. It is almost eight o’clock. He has lost time somehow. He doesn’t want to be late, on this day of all days. He doesn’t know Kenzo Nakamura, presumes that Chairman Ito poached him from a competitor. But he is determined to make a good impression. With a sudden stab of shame he realizes that he is not wearing a tie. He reaches his hand to his throat and it is as if the absence of the tie is throttling him. He feels he is choking on the fumes of lorries on the avenue. His breath comes in quick wheezing pants. He remembers desperately trying to keep up with Otsuka in the river, pushing through the polluted water as if through tar.
His head is throbbing arrhythmically, the beats of his footsteps echo up his spine into his chest and then merge with the thud in his mind. It has begun to rain. He needs to sit down. He turns down a side street into a small park. It is pristine: swept gravel paths, trim, fiery red maple trees. A small, clear fountain tinkles merrily in the centre. He sits down on a bench. He has never been to this park before, but it seems in some way familiar, and he feels his mind drifting back to his teenage years. Again, Otsuka in his thoughts. He wonders why, more than thirty years after, he cannot shake the shadow of his friend. It is as if something snagged then, as if he continued living, growing, thinking, but the clock of his mind stopped at fifteen. He rises gingerly to his feet, tosses a coin into the fountain, and makes his way back to Harumi-dori.
In the distance he can see the Sony Building, the low brick bulk of Tokyo Station, and behind them, just before the clear space of the gardens, the Maranouchi Building reaches upwards to the sky. The building is like an arm stretched heavenwards, a symbol of the striving souls within. The road begins to climb. He can hear the roar of traffic on Shuto Expressway No. 1.
There is something unique about the elevated roads and railways of Tokyo. Whenever Hiro visited another city that tried to raise itself above ground level, he found it ersatz, unconvincing. Even in New York the Jamaica Line struck him as nothing more than a subway on stilts. It lacked the futuristic grace of the Tokyo rapid transits. He feels a flicker of nerves as he walks up the bridge. He quickens his steps. The mechanical howl of the traffic is everywhere. The rain has stopped. As he climbs, it is as if he is pushing up into some clear space above the clouds. The sun breaks through and the air feels fresher. He is standing by the railings. He takes a breath and leans forward.
The river is there again, more magnificent than the previous day. Clearer, more completely realized. It stretches and wends between the office blocks and department stores, disappearing over distant falls in the area of Shimbashi. The banks are verdant and thrive with the iridescent needles of damsel-flies. Lilies float mid-stream, their large flowers seeming to cup the sunlight that streams into them. And in the clear water the fish flash electric: clownfish, parrotfish, triggerfish and angelfish. He is laughing, whooping with delight at the scene below. He pictures these waters rising to flood Tokyo, to cover the city in their wild riot of clear colour, and he no longer feels the old melancholy vertigo, but instead clear-headed elation.
The noise of the traffic has morphed into the rush of the river, the distant groan of the falls, the calls of parrots and toucans and mynahs that dart over the surface of the water. Now he hears another noise. It is a familiar shout. He looks up and sees, perhaps half a mile upstream, a thicket of boshi trees growing on a knoll beside the river. Some of the taller trees lean out over the stream and he can make out boys hanging from the branches, laughing and dropping into the fish-filled water. The boys are, perhaps, fifteen years old, and he leans further over the edge to better appreciate their naked long-limbed beauty.
One boy edges out along a branch and holds his hands into the air. A jet of piss glitters in the sunlight. Hiro, squinting, can see that it’s Otsuka. The boy dives into the water and begins to swim a lazy crawl towards Hiro. Another boy has climbed out onto the boshi branch. The boy is waving, beckoning to him. Hiro holds his hand to his eyes. It is Shinji, but Shinji at fifteen. Now he too leaps from the branch and begins to swim towards his father.
With his heart pumping fierce joy, Hiro begins to unlace his shoes. The boys are swimming so slowly, and the river wends and kinks over the half-mile that separates them. He wants desperately to feel the cool river on his body, to meet the two boys in the mutual embrace of the water. He takes off his jacket, his shirt, his vest. He is grinning. Other boys have now joined Otsuka and Shinji in the water and are swimming after them, their legs kicking up a fine spray behind them like the mist that swirls around the wings of high-flying airplanes. He drops his trousers and pants. Everything in his life has been leading to this one bright moment: standing there, on the bridge, above the teeming river, unclothed and feeling as if he is moving back to some ancient perfect state.
Hiro climbs onto the uppermost railing and spreads his arms wide, looks down at the river and the birds and the fish and the boys, takes a deep breath, and dives.
Image by Soumyadeep Paul