A Freudian Encounter with Near Death
Type : Short Story
Itsuki and his childhood friend sauntered into a vast white room with a high ceiling. Itsuki's friend was dejected; he didn't feel at home in that artificiality. They had grown up together in a small fishing village on the coast of Japan. At thirteen, Itsuki had moved to Tokyo to attend a reputable boarding school. His friend had stayed behind. Since then, they had drifted apart to the point where they barely knew each other anymore in real life; but in Itsuki's dream, his friend's presence was welcoming and familiar, as it had been when they were children.
The room resembled an empty mall without shops. It had no end, stretching beyond the horizon of Itsuki's awareness. They sat down on a couple of steps whose existence was unjustified. There was a gym in a far-off corner of the room. A faceless girl with fine dark hair hung by the neck from a hook attached to the punching bag's metal frame.
The two old friends didn't notice the hanging girl, and they kept talking gloomily. Anyone would be gloomy in such an arid setting. Itsuki was trapped in this moment, like a mosquito trapped in amber. There was no notion of the time to him. There was no notion of the outside either. Yet, a lingering urgency about the empty room called to some deep part of Itsuki's unconscious mind.
A faceless boy, presumably a friend of the hanging girl, emerged from a hidden door directly behind the gym. The boy panicked when he noticed the hanging girl, ran over to her, and lifted her off the hook. He shook her and screamed, then checked her vital signs. More friends of the girl ran onto the scene in a flurry of confusion.
Itsuki sat calmly, taking it in from a distance. Darkness engulfed the room, and Itsuki awoke in a cold sweat.
It had already been five years since Minako's death, but Itsuki could still recall every detail of her face. She had been his first and only true love. Minako had been the only person in the world with the power to make him feel tenderness. Every second he had spent with her was a second in heaven.
After Minako's suicide, Itsuki's natural tendency towards melancholy had invaded his personality.
Itsuki wasn't one to make emotional efforts for those around him; if he felt like shit one day, he would simply allow the feeling to take control of him. Most days, his lugubriousness was so strong that it infected all who came into contact with him, so his colleagues avoided him. Most days, Itsuki's colleagues left to his own devices. This suited him just fine; they could never understand him anyway. They couldn't possibly have anything worth saying to him.
Itsuki's boss kept Itsuki around because he believed that a team needed someone to scapegoat for their failures to be productive. He masked this by openly sympathising with Itsuki's misery; with airs of paternal understanding, he would broadcast his benevolence for all to hear: "I deeply sympathise with you, Itsuki, you weren't dealt a fair hand. Why don't you take the rest of the day off." Itsuki's colleagues were not impressed by their boss's leniency toward him.
Itsuki was aware of his boss's games, and he went along with them. Every morning he dragged his feet to work and performed the perfunctory tasks demanded of him by society: like pretending to work and putting food into his mouth at lunchtime.
That morning Itsuki was feeling particularly sorry for himself. As he walked to the office, he could think of nothing else but the dream that he had had. It had been quite an unpleasant dream. He had felt so detached from Minako's dead body. He felt as though her memory was slowly starting to fade. He didn't notice the pedestrian light was red, and he stepped right into the on-coming traffic. His body was flung over the bonnet of a car and slammed into the ground. He felt numbness and pain. As he lay on the road, Itsuki wondered if he was about to die and found that he did not care much. He lost consciousness and entered another dream.
He was sharing a desk with Minako; she had fine dark hair. They were stationed in the corridor by the exit of Itsuki's middle school. She had bags under her eyes and sat slightly hunched over in self-doubt. Itsuki's body was contorted. He sat to Minako's left, his upper body twisted, so his left shoulder almost touched their desk. They spoke in hushed voices. He tried to convince her not to worry, that everything was okay, but his attempts were not persuasive. He, too, was worried.
"Hello." someone called from far, far away. "Wake up; you need to wake up now!"
Wanting to change the subject, Itsuki told Minako that he was four months late on rent but didn't have the means nor the intention to pay his landlady. "You have to pay your landlady," said Minako. "You signed the lease; she can take you to court if you don't pay!"
There was frustration in her voice, but Itsuki was only glad that he had successfully distracted her from her previous source of concern. He nodded but remained unconvinced that his landlady had done anything to deserve rent from him.
Someone outside shone a light into Itsuki's left eye and then his right eye. But his pupils don't constrict.
A cylindrical tub filled with white powder sat on the desk beside Minako's elbow; it was about the same volume as two babies. Noticing from Itsuki's gaze that his attention had moved from his rent situation to the tub, Minako said, "I'm going to give it to old Gin." Her frustrated tone carried into this new context. Itsuki's expression remained confused. "It's cough medicine," she added. Thank god! He had thought it was cocaine. What a stupid thought!--
Suddenly an intelligent man with neatly combed brown hair burst through the double doors. He strode right past them without slowing down and bellowed, "Clear!" in an over-exaggerated Korean accent before disappearing around the corner. The harrowing exclamation sent an electric pulse down Itsuki's spine, and his body snapped itself into an upright pose.
The man was immediately back for a second attack. Wearing the same faint smile on his lips, he strode past them once more from the other direction. This time making direct eye contact with Itsuki, he boomed, "Hellew Miss. Sasaki!" with the same manic intensity as before and was gone. The words echoed for a moment longer; Sasaki was the name of Itsuki's mother before she had married his father.
Next to Itsuki, the girl sat calm and composed. She was unphased by the interruption, and she commented dispassionately on the dissonance between the man and his voice. Itsuki, who was profoundly shaken, contradicted her reflexively. "He is Korean, you know." But she was right, and Itsuki regretted this emotional attack. He settled his facial expression, then briefly contorted it into an apologetic frown, shrugging his shoulders while making eye contact with her. It was a mark of their relationship that they could understand each other in this way; they were almost like siblings, only Itsuki was hopelessly in love with her.
Deciding to calm himself, Itsuki closed his eyes and gently contracted his diaphragm, causing a pressure differential between the outside and his lungs. A stream of fresh air filled them softly, and they expanded. He held on to the breath for two seconds before letting it flood out through his nose. He wondered vaguely why it was that he couldn't smell his out-breath but then let this thought go immediately. On the second in-breath, his mind didn't fidget much, and he was able to enjoy the feeling of his chest and belly expanding. Then his attention jumped to the sensation of his eyeballs in their sockets. On the out-breath, his face melted away.
"He's breathing. His heart is beating."
In his dream, Itsuki opened his eyes to find that Minako was half transformed into his mother, Miss. Sasaki. Their eyes met, and an epiphany struck him like a hammer striking a nail. This was divine knowledge.
They stood up and left the building. The bright blue sky greeted Itsuki with an open heart.
Itsuki naturally reached out and held Miss. Sasaki's hand. It was oh so comforting. Her hand was much bigger than his and hung down to his shoulder height. Holding it was bliss. Miss. Sasaki cradled the tub of cough medicine in her other arm.
"Where are we going?" asked little Itsuki.
"To old Gin's house," said Miss. Sasaki, with the infinite serenity and patience of a mother explaining a basic tautology to her darling child.
"Why does old Gin often get sick?"
"That's just the way he is, my dear," she replied, her voice caressing the breeze. "You and I get pangs of hunger if we don't eat, don't we? Old Gin gets cold instead of hungry."
Itsuki looked at his mother's knees, Minako's knees, as her words radiated into him from above. He continued rambling cheerfully, "I get hungry every day. Almost every day actually, some days I don't get hungry. Once I went the whole day without eating anything at all, until four o'clock!"
Miss. Sasaki / Minako's warm smile, which eclipsed the sun, filled Itsuki with boundless love. He had to take two steps for every step she made. He looked down at his little legs strutting beside this tremendous maternal presence.
Itsuki's condition had stabilized. He hadn't awoken yet, but he was not comatose. A large smile had spread over his lips. The doctor hadn't ever seen anyone looking so happy after such a bad accident. It never would have occurred to the doctor that Itsuki was reliving his childhood but with his dead sweetheart taking the role of his dead mother.
The moral of this story is this: no matter how hard you try to make yourself miserable, the universe will conspire to give you brief moments of happiness every now and then. And that you should ask yourself: "Do I have an Oedipus complex?" because Itsuki did, and you just might have one too.